We hiked Lions Binkert trail (16 km return, 1280 elevation gain) from Lions Bay parking lot on a sunny day of August 22, 2015 and ascended West Lion summit.
Note that half of parking lots on Lions Bay parking are reserved for local residents. We had to park about 500 m lower down the road when we arrived at 7:30 a.m. To secure a parking lot you may want to arrive at 6 a.m. You can also hike to West Lion from Cypress parking lot, where you will surely find a parking lot, but it will take longer.
After 1.5 hours into the hike we enjoyed scenic views of Howe Sound.
In about three hours we saw the West Lion. You can see the West Lion's head on the left with a narrow col separating it from the ridge aka Lion's body.
This is the final easy scramble before you see the West Lion:
I saw a few hikers changing into rock climbing shoes or slim running shoes and putting on their rock helmets before crossing over the narrow col to West Lion. We did not take either of these useful items with us, which was a bit of a set back. Here is how West Lion looks from ridge, where hikers usually contemplate whether to attempt a West Lion ascent. You can see some easy scrambling sections and some treacherous overhangs that you do not want to scramble..
You have to go down the hanging rope about 3-4 meters high into the narrow col to get onto West Lion:
The marked trail goes to the right towards East Lion through the tree belayed ridge. Note there is no single marked trail all the way through to the top. In fact I saw two alternative marked routes - one is a scrambling route on the tree covered ridge marked with a white glove. You have to negotiate a few meters of very steep and exposed traverse with small handles. This is where we went and I felt like this was the most sketchy part of the ascent. It is a quick, safe and easy scramble to the summit, once you reach the tree covered ridge. Bent tree branches are an ideal green belay.
You can see a short exposed section on this picture.
This is a view of the col from a wide and safe lookout spot.
This is me reaching the final tree belayed route to the summit. There is no exposure hereafter.
An alternative ascending route (I clearly saw a red oval mark there) is an easy crack climb, which is less exposed but requires climbing shoes and some climbing skill. We attempted this one initially, but in large hiking boots climbing along the crack was not comfortable /safe, and this is no fall zone either. My husband turned back here, as his large hiking boots could not fit into the crack or hold in small handles around it. I saw a group of experienced hikers/climbers climbing the crack very fast - almost running along the crack to the summit. I want to attempt this route next time in climbing shoes.
I did not see anyone using their own ropes and belay equipment on West Lion, as the ascent is mostly scrambling. There are some ropes tied to the trees that you can hold on to while walking a wide ledge tilted towards drop off in the initial section of the trail right after you cross a col towards West Lion. There are no ropes available in an exposed section leading to the tree covered ridge, but it is just a few meters long.
West Lion requires some technical scrambling skills and experience and ideally some rock climbing skill too, and you should be confident negotiating steep exposed terrain, as there is no single clearly marked route to the summit and you will inevitably make short detours due to high traffic on the trail on weekends. Do not hesitate to ask other hikers for directions if you get lost. We did ask for directions, when we decided not to climb the crack up to the summit. For the first timers I would recommend to go with the flow and follow the most common tree belay route as we did.
The West Lion summit offers amazing views on a sunny day.
Panoramic view from West Lion summit
Watch for this oval red mark to find the marked descending route through the trees. The last thing you want is to get lost on the descent, as this is where all kinds of trouble may begin...
The descent was quick and easy on a sunny day. You should never attempt West Lion scramble on a rainy day, as slippery rocks will make it very dangerous in exposed areas and there is a known casualty on a rainy/foggy day.
It took us about 1.5 hours to scramble the West Lion summit, including half an hour rest at the top. We saw about 10 people on the summit and many more on the trail. We saw a few inexperienced hikers who got stuck, scared and returned, but about 15-20 people did summit West Lion, while we were there, which may amount to several hundred summit ascents on a good day. This is not something rare or out of the ordinary, but you should not underestimate the challenge and the risk associated with exposure either.
We want to come back to West Lion and try an alternate route in climbing shoes one day. This would be a good training for more challenging hikes.