Hiking Chilliwack's Elk Mountain and Mount Thurston more than worth the effort

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      Looking for a hike near Vancouver that will test your mettle and generously reward your efforts? A day trip to Elk Mountain and Mount Thurston in Chilliwack may be in order.

      From a gravel pit on Chilliwack Bench Forest Service Road, the steep and unrelenting Elk-Thurston Trail climbs Grouse Grind-like through the woods to Elk Mountain's west ridge. There, a grand view of the Fraser Valley offers you a taste of what's yet to come.

      The trail then heads through wonderful subalpine meadows with wildflowers and strawberries to Elk's 1,430-metre summit, a worthy turn-around point for a shorter hike.

      But, with the hardest part behind you, the best is yet to come. The trail continues along the ridge, allowing you to savour the high meadows and sweeping views of the Chilliwack River valley, which lies below your feet to the right.

      The greatest views come at a false summit of Mount Thurston, marked by a cairn. Many hikers will be satisfied with making this superlative spot their destination.

      For the sake of completeness, however, you may press on, expending ample effort, to the true summit of Thurston, further along the ridge. Lying a couple of bumps away, the 1,625-metre summit is treed but offers views of the Cheam Range.

      Hiking to Thurston's summit involves a round trip of around seven hours.

      To get to the trailhead, take Exit 123 on Trans-Canada Highway 1, and go south on Prest Road. Turn left on Bailey Road and take the right fork to get onto Elk View Road, which travels through the community of Ryder Lake and eventually becomes Chilliwack Bench FSR. Look for the gravel-pit parking lot on the left.

      You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.