Where else do you go on a sunny winter’s day? Today’s trip to Mount Seymour only reinforced my opinion that it is the best North Shore peak to visit in the winter, especially on a sunny, clear day after a major storm. Of course, many other people think that too so it’s not a quiet experience. And yet, the crowds seem to only go as far as the first peak…
We had booked a morning and and afternoon pass, though I have to admit I slept in and we didn’t get to Mount Seymour until just before 12 noon, so we only really needed an afternoon pass. Oops. But it was a bad time to arrive with the morning pass-holders only just beginning to leave, which meant that parking spots opened up only very slowly. Lesson learned: we will not arrive at the changing of the guard again. However, we were able to get a parking spot along the road, thus avoiding the long trudge up from the lowest parking lot.
We opted for microspikes but snowshoes would have been better. The snow was much softer than we expected and not as compacted as anticipated which made it a bit of a slog at times. Off trail, we sank into our knees or deeper, usually as deep as a buried rain crust about 30-50 cm deep depending on aspect. In some places, the top unconsolidated layer would slide quite easily on the crust but not in a way that would be dangerous (though it could easily throw you off balance). The trail was marked with poles as far as the back of Pump (First) Peak. The route to Tim Jones (Second) Peak was well-trodden but again, the snow was not compacted enough to make travel easy without skis or snowshoes. Having said that, we managed fine for the most part. Those sections of the trail exposed to the midday sun were a lot firmer. The biggest hazards today were snow-bombs melting off the trees. Some were quite large, but – thankfully – most fell just off the trail.
The Mount Seymour trail ambassadors were stationed at the beginning of the trail and were very happy to chat. They had a really useful whiteboard with weather, reminders, and avalanche info, as well as pointing out which destinations were in which avalanche rating zone. Nice! The reminder about keeping dogs on leashes could’ve been more prominent though.
No wildlife to speak of today, save for a few ravens near the parking lot.
Distance: 10.5 km
Elevation gain: 720 m
Route on AllTrails
- 🙂 Blue sky and soft snow
- 🙂 Hot chocolate out of the wind surrounded by snow-covered trees and untouched snow
- 🙂 So much untouched snow!
- 🙂 Beautiful snow-covered trees
- 🙂 Leaving the crowds behind as we headed to Tim Jones Peak
- 🙂 Seeing Mount Rainier (Tahoma), 295 km away!
- ☹️ Busy, especially around Pump Peak
- ☹️ A couple of irritating off-leash dogs
First hike of the year! But I wasn’t feeling it. I was just not in the mood to get out for a hike. Our day began slowly as we overslept and only gradually summoned up the enthusiasm to pull together our gear and drive over to the North Shore. We’d booked morning and afternoon passes and I felt somewhat guilty about the unused morning pass as we pulled up to the checkpoint just in time for the afternoon pass to take effect…
Although the roadside parking was full, we were fortunate enough (again) to pull up as someone was leaving, which meant that we didn’t have to walk all the way from the lower parking lot. But it was clear that the morning shift was late leaving, and spaces were only being freed up slowly. More than a few drivers stopped uphill of cars that were likely to be leaving, not all of whom pulled over out of the roadway to allow traffic to pass. There were more than a few angry exchanges of honking.
To save our energy levels we began our hike by walking up the road, behind the parked cars, rather than endure the slog through the soft and slushy snow. This was so much easier and we couldn’t help but wonder why we hadn’t done this before. Alas we couldn’t walk the whole way on the road and trudged onto the snow at a point where the resort staff were guiding skiers to park. Thankfully we were able to get off again before too long and walked between the parked cars to reach the trailhead. We stopped to put on our microspikes and were greeted by a cheerful trail ambassador, one we’d spoken to on a previous visit. As we were chatting I noticed a new whiteboard with some helpful information about the weather and avalanche conditions, plus a helpful reminder of some of the rules and etiquette (nowhere near prominent enough, in my view). But the best part was a labelled diagram that showed which parts of the mountain corresponded to which avalanche forecast zone. Very helpful!
With our spikes on our boots we stepped out onto the trail, expecting a nice firm snowpack to walk on. But it wasn’t to be. We found ourselves on soft packed snow that we quickly realized was far more suited to walking with snowshoes. Of course, we’d left those in the car today. Oh well, not much we could do about it now, and so we walked on, tackling the first hill and soon overheating at the exertion, especially with the warm sun on our backs. Always ready to cool us off was the steady drip of melting snow from the trees, as well as occasional snow bombs, some big enough to be painful. Thankfully most of those fell off the trail, and we only caught some of the spray of smaller pieces of snow and ice as they crashed down through the branches.
We were definitely earning our treats today; it was a slog plodding up the trail but we persisted and even managed to pass a few slower groups. About 40 minutes after leaving the trailhead, we began to get our first good views and we were surprised to find some large patches of untouched snow that provided the perfect (and completely wrong) vision of being the first ones to venture into the mountains. A short time later we reached Brockton Point which we traversed on someone else’s tracks to reach the gateway to the backcountry, a narrow opening between two sets of low bluffs with a view straight up to the face of the first peak of Mount Seymour.
We descended a short way – which made a welcome respite – to the spot with a great view of De Pencier Bluffs and Mount Baker before climbing again to a broad snowy knoll. Here we got our first big views to the east and we couldn’t help but smile as we spotted those familiar peaks. It doesn’t matter how many times we see them, it’s always a treat, especially in winter when peak after peak, range after range, is coated with fresh white snow. Another descent followed, and we stepped off the trail to avoid a group making their way up the narrow trail, walking through the loose snow and sinking in to our knees as we plunge-stepped down into the meadow. Though the top layer was soft and powdery, we could clearly feel an icy crust buried beneath our feet and the softer snow slid quite easily over it.
Passing through the meadow – with views to Golden Ears, Coquitlam Mountain, and Robie Reid – we meandered through a sparse grove of giant mountain hemlocks, each dripping copious amounts of snow and water on us, before emerging at a small hollow where the summer trail to Elsay Lake departs. We paused here to sip some water and to admire the distant mountains that lay beyond the warning sign. The wind had carved wonderful patterns in the snow on the bluffs and I was drawn to some amazing subtle shapes and textures, snapping a few photos that I hoped would make appealing abstract images.
Then it was time for the steepest part of the climb, zig-zagging our way up through more wonderful mountain hemlocks before levelling off in the little “valley” bounded by cornice-laden bluffs which led to the bowl below First Peak. This area is always so photogenic after fresh snowfall and so it was today. The wind-sculpted shapes, snow-plastered trees, and blue shadows were a spectacular sight. Everywhere we looked there was something to photograph. Many of the trees were festooned with snowy icicles dripping (figuratively and literally) from the snow-encased branches. As we gained a bit more height, we could see Mount Baker and its neighbours – Shuksan and the Twin Sisters – dominating the skyline to the south-east.
We climbed again through a group of benevolent snow-creatures, the guardians of the alpine – trees so heavily encased in snow and ice that their forms were almost completely hidden, and looked more like the tufa towers of Mono Lake than living beings. Here we were exposed to the biting wind and we beat a hasty retreat into a sheltered spot down the slope from First Peak. The crowd at that summit put us off visiting and so we decided to push on to Second Peak, now called Tim Jones Peak. For a while we were completely sheltered from the wind and the warm sun was bliss on our backs as we descended into the dip between the two summits.
To my surprise there were still large areas of untouched snow that made for picture-perfect scenes; softened, rounded bluffs like giant snow pillows framed the city below to our left, while to our right a group of trees stood around like white sentinels. We began to climb again, our way made easier where the sun had melted the snow slightly and it had compacted into a firm base that we were able to walk on without plunging in over our ankles. It only took about 10 minutes to climb the gully that led up to Tim Jones Peak where we felt the full force of the cold wind again as we paused to admire the view. The massive hulk of Cathedral Mountain lay in front of us with the jagged peaks of the Sky Pilot group nestled between it and the smooth slopes of Mount Seymour’s third peak plunging down into the valley below. Left of Cathedral we could see Coliseum and Burwell. Further to our left and slightly behind us was a small forest of snow-covered trees that invited further exploration – or at least, it would have done if we were wearing snowshoes. Today we contented ourselves with just admiring it before turning around and finishing the climb to the peak.
We passed by one of our favourite trees – almost unrecognizable in its thick winter coat – before ambling across the plateau in search of more views, more mountains, more trees, more sparkling untouched snow. Well, if we had any doubts about getting outside today, they had now well and truly evaporated. The blue sky and bright sunshine was just what we needed, lifting our energy levels and moods and making us feel so very glad to be here, right now. To us, this is the essence of being outdoors; it’s about the being, feeling present and grounded, like there was nowhere else we were meant to be at this moment.
Walking back we played with our shadows cast on the snow and stopped for a couple of fun photos, including one with us high-fiving against a glorious mountain backdrop. We retraced our steps, not wanting to leave the views behind but keen to find a spot out of the wind where we could savour some hot chocolate and a snack. Before we descended, we contemplated the route over to the main summit, but decided against it given the “considerable” avalanche rating. One day…. Down the gully we went and pulled off to one side in the shelter of a large tree, far enough away so we wouldn’t be clobbered by one of the many snow-bombs dropping from the trees all around us. The hot chocolate was warming and welcome and we absorbed the warm sunshine as we drank while continuing to marvel at the sights around us.
Standing around in the snow eventually cooled us off, even with the sunshine and hot chocolate, so we continued on our way downhill, climbing again through the bowl towards first peak. I was stopped in my tracks by some wonderful tree shadows before hurrying to catch up with Maria, although I was distracted again by more trees and views on my way. Eventually we regrouped and followed a snowshoer’s tracks westward to loop around to the front of Pump Peak. As we climbed I noticed the first quarter moon in a perfect blue sky above a line of wind-blown snow and, as I took the photo, I was reminded of the famous Earth-rise photo taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts.
We battled the wind to make the final ascent towards the summit, only to stop short on account of the fifteen-to-twenty people crowding the summit – I called it the Pump Peak Party, as it seemed fitting. We paused for a few moments to admire the view behind us, and after a few people had left we made a beeline for the summit just to say we’d made it there too, took a couple of quick photos – I always love the view of Tim Jones Peak from Pump Peak – and beat a hasty retreat out of the selfie-taking crowd. We retraced our steps down the face – passing more beautiful trees and patterns in the snow – and then turned left into a small gully that led us into the bowl east of Pump Peak.
The snow was so incredibly soft as we plunge-stepped our way down into the bowl, and we soon rejoined the marked trail. We switched lenses on the camera, putting on the telephoto as I wanted to get some distant mountain shots now that the light was improving. First order of business was – of course – some snowy trees followed by some abstract snow patterns created by overhanging cornices and the bluffs below. Only then did I turn my attention to the familiar peaks to the east: Judge Howay, Robie Reid, Coquitlam, and Golden Ears.
The views were superb, the atmosphere so clear after yesterday’s rain. Peering into the distance to the south we could make out the shape of Mount Rainier (Tahoma) some 295 km away! It’s not the first time we’ve seen it but it’s always special to be able to see that large mountain from so far away.
We made good time on our return, descending then climbing, descending again then climbing again to Brockton Point, stopping only for a photo of Mount Baker directly behind De Pencier Bluffs. Back at Brockton Point we could see the group of selfie-takers (presumably a different bunch – how many selfies does anyone need?) on Pump Peak. They weren’t the last selfies we saw being taken but at least people were a bit more spread out here.
With one last look to the east, we turned and continued our descent, squinting into the low sun as we walked. Our pace was brisk; the travel was much easier than on our ascent thanks to the passage of many more boots and snowshoes trampling the snow. We opted for the less-travelled (and unmarked) route with its views of Suicide Bluffs and down into the Seymour Valley. A layer of cloud was moving in from the west, already snuffing out the sunshine on the Grouse and Cypress Bowl peaks, with only a hint of some reflected light on the summit of the Lions. Crown Mountain looked blue in silhouette against the clouds and a thin strip of golden sky. Looking back, the expansive summit of Coliseum was bathed in pale sunshine, just enough to highlight the snowy trees and features in the landscape, and taking on a faint pink tinge.
We had one last surprise view in store: the peaks of Vancouver Island stood out in sharp relief and as we admired Mount Arrowsmith, we noticed a white pyramidal peak off to its right, one that we’d never noticed before. Later (and with the help of some Twitter folk) we found out it was Klitsa Mountain, a 1600-m peak above the western end of Sproat Lake and a mountain we’ve no doubt admired on the drive to and from Tofino. Our research identified a trail to its summit, one that we are very tempted to try at some point!
At that it was time to put the camera away and head back to the car in the last of the daylight. We pulled off our microspikes at the trailhead and chatted to the park ambassador again who told us of a peak called Dromedary that we’d never heard of. We’re still not convinced it’s a well-known designation (I couldn’t find it on Bivouac.com) so we don’t really know where he meant but apparently it’s somewhere near Dinky Peak. Maybe we’ll find it one day, maybe we won’t!
With the sun now set and darkness setting in, it was just a matter of getting back to the car. We opted for the easier way, sticking to the road again rather than slog through the slushy snow. It wasn’t too long before we were pulling off our boots and heading for home, via the Chick Pea food truck for dinner. Delicious!
What a great day out that was. I was skeptical we’d find it inspiring having been up there so recently, but it was like a new place with the fresh snow and blue skies. I should have known better, and we were so, so glad we bothered. Mount Seymour is definitely our favourite winter destination!