West Lion

Anyone who looks northward from Vancouver, British Columbia on a clear day will likely notice the striking twin towers of the Lions in the North Shore Mountains.  I had been wanting to climb both towers for quite a few years, but it was not until recently that I decided to finally visit the area and make a serious attempt.  Descriptions of scramble routes for both West Lion and East Lion can be found at, and the route for the higher West Lion is also described in Matt Gunn's Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia.  There are two different approaches to the base of the Lions.  The longer approach starts from Cypress Mountain Ski Area and utilizes the Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT) while the shorter approach starts from the village of Lions Bay and utilizes the Paul Binkert Trail (PBT).  Both trails are described in Jack Bryceland's excellent hiking guidebook, 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia.  The HSCT approach has less elevation gain but is lengthier in terms of distance while the PBT approach is shorter but has significantly more elevation gain.  A very long day can be expected either way, but I ultimately settled for the PBT approach because I felt that the constant elevation gains and losses along the HSCT would perhaps negate the advantage of starting at a higher elevation.

After spending the previous night in the town of Squamish, I drove to the Lions Bay trailhead on the morning of 19 August 2014.  Parking at this trailhead is ridiculously minimal.  There is space for about five vehicles in the designated visitor parking while nearly double the space is inexplicably reserved for residential parking.  Because all the visitor spots were full, I had to park about 400 metres back on the shoulder of Mountain Drive.  Even here, legal parking spots (ie. no signs) are limited, and I shudder to think what the scramble for parking is like on weekends.

Returning to the trailhead on foot, I settled into a long uphill hike through mostly viewless forest albeit on a well-maintained trail.  En route, I passed the access trails for Brunswick Mountain and Mount Harvey, and after crossing Harvey Creek on a sturdy bridge, I grinded my way up to a promontory which granted my first view of West Lion.  Feeling a bit exhausted, I stopped for a break here and feasted on an abundance of ripe huckleberries.  It had taken me nearly 3.5 hours to get to this point, and I was disheartened by the fact that I still had about 400 metres of elevation gain ahead of me to reach the summit of West Lion.  From the promontory, I followed the flagged trail up an open slope before reaching the junction with the HSCT.  Some more hiking and a little bit of scrambling brought me to the top of a rocky knoll where I finally got my first look at East Lion.

East Lion is technically off-limits to hikers since it lies within the Capilano Watershed which supplies Vancouver's drinking water.  Whether this is actually enforced is questionable given the remoteness of the area.  Besides, how could hikers possibly contaminate the watershed any more than the countless wild animals that must roam the area?  Of greater concern to me was the growing lateness of the day.  I was confident that I could ascend West Lion fairly quickly from the rocky knoll, but tagging East Lion looked like it would consume at least a couple more hours.  Momentarily ignoring West Lion, I continued along the HSCT which actually deteriorates at this point to a sketchy scrambler's route.  Following painted markers, I dropped down from the rocky knoll for about 50 metres before making a mildly exposed traverse below the southeast face of West Lion.  The HSCT strengthens into a trail once more beyond this traverse, and I climbed over the bump, "Middle Lion", which separates the twin towers.  I descended for a short distance after cresting "Middle Lion" before realizing that I still had to drop a considerable amount of elevation just to get around the north side of East Lion and reach the base of the scramble route.  Short on time and energy, my will to continue evaporated, and I quickly turned my attention to West Lion.

An exposed notch separates the aforementioned rocky knoll from West Lion, but rather than climbing back up to the knoll along the HSCT, I scrambled directly up to the notch via a steep Class 4 gully.  A few awkward moves made me question my route choice, but I eventually climbed out of the gully and gained the ramp which is the start of the normal route up West Lion.  The ramp itself is down-sloping and exposed, and I took extra care to traverse this section since Gunn mentions that there had been a fatality here.  Beyond the ramp, the route steepens considerably, and at one point, I actually had to climb through the exposed roots and branches of a tree to continue upward.  Another exposed traverse higher up also requires some caution, and there was even a fixed rope here for added security (of course, it is always prudent to test a rope that has been left exposed to the elements before trusting one's life to it).  Past this second traverse, the remainder of the route to the summit is an easy and enjoyable scramble.

The disappointment of forgoing East Lion was tempered by the thrill of standing atop West Lion.  Views were somewhat limited by rolling mists, but the occasional breaks were marvelously tantalizing.  Knowing that I had a long descent ahead of me, I was on my way down after spending only 15 minutes at the summit.  I had no significant problems retracing my steps back to the notch, but climbing back up to the rocky knoll was a tricky affair.  This section is perhaps low 5th Class, and there was a rope that had been left dangling here probably to facilitate the descent from the rocky knoll.  Admittedly, I used the rope while awkwardly climbing a flimsy tree to get myself up this difficult section.  After stopping on the rocky knoll for a quick snack, I commenced a largely unremarkable but lengthy hike back down the PBT.  The last few metres before my car was highlighted by a brief dash through a residential sprinkler that spilled partly onto the road.  After changing into some fresh clothes, I drove into Vancouver to meet a friend for dinner before continuing on to Chilliwack to check into a motel for the night.

Reflecting on this trip, I thoroughly enjoyed the difficult scrambling on West Lion, but it hardly makes up for the long and uninspiring slog up the PBT.  If I ever go back to tag East Lion, I may have to consider trying the HSCT approach instead.
Don't expect to see much for the first several hours. Sonny hikes along the Paul Binkert Trail (PBT).
It's odd that you would find Alberta Creek in British Columbia! Alberta Creek cascades down some rocks near the trail.
Fascinating creature! A banana slug crawls on top of a log.
Maybe the weather will clear up after all... A break in the trees and mist reveals some scenery in the distance.  Hutt Island and Keats Island are most readily visible at left.
Still a long way to go...sigh. Here is a first look at West Lion (left of notch at centre) from the promontory.
Very delightful hiking. This is the final rise along the Howe Sound Crest Trail to the top of the rocky knoll.
This is a scramble?? Here is West Lion as seen from the Howe Sound Crest Trail.  The standard route to the top follows an exposed ledge on the right and goes up the right skyline.
Doesn't look very inviting on this day... East Lion emerges from the mist.
Despite being non-technical, the route should not be taken lightly. This is the southeast face of West Lion as viewed from the Howe Sound Crest Trail near "Middle Lion".  The normal route goes up the upper portion of this face.
Yeah, I won't be climbing this one today... The west face of East Lion looks formidable.  Note the significant loss of elevation necessary at bottom left to traverse safely around the north (left) side to the base of the scramble route (not visible here).
But boy is it ever a lot of fun! The normal route up West Lion is steep and exposed in places.

This moment has been long overdue.

Sonny stands on the summit of West Lion (1641 metres).

Play Misty for me! Somewhere beyond the mist at left is the City of Vancouver.
Probably feels "unnecessary" after the long approach from Cypress Ski Area! The mist clears up to reveal Unnecessary Mountain (right).
Looks like much clearer weather offshore... Gambier Island (right) and the Sunshine Coast are visible to the west.  Vancouver Island can be seen on the horizon (centre) across the Strait of Georgia.
Maybe I'll be back to climb it some other day... Here is another look at East Lion from the summit of West Lion.
Not for the timid! This is looking back along the exposed ramp toward the notch separating West Lion from the rocky knoll (left).
Not sure what I would have done had the rope not been there... A rope dangles over a flimsy tree on the difficult section below the rocky knoll.
It's gonna be a long walk down... Some hikers cross a boulder field on descent.  Behind them is Mount Harvey.
Almost resembles the Tower of Babel near Moraine Lake! Here is one last look at West Lion and the notch from the PBT.
Anyone wanna come join me when I go back to tag East Lion? Total Distance:  18.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  11 hours 6 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1427 metres

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