First Camping Trip – Cheakamus Lake

Once up on a time I thought nothing of heading off for a weekend camping. This has changed. Might have something to do with having a two and a half year old. One single night became rather intimidating. Our choice of campsite: Cheakamus Lake, in Garibaldi Park. It’s a mild hike-in location, a total of around three and a half kilometers to the site, over relatively flat terrain.

We left Vancouver at a decently early hour, 10:00am, only an hour after planned. We meaning my neighbours Philippe and Maite and their three year old son Samuel, Cameron, and myself. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, and the Sea to Sky highway is a mess of Olympic proportions. The boys were excited, babbling incoherent nonsense at the top of their lungs for a good portion of the drive, keeping themselves awake quite effectively. Samuel did wind up napping … Cameron did not.

Once at the trailhead, packs were shouldered, and off we went. Both boys had their own backpacks – Samuel carried toys I think, and Cameron carried his water bottle, and a change of clothes. Which was good planning, as he needed them by the halfway mark. Hiking with a barely toilet trained child is interesting, and I did discover that I packed nowhere near enough pants, shorts, and socks. I should note that Cameron had his first rite of passage at that midway mark. He has pooped in the woods. A suggestion to hikers with kids – find a smooth log for the child to sit on, bum hanging over. Cameron’s not really able to squat for long periods of time, and this kept his legs and clothes clean. A small trowel was useful to bury the result (note, never leave poop close to a campsite or a water source).  Also, have a camera handy, for blackmail in years to come  – but you probably don’t need me to tell you that one. Phil has the pictures. The rest of the trip in was rather unpleasant. Cameron is used to being carried a lot, but I just couldn’t do it with a full pack on my back. No way. So there was much screaming involved. On the plus side, the chances of running into a bear were zero. Might’ve been nice to see some wildlife from a distance, though.

The trail follows the north side of the Cheakamus River, crossing various small streams and brooks along the way. That’s right – Cameron now knows from experience what a river looks like and sounds like. Finally.

We chose a campsite a little further in than we could have, but had a much flatter location with lots of room in exchange for the extra walk. Once there, the boys rediscovered their energy, and played enthusiastically. The beach was rocky and not barefoot-friendly, but that also meant frequent stops in play to collect rocks – there were some pretty ones too. Looming over the far end of the lake was the McBride mountain range.

Up went the tents, one on each end of our short beach, which fascinated both boys. They’d seen, and Samuel had slept in, our neighbour’s tent. But Cameron’s and mine was new to them! I’m a little picky about my camping gear. Clothes need to stay in the pack, and sleeping bags rolled and covered, or else they get damp when the sun goes down. I had to relax a little on that!

Cheakamus, like the others in the park, is a glacier-fed lake; that marvelous bluey-green silt-laden water that screams COLD before a toe even touches it. Each stream that cascades down the mountainsides is fed by one (or more) of the twenty or so glaciers high above. The lake is only ice-free for four months of the year. The boys boldly waded in, then screeched and splashed out again in horror their first time. Then laughter won over almost-tears, and back in. A great game! Me, I waded lots. Far better than icing tired and sore feet.


Too soon, the sun disappeared behind the mountains. As you can expect, considering we were in the mountains, the temperature dropped quickly. Fleeces, jackets, socks, long pants, even hats were quickly put on as summer weather turned to almost winter weather. September is late in the season; winter comes early in the mountains. Supper was tortellini cooked on a camp stove – yummy! Slowly, the stars came out while we ate, each gleefully announced by the boys. Dishes were washed, teeth brushed, and anything ‘risky’ got hung some distance away in the cache – Garibaldi is bear country to put it mildly, so even toothpaste had to be away from the campsite. The park supplies cable-and-pulley style caches to keep everyone safe.

The neighbours went to their tent, but Cameron and I stayed out a few extra minutes. I needed to calm him down a little, spend a few minutes reflecting on the day. I stood, holding him snug, by the water’s edge while I told him from memory one of his favourite bedtime stories, “I Love You Mommy,” known to him as “little bear.” We talked about the river, and the stars, and the lake, and the mountains. Finally, time to for bed. He perked up a bit playing with the flashlight in the tent while I got him and myself changed, but quieted quickly as he realized I was going to bed too. He slept in his nearly-outgrown Milk Factory pants and longsleeved shirt, and MEC fleece pants and top, then in his sleepsack, on our jackets and fleeces and a foamy. Me, I had my new down Pharaoh bag from MEC and a foamy. Lights out, and I started telling him his favourite naptime story, “Where the Wild Things Are.” Not even halfway through, Cameron was sound asleep.

Morning was mountain-shaded and chilly, as it took the sun a good long time to clear the Fitzsimmons Range behind us. We spent those hours eating breakfast (oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, and condensed milk), fishing (much casting and reeling, no biting), skipping stones, and playing. Several loons called to each other across the lake, mist swirled over the forest, and fish teased us by jumping in the middle of the lake – way beyond where we could cast to. Cameron knows loons from a stuffie-toy he has, and a “loon clock” at Nana’s. It took a bit to get him to stop announcing the loon “plock” again and again, and to understand those were real birds.

The sun came over the mountains, and we could soon change back into summer gear. The tents dried and were packed (a process which fascinated Cameron, and freed up the pole for him to play with, making and announcing triangles and square), the site scanned for garbage, and we headed back to the trail.

This time Cameron cried pitifully to be carried from the get-go. Samuel was fantastic, trying to tell him it was okay. In the end, Phil took both boys by the hand, sent me and Maite on ahead, and just marched them while telling a story over Cameron’s screams. From what I could tell he only got really shrill when he saw me. We made far better time to the halfway point, where we had lunch. Off again, and Cameron did much better. We played at being chased by various things – “tree cocks” (man, I can only imagine the searches that are gonna find this post) which were Samuel’s interpretation of “tree trunks,” and were to be avoided with loud shrieks and giggles. Imaginary yucky skunks with smelly bums sent the boys scurrying, while Cameron’s lions had us running! Now of course, imagination is a double edged sword with Cameron. Before I knew it he would stop, fearful, and quietly say he was afraid of the lions, they were biting at him. So next game: kick the lions! I’d tell him I wouldn’t let the lions hurt my boy, and I’d kick at them. He soon joined in. He walked the entire second half by himself … with the exception of the last maybe fifty meters, after he announced he had to poop. There was a pit toilet at the trailhead, so I scooped him up and jogged.

As you can certainly imagine, both boys were sound asleep before we made it onto the highway.

Once the first hurdle of making it on a camping trip was cleared, it doesn’t look so intimidating. I could see me and Cameron heading off just the two of us for a similar trip in the future. Maybe not this fall, as next weekend is a little soon, then the next few we’ll have family in town. But next summer for sure! By then, Cameron should be fully toilet trained, too. Adjustments I’d make to packing are minor. A hat for me, and if we are out with our neighbours again, headlamps. There was some envy when Samuel had one and Cameron didn’t. I’ll bring my campstove and pots next time. No need for plates and bowls both. A cell phone if we’re on our own. If with the neighbours again, more than just one toy, so sharing isn’t an issue. Bags for garbage. Stuff sacks for clothing, one for him, one for me. Sandals or at least more comfy camp shoes. By next summer he’ll need his own sleeping bag. Major items … I’d love a more hiking-friendly tent. The one I have was what I thought was good ten years ago, but I now know better. There are smaller-packing, lighter tents that are fairly inexpensive compared with what I remember them being back then. I’d also like a water filter/pump, though the treatment stuff Maite brought didn’t add much taste and is supposed to be very effective. Oh, and we were lucky, mosquitos weren’t too bad. I only have a couple dozen bites, Cameron only has three or four. Next time, bug repellant!

I should probably say a few things about safety. Know your ten essentials (check out other tips on backcountry trip planning on the MEC site too). Bring your ten essentials, even for short hikes away from a base camp.  An old friend of mine who has much search and rescue experience told me that a quarter of the rescues he’s been involved with would have been prevented had the people simply carried a flashlight.

NOW … backcountry skiing? This year, or next? Try not to laugh too hard. Might be a couple years in the future.

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5 responses to “First Camping Trip – Cheakamus Lake

  1. Pingback: Psst… « One in 36 Million·

  2. Wonderful photos and story. I am thinking of taking my nine year old son. Was the camp site busy? Wondering what to do if we can’t get a site.

    • Hi Juliet,

      Thanks! I’d say it’d be no problem at all with a nine year old to make it in there, it’s not a long walk and it’s beautiful.

      We were there in early September, so it wasn’t busy at all. There were plenty of day-hikers, but only one nearby camping group. My guess is that the middle of summer it would be quite busy, but the sites are large and informal. You could always set up in any clearing, or ask a friendly group if you can join them.

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