Hanging around in Vancouver, waiting for our next adventure Flo (a friend who’s sofa I am crashing) and I decided to take a look at some fun that was a little closer to home. We set upon the Lions Binkert Trail in North Vancouver. Visible from Downtown, they look like Lion’s Ears.
An hours drive north you reach the beginning of the trail in Lion’s Bay. Looking online this was given a Difficulty rating of Difficult. The difficulty takes into consideration the length, incline and skills required to complete it. It’s an 8 hour / 16k round trip, with an elevation gain of 1280 meters. It requires a technical scramble as well as a climbing section which should only be completed by those with experience. This seemed like a challenge compared to the trails which we had been on so far so we decided to go for it. We would push ourselves as far as we were comfortable.
We prepared the day before, pulling together all the usual stuff: lunch, snacks, bear spray, water, water filter (just in case) as well as reading up on the trail for all the nuances that it may throw up.
We wanted an early start to give us plenty of time to enjoy the trail and take pictures without rushing, but also in case something happened it’s always good to have some daylight buffer time at the end. We got our early start, waking at 6 am and arriving at the trail car park at 8:30. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was already warm – It seemed like the perfect day for a hike.
The beginning of the trail starts on an incline along a small gravel track. This runs for about 2K before reaching what you may expect from a mountain trail. It’s was a perfect way for us to warm up as it wasn’t technically difficult but hard enough to get the blood pumping. We crossed our first little waterfall just as we entered the main part of the rain forest. We stopped here, using this opportunity to drink plenty of water and refill whilst we could. It was only going to get warmer. This water is from snow melt so is fresh as you can get so it should be fine to drink straight out but a filter is always recommended as you never know what’s above contaminating the water
We pushed on the trail which remains on a steady incline, with roots from Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar dominating the path. It certainly required some concentration to prevent any twisted ankles! Looking around, the trees and rocks are covered in moss, at some parts inches thick. It rains a lot in these parts, as all the moisture is picked up from the Pacific Ocean, and as the mountains forces the moisture up, heavy clouds form and it’s released. So even through a hot summer, lush green can be seen all around.
Looking to our right we can have our first peek through the trees at the blue waters of Lion’s Bay which is just beautiful. This was an incentive enough to reach the top for such stunning views
Now the trail begins to show why this is not going to be an easy climb. There are fallen trees that we needed to decide whether to climb over or under and small 6ft scrambles up and over rocks, trees and roots. There are big steps that put those quads and bum to the test. Although you feel the burn (which we all love right?) getting our hands dirty like this makes it feel much more like an adventure. We only have small packs on our backs so this makes it easier when squeezing under those trees, especially when they are a little slippery on top. We come across a bigger waterfall with a small splash pool. As the sun was hot we had earmarked this for a paddle and a drink later.
This is the most ‘wild’ type of hike that I’ve been on so far. The trail is small and and not really well used. There are no wooden posts every kilometre, however there are hand-written notes at the 2 junctions and coloured ribbon on trees or rocks for the rest of it. This actually made it feel a little more magical, which if you’ve an imagination, makes a walk through the woods that much more fun (think Lord of the Rings – or is this just me?)
We came across an old boulder field which was probably created from an avalanche or a landslide in the past however the moss was pretty thick here so it seemed like it was an old one. We didn’t have to go up this as the trail goes up the side and over the top but it was impressive none the less. Shortly after we break through the top of the forest onto the clear mountain side. The sunglasses were now on, and peering West we saw the full view of Lion’s Bay as well as the rest of the Sunshine coast. We could see as far as Vancouver Island. It was idyllic but we couldn’t stare too much, there was a second boulder field to conquer first. This was another great workout for the thighs although I don’t think they appreciated them at the time. It was a slow grind however it gave us the opportunity to take some pictures of a couple of grouse that were milling around, casually looking for an escape route from us.
Once we reached the ridge line, there was a flat area where we took a breather and munched on some snacks. Here is where we get the first view of the West Lion Peak. This brought on a bit of fear in our eyes. “Surely the trail doesn’t go all the way up there?” This was the real challenge ahead. Curling along the ridge line we got into a position where we had a 360 degree view of North Vancouver. To the South we could see Vancouver city. Beyond that slightly to the East we could see Mount Baker in Washington State, which is part of the North Cascades National Park. To the South West, behind Vancouver Island, what looks like clouds in the distance is Mount Olympus from the Olympic National Park, WA (We cycled around this park only 2 months ago!).
The ridge-line was not so bad however there were some flat angled rocks with requires you to get on all fours to get up. We were lucky in the sun as if these were wet they would be slippery and far more difficult to climb. This stretched our calf muscles like you’ve never known, but if you like that burn, you’ll love these.
So we got to the end of what seemed like the trail. We were at the edge of the ridge which just dropped off. Down the bottom was some glacial ice and snow packs and there seemed like there was no where else to go. However there was a knotted rope tied around a tree that caught our eye below and to the right. We took a scramble to it and saw that the ridge continued over to the West Lion Ridge. Looking up at the top we could see that there were people up there so it was certainly doable but looking at it we couldn’t figure out how on they did. The rope takes you down about 12 ft so we made sure that it was secure enough before adding our weight onto it. The landing spot at the bottom was narrow but by no means un-manageable to get to. The drops either side were large enough to make it a fatal mistake if something were to go wrong. We deliberated on going further, with Flo having dislocated his shoulder 2 days before, the main concern being was our ability to get back up. Secure enough we decided lowered ourselves down. We got there safely without any popping shoulders. The adrenaline was flowing.
Now we had to figure out where the path was to get to the top of the next peak. This is where the climb starts. It is ropeless and you are unattached. Again we deliberated whether or not to go forward. It’s here that you have these moments that you weigh up the different scenarios; making it, getting stuck or falling. We agreed that we both have to be fully confident about doing it before going any further with no pressure on either of us to do something that we were not comfortable with. We decided to continue however we would take a rain check at each section. We took it slow, and kept distance between each other to give us room to maneuver without any pressure. It started with a crawl up a smooth slab, however after this the holds were pretty good. In climbing terms they are called jugs; deep enough to get a good grip and hold weight. There were a couple of side full holds (where your fingers remain vertical on the hold) and pinches which kept you in place but wouldn’t help much in a slip. It was these that made us think twice about going any further.The climb generally consisted of going sideways to a safer standing platform, then moving up. This repeated throughout.
We came across 4 guys on their way down. We waited for them to make the descent and pass us before moving on. They told us we were about 2 thirds of the way but watching them climb down really made us think again about pushing on. In the end we decided that this was maybe a climb too far. We looked at each other and we both knew. “I think we shall take a rain-check and turn around”. “Yeah, I agree” was the response. So from here we made the return climb. Our feet were harder to find and we were relying on feeling more than sight. The other thing to consider is that the route looks different on the way back. I am sure I said more than once “I don’t think I remember this coming up”. All was fine however, the route was pretty obvious and the destination was always in sight and relatively close. We made it back to the rope section and climbed back up without too much hassle or shoulders popping.
Another contributing factor in our decision to turn around was water. We packed maybe 2.5 litres each but this was certainly not enough, especially in the heat. Even before the climb the mouth was a bit furry, and a headache was setting in. Going any further would prolong the reaching of those waterfalls on the way back.
The return journey felt like it was taking forever especially being as thirsty as we were. The sun was still hot and we were looking forward to getting to the shade again. In actual time wise, the descent was quicker than the ascent which is no real surprise, but it required a lot more concentration. It required more control in the legs as no one wanted a broken ankle. And you could tell we were concentrating because we were quiet – apart from when we saw other hikers of course or making deliberate noise for the bears. As with all descents, the knees took a bit of a pounding so when we crossed the bridge at the waterfall and pool it was a respite for both thirst and the knees. The shoes and socks came off, and Flo took pretty much everything else off too, sparing the blushes of any squirrels coming by. We prepared a late lunch and got the filters out to slurp away at the fresh glacial water which we were very much in need of. All in all, this felt like a form of paradise.
After about half hour enjoying a relaxing sit down, we walked for another 45 minutes to get back down to the car park. By this time the legs and knees were tired and the concentration lapsing (luckily I wasn’t driving back). We had 2 big bottles of water that we left in the car which was great for a top-up. We packed up, stopped off at a cafe for a coffee and reflected on what we had just done and we looked pretty happy with ourselves. Despite turning back we knew it was the right decision and we had views that we didn’t really expect to see so overall our day on the Lions Binkert Trail was highly satisfying.
- Thanks to Flo for sharing his pictures. You can find more from Flo at Do What Make Good