Take me to the Top – Lions Peak, Vancouver

So this is Rob here and my delightful wife has kindly handed over the reigns of her Blog to me for one day. This was no mean feat, might I say! Being a Zielinski too I feel that I can write under Greenskis with authenticity. So here goes.. hope you enjoy!

It’s an odd way to start an epic hike but mine started in the hot tub at the Hillcrest Aquatic Centre. Yep, that’s right, whilst I was whiling away a cool and crisp March morning in the lovely warm waters the plan to climb the Lions Peak was hatched. There, next to me was our great friend, Nicole, who provided the necessary local knowledge. I asked her what those two distant peaks were that were intermittently obscured by clouds. They were the most prominent features on the skyline and they beckoned. Her casual reply was “Oh they are the Lions Peaks and they are a bit of Vancouver legend.” The next question was reflexive – “So can you climb them? And is it hard?” Not being a rock climber but an adventurous soul I was hoping her answer was “Yes” to both. Indeed it was. They are definitely hike-able, require no mountain gear and afford one of the best views of Vancouver and the surrounding area. That’s all I needed to hear.

The Lions Peak way in the distance from downtown

In the distance the Lions Peaks are visible from anywhere in Vancouver

Fast forward about 6 months and with a reasonable amount of background reading and a hiking crew all ready to go we set out at dawn to climb the Lions! But first a bit more background on these little beauties. It is well-known that most Vancouverites desire to climb the Lions but few actually ever get around to it. Being in Vancouver for the short term provided the requisite motivation and so I enrolled two other Aussies to join me. The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft);East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft)) along the North Shore Mountains in Vancouver. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area, as far as East Burnaby, south to parts of Surrey, and from the west on the  Howe Sound Islands. Along with the Lions Gate Bridge named in their honour, these twin summits have become one of the most recognizable Vancouver landmarks.

The earliest recorded climb of the West Lion in 1889 happened almost by accident. A group of hunters following a herd of goats found themselves at the top with no place to go but down. Sadly there is no cable car to effortlessly transport you down like on Grouse Mountain and I soon learnt that it is the descent that really hurts you. Most of the hiking advice websites recommend to plan for a 3-4 hr ascent, 1 hour to enjoy the scenery and 3-4 hour descent. That adds up to 8-9 hours, a double shot of coffee and a very long and arduous day.

On the day we chose to climb the Lions we accidentally coincided with the Lions Bay Community annual ascent. That translated to another 50 people, mostly on the 60+ years side, attempting the climb. All in all there were about 300 people who climbed that day. That brings me to my first piece of unsolicited advice, get there EARLY! Not just to snare one of the rare parks at the start of the climb (the run off car park is about 1km away … down hill) but to enjoy the climb in some serenity. So we three, set off full of vim and vigour and enjoyed a reasonably placid start to the hike. The first section was on an old fire trail and only a gradual climb. This quickly led into a lovely well-marked park that wound its away over gullies into valleys and traversed some lovely quintessential West Coast pine forrestscape.

Typical but beautiful West Coast Pine Forest. The trail is well-marked.

Some old pines make way for new growth
Some old pines blown down in storms make way for new growth

We were enveloped by massively majestic old pines, and occasional fallen giants as storms, winds and father time continually remodel the forest. After an hour and much banter amongst the group, things began to escalate – in both oxygen demands and steepness. Occasionally one would be tempted by a stunning view of Howe Sound but mostly it was solid progress through dense pine forest. In parts it was definitely steeper than the Grouse Grind so I was starting to blow out many candles.

Halfway up and we were excited. Stunning Howe Sound in the background.

Halfway up and we were excited. Stunning Howe Sound in the background.

As we crept out of the tree line we were greeted with an awe inspiring vista. The vastness of the valley was humbling and off to the left one caught a good look at the West Lion. Boy, it looked a fair hike away and it remained a couple of hours of hard yakka. We saw some fire pits up of hiking groups who prefer to share the awesomeness with no one. The next section was across scree, granite boulder fields, and occasional ponds of snow. Even though we were well into August and the weather was a picture perfect 23 degrees and blue sky as far as the eye gazed, the amount of snow this area receives meant that it stays alpine all year round. The snow wasn’t troubling at all more of a passing novelty for us three Australians. It also afforded us with ammunition for an impromptu snow ball fight.

Some scrambling over granite boulders and lingering snow islands.

Some scrambling over granite boulders and lingering snow islands.

Well you had to, didn’t you? Through this section over your right shoulder lay the vastness and beauty of Howe Sound.

Wondrous Howe Sound, nothing more to say

Wondrous Howe Sound, nothing more to say

This body of water starts at Squamish and transports the gazillion litres of snow melt from the mountains each year. We wondered what constitutes a Sound and later I discovered it is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight (even the Great Aussie Bight?), and wider than a fjord; or it may be defined as a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land. Right back to the hike. At this point, high above the real tree line and in the boulder fields another path joins and this one started way back at Cypress Mountain. So there is a second way of getting to the Lions but apparently this way is EVEN longer and not as picturesque.

My favourite mountainscape - stunning palate of blues

My favourite mountainscape – stunning palate of blues

We had 30 mins to go and I was getting pretty pumped. The last section is a bit of more strenuous weaving and climbing up larger boulders. Definitely no climbing required but just a little more technical than the rest of the hike. At this point you are at the saddle of the Lions and the West Lion is over to your left and the East Lion to the right. The East Lion is out of bounds to climbing but many tackle the West Lion. As you can see in the picture below there is a pretty precarious section to navigate. No mistakes are possible as the ‘trail’ is narrow and the mountain falls away so steeply that a fall would be curtains.

West Lion (far top right) stands proudly out in the distance.

West Lion (far top right) stands proudly out in the distance.

At this point of the summit some 1500m above sea level I felt no desire to climb higher. We shared this moment with a few ‘tame’ black crows that were actually terrifyingly large. I suspect they fed on wasted scraps from the horde of climbers’ lunches. All I could think of was their massive beaks just pecking away at my eyeballs if I was unlucky to slip and perish up there. OK that is a crow pecking eye phobia I have had for a while and occasionally it leaps into my thoughts.

Black Crows grow big in the Mountains

Black Crows grow big in the Mountains

So what did we see and was it worth the effort. You betcha!! We were lucky enough to see Mt Baker way down in Washington, USA still capped in snow. There were mountains in every direction but one. Howe Sound was in that direction and it continued to absorb your gaze effortlessly. Capilano Dam was visible which supplies the vast majority of drinking water to Vancouver. And way off in the distance the city skyline of bustling Vancouver twinkled.

Perching on the Precipice. Howe Sound in the distant.

Perching on the Precipice. Howe Sound in the distant.

We decided to sit down and enjoy a hearty lunch. I was fortunate to have my wife’s famous Quinoa Salad and it went down the hatch in record time, even for me! Man it was tasty. One weird observation up here was that there was reasonable mobile phone coverage which weirdly took a little away from the experience. But I guess if you fell and hurt yourself the ability to call was comforting. The youngsters probably twittered or facebooked their achievement.

The descent was next and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. There’s no longer any anticipation and the constant pressure on the knees and quadriceps was likely going to be crippling. A few tourist helicopters whizzed by and I wistfully imagined hitchhiking a ride back down. Fast forward 3 difficult hours and we were down. My legs were jello and doing the Wobble, totally under their own control having severed any connection to my neuromuscular junctions. We washed away the pain with a lovely lemonade a few girls were selling to raise some money for something or other. Heck it was cold and it was good. Next stop was BierCraft, the local Belgium beer and schnitzel house to meet my wife and son for a crisp, cleansing, and cold beer. Talk about the exclamation mark on a day that was most definitely mind-blowing.
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Take me to the Top – Lions Peak, Vancouver

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s