On Saturday (26th Nov) Sam and I dropped our Swiss housemate Arno (of the Toblerone dynasty) in town before heading up to do the Hollyburn Mountain hike. This was a bit of a last minute decision for us.
You reach Hollyburn Mountain by heading up to Cypress Mountain on the North shore of Vancouver. I had been up Cypress in the morning on a visit to the Nordic Centre to talk about work, and it was here that I was recommended by Michael (from the Nordic Centre) that I come back and explore a little more, some of the snow shoe roots. This sounded like a great way to spend the afternoon so that’s exactly what we did. I went home to pick up Sam and Arno to see what we could discover of these trails.
The drive up was clearer than all the other drives so far this year so that made it more pleasant. After about 6k up the mountain we could see the snow and ice that had been deposited by the side of the road. As we climbed further this grew bigger and the rain turned to sleet, and then to snow. And just like that, it was snowing – proper, like. It was a slow and careful drive on the way up. Parked up, there was no fighting this time. It’s amazing how different children can be when separated from each other.
Kitted out in the regular hiking gear (plus a slightly warmer hat) we take ourselves to see Hollyburn Lodge and some of the snow shoe routes. This was exciting enough as this was like UK snow. The kind that’s a bit wet but hangs around for a few days before disappearing – yet it’s still snow which is usually good enough for us. It was magical. Without any real direction we start heading down the slope and the snow is thinning out until it disappears. The falling snow turns to rain. By now we had hit the road as well and we realise we’ve probably not made the best decision so we head back to the car in order to find a map and therefore a more exciting route. Looking at the map we saw where we had went and it looked as much pedestrian on the map as it did in real lift. So we turned our sights from the bottom to the top of the map, and there’s an Access Trail that runs up the site of ski slopes.This route turned out to take us to the top of Hollyburn Mountain.
We check our clock and it’s around 2pm. Plenty of time. We head away from the Nordic Centre back the main road as this is where the trail begins, parallel to the ski slope there. It’s a gentle incline to start and the snow was very much the same as in the snow shoe areas. It wasn’t that deep but enough to keep us Brits entertained. There is some water that is running down the path, preventing from any snow settling there. Lines of trees guided us the way up.
To the left we come across the first of The Five Lakes. It was too beautiful to ignore so we go off trail to take a peek. The snow here was knee deep and this was a huge novelty for us. Fumbling with my gloves I get close and take some snaps. The water was saturated with snow. It was a thick layer of blue sludge which I know would be thick ice soon enough. I dare not get much closer.
A snowball landed on my head!
A snowball landed next to me.
“RIGHT! – You’ve had it boy!” My throwing was poor. I promised vengeance. The snow was perfect for snowballs. It bound really well so make them nice and firm.
We stopped climbing as the trail levelled out a little. Sam had gone ahead (we all know I’m a slow hiker) and I’ve lost sight of him. I knew he was hiding somewhere, behind some trees. Yep. He sure was. His snowballs didn’t get me this time. The thing is, with snow like this, it’s difficult to get away fast when you’re only wearing trail runners. Especially now as the snow pack is softer (from fewer walkers) that it’s easy for a foot to breach the bottom of the snow, trapping your foot. With this in mind, I rolled up a couple of snow balls and threw them at Sam. One missed. The second however was just sweet. Sam was running as much as he could, following the trail from right to left. I threw my snowball from the hip, as if I was skimming stones. With precision, it met the side of his head whilst he was running. It was beautiful to watch. That was it for snow balls.
We trotted down a small slope which again levelled out. We found a sight pointing up the mountain to Hollyburn Peak. “We must be on the right track” we thought. By now the snow had gradually started to get deeper and deeper. This was even clearer now that we were out of the trees and in a more open trail. Every 4th step fell through the snow so we were careful with our weight distribution, trying to prevent any twisted knees or doing any damage to our legs. It required quite a bit of effort to keep going. We hadn’t really anticipated so much snow, and we couldn’t believe it. I had literally never seen snow like this before so it was such a treat. (We actually used snow shoes in our hike to the Wendy Thompson Hut on Christmas Day, and in hindsight we very much wished we had them on this trip,)
The best way for me to describe it to someone who’s never hiked in snow like this before, is it’s like wading through the sea. It’s tough and slow going, and every now and again a small wave catches you and you lose balance. A lot of energy is taken up trying to readjust and save you from falling. I’m starting to fall behind a bit and this is when I remember that I forgot to have lunch or bring snacks. This is what happens when you decide to rush out for a hike (Although I did remember all the other essentials, water, extra clothing and head torch). As we zig zag up I catch-up with Sam and we start discussing what we should do next. The day is turning and you can sense that light is beginning to fade – it’s 15:45 pm. This isn’t helped by the fact that there’s a blanket of grey cloud resting in the sky. It’s getting steeper and we can’t see much farther up the mountain so we sense that we must be near the top. It is always difficult to tell however as you never really know what’s hiding over the crest of each hill.
We decide to push on for another 10-15 minutes with the idea that if we don’t get to it by then we should turn back. The snow was even deeper now and the path was less trodden so it was even less compact. It was steeper too so we had resorted to scrambling up on all-fours. I was really blowing now. I was sweating a load and I could hear the blood pulsating through my head as my heart was pumping hard. I couldn’t wait to be at the top. I did have a guilty feeling that I’d rather turn back, but the fact that Sam was ahead and pretty much already there, I couldn’t stop. The decision to push on was right. We made it! Sam was there sitting at the top waiting and it was great to see. We had a well deserved breather and gave ourselves a pat on the back for making it. We shared a banana, a bit of chocolate and swig plenty of water before heading down. We didn’t stay long as the views were obscured, it was cold and of course the light. But I did manage to take a few photos.
We had given ourselves a goal of one hour maximum to get down. We knew it was going to be faster on the way down but a little more prone to injury. With it being darker it was going to be harder to see our steps in the low light. Also by going down hill our steps were heavier and we were careful that our forward momentum wouldn’t carry us over in the eventuality that we got a foot stuck. It did happen a couple of times that I was leaning forward a little too much that when my leg got stuck it put some unwanted pressure on my knees. After happening a couple of times I opted for sliding on my arse trick, for the steep part at the top at least. It wasn’t the best decision I’ve made. It was bumpier than I had hoped and it caught me sweet a few times. I decided I didn’t want to hurt there any more. I resorted to leaning back and being more careful with my steps instead.
As with all bloody hikes, I’m watching my footing. I look up and Sam gone. I knew that he wouldn’t have been far and must have been in the shadow of some of the hills. It was here that I realised the tracks that I was following were old. I had veered off in the wrong direction. I called out 2 or 3 times and got nothing back as the snow absorbs all sound. It’s so peacefully quiet but also quite eerie. It does make communicating a little harder. With a whistle and another yell he replies “Yeah? to the left”.
I couldn’t be bothered to go back where I had come from so cut across. This was fresh snow and wasn’t compact at all. I waded through waist deep to get back on track. This was great fun. It felt like a proper adventure, but it really takes it out of you. Especially when you stumble as much as I did.
When we were going up, the snow was getting deeper and less compact. Meaning on the way down it was the opposite. The trail started to get easier meaning we could go a bit faster. Our steps weren’t going through the snow much at all any more. We were back at the Lakes and so we knew we were only about 15 minutes away, max. The last part, parallel with the ski run, was conquered with a trot – at least in comparison to the way up, and further up on the mountain.
We got back to the car at 17:00 exactly. Perfect timing. It was now pretty much dark. It was nice for once not to be soaked through to the core. All that I really needed changing were my shoes and socks. My shirt was damp from sweat so I swapped that one out too. Other than that – feeling great.
There was a great sense of achievement today. Firstly, we didn’t expect to hike today. It was off-the-cuff. Secondly, the first trail was a bit naff, making us turn around and head for the mountain. This gave us some totally unexpected level of snow which was as exhilarating and adventurous as it was tiring.
We have learnt from this though. We should have done this earlier in the day so we weren’t racing the clock (increased rushing and more prone to accidents) and check the conditions before. This, we both agreed on. However all’s well that ends well right?Especially when the ending included a bacon and avocado sandwich plus doughnut for dessert.
- Here you can find details of the Hollyburn Mountain Hike