What better way to feel like Christmas than to head up into the mountains and enjoy some snow? And on Christmas Eve, too! As usual with our attempts on Hollyburn, we set off after mid-day and somehow managed to get a parking spot not too far from the trailhead. One of the perks of turning up a little later I suppose. I pulled on snowshoes and backpacks and headed off up the winter trail. Now, since we’ve done Hollyburn peak so many times I thought I must have described it, but not in the winter apparently.
So here goes. The winter trail heads up alongside the cross-country ski trails and then into the trees, gaining elevation in a pleasant gentle fashion. You almost don’t realize you’re going uphill until the return journey. After about 40 minutes of this, you leave the trees and reach the topmost end of the cross-country trails. From here the trail goes straight up the slope all the way to the summit. When it’s marked with poles, the parks people kindly lay out a zig-zag path, but for the most part it’s not necessary (though there have been times we’ve been up there and the visibility has been so poor you’ve needed to sight the next pole before carrying on!). So now the hard work begins. When we first started doing this trail, it took as long to get up this stretch as it had taken to get to the base of it, but these days we’re a little tougher ;-) and can do it in 25 minutes (20 on a good day). But it is still hard work.
Just as we started our ascent, the sun came out lighting up the snow ahead of us to a brilliant white. The peak was still in cloud, and ominous grey clouds still hung around. Heading straight up like this means you have no idea where the summer trail goes. It disappears into the trees at some point and winds its own way uphill. This part of the winter route can be broken down into three for easier mental and physical digestion. The first part is steep but straightforward, leading to a small plateau before turning slight left and heading up again through the second main part of the ascent. This levels off again (somewhere near the same ponded plateau on the summer trail) before the final killer ascent straight up the steepest part of the slope. On this section we’re usually very glad of the heel ascents we have on our snowshoes and they really do help here, making it feel more like a gently uphill rather than the brutal stairmaster climb it really is.
But then just as you start to tire, you pass through a gate of a couple of trees and emerge on the summit. Of course there were no views to be had, but the grey clouds and white snow made for some interesting photos. The sunlight struggled through which gave a warm, pinkish cast to the snow, confusing the cameras’ white balance setting no end. We wandered up and over the summit before retiring to a quieter patch to enjoy our lunch. Suitably fed and watered (hot soup and tea) we relaxed for a bit before heading back down.
The clouds were lifting and we were treated to views of the Capilano valley and Vancouver as we slid and slipped our way down the slope. Back into the trees for the equally gentle descent and as we emerged by the cross-country trails the sun blazed through the clouds and suddenly everything was bathed in warm afternoon sunshine. What a beautiful way to end the hike, soaking up some sun as we slid the last part to the car. It’s a nice little hike, and definitely more fun in the winter.
Distance: 5 km
Elevation gain: 400 m
Photos on Flickr