Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail, 12 Sep 2021

Opinion:
I quite like this trail for a quick but not too tough workout, the main downside being the cost of entry. Some superb views and great terrain to explore. Extending it with the Neverland Loop is fun, though I recommend following the suggested (counter-clockwise) route to avoid a tricky descent. Watch for those trail markers though – they’re only really visible on the way up!

Fact
We parked in the Shannon Falls parking lot, as it wasn’t full for once. (Mind you, it was still more than half-full even on a dull, misty day.) The staff at the Sea to Sky Gondola seemed happy to let groups go up separately so we had a gondola car to ourselves in both directions. I wouldn’t be surprised that, with a longer line up, there’d be more pressure to share a ride, something that we’re not keen on right now. Masks were only “recommended” for the gondola, which I found surprising given that they’re mandatory indoors at the moment.

The trail was mostly in good condition though there were quite a few muddy spots in the forest on the upper sections. The rope and chain really helped with the couple of short difficult spots, especially on the descent. Markers on the trees were helpful but they were quite sparse along the first section of granite near the Marker 18 Viewpoint, and they were almost non-existent on the reverse side of trees, so be vigilant and watch for whatever clues you can find. Note that flagging tape doesn’t always lead you the way you might want to go, so follow the markers. We walked as far as Neverland Lake.

We added the Neverland Loop at the top, which we did in reverse. Having done it both ways now, I’d recommend counter-clockwise (i..e following the trail markers). Again, this trail had markers that were only visible from one direction. While I prefer going up the slab with the rope, I did not enjoy coming back down the steep, rocky, and slippery trail at the other end. That, too, was easier to go up.

The blueberries and huckleberries were ripe but please sample sparingly as the wildlife relies on them for food (you don’t :-). Fall colours were beginning to show and the subalpine was starting to look nice and colourful.

We heard chickadees, juncoes, nuthatches, Steller’s jays, and a squirrel or two but other than that the forest was remarkably quiet. With the exception of a lone dirt-biker. Why on earth are dirt bikes allowed on this trail?

Distance: 9.5 km (including distance between parking lot and gondola base station)
Elevation gain: 520 m
Time: 5:45
Route on AllTrails

Key moments

  • 🙂 Stillness and silence in the trees.
  • 🙂 Savouring just a few of the sweetest and tastiest berries of all time.
  • 🙂 Sitting on the bluffs as the sun came out, watching the clouds drift over the Chief.
  • 🙂 Subalpine scenery in early autumn
  • ☹️ The number of people at the lodge was overwhelming after the quiet of the trail.
  • ☹️ I had no idea this trail was also open to dirt-bikers – we encountered only one but the noise carried so damn far and they ripped up the trail in a few places. Ugh.

Story
At this time of year we’re usually frantically trying to fit in those last few backpacking trips – if the weather allows. So far the weekend weather hasn’t been kind to those plans, which forced us to think about day-hike options instead. Plus I’ve been nursing a sore achilles for a couple of weeks and probably wasn’t up to backpacking anyway. Knowing that our passes were due to run out soon, we opted for a trail we’ve done a few times before and quite like.

The drive up the Sea to Sky highway was atmospheric (a euphemism for mostly cloudy) with low cloud drifting through the tree tops. Blue sky was visible through the tiniest gaps in the cloud cover, suggesting that the forecast might end up being right after all. We parked at Shannon Falls and walked through to the gondola base station, the top of the waterfall barely visible in the mist. The line up was non-existent and we boarded immediately, glad to have a cabin to ourselves.

Up into the mist we went, descending gondolas appearing from the wall of grey as we gained height. The clouds thinned a little for a while before we plunged into grey once more, then finally emerging into dazzling sunshine, though the clouds still covered the higher peaks. We disembarked and walked along the access road towards the start of the trail, entered the forest where (once out of earshot of the generator for the gondola operations) we were surrounded by a wonderful silence. After a noisy week in the city full of sirens, drivers honking their horns for petty perceived offences, and loud drunk people, it was such a relief to find somewhere where we could bask in the quiet for a few precious moments.

We continued up the trail, hauling ourselves up a couple of awkward steps with the help of a rope and a chain before turning onto the lovely granite to walk among pine trees anchored into tiny cracks in the rocks, roots snaking out to gain a foothold wherever possible. This section is a delight to walk with views down over the Chief, and numerous standing snags full of character. As we reached the end, we saved the final bump for the return journey, hoping that the clouds will have lifted from Garibaldi and Mamquam by then.

The trail plunged into the cool damp forest, dropping down over some slick roots and mud, then levelling off for a short time before we started climbing again. A fallen tree proved a tricky obstacle, being too low to go under and a touch too high to get over easily. The good thing about trees is that they get narrower towards the top so we were able to find a suitable point to clamber over. We climbed steeply below some sheer cliffs before turning into a forested gully between bluffs. Near the top of this gully stands one of my favourite trees, an enormous western hemlock almost two metres across with the most amazing crown filling the space above.

A short distance further and we stepped out onto an open granite bluff with great views over towards the (cloud-capped) Tantalus Range, down to the Chief and the Squamish Valley, and over the gondola top station to turquoise Howe Sound beyond. We walked over to a lone boulder and sat down to admire this view, just the two of us. A helicopter buzzed over the Skyline Ridge area – hopefully not a SAR mission – and we could occasionally hear traffic down on the highway but mostly it was quiet, with just the raucous screeching of a nearby Steller’s jay to breach the peace.

It had only taken us an hour and a quarter to get here from the gondola and we were quite content to sit and take in our surroundings. We ate some of our lunch and I set up a timelapse on my phone (which turned out to be a bit disappointing, as Google – in its infinite wisdom – somehow believes my phone can only handle creating a low-resolution video, despite the fact that it’s perfectly capable of shooting full HD video; thanks for nothing Google!). The sun emerged from behind the clouds and we basked in its warmth for a while.

The appearance of a trio of hikers broke the spell and we decided it was time to move on, picking up the trail again towards Neverland Lake. We dropped off the granite into beautiful subalpine terrain, the berry bushes and rhododendrons showing their first signs of fall colour. Not only that, but the huckleberries and blueberries were ripe, and we treated ourselves to a handful as we walked. They were absolutely delicious! We kept our eyes and ears open for signs of bears but we saw none.

As we crossed the gurgling creek, we decided to follow the Neverland Loop in reverse, so that we would climb the open slabs rather than try and descend them. We followed the trail up through a mix of trees and shrubs to the base of the slabs, which were nice and dry and posed no problem for us to walk up without need of the rope. At the top, we followed the trail (which was not always obvious) below a sheer cliff, sculpted by passing glaciers, passing under a huge overhanging rock, before descending steeply again over awkward rocks and tree roots back to the main trail. We had the option of going up to Neverland Falls but decided against it given the distinct lack of flowing water right now. That’ll have to be another day.

We turned left to walk the final short distance to Neverland Lake, a misnomer really as it’s more of a pond where water from the creek pools before tumbling over a small cliff at the outlet. But it’s still a pretty spot and the water was perfectly still, reflecting the trees and the clouds above. Satisfied, we turned around and followed the (sometimes muddy) trail back towards the bluffs, all the while just absorbing the wonderful scenery around us. This kind of subalpine landscape is among my favourite with the mixture of cedars, hemlocks, pines, and the berry bushes, especially at this time of year as the leaves change colour.

Soon we were back on the open bluffs, and we opted for a steep climb up onto another rocky viewpoint, thankful the rock was dry as we relied heavily on our boots to just grip the sloping granite. But it was worth it for the view. The clouds had drifted away from the Chief and we could see hikers down on each summit. Squamish was now visible too, and we had a clear view up the Squamish River Valley, the flatness of the valley floor emphasized by the layer of cloud on the surrounding peaks. Alas, Garibaldi and Mamquam remained firmly hidden, those clouds stubbornly refusing to clear.

And so it was time to descend again, treading very carefully as we walked down the rock. Down through the lovely forest, meeting quite a few people on their way up, and then back out onto the lower granite area. We detoured briefly to check out the easternmost viewpoint before returning to the main trail and enjoying our time wandering among the pines over the granite.

The rest of our descent was quiet and mostly easy, although those two little steps proving to be more awkward to descend than we expected. But it wasn’t long before we were traversing the final cliff face and beginning to tire. As we reached the lodge we were taken aback by the sheer number of people. We briefly contemplated stopping for a beer but it was too crowded so we joined the very short line up for our ride back down. Thankfully we had a cabin to ourselves again and we could now admire the pale turquoise waters of Howe Sound, as well as the profile of the Chief, as we descended.

We relaxed our pace as we walked back to the car, stopping for an ice cream bar at the kiosk by Shannon Falls which we savoured while sitting at a picnic bench. Pulling off my boots felt good, my achilles happy to be out of the torture device (though it had held up quite well). Then it was time to enjoy a sunny drive back to Vancouver, via Horseshoe Bay for fish and chips!

A good choice of hike today, not too strenuous but clearly enough of a workout to tire our legs! More importantly, we got to savour some quality time in the subalpine, topping up our senses and rejuvenating our spirits for the week ahead.

2 thoughts on “Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail, 12 Sep 2021

  1. I love the views along this trail, and as you say, it’s perfect if you don’t want a really tough hike. I’m with you on the dirt bikes…what the f*%@?! We encountered one too and it caught me completely off guard. Never would have expected it on this trail.

    1. We have to remind ourselves that not every hike has to be epic :-) The dirt bike really threw me – it just seems like exactly the wrong trail to ride on.

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