Hollyburn Mountain, 24 Dec 2020

Opinion:
What, Hollyburn again? What can I say? It’s a nice little hike, not too long and not too tough, and easy to keep your distance from potential disease carriers. Parking is terrible unless you go early or late: there have been long line-ups to get up to the ski resort on recent fine days.

Fact
We got to the trailhead parking lot just before 8 am and it was already filling up. By the time we drove away around 11 am, cars were parked at least 400 m along the Cypress Bowl Road.

The trail was hard-packed and easy to hike in boots with good tread or microspikes. Snowshoes were not needed, and again were more of a hindrance on the final slope to the summit. Off trail, the snow was soft and powdery, about 20-30 cm deep overlying a very hard crust. It was (still!) marked all the way to the summit. Multiple parallel trails have been tracked in the snow for much of the route so it’s easy to stay apart from others. The final climb is steep and has been used extensively as a slide so it’s a bit of a challenge, especially on the descent. Watch out for sliders as you ascend, and if you’re sliding, please yell out to warn others – I was almost taken out by someone who appeared around a blind corner.

The creeks have filled in a bit more since our last visit but there are still a few open holes to avoid. They’re getting deeper with the additional snow so they wouldn’t be fun to get stuck in!

The whisky jacks left us alone today, with only a single sighting. Few ravens too – maybe too early in the day? Finally, a squeaky Douglas squirrel called from a tree off to the side of the trail.

Distance: 7 km
Elevation gain: 450 m
Time: 2:55 (including 40 minutes enjoying the view and exploring)
Route on AllTrails

Hollyburn Mountain, 24 Dec 2020

Key moments

  • 🙂 Fog over the Burrard and Lions Gate bridges made for a very atmospheric drive.
  • 🙂 Golden silhouettes of Mount Baker and other peaks just before sunrise.
  • 🙂 Finding a quiet spot just away from the summit area with great views of the Lions and beyond.
  • 🙂 Seeing the sun light up the same mountain tops I’ve been admiring from home for the past couple of days.
  • ☹️ None really – just a couple of inconsiderate people who didn’t keep their distance.

Story
After our not-quite-so-early start a few weeks ago, and daily reports of backed-up traffic lining up to get into the ski resorts, we decided to try the really early start to see if we could avoid the crowds. As ever, really early just became only quite early as we left our apartment at about 7:10 am. The Burrard and Lions Gate bridges were blanketed in thick fog, making for a wonderfully atmospheric start to the day. The day brightened as we drove up the Cypress Bowl Road (along with a bus and many other cars), the silhouettes of Mount Baker and other Fraser Valley peaks standing out so clearly against the golden pre-sunrise clouds.

The snow was packed hard and squeaky underfoot… creaking where the tips of our hiking poles dug in.

The first sunlight touched the treetops as we arrived at the parking lot, which was already beginning to fill up. We changed into our boots, grabbed our backpacks, and set off towards the trailhead where we stopped long enough to put on our microspikes, the sun lighting up the top of the Black Mountain plateau behind us. We set off on the first climb of the day. The snow was packed hard and squeaky underfoot, suggesting it was pretty cold, creaking where the tips of our hiking poles dug in and turned as we walked, the vibration travelling up the poles and into our hands.

As with last time, it was easy hiking and we powered up the hill, pausing briefly to catch our breath before plunging into the forest and its array of old hemlocks and cedars. The sun was poking through the trees like a bright yellow spotlight, illuminating patches of snow here and there. We passed alongside a freshly groomed the cross-country ski run, looking oh-so inviting – I wonder who got to ski it first this morning? I know a friend of ours would like that!

Within 40 minutes we reached the open slopes and the top of the Nordic ski trails, and we paused for some water. A few people were already on their way down – had they really reached the top so soon? The road only opens at 7 so they must have been really fast! We followed the path up through the snow, just like last time keeping to the right and picking the easier way up where possible. Looking behind us, we could see the city over the treetops, the mist that we’d driven through still lingering around Stanley Park and out into English Bay.

As we climbed a little higher, we emerged into bright morning sunshine as the sun broke through the lingering clouds. Someone had built a big snowman on the first level area, facing south with a magnificent view over Vancouver. We pushed on up the slope, admiring the freshly coated trees lit up by the morning sun. Then the final approach, which proved to be just as tricky as on our previous visit, especially for many of the snowshoers. But we still made good progress and it wasn’t too much longer before we emerged at the busy summit.

We walked across to gain the viewpoint of the Lions and peaks north (the little summit itself crowded with too many people for our liking) and stopped long enough to take some photos before deciding to walk around the perimeter to take in as many views as possible. A small clearing to the east and a little lower than the main summit area attracted our attention, especially as there was a track in the snow for us to walk and there were no other hikers. We walked over and found an even better view of the Lions with an area of wind-sculpted snow on the more exposed northern side. This shapely snow made for a very nice scene with the Lions, Mount Garibaldi, Sky Pilot, and Mamquam in the background (see the photo underneath the summary above) and we snapped away for a minute or two.

It was lovely and peaceful in this little clearing, only two more snowshoers sharing it with us and they walked away soon after we arrived. We explored a little further to gain a clear view of Crown Mountain, its sheer western face falling steeply into the Capilano valley. We could clearly see the powerline route and tried to get a view of the reservoir, but there were too many trees. Signs warned us of the boundary of the Vancouver watershed, the ground dropping away steeply beyond, naturally deterring us from venturing further.

We retraced our steps back to the summit, pausing long enough to photograph some more of the beautifully snow-decorated trees before descending down the steep climb. The mist was still lingering over the city but had thinned out considerably in the last hour. Where it hung around the trees in Stanley Park, the sun cast long beams of light through the mist. As we reached the bottom of the steep descent, we took a detour that led us over to the subalpine meadows that the summer trail passes through. Skiers and snowshoers had wandered here and there leaving tracks in the fresh snow. It looked inviting, but we only had on our microspikes so we decided to return and explore some more another day.

Back on the trail, we made a speedy descent in the morning sun, soaking up the views as we descended, passing many cheery hikers on their way up. As we passed the cross-country ski run from earlier, we noticed it was less than pristine now having been skied on – I’m glad we saw it when it was so freshly groomed! Down and down through the lovely forest, we tried again to follow the creek draining Triangle Lake and found it a much easier route this time, thanks to all the extra snow that had fallen in the past couple of weeks. The creek still had a couple of open spots but they were easy to avoid.

It wasn’t long before we were back at the car, a little less than 3 hours after we’d left it. Of course, the parking lot had filled completely in that time and cars were parked along the road for about 400-500 m. Since then the ski resort has introduced a $10 parking fee for backcountry trail users, which has garnered remarkably little comment. Given the general hostility to backcountry users over the years, it’s $10 I won’t be giving to them.

Just three hours. It was so worth the early start!

2 thoughts on “Hollyburn Mountain, 24 Dec 2020

  1. Really great photos looking down onto the city and to the Lions, Andy. I’m lucky that I live close and can avoid busiest times. Despite having hiked there dozen of times, I never get tired of Hollyburn.

    1. I love seeing it in different conditions – we were there again last weekend and it was different again with mist and clouds making it feel like somewhere new!

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