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