North Shore trails to hike close to home
Higher ground. That’s where to head when a tsunami of late-summer heat wallops the city. Ascend a forested pathway to find sanctuary. With that in mind, here is a trio of North Shore forays recently trail-tested by the Georgia Straight, all with the added advantage of being reachable by public transit.
First up: the 3.3-kilometre BCMC Trail on Grouse Mountain. Although a forest canopy shades this route, the tradeoff is that stands of Douglas fir all but cloak views of the surrounding Capilano watershed and North Vancouver. The origins of this trail stretch back more than a century, to 1910, when the fledgling B.C. Mountaineering Club acquired land on Grouse Mountain and built a cabin whose site has long since been reclaimed by nature. During subsequent decades, climbers used the hut as a base for exploring higher regions of what was then called the Britannia Range.
These days, the BCMC Trail acts as the eastern bridesmaid to the Grouse Grind. In fact, both trails originate from almost the same departure point and converge at a jackpot viewpoint below Grouse Mountain’s Peak Chalet. Rougher, though equally well marked, the slightly longer BCMC Trail draws fewer hikers than the renowned Grind. That’s a plus. No one posts their best times on this trail; no would-be record beaters elbow past.
Instead, enjoy a heart-rate-accelerating workout at your own pace rather than being swept along on the wave of humanity that surges up the Grind. This is a trail where people stop to exchange impressions. “We’re here because our host recommended it over the Grind,” Catherine Hoofd, from Belgium, told the Straight. The molecular-biology research engineer and her partner, Gilles Delnee, had just arrived in Vancouver for a two-year stint at UBC. “This trail is just what we had in mind,” she declared.
Not everyone has the inclination, let alone the knee strength, to hike the trail both ways. Those who do may well find themselves hobbling and wobbling for days afterward. For a price, a descent on Grouse Mountain’s Skyride gondola is a painless option. Either way, the rewards linger. Back at sea level, lift your eyes and marvel as you measure your accomplishment against the top of the Cut ski run, where the BCMC Trail tops out. You did it.
The same feel-good vibe lingers after you bag Lynn Peak, except, unlike neighbouring Grouse Mountain, its summit isn’t lit up. Ghostly visages of ancient cedars line the 8.8-kilometre round-trip route in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The tall, hollow stumps provide perfect hiding places for wildlife such as downy woodpeckers—and youngsters such as Shawn and Justin Nordlund, who laid in wait to spook their RCMP constable father, Chris.
“This is the first time I’ve brought my boys here,” the Coquitlam resident said while making the descent from Lynn Peak’s mosquito-infested granite top. Nordlund related that his regular beat is the rural hinterland around Pitt Lake. He agreed that although the Lynn Peak route is much longer than the BCMC Trail, it compensates with a gentler incline plus the benefit of delivering visitors to a grove of massive firs dubbed the Enchanted Forest. There’s nothing oversold about the experience of standing beside a thickly grooved bark column whose branches only begin to sprout three storeys above. Digest that while enjoying a lunch break at the nearby viewpoint that overlooks the Seymour River Valley.
When it comes to measuring oneself against living wooden pillars while exulting in cool breezes carried along by a mountain stream, nothing surpasses West Vancouver’s seven-kilometre (or shorter) Brothers Creek Loop trail. Gentler by far than the BCMC and Lynn Peak trails, pathways lead along both sides of the creek’s canyon through stands of ancient western red cedars and Douglas firs whose roots drink deep from the bubbling waters.
Compared to other North Shore trails whose pathways follow rocky creek beds, Brothers’ twin routes are smoother, particularly along the former logging road that ribbons the creek’s east bank. Bridges span the clear waterway in three places and offer the choice of parcelling up a visit into shorter or longer loop journeys. Swimming holes beneath the bridges provide welcoming oases for biding time on fading summer days as spokes of sunlight shaft down.
For a full-immersion session, dip yourself from head to toe in either of two small lakes, Blue Gentian and Lost, set a short distance apart above Third Bridge. Twin cameos of brightness in an otherwise sheltered green landscape, these swimming holes are unequalled on the North Shore. The challenge is not so much acclimatizing to the lakes’ cool temperatures as finding an approach through their lily-pad-encircled shorelines.
Keep in mind that a quest for higher ground favours the bold over the squeamish every time.
Access: Ride the scenic SeaBus from Waterfront Station to Lonsdale Quay, then take the #232 and #236 bus to the Grouse Mountain parking lot or the #228 Lynn Valley to Intake Road, one kilometre from the entrance to Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The #254 British Properties bus to the Brothers Creek trailhead on Millstream Road leaves from the Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver. (Take the #250 Horseshoe Bay blue bus from in front of the Bay downtown to get over the Lions Gate Bridge to the centre.) For bus schedules and information, visit the TransLink website. Weather in the mountains can change quickly, so pack North Shore Rescue’s 10 essentials, listed at North Shore Rescue's website.