Summiting the Lions, the two peaks overlooking Vancouver, has been on my to do list since I moved here two years ago. I don’t do as much hiking as most people in Vancouver for two reasons: firstly I am usually too busy swimming, biking, running or fishing; secondly I find hiking a bit boring unless there is a purpose, a nice lake to swim, some fishing or a challenge. Just going for a walk for a view has never really done it for me, but The Lions definitely fall in to the challenge category.
The Lions consist of two peaks, the East Lion and West Lion. The East Lion can only be summited with proper climbing gear, the West Lion has the following description:
“Summiting the West Lion should only be done by experienced mountaineers, with proper training and gear. Fatalities have occurred on the West Lion, as the scramble up it leaves no margin for error – a fall would be nearly certain death.”
Sounds like an adventure.
There are two routes to the West Lion, from Cypress Mountain or Lions Bay. Given the objective of the hike was to climb the mountain starting at Cyrpess would have been cheating, as the trail starts at 1000m elevation. Lions Bay it would be.
I took a day off (during Covid there isn’t much else to do with holiday) in the hope that it would be quiet and forecast was perfect. Parking can be an issue so Maddy and I set off at the crack of dawn to make sure we weren’t delayed.
The trail to the peak is the Lions-Binkert trail, a 15km round trip, excluding the final summit, and pretty much straight up the side of the mountain.
The first 3km is switchbacks up a forestry track, easy going, but no views due to the trees. The track continues to be pretty easy going for another. You start to get idea of the view but only glimpses.
Then you really start to climb! Especially as I took a couple of tiny detours over some boulder fields rather than following the zig zag trail. In my defence it is more direct and I found a fantastic little sport for lunch!
Finally we emerged on a ridge to our first view of the Lions and the spectacular views of Howe Sounds. We found a little grouse enjoying a the sensational view with his breakfast.
The trail then continues, at a more gradual incline, over boulders with the view continuously improving…
With the exception of the one steep section (staying on the trail is easier) it isn’t that challenging but hiking boots are a good idea. While not physically exhausted the hike had taken its toll in other ways! I had been stung, bitten and finally stabbed by a tree…
This brought us to the ridge where the trail meets the route from Cypress Mt. As moved closer to the actual Lion it became more like a cliff face and my confidence we would climb it decreased. However, not one to shy away I convinced Maddy that we should keep going until we didn’t fancy it.
It didn’t take long for this to happen. Before we even got to the climb there was a small abseil down a cliff to be navigated. This combined with the cliff face ahead had me wavering to Maddy’s suggestion that maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. (which is rare as most my ideas are winners!)
As I was accepting defeat two girls appeared. They were heading up, no climbing gear, and assured us it was fine. We now had someone to follow. Maddy was not convinced and had a few words to say post her abseil…
Safely down we could then start climbing. We followed the girls along a pretty sketchy ledge, squeezed through some trees/bushes to arrive at the bottom of the cliff. They were already half way up but let us know they were pretty sure they had gone the wrong way before promptly disappearing up it. The views from this point were pretty stunning:
Our progress slowed on the cliff face as a few different routes came to dead ends. I was encouraging Maddy with the sayings I live my life by: Fortune favours the brave, you make your own luck and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Then of course none of those matters as everything works out in the end. As I was climbing I could just hear whispers of fortune favours the brave, fortune favours the brave….
While we could have kept going up every time you looked down this made it very difficult. The description at the beginning is not an exaggeration. While the face didn’t give the impression of being slippery, it was the case that one slip would result in death. There is absolutely nothing to grab hold of or to break your fall.
After a couple of failed attempts we regrouped at the bottom, Maddy decided to call it a day and enjoy her lunch at this point. I wanted another go!
I decided speed was the key and just went for it while still making sure I had 3 solid contact points before the next move. The cliff was probably 30 meters vertical before leveling off. I was going to make it top and was ignoring the issue of how I was going to get down it.
I emerged on the summit where the two girls were having a sandwich and boy had the effort been worth it! Panoramic views in every direction…..
I mean which way do you look….
I had a sandwich while I waited for the girls went down. Something I hadn’t thought about was knocking rocks down on people below you. So I had to wait from them to clear the face but given the view I was happy to take my time.
Going down was instantly much harder and the endless debate of forwards or backwards! On the plus side I managed to find what felt like an easier route. It allowed me to stop every few meters to get my breath and plan my next few steps. Half way down I could hear a chopper coming up the valley and what a flight that must have been… I spy with my little eye….
I was expecting the route to get harder but I eventually called to Maddy and she was above me. Maddy didn’t take much convincing she would be able to do the easier route, she wasn’t going to miss out.
We had both done it and could celebrate together 🙂
After soaking in the views, as who knows if I will ever be up there again, we slowly made our way down making sure of every step. It wasn’t slippery but if you slipped it was game over. Thankfully we didn’t.
The trail down wasn’t very exciting as we were retracing our steps but downhill is always hard on the legs. The fact that hikes are often out and back is another reason why I don’t do that many.
On our way down we met groups of various fitness levels and gave them our review of the climb: pretty scary, but doable. Just hold on tight!
We also got a chance to view what the climb looked like with people on it. If you look very closely you can see them below. Had I seen people on the face before we started I don’t think I would have continued!!
After such a great day we needed to reward ourselves, and calm the nerves, and what better way than a couple of beers at Racecar Brewery in North Van.
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