Hwy 1 to Cheam via SW Ridge
I have done the standard hike to Cheam before as a fun family hike using the standard trailhead but this winter going to ski to the Coquihalla we would always stare at its majestic NW aspect over the hwy, few mountains offer a 2km elevation gain with the summit directly above you so I thought would be fitting to do the summit doing the elevation gain that you see when you drive. I always thought it was a bit anticlimactic how easy the standard hike is vs how cool it looks from the hwy.
I spent the morning with the family in Cultus Lake and at midday made my way to park in Bridal Falls, parked at the end of Popkum Rd just before the start of Bridal Falls FSR, basically on the side of the hwy.
The first 7km and 1000m of elevation gain is a very good FSR, its quite steep and dry so I would think 4x4 or AWD would be needed but the waterbars are mild by usual standards so wouldn’t be too hard to park at the Archibald trailhead at around 1100m. The road sees a lot of use until the lookout, half way up, from there the road its actually better and less steep.
From the trailhead proper, the trail is very well flagged and marked until you get in the forest directly below Archibald, there the forest becomes steep without distinct foodbed but the flags are very close and easy to follow, Archibald its not much of a summit as is completely forested. It took me 2h from the hwy to top of Archibald at a good fast hiking/easy running pace. From there you start the ridge proper and again very well flagged as the ridge opens the trail becomes more visible and enjoyable, super nice ridge run! Soon after you pass the junction that goes down to the Cheam trailhead (more on that later). You can continue running for a bit longer until the trail steepens and as it is quite lose started just walking.
The ridge is mostly walking on loose terrain with some easy 3rd class scrambling, easy but some of it on loose rock so definitely worth going slowly. The initial part is steep but on better rock, then we get to main rockband. Here is see reports of 4th class, climbing?, a steep chimney… I mean sure you can go there but you can avoid it very easily too. It is the only point that the flags are not showing the correct way, when you are about to face the big rock band and it gets a bit sketchy you will see the flags want you to go a bit lower and get into a loose rock notch that takes you into the SE side (CHillawack road side) and up a chimney. I didn’t like it as the terrain to the notch is very loose and a fall consequential so I continued slightly above it and when I was going to downclimbg to that notch thought I would might as well continue up to the ridge and check out the North side (Hwy1 side). That should be the way to go, there is a perfect game trail (I saw some animal footprints, goat?) and you regain the rigde at the same point that the chimney, this was just exposed walking no need to even use your hands. Looking back I should’ve gone down and move the flags but I didn’t know how I was doing for time having started late, so instead im writing this I guess.
The ridge continues with mostly walking and some 3rd class here and there, to be honest some terrain is pretty loose but so worth it with the incredible views on the drop on the north side and the beautiful valley in bloom on the South side. You can negotiate the final rock band to the summit either walking sidehill on the south side or a bit more scrambling on the North, which I did as it had a better alpine feel. I got to the summit around 3h30min after leaving the car. A few pictures a snack and back down.
I decided to go back down the standard trail and loop back to the ridge from the connecting trail that starts in the Cheam TH as thought it would be faster than downscrambling and saw a group of 3 painfully trying to get up the ridge following a grassy slope( maybe to do this route?) and didn’t want to throw them rocks coming down (tip: is faster using the connecting trail than tramping up the grassy meadows).
The run back was fun, although almost all the snow is gone so not as much buttsliding as I remember when I did this with the family. Once in the Cheam trailhead followed the trail back to the ridge, very well flagged again, and back up Archibald and down to the car. Running down the FSR was brutal as I was wearing minimalistic shoes designed for short uphills not for 7km of downhill FSR!
I got to the car just before 7pm, 6h45min all and all, just in time to see the huge long weekend traffic jam all the way back there! Such a magnificent afternoon, I think I was the only person smiling on the road!
I think the trail deserves much more traffic as it is an absolute classic scramble. I think some reports saying that is 5th of 4th class might scare some people off, but I think its completely overblown. The rock is loose so 1/2/3 or 4th class you need to be careful but there is nothing that requires any climbing or serious scrambling, maybe that chimney is, but again it can be easily bypassed. I am thinking that the loop starting from Cheam trailhead up the connector trail, SW ridge up and standard way down might become a yearly scramble for me as it Sky Pilot.
Unfortunately I don’t have a good GPS for it, as I forgot my watch and headlamp and the phone was only 40% when I started I had it in power savings mode for the way up in case the day turned out to be longer than expected.
Thanks a lot to the people who took the time to flag and prepare this trail, it’s an absolute classic, cannot wait to do it again!