Howe Sound Crest Trail, Sept 1-4 2010 - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 05:55 PM Thread Starter
Headed for the Mountains
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Default Howe Sound Crest Trail, Sept 1-4 2010

There have been a few trip reports about this trail recently, but I wanted to share my experience and photos, since I got so much useful help and advice from you guys before I left.

Things I was mildly concerned about before setting off:

1. Water! The day before we left was the rainiest day since time began, which worked out splendidly, as it filled up all the tarns and created clean water reservoirs where there is usually nothing. So, we had no issues with finding water, and even managed to fill up on the David/James ridge, in the notorious “no water ‘til Magnesia” section.
2. Camp spots. No issues with this – loads of lovely looking spots all over the place, and seeing as water was plentiful, we were able to camp in areas that would usually be too far from a water source. I have to say though that we came across quite a few places where campers had left rubbish, fire pits and faeces all over the place, which was a shame.
3. Wayfinding. No problems here. The trail was very rough in places, but well marked. I was always able to spot the next marker, and I think we only went a bit wrong once, and ended up on a cliff edge, but it was a short back-track to the trail proper. We did, however, have excellent visibility. I wouldn't be comfortable doing this trail in poor visibility, unless I knew it very well.

So, on to the trip report!

Overall impressions

This was a jaw-droppingly stunning trail. For periods, you're in the forest, but for a large part of the trail, you're walking a ridge, with amazing views in all directions. The trail is tough-going in parts, with steep scrambly ascents and descents (with ropes to help in places), some exposure, talus slopes. However, there was very little deadfall to deal with, and although the trail was overgrown in places, it was never particularly hard to push through. We did the trail in 3 nights (two full and two half days of hiking). We met several people who were doing it all in one day, which I think is super-human. For mortals, 3 days/2 nights would be sufficient. We were glad of our more relaxed time-table, as it allowed us to detour up Brunswick, and get out early on the final day.

Day 1 – Cypress parking lot to the Unnecessary/West Lion saddle. 12.4 km, according to the GPS.

Being vehicularly challenged, we had to be a bit creative about getting to the trail-head. We got a bus to Park Royal, then a taxi up the mountain (50 dollars, inc tip). We drove up through cloud, with low expectations about visibility, but were delighted to see that the ridge was clear. Finding the trailhead was easy, but we were confused by signs for “Howe Sound Crest Trail West” and “Howe Sound Crest Trail East”. It seems that there are a couple of alternative routes that join up just past the Bowen Lookout. We chose to take the trail towards Yew Lake, then climb to the Bowen Lookout, since the other option looked like it was up a road and possibly less scenic. We came across a sign saying the trail was closed for improvements, but we continued on. Once on the HSCT proper, we made our way round Mt. Strachan, before beginning the wooded climb up St. Marks. Not many views in this section, but the forest was magical, as always, and we had a sooty grouse come check us out. We stopped for lunch on top of St. Marks, with an incredibly beautiful view of the Howe Sound and mountains beyond. A very bold chipmunk scampered around, trying to get at our tasty treats, but we managed to fend him off.

From St. Marks, we dropped down to the saddle, and then began climbing again, emerging out of the trees on top of Unnecessary Mountain. Views from here were again spectacular, this time affording a 360 degree panorama. We made our way up and over the various bumps of Unnecessary, towards the tarn that we'd planned to be our first camp-site. One section of the trail was a bit tricky, with some rocky drops to negotiate, sometimes with ropes to assist. We found the tarn easily enough, but opted to stay up on the ridge, since the rainfall of the day before had created tantalizingly refreshing looking ponds in every rock depression. Dinner was eaten while watching the sun set over the Sunshine Coast as a feeling of peace and great privilege washed over us. What an amazing place.

This sign lies.

On the trail - a very pleasant flat, well maintained path, to lull us into a false sense of security.

First view of the Howe Sound.

The trail condition deteriorates quickly as you head up St. Marks, but is still easy to follow.

Sooty grouse.

View from St. Marks' summit.

First view of the Lions.

Anvil island.

Steep trail up Unnecessary.

View back towards Vancouver from Unnecessary.

Unnecessary ridge and Harvey, Brunswick and Hannover in the background.

Unnecessary views.

The Lions looking tantalizingly close.

Looking back at Unnecessary cliff face.

Looking down on the tarn that we'd planned to camp at. We ended up staying at the ridge on the left, as there was fresh water there, and we could watch the sunset over the Howe Sound.

Our fresh rain water supply. Probably not more than a mud puddle usually.

Views from our camp spot.

Day 2 – Unnecessary/West Lion saddle to Magnesia Meadows. About 8 km.

We awoke to another beautiful day. Breakfast up on the ridge was a memorable experience. Then it was onwards to the Lions. We took a look at the West Lion and decided against summiting it. We'll leave that for another time. From here the trail passed underneath the West lion and went up onto a little knoll between the Lions, were we found a whole load of scenic (but messy) campsites. The view back down the Capilano valley to Capilano lake and Vancouver was spectacular. We could make out the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker in the distance. Stopping here for a snack allowed us to survey what was ahead of us – Thomas, James and David peaks. It looked so innocent… As we continued along the ridge, we got good views of a small tarn just north of the East lion, and then Enchantment Lake and Hanging Lake.

The trail traverses round Thomas peak, through patches of snow, before climbing up and over James peak. The climb over James was quite an undertaking – very rough trail, straight up the mountain. All limbs were occupied with hauling myself up, and I frequently cursed my short legs for making this more exhausting than it needed to be. While stopping to catch breath, I caught a glimpse of some bright white blobs moving across a crag nearby – mountain goats! This was an unexpected delight for me, so we stopped to watch them nimbly make their way down impossible-looking terrain. Unfortunately, they were a long way away, and I'd ditched my SLR with telephoto lens in favour of my lightweight point-and-shoot, so the pictures are terrible, but I was so pleased to have seen them. We continued up James with renewed enthusiasm, eventually coming to the notorious exposed section of the trail. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, but still quite exhilarating. We made it across without any problems.

On the saddle between David and James peaks we found a tarn, which allowed us to fill up on water and dip our feet. Did I mention that it was swelteringly hot? From here we had to decide whether to take the official route down and round David, or the unofficial scramble up and over. We decided to go for the former, mainly due to having cumbersome overnight packs. This was the most demoralizing part of the trail, as we lost a lot of elevation to get round David. We crossed numerous talus fields, before finally beginning to climb again. It was great once we had regained the height, and the views of Mt Harvey, the Howe Sound and the Lions opened up again. The trail up to Magnesia Meadows was overgrown, but not very steep. As we continued, the swarm of mosquitoes surrounding my head got bigger and bigger, before I was on the verge of completely throwing my toys out of the pram with frustration. Once we reached Magnesia Meadows and caught a glimpse of the red emergency shelter, which was our intended destination, I found some more energy. We tried to outsmart the bugs with long sleeves, trousers and bug hats, but we both got bitten badly. We quickly put the tent up, made a dash for the tarn for a refreshingly freezing dip, and then made use of the shelter to eat dinner without being eaten ourselves.

It was fun to read the shelter log book, although sad to see that one of the very first entries was by someone complaining that the shelter wasn't somewhere where they would choose to spend a night (not a “destination hut”). We thought it was great, and would definitely have been glad to spend the night there in an emergency. We were both exhausted after a very tough day, during which we'd travelled a mere 8km!

Unbeatable view for breakfast!


Looking back towards Unnecessary from near the Lions.

The Lions, close up.

The trail round the West Lion.

Many times have I stood at the Capilano Dam, taking pictures of the Lions. It was great to do it the other way round!

First view of Thomas, David and James.

Looking back to the Cypress bowl. We've come a long way!

Tarn by the East Lion.

West Lion.

One of the very few remaining snowfields on the trail. Enchantment lake below.

Amazing trail, amazing views!

For some reason I wasn't expecting heather, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Mountain goats! Three of them!

The trail up James is straight up and hard work!

The exposed section. Steep drops on either side, but plenty of room and stuff to hold on to.

One of the talus fields we had to cross as we went round David peak.

Seeing Hanging lake so close was bittersweet, as we knew we would have to regain all the height we had lost.

The only way is up. I was beginning to feel the pain at this point.

On the way up to Magnesia Meadows. Very overgrown.

View down towards Lion's Bay.

Looking back towards the Lions. They look so close, but we'd been through so much since then!

First glimpse of Magnesia Meadows shelter.

Magnesia Meadows emergency shelter. The question on our minds - is it mosquito tight? Yes!

Another stunning view (Mt Harvey) from another stunning campsite.

Despite the bug hats, we still got eaten. This photo shows how ridiculously small the MEC Tarn 2 is. Amazing that we both fit in there!

Tarn at Magnesia Meadows - time for a dip!

Day 3 – Magnesia Meadows to Deek's Lake, including Brunswick Mountain detour.

Thankfully the bugs were less intense on this day as we traversed round Brunswick. We soon met a man who was well on the way to doing the trail in one day, in the other direction. We passed through forest and meadows, with many flowering thistles and lupines, and occasional spectacular views of the Howe Sound and Georgia Strait. When we reached the intersection with the Brunswick Mountain trail, we decided to stash our packs and make a dash (a very slow one, with labored breathing) for the summit. A very worthy detour, it turned out to be. The route up was steep and the ridge was heebie-jeebie inducing, but what a view! I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. It felt like we were on top of the world. In all directions, we saw endless mountains. Truly spectacular. I don't usually suffer from vertigo, but I wasn't entirely comfortable on the ridge, so we didn't make it all the way to the true summit. It was nice to be able to look down and see where the HSCT would lead us next – past Brunswick, Hannover and Deek's Lakes.

We returned to our packs, wearily donned them, and were on our way again, passing through Hat Pass (that's a very cool hanging lake) and down to the bright blue of Brunswick Lake. The Brunswick Lake shelter looked great, but the area was littered with human faeces, in some cases practically right on the path. Not very nice! How can anyone think that that's an acceptable thing to do? Te trail follows the creek between the lakes, with a couple of logjam crossings, which I imagine would be perilous in the wet. It would have been nice to have stayed near Brunswick Lake, but we chose to push on to Deek's, so that we had a short hike out the next day. The campsites at Deek's weren't very scenic, but we enjoyed a quick swim in the lake (brrr) before dinner. There was a lot of bear scat around, and plentiful berries, but we didn't come across any of the furry fellows. There is also a very convenient food hanging tree near the campsite, so we weren't worried about waking to find we'd lost our rations.

Sun rising on Mt Harvey.

View from the loft of the Magnesia Meadows emergency shelter.

Magnesia Meadows and Mt. Harvey.

Butterfly on thistle.

Endless beautiful views.

Steep scramble up Brunswick.

Brunswick Mountain views.

The ridge was a bit spooky!

View on the way back down Brunswick. Does it get any better than this?

Hat mountain.

Hanging lake in Hat pass.

Walking down to Brunswick Lake, with Hannover in front.

Deek's lake log jam crossing.

Brunswick Mountain and Deek's lake.

Tasty treats!

Evening glow on the lake.

Day 4 – Deek's Lake to Hwy 99 at Porteau Cove

We supplemented out porridge with fresh blueberries (mmmm), broke camp and headed out. This day featured a lot of walking downhill, without much by way of views. I always enjoy the way the nature of the vegetation changes as you change altitude though. Once on the logging road, we debated about taking the HSCT Hwy 99 South trail, but opted to stick with what we felt was the “official” trail, and head North. We never left the logging road and ended up in the car park at Hwy 99. We celebrated completing the trail, checked the GPS to confirm that the official distance of 28 km is a gross underestimation (I think we were at about 10km more than that), before making our way onto the highway to hitch a ride home. Some kind people picked us up within 5 minutes and took us all the way back to Vancouver where we showered and got straight into packing for the next adventure. Watch out for a trip report for out Pitt Lake canoe trip soon!

Sunrise at Deek's lake.


The trail down is through forest all the way.

View from the only viewpoint on the Deek's lake trail.

Down, down, down, in our case.

I feel sorry for this tree!

Triumphant at the trailhead!

We certainly witnessed the beauty of the land! Does anyone know how to pronounce "7"?

Heading to the Sea to Sky to hitch a lift home.

In conclusion, we had an awesome time, and I think that this is the most scenic trail I have ever walked. It's hard to imagine anything more scenic. I know that there are many trails in BC that are considered “world class”, but surely the Howe Sound Crest Trail, in good weather, is hard to beat. I would definitely recommend it, although not as a first backpacking experience, and not to anyone who is scared of heights!
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 06:44 PM
Off the Beaten Path
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Interest: Uh... hiking? :P I love love love the outdoors. And I like shiny things. Been hiking, mostly solo, for over 20 years. You might assume that makes me antisocial. And you would be right *g* Climbed rock and ice and mountains for many years too...
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Nice job! Glad you had good weather.

I'm going to pick your partner's brain next time we work together - I really want to do this trail. Thanks for all the detailed info!
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 06:59 PM
High on the Mountain Top
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Cool shots. I particularly like the sunset shots on day one.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 07:28 PM
High on the Mountain Top
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Well done.
I liked the reflection in Hanging Lake shot, in particular.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 08:11 PM
Headed for the Mountains
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Fantastic! Thanks for the post.

Goats! I shouted GOATS when I saw the photo of goats. I've always wanted to see goats locally. The EXIF information in your photos has been stripped so I can't tell what your zoom was set to. Can you tell us where they were?

Local Goats. Too cool!
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 08:30 PM
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I've been hiked around Lion's Bay a lot in the last year but never seen a goat. Awesome TR

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post #7 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 09:09 PM
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Great job! This was on my list for this year, but I think I've run out of time now

Will have to slot it in next summer, for sure!

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post #8 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 09:13 PM
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quote:Originally posted by Burning Boot

Fantastic! Thanks for the post.

Goats! I shouted GOATS when I saw the photo of goats. I've always wanted to see goats locally. The EXIF information in your photos has been stripped so I can't tell what your zoom was set to. Can you tell us where they were?

Local Goats. Too cool!
Second that!

It's unusual to spot Mtn Goats in this neck of the woods. Nice shot. Amazes me where they climb - four feet are better than two it'd seem.
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 09:17 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the comments everyone! For the goats, I was at 3x optical zoom on my Canon Ixus point-and-shoot, and I've cropped to about 30%. They were quite a long way away, but easy to tell what they were. We were on our way up James peak, and the goats were on the North face of the ridge that juts out East to Enchantment peak. I'd say we were about 500-600m away from them. It was awesome. I'm glad everyone shares my enthusiasm!
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 09:38 PM
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OMG OMG you saw mountain goats! What a rare sight in these parts!!! Sweet!
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 09:42 PM
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Nice report, brings back good memories. We felt the 1 night that we had was not enough back in '06.

You can now appreciate how Cypress-Magnesia with full packs in a day was a bit tough..
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 09:50 PM
Summit Master
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Your tarn.

Same area from April 2006.

Nice to see things there without snow (though the cornice in mine is the remaining snow patch in yours).

Cool trip.

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post #13 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2010, 10:04 PM
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it's not easy with full packs, good job! congrats!!
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post #14 of (permalink) Old 09-14-2010, 09:38 AM Thread Starter
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Actually, looking at the uncropped goat pics again, it looks like they were on the NE side of Thomas peak.
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post #15 of (permalink) Old 09-14-2010, 04:26 PM
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Great photos & great trip report! Love the winter photo for comparison at that same spot - very cool! Great stuff!!! Looks pretty hard core in winter conditions =o[
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