Mount Harvey is one of several Howe Sound peaks we’ve been putting off as too tough. Usually we’d wait until later in the season to tackle such a hike as this one, but we’ve been losing patience with the snow levels and just want to get up into the (sub)alpine. Andrew suggested it and we thought “Why not?”. Of course, after a week of glorious sunshine, the weekend was, well, less sunny. We picked up Andrew at 7.30 am and made our way through Vancouver and north on highway 99. The mountaintops were enshrouded in cloud and we doubted whether we’d seen anything from the top. We persisted, though, on the promise from Environment Canada that the clouds would clear around noon. We pulled into Lions Bay and headed up the trailhead, parking in one of the last few spots. There isn’t a great deal of parking there, and it was already nearly full! We grabbed our gear and were under way by 8.20 am.
Up and up the slogging road. We had almost an hour of trudging uphill on a warm, muggy morning before we came to the turnoff to Harvey. However, it wasn’t all bad. The road was lined with fresh starflower, intensely-coloured Columbine and False Solomon’s Seal. We passed a pile of fresh bear scat at which point we made a little more noise than just huffing and puffing. Around another corner we heard a grouse with its deep, bassy “whoomf-whoomf-whoomf” call. In my mind I was thinking that the route up to Harvey continued along the road where the Lions trail peeled off to cross Harvey Creek, but I was wrong as I spotted an upright post with “Mt Harvey” carved into it, set back a yard or two off the road and well camouflaged by young trees.
We stopped for a moment and heard rushing water ahead of us. Andrew went on to investigate, and we followed soon after. We came to a cute little waterfall at the side of the trail. Having done the Lions last year, I knew the road crossed Alberta Creek which should be an even better waterfall. A few yards further on and there it was – and suddenly we found a great reason to do this hike this early in the season. The cascade was in good flow, the best we’ve ever seen, and we stopped to take photos. We were at the cloud base so the treetops above the waterfall disappeared into the mist, making for a very atmospheric feel. Satisfied we backtracked and headed off on the major part of our ascent.
We had already gained almost 600 m in elevation since leaving the car; only another 850 or so to go! The trail led up very steeply from the road and within a short distance led us to a spur trail with a fantastic of an even larger set of falls on Alberta Creek. Back on the main trail, we followed a narrow spine upwards – and I mean up! The trail went straight up along the edge of the canyon and is probably the steepest part of the trail (coming back down it later was not fun, thanks to the loose crumbly surface). Eventually the trail took a turn across the slope and headed up somewhat less precipitously through maturing second-growth forest.
From here, the trail wound its way upwards with the gradient varying from “uphill” to “bloody steep”. It passed through several lovely unlogged areas, with a healthy population of white pine. And at every step it seemed that coralroot was growing all around us, some pink, some yellow. I couldn’t help but stop to get some nice macro shots. As we ascended, we were hoping to either exit the clouds, or that they would clear. But no, and we continued to enjoy an eerie, atmospheric hike.
We came to an area of recent blowdown and picked our way around tree fragments (where fragments can mean anything as large as, well, a large tree :-) and hit a large snow patch. We lost sight of the trail markers and worked our way carefully up the snow bank to where the terrain levelled off. As we were kicking steps into the snow, I noticed some muddy prints beside us. Looking closer, I could see they were bear prints, so I let the others know. We made some noise so as not to startle it as we emerged from the mist. Further up the snow the tracks were now clean and we could see that they were very fresh, perhaps within the last hour or so. The snow had been melted into a nice little crust by the pads on the bear’s paws while its claws had dug neat little pits in the snow. The snow carved out by the claws was freshly disturbed and showed no signs of melting. While we always love seeing bears on the trail, we were a little nervous given the thick mist.
We followed the prints off the snow into the heather at a large burn area. We yelled and generally made our presence known, and we never saw a bear. We were now surrounded by old burned trees, bleached to a silvery-grey, and heather-and-berry meadows. The heather was blooming pink and white, while the first lupines were also making an appearance.
All very beautiful, but we’d lost the trail. We split up while remaining in sight of each other, and explored the area. Maria soon found the trail and we continued our way upwards onto the west ridge, now much more gently. We wandered along the ridge, now back on snow and picking our way around the steeper sections. The occasional trail marker reassured us we were on track. Eventually the snow ran out and we had a rock slab to walk up before beginning some fun scrambly stuff. We were now clear of the trees and surrounded by the same burned, bleached trees as lower down.
As we climbed we saw what looked like the summit, but no one said anything in case it was a false summit :-) But this time it really was and we cheered as we reached the cairn. We turned around and admired the view… of the clouds. Nothing to see in any direction except straight up where the sun was baking us through a blue hole in the clouds.
We dropped our packs and found ourselves comfy spots to sit and proceeded to enjoy a very sunny and well-deserved lunch. It had taken us almost exactly 4 hours to reach the summit and we weren’t about to give it up easily. We lunched, we lazed, we waited for the clouds to clear. Which they didn’t, of course, but we did get fleeting glimpses of Brunswick Mountain and the terrifying sheer drop down to Magnesia Creek. Most amazingly, we had the summit to ourselves.
We explored the area east of the summit where the trail began its precipitous descent and got as far as noting that it seemed to get steeper. We mulled the possibility of exploring that route as part of a longer loop taking in the Lions as well. Hmmm…. :-) Clambering back up the ridge, we felt a little braver about peering over the remains of the cornices. I kicked a couple of steps and made it to the other side of the snow so I could scare myself by looking more-or-less straight down.
We’d been pottering and lazing around for almost two hours and came to the realization that the clouds really were not going to lift. We hoisted our packs again and began our descent. On the way up we were really cautious in the snow, not wanting to go for an unexpected trip. But on the way back we were much more confident, glissading at every opportunity. Amazing what difference a couple of hours can make.
All too soon we were back in the clouds and into the misty, damp forest. We descended as fast as was comfortable, making good use of our hiking poles for taking some of the strain off our knees. (My knees were fine after the hike – but my quadriceps ached for 3 days afterwards!) We passed the booming grouse again (which Andrew still couldn’t locate :-) It was in the same place as before…
After a little over an hour and a half, we reached the steep ridge at the edge of Alberta Creek and made our way down it very carefully on the loose surface. We couldn’t resist having another look at the falls on the creek and this time the mist had lifted a little, enough for us to see the extent of the gully housing the waterfall.
Finally we made it back to the logging road and began the worst part of the trip (descending on logging roads is rarely much fun). On the way up, we hadn’t appreciated just how much elevation we had gained. On the way down, I made the mistake of not using my poles any more (probably contributed quite a bit to my sore legs) as it was surprisingly steep. We passed all the wildflowers we has seen in the morning, and within 40 minutes of leaving Alberta Creek behind, we were back at the car.
I think we surprised ourselves with this hike: we were expecting to be demoralized by its unrelenting up (and down), but somehow we found a groove and stuck with it. Despite the almost 1500-m elevation gain, we felt good and finished the hike with nothing but good thoughts and feelings. Next time we do it on a clearer day!
Distance: 13 km
Elevation gain: 1465 m
Photos on Flickr