The Stawamus Chief located in Squamish, BC just off the Sea to Sky highway is considered one of the largest granite monoliths in North America. After a particularly tough week, Devon decided it would be beneficial for us to hike up the Chief and clear our minds. Since we hadn’t attempted this before, it was a welcomed challenge. Known as The Chief by locals, the indigenous people (the Squamish) consider the mountain to be of spiritual significance and named the peak after their village, Stawamus. There are three peaks, First Peak or the South Summit is 610 metres or 2,001 feet, the Second Peak, or the Centre Summit is 655 metres or 2,149 feet and the Third Peak or the North Summit is 702 metres or 2,303 feet.
We decided to tackle the Third Peak and trek down to the other two lower peaks on our way back down. Starting out early Saturday morning, we awoke at 7:30am to feed and walk our dog, Jack. After, we enjoyed our much needed coffee and breakfast, we then prepared sandwiches and snacks for our day on the mountain. When our third hiker (Stephen) arrived, we set out on the 40 minute drive through Vancouver, over the Second Narrows (Ironworker’s Memorial) bridge, through North and West Vancouver along the Upper Levels highway and the Sea to Sky highway (highway 99) which features beautiful scenic views of Horseshoe Bay, Lions Bay, Porteau Cove, Britannia Beach, Shannon Falls Provincial Park and finally, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.
Arriving around 10am, we made our way to the lower portion of the trails towards the Chief. Camera in hand, armed with back packs filled with water and rations, we started out in earnest, unaware that the ‘moderate’ hike ahead featured massive stairs and tons of tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by the sounds of rushing waters from Shannon Falls, the beginning section of the hike was manageable,with several viewpoints to stop and take pictures from. The trails were crowded with all types of hikers, experienced and novice, young and old. After crossing a small bridge over a rushing creek, the trail takes a dramatic change and becomes more vertical and challenging. Although the man-made stairs were placed there to assist hikers, I found them to impede my speed. These stairs were designed for giants, the rise was uncomfortably steep. You definitely were working hard on the stair climb portion. I was forced to make several stops so as to catch my breathe and rehydrate. This was an intense cardio workout.
After the first third of the hike, the trail changes again with boulders, downed trees and intense tree roots which attempt to trip you at every chance they get. The trail is well marked with signage and trail markers. Along the way you discover amazing flora and fauna, jutting rock faces and mushrooms. At this point the trail comes to a fork, and it was here we decided to veer right and ascend to the Third Peak. This section of the trail changed once again with more downed trees and a greater amount of flat areas, a welcomed break from the extreme vertical climb of the prior portion. I was pleased to see this trail was not as inhabited, which made for a less daunting trek. This part also featured much needed and greatly appreciated shade. There were some tricky maneuvers used along this section, climbing over and under trees. At some point, I found myself separated from my group when I wandered off to check out a viewpoint atop a massive rock. Getting back down proved difficult but do-able. After a few more breaks, we were making good time up the mountain. Although there were warning signs of bears and cougars, thankfully we did not run into any. The final third of the hike was the easiest part, with the least amount of difficult passages. Just when I thought we weren’t close to the summit, we came to a small clearing, rounded a corner, climbed a rock fin and were finally atop the mountain. I honestly did not think I would survive the climb, but I did it!
Being on top of the mountain was a sight to behold. I was surprised by the amount of trees flourishing up there. We decided this would be a great place to stop for lunch. While snacking on homemade sandwiches, we were joined by several chipmunks. They were very brazen little guys and had no issue coming so close as to touch your fingertips. Sitting there, relaxing and taking in the incredible view, I had never seen the mountains on the other side and I was completely unaware of their existence.
After a 20 minute break we started to hike back down the mountain. What we were expecting to be an easy walk was impacted greatly by the fact that our legs simply did not want to comply with any movement at all. I found myself fighting every step of the way. Each step down put immense pressure on your knees and your body no longer wanted to participate. Essentially, your body was shutting down. The lactic acid was building up and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. The only course of action was to make it back down at an uncomfortable pace, before your legs gave out completely. Using the trees to assist you on the way back down, your knees locked up and your legs cramped. I think the hike down took longer than the way up. We were all surprised at the difficulty of the downward trek. Both Devon and Stephen, our hiking partner, bailed several times along the way down. We have video to prove this. These lighthearted moments helped and gave us the much needed energy to make it back home in one piece.
Finally, back down on level ground, it was a short walk back to the car. Even this was challenging.
I suggest this hike to those who are avid ourdoorsmen and are frequent hikers. Though this is a moderate hike, it does challenge you along the way. I am proud to say that I made it to the top. Will I do this hike again? Yes. Anytime soon? Debatable.
Braving the Chief is something everyone should attempt at least once.
Below is a list of the supplies we took:
– back packs
– bear spray
– water (2.5L each)
– food rations (pack extra just in case)
– bells (to alert bears of your presence)
– wind-up CB radio
– cell phone