Sunday, August 26, 2012

Howe Sound Crest Trail Trip Report

Elevation Profile. It doesn't look so bad on paper..
When David and Tyler started talking to me about doing the Howe Sound Crest Trail, I got really excited. I have a list of North Shore Peaks that I have been wanting to summit for a while and this seemed like the perfect way to get a couple of them in one go. Many people choose to do this hike in 2 days and it is possible to finish in one day if you move quickly over the 28km. We opted to do it more leisurely, starting after work on Friday and finishing Sunday, spending 2 nights on the trail. We figured that this would allow us to do some detours, such as hiking up Brunswick Peak, the tallest North Shore Mountain (just under 1800m). In the end, we didn't hike Brunswick, since the travel between the Lions and Brunswick Lake ended up being slower than 1km per hour due to some navigational errors.

Our first of far too many views of the Lions
We started off at Cypress Bowl Parking area around 6:30pm and followed a basically wheelchair accessible trail through the wetlands at the top of Cypress. Just after passing the trail for Mt. Strachan, the improved trail turned into a tangle of roots and steep switchbacks. We reached St. Marks Summit in time to get out to the lookout and watch the sun go down with some nice sausage, cheese, dip and wine. Unfortunately, the fresh baked bread was left in the car so we had to make do with wraps. It was really pretty watching the light fade over Howe Sound and the Sea to Sky Highway below. Since it hasn't been too warm recently, it was clear all the way to the island and we were able to spot the lights of Nanaimo, Duncan and Ladysmith with ease.

Arriving at St. Marks, 5km into the hike
Looking out over Howe Sound to Vancouver Island
It feels remote, but Vancouver is just around the corner!
St. Marks Lookout over Gambier and Tantalus

Saturday started out slowly with a photo shoot of the amazing views from St. Marks. We made up for the slow start with some quick hiking up and over the multiple pumps of Unnecessary Mountain to the Lions Lookout where we stopped for lunch along with the hordes of day hikers. We decided against summiting the West Lion as we had another ~10km planned for the day. 

Lions Lookout. Our lunch spot
The Howe Sound Crest trail dips down towards the watershed from the Lions lookout then takes a 90 degree turn back underneath the West Lion before a narrow ledge that climbs up between the two Lions. From here you get a whole new perspective on the North Shore mountains. We were able to see the peaks that we intended to traverse that day. In the distance we could see Sky Pilot and Diamondhead/Garibaldi in Squamish and farther north to Black Tusk.
East (illegal) Lion looking down to Capilano Lake
Looking north from between the Lions. The trail follows the closest ridge
The trail takes hikers along the crest, dipping below Thomas (Tyler's) peak, up over James (Jenny's) Peak and then give you the option of bypassing David's Peak or going straight over the top. We went to the top of all of them. Some errors in our map reading took us to the top of Thomas Peak where we realized that there was no good way down the other side and had to backtrack down the scramble we had just come up. Later, on James, there was a cool walk along a spine in the ridge that had a rope for help. I felt much safer holding onto the rope as the mountain dropped steeply away on both sides!
Lucky the rope is there
Bushwhacker extraordinaire 
We hiked up David's peak after a bushwhack looking for the trail lead me and Tyler up a very steep wall of bushes. Eventually we found the trail and took a snack break at the top. It had been 4 hours since we had left the Lions and it felt as if they hadn't got any farther away than they had been 2 hours prior! 

How are the Lions still so close??
David on David's Peak with Brunswick Mountain in the background
Thankfully, after a steep down-climb of the north side of David's peak, the trail flattened out into a much more manageable trail. Although it was quite overgrown, it had a better grade and allowed us to cover the distance from David's to the emergency shelter at Magnesia Meadows very quickly. 

Looking back at the Lions from Brunswick. Alpine glow!

After refilling water by the shelter, we continued on along the side of Brunswick Mountain. Here the trail became much more well used and easier to follow. We arrived at the turn off to Brunswick Peak where we had intended on ditching our packs and going up to check out the top. Nobody was thrilled with the idea as it was getting late and we were pretty tired already.

It was a good decision. We made it to Brunswick Lake just in time to find tent sites before firing up the headlamps. We had an amazing dinner of butter chicken in the dark by the lake with the sounds of a waterfall in the background.

Sun setting over Howe Sound
Brunswick Mountain dwarfing the tent
We awoke to a clear morning and stunning peaks all around us. The last 8 or 9 km of the hike was well trodden and allowed us to make good time to Deek's Lake where we stopped for a brief swim. After the swim it was all downhill on a trail that turned into a logging road that lead to Porteau Cove. We met Tyler's dad on the logging road as he had hiked up to meet us.

The weekend was a success. The trail offered stunning view around every corner and allowed me to stand on top of some of the peaks above my house. It was definitely the most technical hiking I have ever done, and was pretty challenging with a big overnight bag. Nonetheless, I had a blast and can't wait for my next adventure!

Breakfast by the lake 
Hiking past Middle Lake

Waterfall in Deek's Creek

Thanks to Tyler's dad for the ride! It felt great to sit down

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