A great destination when short of time, Hollyburn is ideal for a quick workout and I think it has some of the nicest trees on the North Shore when they’re covered in snow. Heading up later in the day avoids the crowds too.
We had no issues parking along the road leading to the Nordic ski area. Despite a couple of signs about pay parking, no one mentioned anything to us and we didn’t get a ticket. I don’t know how you’d know since the signs and meter are further up the road than the trailhead so it is entirely possible to never see them. As ever I think this is a money grab to take advantage of honest people.
The trail was marked with poles all the way to the summit. The snow was hard packed and the trail easy to walk on with microspikes or snowshoes. I would suggest wearing one or the other as the snow was icy and slippery in several places, especially closer to the summit. We wore snowshoes today, which were overkill on the trail but totally necessary as soon as you stepped off into the fresh snow. Mind you, even then, travel was hard with the snow being easily up to 40 cm deep (or more at the summit). My advice is to stick to the trail! The snow on the trail was saturated and sticky at lower elevations – my hiking poles got stuck a few times – and very icy higher up. Descending in twilight – even in the murk of the clouds – posed no issue and we didn’t need headlamps until we returned to the car.
It was extremely quiet today with only a brief whisky jack sighting as we began the final climb to the top, plus a few of their tracks in the snow at the summit.
Distance: 7 km
Elevation gain: 455 m
Time: 3 h 40 m
Route on AllTrails
- 😀 It was so very quiet and peaceful on the trail – at least whenever we stopped walking
- 😀 Watching the clouds drift over the nearby peaks
- 😀 Basking in the warm sunshine
- 😀 Taking in the views in late afternoon light
- 😀 Meeting someone you know on the trail is always nice
- 😀 Seeing the stars as the sky cleared, Venus and Jupiter bright in the west
- 🙁 Giving myself hiccups was not clever…
We’ve hiked up Hollyburn so many times it’s hard to make it sound fresh and interesting, so for this write-up I’m going to be brief and mostly show a few photos. We took our time on the ascent as I tried (unsuccessfully) to not overheat while dodging the frigid drips of snow melting off the trees. Thankfully all the big snow bombs missed us. I remarked how quiet the trail was – and it was, apart from the racket (pun intended) our plastic snowshoes made on the hard-packed snow. I do like my MSR snowshoes but they are not stealthy in these conditions!
The clouds added atmosphere to our surroundings and it was only once we left the forested portion of the route and started the final climb that we emerged into sunshine and blue sky. The city was hidden below those clouds and, as we climbed, we caught a view of the top-most reaches of Mount Baker floating on the bed of puffy clouds. One of the descending hikers turned out to be someone we knew through the Wanderung hiking group – I’d hiked with her back in 2016 to Brandywine Mountain and we stopped to chat and catch up for a few minutes. That’s always nice to bump into someone you know on the trail and to hear them say how much they enjoyed a trip that you shared! Personally, I thought it was a great trip, so it’s nice to hear someone else say how it’s stuck with them as one of their favourites.
A few hikers were forced to wait for us as we plodded up the trail, only because they needed a clear way to slide down. Sure, it’s fun but the trail was basically a sheet of ice and sliding only made it worse. We were glad of the crampons on our snowshoes and fortunately we avoided getting taken out by anyone sliding today!
The afternoon sun on the trees was stunning and we stopped to take a few photos of the snow-encrusted cedars, firs, and hemlocks. There’s a handful of trees that are particularly photogenic near the edge of a meadow and we struggled through the soft snow to get a good angle on them. They form such amazing shapes, bent over under the weight of the snow. Others were dripping with icicles, sparkling foot-long daggers at the end of every branch.
We could see the clouds drifting over from the west and the memories of our previous trip to Hollyburn loomed in my mind as I dashed up the slope to make sure I wouldn’t miss seeing the Lions this time. I was in luck: just about the only peaks visible were Mount Strachan and the Lions and, after visiting the high-point of Hollyburn long enough to pull on my jacket again, I wasted no time wandering over the small summit plateau to get my photos of those famous Twin Sisters.
My initial plan was to walk through the soft snow but quickly realized that I was going to end up flat on my face unable to move, and headed straight back to the existing path. I had the viewpoint to myself and I could’ve stood there for hours watching the light change and the clouds drift down in the valleys and over the peaks. The wind was calm and although it wasn’t warm, it wasn’t as cold as expected. Maria joined me for a while and then wisely moved back to a sunnier spot. After firing off a few photos I feasted on my OMG (a delicious chocolate treat from Purebread) and gulped down a very spicy chai from East is East, promptly giving myself hiccups. Not good for photography! Or hiking, for that matter…
I rejoined Maria near the peak again where she was admiring the golden sky in the west. It was so tempting to hang on until sunset – another 20 minutes or so hence – but we had cooled off and decided it was better to get moving again. We walked across the summit and picked up the marked route back down the mountain, zig-zagging over the icy slope until we were on flatter ground. Our decision was the right one: the light soon faded as the sun dropped below the clouds, and we were treated to a fleeting moment of pastel pink to the tree tops before it vanished.
The hike down was relaxing and fun. The city was still under a blanket of cloud and the trail was peaceful as there was no one around, neither on the trail nor on the cross-country ski runs. Returning to the trees, we were enveloped by the clouds as we continued our descent through this veritable winter wonderland. It was turning decidedly murky as we neared the ski resort, its floodlights for night skiing showing just how dense the fog was. But within minutes of reaching the car, we noticed stars above us, recognizing Orion in the south-east, and the planets Venus and Jupiter shining brightly in the west. That was a lovely way to end the hike.
And my hiccups had stopped.