Thursday, April 7, 2005
Head north of the border for a magical mix of city lights and mountain heights
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Avid hikers who visit Vancouver just may want to stick to the city, taking in the attractions and absorbing
the energy of a very diverse metropolis.
Shop until you can't stop along fashionable Robson Street, or find a desperately hip place to dine along West Pender.
Visit the phenomenal First Nations Collection at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology.
Stroll the famous Seawall at Stanley Park if you must.
But leave your hiking boots at home. Do not look north. Ignore the towering green and white skyline that crowns British
Columbia's biggest city.
Because if you don't, your hiking life will become irretrievably complicated. Your list of must-do trails will come to
exceed the length of your arm. You'll find yourself back at home endlessly Web surfing for places with delightfully curious
names such as Black Tusk, Golden Ears or Elfin Lakes.
The fact is, every bit as much as Seattle or Portland, and possibly more, Vancouver boasts phenomenal hiking almost within
a blink or a wink, much of it in the precipitous Coast Range just north.
"It's great being able -- just within even an hour -- to go in almost any direction and have so many options," says Jim
Hamlin, an avid Vancouver hiker and Web designer who runs clubtread.com, a site about hiking around British Columbia. "I like
the variety myself. I enjoy getting above tree line, which you can obviously do here. I enjoy snowshoeing and getting up on
glaciers, which you can also do here. I enjoy the level stuff, such as meadows, which is close and also good. I like the beach
trails, too, and we have those."
The close-in trails are very nice. The Grouse Grind (see story), a steep 2,800-foot grunt with a tram ride back down from the Grouse Mountain ski area, is more a physio-cultural event,
and very popular. But there are prettier hikes nearby: Lynn Headwaters Regional Park in North Vancouver and the Buntzen Lake
area near Coquitlam are laced with nice forest and shoreline trails and hikes to fine views. Mount Seymour and Goat Mountain
are longtime favorites of Vancouver hikers. Almost obligatory for local hikers is the Stawamus Chief, the granite massif you
see en route to Whistler --famous among rock climbers but also attainable by trail -- that offers spectacular views.
Consider options a bit farther out and your mind starts racing: Garibaldi Provincial Park and its stunning Panorama Ridge
and the Black Tusk; the unlogged and intact watershed of Stein Valley Nlaka'pamux Park; the twin peaks of the The Lions above
Howe Sound; and the alpine rock and ice of Wedgemont Lake up in the Whistler area.
"I talked to an Asian fellow who is a world-class hiker and he had been all over the world and showed me pictures of the
different places he had been," says Russ Sawdon, a longtime hiker form Port Moody outside Vancouver. "He'd been to the Swiss
Alps, Germany, Tibet, Nepal. He told me one of the most outstanding hikes he did was Panorama Ridge above Garibaldi Lake.
Interestingly enough, he did mention one down in your neck of the wood, the Wonderland Trail."
That would be, of course, the fabulous route that circles Mount Rainier.
Before you bolt for the border and lace up the boots, however, you should know two operative words about hiking southwestern
B.C.: steep and rugged. Of course Washington's Cascades and Olympics are steep and rugged, too. But, in general, it appears
the trails in B.C. were not built to the gradient standards of the U.S. Forest Service, and the tread is typically as bumpy
and lumpy as a stegosaurus' back
"I've talked to a number of people, particularly from the U.S., and they classify the trails here as a bit more rugged,"
says Sawdon. "I've heard people say, 'We weren't prepared for the terrain.' "
Also, of course, now that winter appears to have returned this spring on both sides of the border, there's plenty of snow
again in the high country. Unless you're fully prepared for snow travel, for the time being you'll want to stick to trails
below 3,000 or so feet.
The P-I trails crew sampled a couple of good examples on a recent two-day visit: Diez Vistas above Buntzen Lake and Lynn
Peak in popular Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.
On the latter hike we had the pleasure of hiking with 10 Club Tread members and, based on the experience, the first thing
that must be said is: Club Tread hikes rock!
We all met near the park entrance, gathering around hike organizer Lyda Salatian, a recent arrival in Vancouver by way
of Ontario, a smiling, lively young woman, and her friends, fairly novice hikers Melissa Condie (quiet but interested) and
Jen Burke (uncertain but game). We were joined by Ed LaPointe of Burnaby, a very strong and well-equipped hiker, Bogdan Krakowski
of North Vancouver, a strong hiker with a slightly sardonic sense of humor, Christine Florizon, a UBC microbiologist and experienced
hiker, Tracy Leach, an experienced hiker back home for Easter from studies in Ontario, Shelley Smith, a runner and hiker from
Burnaby, and Jeff Christensen, a climber and heavy-equipment mechanic from Langley. Arriving late and ultimately catching
up was Steve Quattrocha, a musician from Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast.
Lynn Headwaters Park embraces a valley of second-growth forest and offers year-round hiking on easy trails along pretty
Lynn Creek and more ambitious routes to higher elevations, including Grouse Mountain and Lynn Peak.
Lynn Peak is a fairly steep hike that many Vancouverites consider a quieter alternative to the Grouse Grind, climbing about
2,300 feet in 2.2 miles through typical coastal forest of western hemlock, red cedar and Douglas fir, with an understory of
red huckleberry, salal and sword ferns. This is a rocky, root-laced trail that tests the knees and ankles as well as the calves
and lungs, but overall it is not difficult for a hiker in decent shape.
Before long the group had spread out, LaPointe leading the way and the rest of us in small knots hiking at our own paces,
eventually climbing to a small clearing with views out over the Seymour Valley. Here the trail took on some character, passing
through a remnant patch of big old spruce and cedar before winding into the mists and up toward the peak. It's one of those
trails that teases you, looking as if its about to gain the peak before twisting up yet another shoulder.
Eventually, thin snow appeared in shaded areas and we reached the top, a rocky knob with an excellent view back down toward
the city. On a clear day you may be able to see out beyond the Gulf of Georgia, but it was hazy. So we sat, ate lunch and
chatted about hiker stuff: trekking poles, hydration packs, trail food and trips. One of the guys is climbing Mount Baker
later this year. Leach is organizing a summer backpack on Vancouver Island's famous West Coast Trail. The very fit Smith is
running the Vancouver Sun Run in April, a huge 10K that attracts more than 40,000 runners.
Of course, we had to quiz the locals on favorite trails.
Florizon's is The Lions, two rounded rock peaks that tower above Howe Sound just north of Vancouver and offer incredible
views. It is approached off the Sea-to-Sky Highway (99).
"It's a good haul," she says. "It's a great workout and it's steep. You can look down on Lion's Bay and it almost makes
you dizzy. You can see Howe Sound, Gambier Island."
By the book, that hike gains more than 4,000 feet and while most hikers don't, the West Lion can be scrambled, although
it has killed people.
Farther up the Sea-to-Sky, Stawamus Chief, intriguing to visitors because it is so prominent and whose west face is a popular
climb, is not too difficult by the extremely popular trail on the back side, which gains less than 2,000 feet.
"It's covered with tourists," says Florizon.
"It's like a conga line," says Smith, who adds that the views from the top are grand;: "It's like 360 degrees."
It gets chilly quickly up on Lynn Peak, so after eating we descend, then repair to the nearby Black Bear Pub for a pint
and more camaraderie.
Diez Vistas, Spanish for Ten Vistas, is a longer loop trail in the Buntzen Lake Reservoir recreation area near Port Moody,
managed by BC Hydro.
It is similar to the Lynn Peak Trail in terms of footing, not as steep, but with better views from 10 vantage points along
a ridge above Indian Arm, a fjord that extends north from Burrard Inlet. Some people find the Diez Vistas Trail hard to follow.
We didn't, but Sawdon says two women recently had to spend the night up there.
He also says that B.C. trails are not patrolled as often as those in the United States, so you need to be ready.
"Your readers need to know that if they do come up here, the trails are less controlled," Sawdon says. "There are no park
rangers. You've got to be self-sufficient and the 10 essentials (survival gear) are very important."
Or you could just keep your life simple and stick to the sights under the city lights.
If you go
Two good guidebooks are "Best Hikes and Walks of Southwestern British Columbia" by Dawn Hanna (Lone Pine, 359 pages, $15.95)
and "103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia" by Jack Bryceland and Mary and David Macaree (Greystone/Mountaineers, 240
For all the latest chatter, trail data, photos, stories and trip reports on B.C. hiking, see www.clubtread.com. Also see Russ Sawdon's site, vancouverhiking.tripod.com/.
For specifics on trails at Lynn Headwaters Park, see www.gvrd.bc.ca/parks/locations.htm. For specifics on the trails around Buntzen Lake, see www.bchydro.com/recreation/.