I had been on the first 5km out to St Marks Summit several times in the past couple years and last year Mike and I hiked the HSCT to the Lions and back so I had an idea of what to expect and was itching to see more. An invite to run/hike the whole trail in a day, meaning that I wouldn't have to carry a heavy overnight pack for 30km, was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to give it a shot with PRR last weekend.
We had an early morning with a 5am wake up call followed by car shuttles to Porteau Cove and up to Cypress for a 7am start at the Cypress Bowl Trail head. There were 12 of us in all heading out for the day and we managed to run/powerhike the first section together up until St. Marks summit in slightly over an hour.
From there we broke into a couple groups and I spent rest of the day on an adventure with Ed, David, Natasha and Martin. We had a fun group of people for a long day of exploring in the mountains.
After St Marks Summit we quickly drop into a saddle before beginning the climb up the unmaintained trails of Unnecessary Mountain (which truly lives up to its name). We enjoyed amazing views of Howe Sound, the Lions and several other surround peaks as we passed over Unnecessary Mountain's two summits and followed the ridge to the base of the West Lion. The ridge to the Lions is where the fun really begins with several short rock steps and steep drops off the side. It took us about 4 hours to get to the base of the West Lion.
From the base of the West Lion we again lost elevation and then traversed an awesome exposed ledge to gain the saddle between the East and West Lions. The views from the Saddle were phenomenal with more of the route and peaks to the North coming into view. We could see all the way from Mount Baker in the South to Black Tusk in the North that day.
After passing the Lions we hiked down a boulder field and skirted around Thomas Peak and then climbed up onto the steep South Ridge of James Peak, complete with an exposed traverse where hand lines and chains were necessary to make the crossing. The views from James Peak were some of the best of the day.
Once safely across the ridge of James Peak we descended again into some meadows and onto the saddle in between James and David Peaks. From here the official route drops sharply and skirts around David Peak, but we opted for the alternate route and went up and over David Peak. The route over the peak is shorter and has less elevation change, but the terrain is a bit rugged with steep climbing and descending on loose scree and forested slopes.
Once over David peak we joined back up with the normal route and headed towards Harvey Creek Saddle. Just before the Saddle and the descent onto Magnesia Meadows there is a trail that branches off which takes you back towards the Lions and ultimately to Lions Bay.
At this point we had been hiking for over 7 hours, were only about 1/2 way along the HSCT and only had about 5-6 hours of daylight left. None of us had ever been on the second half of the trail before and didn't know what to expect difficulty or time wise, so we opted to be smart, not get stuck in the dark and descend to Lions Bay via the trail from Harvey Saddle.
The trail down to Lions Bay was well marked but not at all maintained. We were basically bushwhacking for al least a solid 2 hours before finally being spit out onto the standard Binkert Trail to the Lions. From there it was still at least another hour or so of hiking on logging roads to reach the end of our epic journey in Lions Bay.
From there some of the other members in our group kindly offered to pick us up and give us a ride back to Porteau Cove to get our car, we drove once more to Cypress to get the remainder of the vehicles and headed home from an awesome adventure with a great crew.
In hindsight we figured we probably would have had time to finish the entire route. In talking with people who have done the whole HSCT in the past we determined that the route we took down to Lions Bay is just as long, if not longer, than the second half of the HSCT out to Porteau Cove would have been. Guess that means there will have to be a rematch! :)
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