Vancouver has three main snowshoeing destinations on the North Shore: Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Hollyburn Ridge at Cypress Provincial Park. All three destinations have their strengths and Hollyburn benefits from its relative privacy from ski runs and its ease of access.
A group of us set out for Hollyburn on a recent Sunday afternoon to check out the trail conditions and enjoy the sunset. We parked in the Nordic Skiing lot opposite a grizzled old douglas fir and about a hundred meters from the trail head to the Hollyburn Hiker’s Access Trail. You can check current trail conditions on the Cypress Provincial Park website – in our case the lower part of the trail was solid ice requiring snowshoes, crampons or microspikes. Some people were getting by nicely with products similar to the STABILicers Lite Cleat Traction device pulled over their boots.
As we gained altitude, the trail conditions steadily improved becoming snowy with a light sun crust near the peak of Hollyburn. Unfortunately, with only 30% of the usual snow pack at this time of year, it was still too early for back-country skiing or split boarding with many bare sections near the bottom and exposed bushes and small trees near the top. Much of the trail follows a cut about as wide as a two lane road, affording good skiing or boarding opportunities when the snow is much deeper. In our case, the cut meant a quicker ascent as we weren’t limited to the summer trail’s switchbacks and also allowed for better views of Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, Mt. Baker and the Cascade range on the way up.
There is also an excellent back-country route straight down to the road from the peak of Hollyburn but it shouldn’t be attempted without GPS, avalanche gear and a low risk of avalanche. For our own safety, we were able to make do with head lamps, water, trail mix and tea mixed with rakia, a tasty Croatian liquor. If you choose to snowshoe after dark, ensure that you bring extra batteries for your headlamps. Also, if you go early in the season before the snow trail markers are put in place, make sure at least one member of your group is familiar with the area as there were many different routes in the snow that people had created branching off from the main trail.
Another good idea is to bring an extra base layer in case you sweat and try and to avoid sweating in the first place by placing any extra layers in a back pack during the ascent. If you need to rent snowshoes, it’s far cheaper to rent in Vancouver as renting at Cypress, Grouse or Seymour is more expensive and you’ll also likely get dinged for a trail pass which is unnecessary unless you’re looking to check out some live music at the historic Hollyburn Lodge.
The clouds cleared for our descent back to the parking lot with stunning views of the sun setting over the mountains of Vancouver Island. All and all, a great time and a good way to get some exercise despite the less than ideal snow conditions and a stern warning from the park ranger. On that note, if you’re going to bring your dog, always ask people coming down if they’ve seen a ranger and keep a leash handy for the descent if it’s still daylight. You wouldn’t want a hefty fine for an off leash dog to ruin what would otherwise be a magical trip out on the North shore mountains.