St Mark’s Summit, 25 Aug 2012

It’s not often I do a hike purely for the exercise, but today I wanted something good enough for a workout that I hadn’t done in the last couple of years. Enter, St Mark’s Summit, one of my least favourite trails in the Lower Mainland. So why did I bother? It was a sunny day and it has a couple of nice viewpoints at the end, plus I knew I could enjoy a cold, cold beer at the Crazy Raven pub when I was done.

I set off on the trail to Yew Lake, and almost immediately I was stopped in my tracks by a patch of sundew, more than I’d ever seen before. I was momentarily stunned because I’ve looked for sundew in this area before, and had never found it. How could I have missed this patch? I crouched down for a closer look and noticed flies trapped in the sticky drops. Very cool. Unless you’re an insect.

St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012 St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012 St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012

I wandered on at a leisurely pace enjoying the warm sunshine and just being surrounded by subalpine trees and shrubs. Reaching the lake, I took a few photos before picking up the trail through the old-growth grove, admiring the giant hemlocks along the way. Out of the grove (a matter of mere minutes) I picked up the trail to Bowen Lookout, winding my way up the switchbacks before losing a bit of height to reach the lookout. The last time I was here was on a snowshoe trip to Mt Strachan on a stunningly clear day. I stayed long enough to take a few photos before heading back up the slope to join the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

The upgraded trail made for easy and quick travel to Strachan Meadows. A pair of new bridges have been put in since I was last here; one of them was being worked on when I hiked Mt Strachan almost two years ago. I looked up at the gulley leading to Strachan’s summit before re-entering the trees towards St Mark’s.

Here I left the good trail behind and it was time for the roots and rocks to take centre stage. I can’t see how this stretch of the trail could ever be improved without bringing in tonnes of material, or stripping away hundreds of roots, and doing serious damage to the surrounding trees. But at least it was dry – there was no mud, and even more importantly, the roots were not slippery. I made good time along this section of the trail for once. The last time I did this trail was in September 2007 and both Maria and I vowed not to do it again for quite some time. That day, the roots and rocks were so unpleasant after the hiking we’d done earlier in the month to Garibaldi Lake and Mt Robson, that we couldn’t finish the hike soon enough. I suppose five years is enough time to soften the memory somewhat. Or perhaps I simply used that memory to mentally prepare myself for today’s hike.

Up the roots and rocks I went, moving as quickly as my fitness and safety would allow. I reached the top of the first bump, which people sometimes think is the destination before following the ridge to the next round of uphill. It wasn’t too long before I could see the terrain levelling off and although I remembered how deceiving it was once back into the subalpine forest, I still found myself thinking if the next rise was the last one.

St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012 St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012

Eventually I recognized the final little climb and I reached the marker post for St Mark’s Summit, 1370 m above sea level. To my left was a rocky outcrop which could barely be seen for hikers. To my right was the tree-covered summit itself, which I’d not explored before. I moved on, thinking I might go to the lower outcrop but continued on down the trail instead to the next switchback, where I stepped off the trail behind a tree to a small clearing with a view of the Lions. I decided this would be my lunch spot.

After a pleasant half-hour break in the sunshine, I ventured back to the lower outcrop. Fortunately the large groups had disappeared and there were only 5 people at the viewpoint. With barely a cloud in the sky (save for a few “jellyfish” clouds), the view was spectacular. Putting the polarizer onto the camera, the colours of the trees, sky and water became more vivid. The water was especially striking, thanks to the green rock-flour-laden water entering Howe Sound from the Squamish River. Quite a stunning sight.

As I made my up towards the summit outcrop, I spotted a small trail leading towards the true summit. On a whim I decided to follow it to see where it led. Turns out it was a five-minute circuit of the summit. I was hoping for views into the watershed, but there were too many trees. However, there were some excellent views of the Lions: I should have had lunch here.

Returning to the trail, I took my chance and had the summit outcrop to myself for a few minutes, long enough to get a few more photos. I could see traffic on the Sea-to-Sky highway, 1300 m below, stationary as a result of an accident announced as I was driving up to Cypress Bowl. I had entertained the idea of heading up towards Squamish to hike, and was now extremely glad that I had decided against it.

St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012 St Mark's Summit, 25 Aug 2012 MS Zuiderdam, 25 Aug 2012

I checked the time and began my return trip to the car. I took full advantage of the dry conditions and hiked as quickly as I dared, passing a few surprised people along the way. Within an hour I was back at Strachan Meadows, and back to the easy gravel path. Another thirty minutes later and I was sitting back with a frigid cold pint of Granville Island IPA. Probably too cold for an IPA – but I enjoyed it anyway :-)

Crossing the Lions Gate bridge, I saw a cruise ship leaving port, so I pulled in at Prospect Point, grabbed the camera and ran back to the bridge to pick a prime spot at centre-span for capturing the ship passing directly underneath the bridge. I missed the first ship by a few seconds, but I noticed a second cruise leaving and I waited for it. I’m quite pleased with the results.

Distance: 11 km
Elevation gain: 460 m
Photos on Flickr

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