Monday, August 18, 2008

Howe Sound Crest Trail

My good friends Eloginy, James and I braved the unusually hot coastal weather last week and climbed the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Starting at Cypress Mountain, we set out along the trail in probably the three hottest and driest days the BC coast has ever seen. Low to mid-30s for three straight days, it was glorious.

The 27.6 km trail was very well marked throughout the Coast Mountain range, leading us up and down a number of summits, through mountain meadows, down rock slides, and around amethyst-coloured lakes. If you've gone 10m without seeing one of the orange markers-- whether trail tape hanging from a tree, trail diamonds nailed to trees or paint on a rock-- you've probably gone too far.

The toughest section of the trail was by far the approach to The Lions. Famous for their daunting presence over the East Vancouver landscape, The Lions are two towering rock monuments that act as beacons throughout most of the trail. From our campsite on St-Marks' summit, we wound our way up Unnecessary Mountain, and back down and then up towards the Lions. Once you find yourself at the bottom of the West Lion, satisfied with the stunning view, don't rest on your laurels. Coming down from here, there are several technical sections, including going across a slide at the southern end of the base of the West Lion and then making your way up over the Lion cub, a smaller peak between the East and West Lion. We found a site to camp two summits over from the Cub, after crossing a steep traverse with a rope and chain, giving us a sense of being in some low-budget S&M melodrama--> Ropes & Chains: The Lions Roar.

One important thing to consider is that there are few water supplies up in this section of the trail. We were lucky to find some piles of snow in the higher up sections, a bit late for mid-August, but given the hot weather, it was possible to find snow melt. However, by the end of this second day, we had one litre left in our bottles when we set up camp on top of the summit, with 2 hours to go before the next water source.

The best part of the trail was the very rewarding traverse of Brunswick Mountain. After walking by the newly-rebuilt Magnesia Meadow emergency hut, the trail veers west towards Howe Sound, and then north as it hugs the middle section of Brunswick. The wildflower meadows were marvelous walking through here. Purples, oranges, yellows, reds, I counted at least 5 different flowers growing directly below the Brunswick summit-- the smell was intoxicating.

The highlight of the trip in my book was the descent from the ridge between Brunswick and Hand Mountains to the chain of lakes running behind the Brunswick summit. When I reached the first of three lakes, I dropped my 50 lb pack, stripped off my sweaty clothes, and dove into the glacial water. And then I finally unleashed my fly rod and caught some pretty mountain trout.

Later that night we made it to Deeks Lake, where we camped for the third night before descending to HWY 99 at the newly- built Porteau Rd. exit. It's a tough spot to catch a ride, so I'd suggest walking the 2 kms to the Porteau Cove PP rest stop to find a ride or to park a car.

Overall, I'd say this trail is well worth tackling, but only if you have mountain experience and are a competent map reader. Some of the sections are awe-inspiring, but could also bring on some serious fears, considering the steep drops and sheer skill required to complete the trail. And don't forget to fill your water bottles as often as possible.


mae callen said...

Wow D. Great pictures - Wonderful to hear from you. Sounds like a the making of a wonderful recharge. Thanks for the update!
see you when you get home.