Not content with hiking at the break of day, I decided to head back over the bridge to try and catch sunset from one of the North Shore peaks. For some reason I decided on Hollyburn (despite the fact that Black Mountain is a shorter trail) and found myself parked up next to one other car, pulling on my boots again and setting off up the trail. It was 7.40 pm.
I wasn’t sure how much snow to expect but I shouldn’t have bothered even wondering: the snow (and dog poop) started at the trailhead. I set off with my snowshoes attached to my pack expecting the snow to be slippery but firm. No such luck: it was four inches of wet slush on top of sloppy cement. Yuck. I persevered and trudged my way up the slope, pausing at the top to see the evening light on the empty ski run below.
It continued to be a trudge. Or was it a slog? But somehow I still believed I could make it to the summit for sunset. Occasionally the snow was firm enough to walk normally on, but mostly it was awful and after half an hour I began to seriously doubt why I was doing this. It was looking less and less likely that I would catch the sunset, which I have to admit was quite funny given our previous failed attempt just after Christmas…
But I carried on, my heart working like it hasn’t done in months (probably since the Garibaldi Lake trip), taking hundreds of tiny steps to make slow progress. I was literally walking on tip-toes most of the way – I had to take such short strides that I could never get my foot far enough in front of me to let my heel strike first. It was exhausting.
I watched the light creep up the trees as I neared the base of the final climb. I was still hopeful I could make it, but in reality that was just delusional thinking :-) Summit fever, if you like. I took a few steps up the slope and got nowhere. Time for the snowshoes then. I put them on and set off… only to get only a little further. The snow was so soft, and was breaking off and sliding, that speedy progress was impossible. By now I was almost at the wall, and the only way I could think of to get myself up the hill was to count 100 steps and rest.
And that’s how I made it to the summit. I was horrified to find just how short a distance 100 steps was in those conditions: I must have counted to a hundred more than a dozen times. I was at least rewarded with nice light on Crown Mountain to the east and on the high-rises of Vancouver to the south. I was already beginning to think it was worth it, even though I knew that I had missed sunset.
Finally I counted off the last 100 steps and emerged onto the empty summit of Hollyburn. I stood on the peak and let my breathing settle before taking a few photos of the glorious orange and pink sky to the west. It was indeed worth it. The Lions were clear, Sky Pilot was as spiky and impressive as ever, and Mamquam looked imposing. Garibaldi was hidden by cloud but I had plenty to look at. I was amazed at just how clear a view I had of Vancouver Island and I think that was the clearest I’ve ever seen it. I felt like I could reach out and touch the Island.
Having taken the photos I could, it was time for me to descend. I took off my snowshoes and plunge-stepped down the steep slope. I met a couple of guys (who’d set off at the same time as me) and we chatted for a while, comparing notes on a few hikes. Then it was down, down, plunging knee-deep in the wet snow as I went. I opted to stay on the cross-country ski runs due to the rapidly fading light (and the fact there was no dog poo on the ski runs), and followed them about two-thirds of the way back. I rejoined the trail for a while, returning to the ski run once back under the power lines. Then it was just a speedy final descent to the car.
I called in to a 7-11 in West Vancouver for Gatorade and a Mars bar – not my usual 10.30 pm fare but I needed it. What a day!
Distance: 7 km
Elevation gain: 400 m
Photos on Flickr