Sunday, October 16, 2011

Howe Sound Crest Trail

This weekend saw our usual peak bagging party reduced to 3. Neil, Dave and myself. Maybe the others knew something I didn't. We started at Cypress with a goal of bagging 5 Peaks on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. We told Dave's wife Helen she could expect us at Lions Bay by 5 pm but that we would keep in touch by cell phone.

The first peak was St. Marks where we encountered some icy conditions in shady or North facing slopes. It was a warning for the rest of the day that we could be faced with slippery conditions under foot.

Dave and I at St. Marks Summit.

View down to Howe Sound from St. Marks. You can see a BC Ferry on the Vancouver Island run.

On our way to Unnecessary Mountain we came upon 2 other baggers, Mike Wardas and his friend Al whom we continued to see throughout the day as they too had similar ambitions for the day.
The trail to Unnecessary was pleasant for awhile and then became very steep (don't they all!) Once we reached the summit of Unnecessary we were provided with spectacular views of Howe Sound and the Lions for which we were headed towards.

Neil and I at the top of Unnecessary.

Whose holding who up?

Enjoying my PBJ with the distant Lions in the background.

One of the few signs or trail markings along the route.

The north side of Unnecessary provides a noticeable change in trail difficulty. From here on the trail is much less travelled by the average hiker and contains many challenges. There are a few steep rocky drop offs which fellow baggers have noted to be known as "dodgy".

A dodgy moment - good catch Dave!

Approaching the West Lion.

Mike and Al having a break on top of this large boulder. There is a cache here with emergency supplies. I don't think I have mentioned the spectacular weather. It was perfect (except for the ice) but it is a trade off for bugs/wasps and miserable weather. The skies were clear all day and what turned out to be, night!

As we approached the West Lion the guys were mumbling up ahead about how the conditions on the West Lion would really be quite perfect today for a summit attempt. This instantly recognizable almost vertical sided rock pillar can be seen throughout the Lower Mainland as can it's twin the East Lion similarly impressive but within the greater Vancouver watershed and hence out of bounds to hikers. When we arrived at the West Lion there were many other hikers taking advantage of the dry rock. However, we noticed several people that were frozen on the rock with fear. Many were out of their depth. I found it hard to watch them fearing an accident was looming.

Dave, Neil and Mike decided to go for it. Neil took the camera with him but asked me to take photos on the BlackBerry from my safe view point. I found it very hard to watch them on this technically very difficult peak and could only point and shoot the camera hoping that I had captured the moment.

Neil captured Dave going up.

Dave and Neil working their way back.

Neil working his way out. Yikes!

Dave and Mike before it goes straight up.

Traffic Jam!

Dave in the blue shirt on the way out.

Mike and Dave going up.

Dave and Neil at the top of the West Lion.

View from the top!

View from the top!

Dave encouraging Neil to go for it! They are heading back.

Once all bodies were accounted for at the base of the West Lion we headed out with determination to complete the original planned journey. We were now on our way to James and David Peaks. After the West Lion the trail is much less travelled and was filled with many dodgy moments for the rest of the day.

Dodgy moment - a narrow ledge with no bounce for a kilometer!

The narrow ledge we crossed.

Next was the obligatory boulder field that one encounters on most North Shore Bagging expeditions. The only difference is the size of the boulders, these ranged in size from basket ball to exercise ball. (unlike the Volkswagens we had on Elsay).

Enchanted Lake.

Anytime you see a rope and a chain you know you are in for a dodgy moment! Straight drop offs on both sides. The rope helped us get across, the chain helped get us up the vertical wall once on the other side.

Neil and I at the top of David Peak. We met Mike on his way down, he couldn't find the trail that goes over the top and connects with the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Once up the red shale summit we wandered around for a bit until I spotted the faint exit trail down. There were no markings for a bit and then they appeared which is so reassuring when you see the flagging. It was steep and I took most of it on my butt as it was also icy which made it quite treacherous.

Once off David Peak we met up with Mike and Al again. This is where our day together ended. They headed back to their car at Lions Bay on one of the few exit trails off the Howe Sound Crest trail and we carried on to Harvey Pass/Mount Harvey. Mike cautioned us that we would meet darkness. We were prepared for dark with headlamps and extra clothing. The sky was so clear which would help extend the light for a bit.

A view back to the Lions from Harvey Pass.

I knew the trail went by Mount Harvey and I thought we would have the opportunity to decide if we were going to go up. As we carried on I soon realized we were going up and over Mount Harvey. The sun was starting to go down and we were cold as we made our way through Harvey Pass. Flagging directed us straight up the rock mass of Harvey. Dave led the way, it was steep treacherous climb through a series of vertical chimneys. Thankfully there were hand holds and bushes to grab to get ones self up. It was not easy and took my full concentration to focus on getting myself up and not worrying about or looking at the vertical drop below. Neil had to do a bit of pushing a times to give me that extra up and over. I think we were all concerned about the trail down once on top. Dave did a great job of reminding us that the trail on the other side is the most used route. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to go down what I just came up so I was starting to have the plan in my head of a night on Harvey and a call for help. It was cold, steep and we were running out of daylight.

Great to see we had reached the top - what a relief!

We spent a few minutes celebrating 6 peaks for Dave and Neil, 5 for me!

Neil and I at the top of Harvey - very glad to have made it!

A view from the top over to Hat, Fat Ass and Brunswick.

Sunset on Howe Sound - it was a beautiful sunset but we were concerned about not knowing what was ahead of us in the dark.

A final glimpse of the Lions.

Looks like we found the trail down! Our spirits picked up and all was well.

A beautiful sunset through the trees.

Coat, Hats and gloves on as we descend the final peak into darkness.

In the dark, Dave and I as we descend the steep trail. We got off trail a few times as markers were few.

Neil and I descending into Lions Bay. Once out on the "gravel road" we commented that it felt like a 4 lane highway compared to what we had travelled on all day. We had talked to Helen a few times throughout the evening so she was aware of our location and Estimated Time of Arrival. We started at 8:30 am and reached Lions Bay at 8:30 pm. 12 hours - now that's a full day! We were 3.5 hours off on the original arrival time for Helen. Our car was at Cypress Bowl so she shuffled us there and it was 10:30pm once we arrived home. So 6Peaks for Dave and Neil, 5 for me. What an incredible journey in fantastic conditions that will be hard to match! Thanks guys for the pushes and pulls!

***Footnote: Mike & Al also made it out safely about an hour earlier than we did***


  1. Twisted Bagger MooreOctober 18, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    Totally awesome! You guys had such a great adventure and a perfect day for viewing the sights. Thanks for sharing all the pictures and making me wanna do it too!

  2. Wow great pictures especially the rocky West Lion climb!

    Ankle Boy

  3. Great photos. If you don't mind I'll live vicariously through you guys and enjoy my "me" time warm and cozy in the MINI. Of course, tip for future... no scary radio shows when parked in the middle of nowhere deep in darkness. What the mind will do when running amok!! Thanks for keeping Dave safe on your adventures, if that is possible with his wildly adventurous tendencies.
    Cheers, Helen

  4. OMG !!!! You definately NEED my Spot Communicator !!!!!

  5. Thanks for sharing this post of your adventure! It helped me in my "run" today from Porteau Cove to Cypress - and I could show my wife some of the challenges I encountered along the way.