Hiking Slesse Memorial Trail

Slesse Memorial Trail has been on my bucket list for a while, but the access road is a little bit dicey so we’ve been waiting for the right opportunity. In late September, me, Seth, and Brandon decided to make a go at it.

Slesse Memorial is a 12km out-and-back trail located off Chilliwack Lake Road. After having driven the access road, we wouldn’t say that you have to have 4WD to get to the trailhead, but high clearance would definitely be an asset. You won’t get there in a car, but potentially in an AWD SUV. Personally, I wouldn’t take my Hyundai Tucson out there because I’m not comfortable driving in terrain with water bars, but Brandon thought you could probably make it there in one if you wanted to try.

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Either way, we had no trouble getting there in Brandon’s 4runner. The nice thing is it’s not a long access road. Cheam Peak is located in the same area and it took us about an hour to drive 9km on that road – the access to Slesse probably only took us around 15-20 minutes. There’s a small parking lot at the end and there are two branches from there. One branch continues on in the same direction as the road coming in, and the second branch is on the left and continues up a rocky narrow road. The second branch that goes up continues on to Mount Rexford and my GPS indicated that we needed to continue up that road about 600m and then take a right branch onto the old Slesse Memorial Trailhead. I say “old”, because Brandon’s GPS showed a second trail leaving on the straight branch out of the parking lot, which we later learned is the “new” trailhead.

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I recommend taking the newer trailhead (the right of the two forks). Either will get you there and they do meet pretty early on the trail, but the newer trailhead is slightly shorter, easier, and more well maintained. We missed the old trailhead on our first pass and had to double back to find it tucked in the woods.

The first half of the trail meanders through the forest and isn’t very difficult. There are some tree roots to step over, but it’s not overly technical. Shortly before the memorial plaque, you pop in and out of the woods and get a few glimpses of Mount Rexford across the valley. We went in late September and the trees were just starting to change colour. We were a bit too early for full colours, so I’d recommend early October instead.

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The memorial plaque is located around the halfpoint of the hike and has a beautiful view looking up towards Slesse Mountain. The trail is called Slesse Memorial Trail because a commercial jet crashed on the side of the mountain in Dec. 1956, killing 60+ passengers and crew. The plane was flying from Calgary to Vancouver when it disappeared and it wasn’t actually found until 5 months later when a climbing crew accidentally spotted it on the side of the mountain. Due to the challenging locating, the bodies were never recovered. You can’t see the crash along the trail (at least we didn’t), but some of the debris has been collected at the top of the trail. I’m not sure at what point this was done, but these days there are signs indicating not to do this.

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We came for the view versus the memorial, but it was very interesting and we spent a lot of time thinking about it, making it a bit more of a somber hike. After the plaque, the trail gets a lot steeper. I thought we might need to do some way finding on the trail, but it’s easy to follow, just steep. There were a lot of old blueberries along the trail, so I could see it attracting bears, but on this occasion the berries only attracted Sadie. She discovered them growing there and wouldn’t stop picking and eating all the berries! It was very cute.

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In all it took us just over 3 hours to get to the top. It’s an interesting trail because it doesn’t go to the top of the mountain, but rather the base of it. A lot of the mountains in this area are forested, but Slesse is sheer rock with no vegetation growing on it. It’s very steep, so I’m sure it attracts climbers, but for hikers, the trail ends at the base of the mountain. There’s a beautiful 360 degree view and you can climb up a bit further if you’re feeling adventurous. There’s a long flatter section of rock, with a glacier coming down one side and the sheer rock face at the back. I say “flatter” because the rock is still a lot steeper than it looks. Me and Brandon explored up a bit further, which has a gorgeous view looking back towards Rexford.

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Be careful where you explore though, it was a surprisingly hot day for late September and the glacier was on the move while we were there. At one point there was a very loud rumbling and we watched as a big snow patch at the bottom of the glacier slid down part of the mountain. So we stayed away from that section and explored directly under Slesse, where there was still a bit of snow, but much less and not as steep.

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The steep uphill section does make for a slow descent on the way back. We left around 2pm because we didn’t want to get stuck hiking in the dark. We inched our way down the top section, but were able to pick up the pace a bit once we got to the flatter bits. It’s a pretty narrow trail, so it can be a bit tricky passing people. We only saw 2 other people on the way up, but passed a handful of people on our way down.

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Overall it was a nice hike. It was a lot more forested than I was anticipating, there’s a few peak-a-boo viewpoints, but not too many views until you reach the top. If you have the time to explore at the top though, there’s quite a bit of open terrain. We finished the hike around 5pm and still had lots of daylight left, but I’m glad we turned around when we did because the sun goes down over the mountains on this trail pretty early, so it was still quite dark hiking back through the trees at the bottom. I did really like the hike and would love to return and do more hikes in this area!

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Snowshoeing Dog Mountain

After Hollyburn Mountain, I think Dog Mountain at Mount Seymour might be one of the most popular places for snowshoeing. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this trail. I’ve snowshoed it several times and somehow I’ve still never managed to actually get the view of the city from the end of the trail.

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Like Cypress and Grouse, you can rent snowshoes directly from Seymour Mountain. If you want to snowshoe the actual groomed snowshoe trails, you’ll also need a trail pass, but since Dog Mountain continues out of the resort and into the provincial park, you don’t need to get a pass for this trail.

The parking lot at the top is dedicated for skiers, but there’s a ton of parking along the left side of the road just before you get to the parking lot which is dedicated for snowshoers. Park here and then start making your way up to the back of the lot. Like all the local mountains, it gets crazy busy up at the top, so either come early or consider taking the Seymour shuttle up from the bottom of the road.

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You’ll see a delineated snowshoe trail heading up the left side of the ski run. If you continue up the trail you can head up toward Mount Seymour, which is a much harder trail, but turn left off the trail and into the woods to go to Dog Mountain. The trail continues for a kilometer or two until you reach a branch. It can be kind of confusing in the winter, so pay close attention to the signs, go straight if you want to go to the Dog Mountain viewpoint, or right if you want to do the shorter Dinkey Peak loop (you can also do this on the way back from Dog Mountain, it’s only an additional kilometre, but does involve more of a climb).

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I’ve now attempted the Dog Mountain trail 3 times in the winter. The first time I went it was a gorgeous sunny day with fresh powder on the ground. I loved walking out through the woods with the snow sitting on the trees, but because it was fresh powder, it was a little hard to find the trail and me and my friend Kateland ended up totally missing the Dog Mountain branch and circled up and back the Dinkey Peak loop. At the time I was a little sad we missed the branch, but the view from the top of Dinkey Peak of the surrounding backcountry is just so beautiful that it was hard to feel too disappointed about it.

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The second time I visited I made it all the way out to the viewpoint, but it was a drizzly day and we got pretty wet without the pay-off of any view. So we trudged our way back to the lodge for a hot chocolate instead. The final time, it was pouring rain the whole way we didn’t even bother trying to go out to the viewpoint. Instead we took the Dinkey Peak loop, somehow missing the actual branch off to the peak, and went immediately back to the car to try and dry off.

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So I haven’t had the best luck. Seymour is the lowest elevation of the 3 local mountains, so there’s no guarantee that if it’s raining in the city it’ll be snowing on the mountain. So I’d recommend waiting for a clear day to go up there. That said, one time I went up there on a night snowshoe tour with Metro Vancouver and a bunch of people on the tour bailed because it was raining in Vancouver and we ended up having the most romantic snowy night snowshoeing up there! So you really never know!

Snowshoeing Hollyburn Mountain

We’re now firmly into the winter hiking season, which means it’s time to take out the snowshoes! I’ve done a decent amount of snowshoeing over the past few years and I’m hoping to do lots of snowshoeing this season, but I haven’t written about very much of it. So I decided to kick off the season by writing about one of my favourite local snowshoe trails: Hollyburn Mountain.

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I have snowshoed Hollyburn on 3 separate occasions, so I’m pretty familiar with it. It’s one of the most well known snowshoe hikes in the lower mainland and with good reason. It’s not the easiest snowshoe trail, but you’ll be rewarded with amazing views and a good workout. I’ve hiked it every year since 2017, but the last time I hiked it was in January 2019, which stands out as one of my favourite times making the trek to the top.

The Hollyburn trailhead is located at the base of the Nordic Ski Area at Cypress (take the right branch before you get to the ski hill). You can rent snowshoes at the base, however if you rent them you will also be forced to pay the trail fee. If you snowshoe within the nordic area, you need to pay the trail fee whether you bring your own snowshoes or not, but since Hollyburn is located outside the trail area, you can snowshoe for free if you bring your own (or rent at the North Van MEC to avoid paying the extra cost)! It’s a popular trail, so you will be accompanied by lots of other snowshoers, but they usually disperse along the trail so it doesn’t feel too crowded.

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The trail started with a steep walk uphill and then flattens out somewhat as you walk along the edge of the cross country ski run. Overall it’s an uphill trail, but the middle stretch has a nice easy grade. It’s the last third of the trail that is the most challenging as you navigate up a wide corridor cut through the trees. Since Hollyburn is so close to the city, I tend to go with larger groups, so we take our time as we head up to the top. On this occasion I was also dogsitting Jordie the Australian Shepherd, so we had a bit of a slow start.

The hardest part of doing Hollyburn is deciding what equipment to use: snowshoes or microspikes. The first half of the trail is narrow and winds through the woods; it sees a lot of traffic so unless it just snowed, it’ll almost surely be packed down, making it ideal for microspikes. But once you reach the wide part of the trail, the defined track disappears somewhat and it’s a bit of a choose-your-own adventure up to the top, so it’s fun to have snowshoes. The last time I went I brought both.

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My backpack has straps for carrying snowshoes, so I carried them up the first half and then switched over. Its definitely easier in microspikes, but maybe not worth it if the rest of your group is wearing snowshoes anyways because they won’t be able to keep up with you. If there hasn’t been any fresh snow in a while, you might be able to get away with spikes on the whole trail, but you never know what it’s going to be like until you get up there and it does give you less freedom to explore.

On this particular day it was a bit overcast, so we couldn’t see much of the view, but it still made for some fun shots as the clouds moved around us. It did eventually clear out at the top and we got a glimpse of the city through the clouds. On a clear day you also get a great view looking back at Cypress Mountain and the uninhabited North Shore mountains, which is my favourite view from the top. Jordie had a great time hiking up the mountain, but make sure to keep your dog on a leash. One time I saw a woman with a small dog who got fined by the park ranger for having her dog off leash.

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The highlight of the day for me though was that Brandon decided he wanted to have a fondue picnic at the top of the mountain. The idea sounded pretty epic to us so we each dutifully lugged a container of pre-cut fruit that Brandon doled out to us up to the top of the mountain and Brandon carried up his stove and fondue kit. I’m not going to pretend like we didn’t all poke fun of him with his full size backpack the whole way up, but we all ate our words at the top when we saw the huge spread he’d brought up for us! He melted a ton of chocolate and before we knew it we were enjoying chocolate covered strawberries, bananas, pineapple, mango, marshmallows, and some other mystery fruit, while the rest of the hikers gaped at us. Definitely one of my favourite snowshoeing experiences, so thanks Brandon!

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The hike back down is where things really get interesting. I’m not gonna lie, the last section of the trail is pretty steep and you’re exhausted by the time you reach the top. Going down is less tiring, but definitely not easier. It’s really hard to go down the trail on snowshoes and most people opt to slide down on their butt instead. My word of advice for this is that if you’re going to slide down, take your snowshoes off. Otherwise they just create a hazard and make it really easy for you to break your leg. Snow pants are a good idea on the way down to stay dry, but don’t bring a sled of any kind. There’s actually signs up now prohibiting sleds and crazy carpets, but I did it once on a crazy carpet before said signs went up and I can confirm it’s dangerous. You pick up too much speed and it’s hard to control. Your best bet is to just walk sideways as much as possible until you get past the steep section, or slide on your butt.

Coming down is fun though because on the right day you get a great view looking down the mountain to the city! So overall a great snowshoe trail that I’ll definitely continuing doing! It’s close to the city, free, and has great views. The only downside is the crowds – if you’re going on a weekend, try and get there early if you want to get a parking spot!

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