When it’s rainy on the coast and around Squamish in winter, it can be hard to come up with ideas on how to spend time outdoors other than the usual short walks on local trails.
Here’s an idea: Attempt to complete your favourite summer hikes during the winter. You’ll see how a location can dramatically change during winter months.
The differences in the forest and the challenges of the trail often lead to a slower pace trekking through variable snow and ice conditions.
One such hike that holds a special place in my heart is Mount Harvey in the North Shore Mountains. Not only is the hike up a good workout, but also the views are stunning in all directions. Once above the trees, you meander along a scenic ridge crest, the summit of Mount Harvey looming ahead, the islands of the Howe Sound far below on your left and the expansive mountains of British Columbia rolling out on to the horizon on your right.
Personally, this peak stands out as a milestone. The first time I visited it in 2011 was one of my first winter explorations of this kind.
I was armed with a lot of knowledge about being safe in the mountains in winter, but I learned that the reality of being there and applying that knowledge is a much different experience.
Ask any mountaineer and they will tell you that you can’t truly understand what it feels like to be in the mountains from reading about them. You must go there.
I will admit to feeling trepidation in 2011 about reaching the summit of Mount Harvey. I felt fear on a number of occasions.
But fast-forward a few years to when I revisited this mountain and those feelings of doubt and nervousness had completely disappeared. The mountain had stayed the same, but I had changed and grown in relation to it.
That moment of feeling comfortable on something that had once caused me anxiety felt like a testament to the wise words by Sir Edmund Hillary, who once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
If you’d like to visit Mount Harvey, I’d highly recommend it.
The challenge, the views and the treasures that all who visit summits receive are waiting for you there.
To get to the trailhead from Squamish, drive about 30 minutes south and take the exit for Lions Bay, cross over the highway on Lions Bay Avenue, turn left on Crosscreek Road, right on Centre Road, left on Bayview Road, left on Mountain Drive and finally left on Sunset Drive. Park near the yellow gate at the end of Sunset Drive.
A number of popular hikes start from this location so the parking may be limited. Usually if you arrive at around sunrise during the weekend, you will be able to find parking. If not, you will have to look for parking further back down the road.
You will want to start at or around sunrise regardless due to the short daylight hours of winter because this hike may take you eight or more hours to complete under winter conditions. Set a strict turn-around time and don’t worry if you don’t quite make it to the summit. The experience of simply being out there and trying something different should be reward enough – plus, you’ll then get to try it again at a later date to test yourself and see how your abilities have grown.
The total distance from the parking lot to the summit and back to your car is around 14 kilometres. Over this distance, you will gain about 1,405 metres in elevation. To give some perspective, this is similar to climbing up to the popular summit on the Stawamus Chief two and a half times in a row.
To start the journey to the summit, head past the yellow gate from the parking lot out onto a steep logging road, stay right at all junctions, following signs for The Lions, another popular hike that starts from the same location.
Eventually, though, before crossing Alberta Creek, you will see an orange marker on your left and a distinct, steep trail leaving the road into the forest. This trail will take you to Mount Harvey.
It is steep and relentless, but if you enjoy a challenge, you will appreciate it. It feels very similar to climbing up the Chief but for a much greater distance. Continue to follow markers and flagging to stay on the trail.
In winter, if there hasn’t been recent traffic in the snow, the trail can a little more difficult to follow. Good navigational skills are definitely required.
Eventually you will break out of the trees onto the southwest ridge of Mount Harvey. You will be rewarded with views of the Lions’ twin summits in front of you. If you have time, turn left on this ridge and follow its crest towards the obvious summit of Mount Harvey. In winter, if you are on snow, stay well back from the edge of the ridge as it can be corniced and undercut.
The final climb to the summit is steep, so evaluate the conditions once you get to it. If the snow is soft, you should be able to simply walk up to the top and make a boot-packed trail.
If the snow is firm and icy, you may need crampons and an ice axe, plus knowledge and experience in how to use them.
The views from the top are panoramic. Take a few minutes to soak them in. You will have cell reception at the summit, but I’d personally recommend putting the phone and camera away for a moment to appreciate the solitude of this place, the beauty of the natural world around you and the strength in your body that was able to take you there.
To descend, just reverse your route. For equipment I’d recommend snowshoes if there has been fresh snowplus crampons and an ice axe if conditions are icy. Always let friends and family know about your plans before heading out.
For more information about the trail and mountain, I highly recommend the guidebook Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia by Matt Gunn.
Get out there and see our mountains and forests and, as always, have fun and be safe.