The Chief, 9 May 2009

Though I went up the Chief with Ewan back in November last year, Maria hadn’t been there for a few years, so we opted to make use of a warm sunny day to return. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) many other people had exactly the same idea…

The Chief, 9 May 2009

We parked up at Shannon Falls and were greeted by one of the most spectacular views we’ve seen here. The falls were in full flow thanks to the warmer weather, and the spray from the upper cascades was backlit by the sun and had shadows cast on it from the trees above. A beautiful sight. From there we set off through the trees, crossing Olesen Creek and joining the hordes ascending the Chief. Actually at this point it wasn’t too bad, just busy and we were able to hike comfortably at our own pace.

We passed the trail leading off to Upper Shannon Falls (which I’d hiked the week before with Andrew and Gabriela), and reached the junction with the trail to the Squaw soon afterwards. We paused for breath before continuing steeply upwards. We came to a sunny outcrop with a huge boulder and joined a dozen or more people taking a break here. We stopped long enough to admire the view and grab a snack. As we left, a large group set off just ahead of us. We were hoping they’d take the turn to the south peak, but no they continued up towards the centre summit we were heading for. We soon caught up with them (noisy bunch too…) and passed them just as we reached the first batch of chains.

Heading up the chains was slow going thanks to the large number of people. Worse was to come as we rounded the corner to reach the next section, the narrowest and most difficult part of the trip. To our astonishment, we were meeting people coming towards us, and not just one or two but whole groups. So there we were, part of a large throng of people heading up facing down and equally large throng of people wanting to descend! This was not good news for the people who were not really enjoying where they were. We tried to get people to alternate, a few go up then a few down, but the people coming down weren’t keen on that, complaining about the lack of places to stand and how slippery and steep it was. Well you should have thought of that before coming down this way! Good grief. We really could not believe that so many people were using this route to descend on such a busy day.

The Chief, 9 May 2009

We, and several others, eventually pushed on through claiming it was our turn and that we’d waited long enough. We climbed the ladder and emerged onto the open granite of the centre summit of the Chief. And still there were others coming down. But at least now there was room to maneouvre. A few metres more and we were able relax as the trail levelled off. We followed a short narrow ridge with beautiful views all around. We stopped for photo-ops now that we were pretty much on our own again. To the south and west were the south summit of the Chief and Howe Sound, immediately below us was Squamish, its harbour full of logs and the estuary populated with kite surfers. Looking behind us, due south was a series of craggy peaks which we identified as Sky Pilot and the Co-Pilot. A zoom-in revealed all the gorgeous angles of Sky Pilot, which has become one of my regular landmark mountains, having seen it from multiple locations now. Of course to the north was Mt Garibaldi, still covered in snow. We met two very large groups who were descending the way we had come up and we couldn’t resist asking which way they had come. One of them had come up the gulley we were going to descend… because the other way is too crowded! Umm, okay…. I guess that makes sense to someone.

We found ourselves a spot to sit and enjoy lunch, with our feet dangling over a small and distinctly not-vertical drop :-) Suitably fed and rested, we continued on to the north peak (or third peak depending on who you speak to). The trail dropped down into the North Gulley where Mt Garibaldi is spectacularly framed by two sheer granite walls. A little further on the trail passed close to the edge of the cliff and we couldn’t resist peering over the edge… Very scary. Maria spotted two climbers on a sunlit outcrop far below us. Looked like a nice spot but there’s no way you’d get me up there the same way they did :-) We identified where they were as we drove home, and they were quite some way up.

The Chief, 9 May 2009

We soon reached the north summit and our destination for the day. We sat down and took in the view of Garibaldi and Mamquam and the clouds in the Squamish and Cheakamus valleys for a few minutes. A chipmunk darted around, going from group to group seeking morsels of food. Someone had brought a small terrier and were not discouraging it to chase the chipmunk… Fortunately the chipmunk was way too fast. But not so fast that I wasn’t able to get a good picture for once!

All too reluctantly as usual, we re-traced our steps back to the gulley and began our steep descent. And steep it was. We met more people coming up the gulley, many more than I was expecting. I guess they were also thinking that the usual way would be too crowded. In the meantime, our knees were complaining at the descent. The trail seemed to have worsened since we last did it and was looking quite badly eroded in places. I expect that BC Parks will be forced to upgrade this section at some point in the future. After what seemed like an age, we joined up with the Squaw trail and followed that back to the main trail. We stopped for another short break before making our way back down, down, down to Olesen Creek and then back to the car, pausing briefly to take another look at Shannon Falls now beautifully lit by bright sunshine. Despite the crowds, we did find plenty of peaceful moments and enjoyed our return to the Chief immensely.

Distance: 11 km
Elevation gain: 600 m
Photos on Flickr

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