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#GetOutside: Hanes Valley Hike


I'm intending for #GetOutside to be a recurring series of posts about my ventures into the wilderness. This week's instalment takes us to the gruelling Hanes Valley hike in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

I'd wanted to hike Hanes Valley from the moment I saw all the warning signs and caution notices affixed to the map at the trailhead in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park in North Vancouver.

The trail is a sixteen-kilometre, 1130m-elevation-gain adventure into the BC backcountry located just twenty minutes from downtown Vancouver.

Despite the proximity to civilization, it's so remote and treacherous that it's recommended for experts only, and that's no joke: people die on the Hanes Valley hike every year, in large part because they show up unprepared for the terrain or the weather, seduced by the fact that the trail is part of the larger and more forgiving Lynn Headwaters trail system.

Indeed, the first seven kilometres of the trail are very easy hiking; there's a wonderful waterfall, Norvan Falls, at the seven km point that makes a lovely and dog-friendly objective on a summer day. From the falls beyond, though, the trail is decidedly rougher, and not at all dog friendly.

Compounding the challenge with the Hanes Valley trail is that it takes you from Lynn Canyon, effectively, to the top of nearby Grouse Mountain--and that's where it leaves you. You can hike down the front of Grouse and then across to the trailhead, but it means a thirty kilometre trip.

Most people take the cable car down, and then either have left a car or brought bus fare. We chose the latter.

The other practical issue is that you don't want to leave your car in the Lynn Headwaters lots overnight; the RCMP will assume you're missing in the woods and initiate rescue procedures. So we parked outside of the park itself, which added a good kilometre to our day.

I'd shanghaied my friend Phill into joining me by telling him the notorious boulder field, ten kilometres in, was supposed to look a lot like Mordor from Lord of the Rings.

And also it's the spot where most people die, if they're going to die on the trail. It's a savage, primeval landscape where the trail rises 500m in elevation over just 1,500m, for a 33% grade. There's no cell service back there, and the weather can be harsh. If something goes wrong, you have a lot of ground to cover to make it right again.

Phill and I made the trailhead by about 0900, but just as we were about to duck out of cell range, my partner called, frantic, wanting to join. So we waited, and it was about 1000hrs by the time we set out.

The first 7km, like I said, are quite easy, and took us no more than an hour and a half. Then it was into the hairy stuff, the trail gradually getting narrower and rougher. Just before we stopped for lunch, we reached the helicopter landing pad at the base of the boulder field--further evidence of just how many rescues have to be performed back here.

The boulder field itself was spectacular, and a lot of fun. Killer on the legs, but we took it at a slow and steady pace, pausing often to look back at where we'd come from, and enjoy the view. There was nobody else around; we'd seen no one since before Norvan Falls.

Finally, nearly spent, we reached the col between Grouse and Crown Mountains, and turned south to climb up the backside of Grouse.

It was here that the trail psychology began to wear on us, I think; we'd put so much thought into the boulder field that the rest of the trail seemed like nothing more than a formality in our minds, when in reality it was some of the toughest, muddiest hiking of the day.

Oftentimes, we were scrambling up mud-saturated tree root ladders or hauling ourselves up chains, and though it was still fun, it did require a bit of a mental reset.

We'd assumed the top of Grouse would be a breeze, and an easy hike down to civilization at the top of the gondola, but we still had plenty of ground to cover, and none of it was level.

Finally, we reached the summit, and the path widened into ski paths and snow-cat tracks, and soon we were dropping down past the grizzly enclosure to the chalet at the top of Grouse.

By this point, we were all pretty spent, and I daresay we were glad we hadn't opted to hike the full 30kms.

A pleasant gondola ride down the mountain, then a bus to Lonsdale Quay and a connector back up to Lynn Valley, and we were back at the vehicle and ready for a well-deserved dinner!

I would definitely recommend this hike, and I'll go back to Hanes Valley again and again. As far as level of difficulty, it's not as challenging as the big hikes up the Coast Mountains from Howe Sound (e.g. The Lions), but it's not to be taken lightly.

If you do go, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back. And bring plenty of water, food, clothes for inclement weather and the rest of the ten essentials.

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