A great little hike when you’re short of time, Hollyburn remains one of my favourite hikes with a well-graded ascent, a decent trail (by North Shore standards), and some great views. The main downside is the incessant and ravenous flock of Canada jays that will barely leave you alone. Thanks for nothing all of you who feed the wildlife; you’re creating a problem you just don’t see.
Not much to say here, really. The trail is in decent shape, mostly well signed, and easy to follow. Where the trail gets steep and eroded (not far from the top), a new trail has been marked and cleared across the slope. I couldn’t really see the point of that, other than to simply acknowledge where many hikers had obviously started going.
There was patchy mud and ice, but it was nowhere near as icy as we expected and our microspikes stayed in our packs. With a bit of careful foot placement, the worst could be easily avoided. Poles were helpful, though, for balance. The ponds and tarns were mostly frozen over, though the extent was determined by elevation and sun exposure (as expected), and I don’t think any were sufficiently frozen to walk on yet. There was a small amount of icy snow in sheltered areas at the summit.
While popular, there was plenty of parking space. The washrooms were open with soap and hot water.
No flowers, of course, though fireweed fluff and pearly everlasting seed-heads were photogenic in the afternoon sunshine. There were surprisingly few fungi of any kind. Maybe mushroom season is also over?
Please, please, stop feeding the birds. At the summit, the whisky jacks were everywhere and straight in our faces looking for food, which made snacking or eating lunch an unpleasant affair. They did eventually leave us alone, but they kept returning every so often to check us out again, and would still fly in past your hand if you extended it for any reason.
Distance: 8.0 km
Elevation gain: 420 m
Time: 3 hours
Photos on Flickr
A sunny day in November is clearly a popular time to hike on the North Shore. After a leisurely morning we rolled up to the parking lot just after midday, parked at the end of a line of cars, and pulled on our boots. We set off under warm sunny skies – I was in a T-shirt – taking a steady walk up the gravelly cross-country ski run, albeit now in the shade. I’d seen a lovely photo on Instagram of some pearly everlasting, and I was hoping to see some today and perhaps emulate that picture. There were plenty lining the trail, but given that we’d just started and that we were in the shade I decided to leave them for the return.
We crested the top of the slope and re-emerged into the sunshine. Patches of ice kept on our toes (literally) but we didn’t need our microspikes, the hard frozen ground still offering plenty of grip. We walked along under the buzzing powerlines, past a partially-iced Fourth Lake, before turning left towards the summit at the warming hut. The trail narrowed and soon turned into the usual North Shore fun of roots and rocks, passing another pond before emerging among the berry bushes on the open ski runs.
Despite the roots and rocks (and now mud that had thawed in the sun), the going was easy and we felt able to simply hike, putting one foot in front of the other. Sections of planks and beams carried our footsteps across the worst of the mud before we entered the welcome shade of the forest. We paused for a moment to sip some water and enjoy the peace and quiet around us. A few hikers greeted us on their descent, one of many groups we encountered. Moving on, we quickly reached the turnoff where the Baden-Powell continues west along the lower slopes of Hollyburn, half an hour after leaving the car. The trail began to climb again after that, winding its way in and out of the forest before we reached an open area at the base of a steeper slope.
We recognized this spot as being the uppermost point of the cross-country ski area where the winter trail proceeds straight up towards the summit. In summer, the trail takes a more gradual approach, with a couple of zig-zags across the slope before heading into the forest once more. I was surprised to find that there was almost no ice; perhaps it hadn’t been as cold as I expected? Equally there was very little mud too, and once again we made good progress, enjoying the chance to hike normally.
(If you’re wondering why I’m making such a point about the hiking, it’s because we’ve hiked quite a few trails this year where it felt we spent more time “hauling” rather than actually hiking. Steep slopes, coupled with rocks and roots, and a fair bit of erosion turn many of the trails near Vancouver into upward slogs and treacherous descents. What I can’t work out is whether they were always like this, and I’m just finding the hiking more challenging, or if the trails have suffered under the combination of more footsteps and no maintenance. In any case, all of these factors led to our decision to head east to the Rockies for our backpacking holiday.)
As the trail wound back and forth, gaining more height, we could see the trees beginning to thin out as we neared the subalpine meadows. A clearing in the trees revealed a clear view across the Fraser Valley towards Mount Baker, 120 km distant. One more switchback, usually slick with ice at this time of year but today had barely any, and a couple of minutes later we left the forest and entered the open meadow. The tarns were frozen and, as we’d seen on Mount Seymour last week, the ice had formed a maze of wonderful patterns as the water solidified.
We passed by another frozen tarn, hopped a tiny creek, before passing another pond, this one only partly frozen, its slightly higher elevation allowing it temporarily avoid the fate of those at the low point of the meadow where the cold air collects. The trail then turned onto open rock, thankfully dry in the autumn sun which ensured it remained grippy for our boots to make easy work of the climb. At another opening, we could see over towards Black Mountain and down into the Cypress Bowl itself. The trail took a new detour to avoid a tricky clamber over some wet rock and muddy roots, and seemed to be marked as the new “official” route. My belief is that many hikers simply started walking through the berry bushes to avoid this obstacle, and that the park staff have relented and made the beaten path the new trail. It doesn’t make much sense to me, as to get onto that trail requires a muddy step up off bare rock and onto the soil, which is only going to lead to more erosion, and it takes a wide detour to emerge barely a metre or two above the awkward section. A better solution would have been to add some more rocks to bolster the existing trail, but I guess that would have required effort the park simply doesn’t have the ability to fund.
Beyond lay another detour around a step that goes up by an amazing curved mountain hemlock (the new trail is poorer for pulling hikers away from such a tree) before reaching the final climb. Again I was expecting this section to be solid with ice (and I did stop to photograph some fallen berry leaves entombed in ice), but there was almost none. We paused to allow a descending group to pick their way over this narrow section of rocks before clambering over, then up the next rocky step, before walking the last few dozen metres to the summit area.
We left the trees to find the summit covered with people. A group was perched on the summit rock, more were playing with the ice of a small frozen pond, still more people were sat on various rocks around the summit. It felt crowded, busy, and noisy, and we moved to the northern end to find some quiet. Around everyone’s heads flapped one or more of about a dozen whisky jacks, demanding to be fed. Sadly, most people were giving in to the cute factor and the unmissable Instagram moment to allow the birds to feed from their hands. It pains me to see the birds like this, so dependent on handouts from visiting hikers, and then seeking it so aggressively from others. Far too few people make the connection between feeding an animal and the surprise of having more food stolen from their hands or backpacks. And that’s another reason I prefer to leave the crowds behind, as then I simply don’t have to watch their behaviour.
To our good fortune, a couple were just vacating a well-placed rock to begin their descent, which we were quite happy to occupy. Of course we were checked out by our grey feathered friends, but, with a bit of careful food hiding as we ate, they soon left us alone. The birds returned every couple of minutes to see if there was anything on offer, but they always went away with nothing and we ate in peace. As we packed up to begin our descent, I scouted out a few locations to get my usual photos of the surrounding mountains. From a photographic perspective, Hollyburn isn’t a great summit as all the views are distant with very little in the way of interesting foreground. (That changes in winter when the trees become decorated with snow.) Still, I was drawn to the view of Garibaldi and Sky Pilot to the north, as well as the Lions, of course, the burnished meadows at their feet adding some colour. To the east lay the wonderful craggy profile of Crown Mountain, where I could see a lone hiker in silhouette near the summit (which is officially off-limits at this time of year).
I joined Maria over on the summit rock where a gap had opened up for us, and I admired the view around us before we set off back down the mountain. Over on Black Mountain we could see the snow cannons in action, blasting the slopes with icy water, presumably to help the snow settle when it eventually falls. (We could hear the noise from them well before we reached the top of Hollyburn.) We began our descent by taking the “old” route down a small cliff, picking our way down a series of toe-holds before regaining the main trail. A large group was on their way up, and we ended up stopping again at the narrowest and trickiest point to allow them to pass. Some were enjoying it less than others, due to footwear choices (but that’s a rant for another day!).
Our descent was easy and speedy, once again enjoying the easy travel, despite the occasional patch of ice. We paused to admire the ice patterns once again before setting off back into the forest. It was wonderfully shady, although the sun was strong when it found a gap in the trees, and I actually took off my glasses altogether to avoid getting dazzling reflections off the inside of the lenses. Thankfully my eyesight isn’t yet so bad that I can’t do without them, and after a few minutes of adjustment, I had no issues judging my steps.
Down and down, around and back around, across and over. The descent was even more peaceful than the climb, as we met far fewer people on their way up, unsurprising as the day waned. While it had taken an hour and twenty minutes to summit, we reached the car only 65 minutes after leaving the top, and that included a five minute break while I attempted to get a photo of the pearly everlasting I mentioned at the beginning. I’m not sure I succeeded, but there will be a next time.
Going in to the weekend I think I had envisioned tackling a more challenging hike, but I have no complaints about our three hours of sunny outdoor time. Sometimes quality really does win over quantity.