Hiking The Chief

There are lots of popular hikes in Southwest BC, but I would argue that The Chief in Squamish is one of the most iconic. I had experience hiking before I moved to BC, but my practical knowledge was very limited and has grown enormously since I moved here. The only trail I was aware of before moving across the country was the West Coast Trail and I thought it was similar to the East Coast Trail in that it extended down the entire West Coast and could be day hiked in sections like in Newfoundland. I was obviously very wrong and quickly learned that it is actually a remote hike that requires substantial backpacking skills over 7+ days.

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Similarly, somehow I heard about The Chief soon after moving here and decided it was a great trail on which to start my west coast hiking adventures. So one sunny day in early June 2014 when my Dad was visiting, we drove out to Squamish to tackle the beast. Looking back on the experience now, it’s a bit comical. We left Vancouver late in the morning and were amazed that we couldn’t find anywhere to park (not a problem in Newfoundland). We ended up finding a place at Shannon Falls (this was before the Sea-to-Sky gondola) and decided to hike up to the First Peak from there. It’s easy to judge people that head blindly into the backcountry with no experience, but that was also how I first started adventuring when I moved here, so I can relate. There’s a very different culture on the East Coast, and while I think East Coaster’s could be a little more prepared, the level of risk associated with hiking in the mountains is a great deal higher on the West Coast.

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So I don’t think tackling The Chief as my very first hike was a great idea, but fortunately we didn’t get into any trouble on this hike, or any future hikes, while I was building up my safety and adventure smart knowledge. I remember the hike being very strenuous and it taking us a long time to hike up all the stairs to the top. I remember the rope and chain sections, but I don’t remember ever feeling unsafe on the trail. I bring this up because I recently re-visited this trail in May (8 years after my first visit) to hike to the Second Peak and it brought back a lot of memories that caused me to reflect on this trail and my journey since that very first hike.

The Chief is a hard trail. As my knowledge has grown and I’ve had experiences that required better trip preparedness and wilderness first aid, I’ve become both more safety conscious and risk adverse. It’s easy to walk blindly into situations that we are unprepared for in the wilderness and I’m not surprised to find that The Chief is one of the most visited places by BC Search and Rescue. I can’t quite trust my memory, so perhaps the First Peak is easier than the Second Peak, but returning there this year I felt quite astounded at how challenging The Chief is for how many visitors it receives.

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There are many rope climbs, narrow sections with steep drops, a ladder, and steep scrambles over slippery rock. The challenges are exacerbated by the crowds, which create bottlenecks at critical junctions. I’m sure this creates a sense of impatience among hikers that could result in mistakes at challenging locations if people are trying to hurry. I felt like it would be hard to lose the trail (though this does happen), but easy to get an injury. We were able to mostly avoid this with a very early hiking start, but it did make for a slower hike back down on the way out.

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So I definitely don’t recommend this hike for everyone. I’d like to return some day for the Third Peak, but after my last visit I can’t say I’m in a huge rush to do it again. Like I said, I’m reluctant to trust my memory, but given my recent experience with the Second Peak, I’m inclined to say that it’s a bit easier going up the First Peak (which I have done twice in the past). All 3 trails start at the same trailhead and it’s an easy flat walk through the walk-in campsites before you hit the stairs. Once you hit the stairs, it’s all uphill for the rest of the hike. It starts with constructed wooden staircase (which on its own is even challenging because the steps are very shallow and steep), but it quickly transitions to stone steps for the rest of the hike.

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Approximately 1.1km into the trail, there is a right branch that you can take to get onto the Sea to Sky trail or the branch to Third Peak. I’ve also done the Sea to Sky trail which climbs up to the gondola (you take the gondola down). It’s a very steep trail, but doesn’t feel as perilous as The Chief. I haven’t taken the branch to the Third Peak, but you can access it either through here or continuing on from the Second Peak. The topography looks a bit gentler than the trails to First and Second Peak, so if I do return for this peak, I’ll take that trail instead.

If you continue on past this branch, you’ll hit the second branch to the First and Second Peaks around 1.8km. It’s a shorter hike up to the First Peak – some apps show a trail connected the First Peak to the Second Peak trail, but it’s a climbing route, so do not attempt! In terms of views, both the First and Second Peaks have incredible views. The First Peak is the closest to Howe Sound, so if you want to snag some photos of the vibrant blue water, I’d pick this one. The Second Peak is higher and looks down on the First Peak and provides more of a bird’s eye view of Squamish.

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My visit to the Second Peak was a little sentimental because I hiked with Karen and Grant. Karen is my oldest friend (27 years and counting) and they recently moved back to Newfoundland after also spending the last 8 years in Vancouver. The Chief was my first ever hike here and also the last one that I did with Karen and Grant. We’ve all grown a lot since then and even though the climb is still strenuous, the stairs didn’t have us as breathless and panting as they did when we first moved here.

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The Second Peak is quite exposed for the last section – there’s no marked trail, you just scramble up the rock until there’s no where higher to go. We had the summit mostly to ourselves due to our early start and we stayed up there for a while snacking and taking some photos before hiking back down to get beers and pizza at Backcountry Brewing. The climb is tiring, but I always find the hike down worse. Take your time and do the rope and ladder sections backwards. There’s one particularly challenging part before the ladder that me and Karen both struggled on because we are shorter. There were more people on the trail on the way back, which slowed us down, but we made sure not to rush on the top section and talked each other through it on the way back. My biggest word of advice would definitely be not to do this hike if it’s rainy as the rock will become a big slip’n’slide.

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So that is my assessment of The Chief. I feel really different about it now than I did 8 years ago and I think that comes from better understanding the risks. Sometimes a little knowledge is almost worse than no knowledge because you don’t understand the depth of your unknowns. If you’re new to hiking, I’d recommend taking the Sea-to-Sky gondola instead of hiking The Chief. It has just as incredible (if not better) views as The Chief, but has much easier and well-maintained trails. There’s no shame in doing the easier hike. I just want to present a bit of a different perspective on The Chief because I don’t want people to blindly walk into it the way that I did when I first moved here. I still think it’s a great hike, but something to work your way up to.

Hiking Seed Peak

Over the years it’s become a bit of a tradition that me and Brandon always go hiking together on the Thanksgiving long weekend. The forecast was calling for gorgeous weather on Thanksgiving Monday, so we got to planning where we wanted to hit up this year. Brandon had a long list of hikes to try, but once we started doing a bit of research, we found it to be a bit challenging to find a suitable hike for the conditions.

Because I believe in always putting ample research and consideration into every hike you do, I’ll walk your through our process. First we crossed off some of the longer and more strenuous hikes from Brandon’s list. One of the hikes was a whopping 1800m in elevation gain and we were concerned about having enough daylight hours to do such a long hike. Next we took into consideration the weather. It had been uncharacteristically cold the week previous and in true Vancouver fashion, it had rained all week. A bit of research confirmed our suspicion that many of the local peaks were now covered in snow. Brandon was keen to do Tricouni Peak outside of Squamish, but the two routes up to summit involve either fording 2 creeks, or crossing what is described as the “mud gauntlet”. Both of these options sounded like a bad idea given the amount of rain that had fallen earlier that week and the peak was still quite high in elevation (meaning more snow), so eventually we landed on Seed Peak.

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4WD access road to the trailhead (E110)

Seed Peak is a less trafficked trail off of Mamquam FSR in Squamish. It was 300m lower in elevation than Tricouni, and while we knew there would still be snow, we guessed the access road would be snow free and overall make for a shorter, less strenuous hike. After having done the hike, I wouldn’t say it’s not strenuous, but hey, that’s how we ended up giving it a try!

Mamquam FSR is in good condition and any vehicle should be able to make it to the end of the road. AllTrails actually lists this hike as 19.5km starting from the end of Mamquam FSR. Brandon hates hiking on anything he could have driven, so we took his 4runner a fair bit further than that. From the end of Mamquam, you branch off onto E100 and then E110 to get up to the trailhead. E100 is a bit steep at the beginning, but still in pretty good shape, I think most SUV’s and AWD could make it up to the end of E100. We were able to get Brandon’s car all the way to the end of E110, but I would advise hiking up the last little switchback (about 300m). There’s a pullout before a steep rugged section and I didn’t think it was really worth risking the drive up that part.

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Logging at the trailhead

I would only recommend Seed Peak if you have good wayfinding skills. It’s pretty intuitive to know where to go, but there are parts without a well defined trail (and some parts with no trail), so if you’re hopeless with navigation I’d give it a pass. The most confusing bit for us was finding the trailhead. This is an active logging road and there has been some slashing between the road and the trailhead, which run parallel one another for a few hundred metres. I suspect they weren’t supposed to log onto the trail, but it looks like it happened nonetheless. We did some crawling over the logs to try and get to the trail, only to miss it entirely and then hike up the edge of the slash until we found trail markers. My recommendation would be to walk right to the very end of the road, from there you’ll see a trail marker, you may have to climb over a few logs, but you can pick up the trail a lot easier from there rather than trying to cut across all the downfall.

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After that it’s pretty easy to follow the trail markers up about 1km to the sub-alpine. This was the only part of the trail that didn’t have snow on it when we did it. The snowline started around 1400m. The great thing about this hike is that only the first 1km is in the woods, after that you have views for pretty much the entire hike! It was the main reason we picked it, because we figured if the conditions were too bad or snowy to do the whole thing, at least we still had a good chance of seeing some nice views early in.

It is a challenging trail though. It’s not been the easiest hiking season for me as I’m still pretty out of shape from the pandemic with all my normal exercise activities still being cancelled (or high risk). It’s 12km round trip to the top of Seed Peak, but the elevation gain is misleading as there is a lot of up and down and it is quite steep. Fortunately we were prepared with microspikes as we definitely couldn’t have done the trail without them given how steep it is. I was a little bit concerned as we were going up that it would be a struggle to come back down, but it was manageable with the spikes.

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After you pop out of the woods, you immediately start a steep climb up to the first peak. I can’t see a name for this peak on Gaia, but it has great views if you’re looking for a shorter hike. It’s very flat on the top, so we wondered around snapping photos before continuing on. This trail is also known as Pinecone Trail, so you might see it listed as that on some trail apps (Gaia included). The reason it’s called Pinecone Trail is because after the first peak, you cross the border into Pinecone Burke Provincial Park! I was particularly excited about this because I live in Coquitlam and go hiking in Pinecone Burke all the time.

For a bit of history, Pinecone Burke was first established in 1995 and has the unfortunate legacy of being one of BC Parks least funded parks. Despite it being a huge park located right in the lower mainland, it receives very little upkeep or promotion. Most of its users access it from Harper Road on Burke Mountain and it’s popular for mountain biking. There are a handful of trails in that area, but otherwise the park is mostly wilderness. It’s sandwiched between the Coquitlam Watershed and Pitt Lake in the south end, and continues north until it intersects with the south end of the much more popular Garibaldi Park. There’s limited access in the north end and Seed Peak is one of the only trails I can find exploring this end of the park, so I was excited to see a completely different side of it.

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After the first peak, the trail has a steep false descent, after which you climb up to a second smaller peak before beginning the real descent. We were one of 4 groups on the trail, so it was very empty. However, we were the last group, so we didn’t have to make tracks and just followed the trail the previous groups had created. This may or may not have been a good thing. Whether or not there is an actual trail in the summer is hard to tell when it’s covered in snow, so we don’t know how much we were actually walking on the real trail and definitely went through some vegetation. The upside is that all the rocks were covered in snow, so we didn’t have to navigate any boulder fields and mostly just cut a path straight down. We were definitely in the vicinity of the intended trail (according to my GPS), but I’m not sure if it would be any easier on a warmer day.

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The descent is a bit of a bummer when you know you have to continue climbing again. As you start to climb up the next peak (also unnamed on my GPS), you do get a few glimpses down to the beautiful jade waters of November Lake. It was a bit of a slog going up, but you’re surrounded by beautiful views on all sides. Unfortunately, there’s still one more peak to go after that. It took us about 2.5 hours to make it to this section, we continued a little bit further to get up to this hump before Seed Peak, but we opted not to go the whole way up Seed Peak. We did have enough time, but we could tell it was still a bit of a slog to get up there and we wanted to conserve some energy for the way down. So instead, we had a nice long lunch break in which to enjoy the view!

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If you do go the whole way, I think you get a view down to Pinecone Lake, which you can’t see from below because there’s a big ridge between Seed Peak and Mount Gillespie that blocks it. But there are still incredibly gorgeous views down into the valley and the snow-covered wilderness. I’d definitely be keen to return in the summer and camp along the ridge, although there’s limited water sources so you would have to come prepared for that.

Either way, we had a great time hanging out and filmed some fun videos to pass the time. It was definitely cold; I had a lot of layers, so my body was warm, but I had worn my hiking boots instead of my winter boots and unfortunately my feet did get wet from the snow getting trapped between the sides of my microspikes.

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We thought it might take us even longer to hike back because really steep sections are often worse on the downhill, but fortunately it wasn’t too bad and we cut about a half hour off our time on the way back. I was exhausted on all the uphill sections though, so I definitely need to start doing a bit more exercise on my non-hiking days. The trickiest part is that there is one rope section on the first peak (early in the hike). It’s even worse going down and we all guided each another on foot placement on the way back. I had been debating bringing Sadie on the hike with me, but I’m glad I didn’t. We read there was one rope section and I was worried about her on that part and with all the snow. I think a dog could get up the rope section, but I honestly don’t know how you would get them down. Overall there’s a lot of narrow edges and cliffs, so I would have been very weary with Sadie. I would likely have to let her off leash for my own safety in sections and I’d be worried about her making a mistake near a cliff edge. Also, we saw a GIANT black bear on the drive in, so they are definitely still active.

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Overall, we were hiking for just shy of 6 hours, so it was a great end-of-season hike. It’s about an hour drive from Squamish and we made it back to town around 5pm. The downside was there was an accident on the Sea-to-Sky. We had dinner at Howe Sound Brewing to try and avoid the traffic back-up, but it had only gotten worse and we ended up sitting at a standstill for 45 minutes. I think it was shortly after 9pm when I finally made it home, making for a bit of a long day! Either way, I’d recommend checking out this hike earlier in the season next year if you have 4WD or high clearance and like a challenge!

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Hiking Crooked Falls and Sigurd Creek

It’s that awkward time of year when there’s still a lot of snow in the mountains, but we’ve finally reached the time when lower elevation hikes are becoming accessible again! I always play it really safe in the Spring because there are a lot of hazards that accompany the snow melting, but Brandon, Seth, and I went out the last week of May to do some exploring outside of Squamish.

Last Fall Brandon and I hiked High Falls Creek, which was my first time exploring in this area. We did some driving around to see what else was out there and added the Crooked Falls hike to our list – May seemed like the perfect time! Crooked Falls is located on the Sigurd Trail, which is accessible by 2WD and is just across the Squamish River when you pass the rec site.

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It was really busy when we arrived around 10am, but a lot of the traffic appeared to be people camping and fishing on the river. We didn’t actually pass that many people on the way up to Crooked Falls. The hike starts out on an old forestry road that heads up into the woods. It meanders around the side of the mountain before seemingly heading straight up it. It’s only 3km to Crooked Falls and 500m of elevation gain, so it’s definitely steep!

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We took Sadie with us on this trip, which was a bit of a challenge because she’s not friendly with other dogs. She did well passing other people, but the trail is pretty narrow and everyone lets their dogs off leash, so we had to pull her into the woods whenever we would encounter another dog to try and avoid a reaction. Overall, it only happened a few times and she mostly was able to handle herself, but she did have one bad reaction to a dog that ran up in her face because it was off-leash. It’s a pet peeve for me – I have no problem with off-leash dogs (we do let Sadie off leash when there’s no one around and it’s permitted), I just wish people would ask consent before letting their dog approach you.

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Anyways, back to the trail. Like I said, for the most part we didn’t encounter many people. After 3km there’s a branch off the left side of the trail that heads in towards Crooked Falls. Spring is a great time to visit because the falls are giant with all the run-off. There’s two small viewpoints and you do get a lot of spray off the water (as you can see in the photo), so I wore my rain coat while taking photos. We had a our lunch in the woods where we could stay dry, but still see the falls, before heading back to the main trail. Several other hiking groups came into the falls after us, so it did look like it was getting busier.

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It was only shortly after noon, so we decided to continue up the trail to Sigurd Creek. My guidebook indicated that hiking another 1.5km would take you to a lookout off the Sigurd Trail. While the falls are reasonably popular, we spent 3 hours on the Sigurd Trail and only saw 1 other person the whole time. It’s not the most well maintained trail and it’s steep and muddy, so I don’t really blame people.

Shortly after you leave the junction from Crooked Falls, there’s a steep 100m side trail that goes up into the woods to a viewpoint. We decided to save it for the way back, but it wasn’t the best viewpoint. It’s a bit crowded in by trees, but you can see the river down below. We continued on the trail until we came to a second junction. To the left is the Sigurd Trail to Ossa and Pelion Mountain, to the right is the Rose Trail to Sigurd Peak. My guide book pre-dated the Rose Trail, so I was a little bit confused where to go at first, but Brandon figured out that what we wanted was to follow Sigurd Creek on the Sigurd Trail and we continued that way.

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Unfortunately our distance tracking was a bit off because the guide book doesn’t include the Crooked Falls side trail, so after 1.5km of hiking we hadn’t reached anything that looked like a viewpoint. We did however stumble upon a second waterfall cascading down from Sigurd Creek. It was lovely and this time we had it all to ourselves, so we had a quick break and Seth refilled his water bladder. Sadie had chilled out a lot and was having the time of her time exploring around the woods.

We decided to push on a little further, but after the waterfall the trail becomes extremely steep and it was slow going. It’s another 400m in elevation gain between Crooked Falls and the viewpoint (on top of the 500m you’ve already done), so it’s definitely no walk in the park. The viewpoint indicated in my guidebook wasn’t shown on my GPS, but I made a guess about where it would be based on the topography. From the trail it really didn’t look like we were close, so Seth was ready to turn around because we were all tired from the uphill. But I persuaded him to push for another 10 minutes to the point on my GPS, because we were really close and I was convinced it was the viewpoint.

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Fortunately I was right and a few minutes later we finally crested the mountain and could see a small knoll branching off the trail with a bare top. We climbed up to it and then collapsed while enjoying the view. We stayed up there about half an hour, snacking and guessing what mountains we were looking out at. We could see up the snowy side of Pelion Mountain and out to Cloudburst Mountain. Behind that we could see Black Tusk from a new angle and could see most of Mount Garibaldi peaking around the corner.

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It was hot at the summit, so we gulped down lots of water and Brandon shared macarons for a summit snack. Sadie had her summit snack at the waterfall, so we gave her half of her emergency meal to give her a boost after so much climbing. She wasn’t showing any signs of being tired though and was still bounding along the trails when we started to make our way back down again.

Once we got close to the junction again, we heard a lot of people at the falls, so I guess it does still get pretty busy during the day. There were still a few groups of people making their way up, but it was 4pm, so most people were on the way down. Because of the topography, you’re on the back of the mountain, so we lost the sun around 4pm and it was surprisingly dark along the trail, even though the sun doesn’t set until like 9:30pm. Sadie was finally starting to look a little tired and nothing seemed to bother her on the way down.

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All together we ended up hiking about 12km. My book has Sigurd Creek round trip listed as a 9km hike, so it is a bit off. Like I said, I don’t think it accounts for the 300m branch to Crooked Falls, but even so, it’s definitely closer to 10 or 11km round trip and has a whopping 900m of elevation gain in total. So be prepared if you attempt this trail. We had a great time, but we ended up being on the trail for 7 hours and had been anticipating it would be more like 5 hours. Overall this is a great area and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring there over the last year.