The Howe Sound Crest Trail - 2020 edition

The best way to avoid the smoke in Vancouver 🔥☁️

Lower peaks peeking through the smoke.

This is my second trip along the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Did the first trip in October 2018, so I was looking forward to doing it again. The hike turned out completely different due to wildfire smoke from the states, drastically changing the views along the trail.

Trail stats

  • It’s a 30km one-way hike, starting from the Cypress parking lot (N 49°23'47", W 123°12'16") to Porteau Cove (N 49°32'42", W 123°14'26").
  • Cumulative elevation gain/loss is approximately 1850m/2600m.
  • Peaks transversed along the trail: St. Mark’s summit, Unnecessary Mt. , Lion’s ridge, James Peak and David Peak.

My trip report from the 2018 trip can be found here.

We almost cancelled the hike a couple of hours before setting off. The smoke from the wildfires on the other side of the border was really pouring into Vancouver and we were unsure about the conditions at higher elevation. Because the trail starts at the parking lot at Cypress, which is 900m above sea level, we decided to see how bad it was before we cancelled. The smoke wasn’t too bad on Cypress, so we pushed on agreeing to turn around if it got worse. It didn’t!😉

After getting dropped off by Chris (thank you❤️), we started the hike at 8:00AM. The first real campsite is at Magnesia Meadows (N 49°28'46", W 123°11'22"), 15km along the trail. The campsite sits in a col more than 1400m above sea level, flanked by Brunswick Mt. and Harvey Mt., the tallest peaks in the area. This was our overnight destination.

Sign post reached after ~1.5km.
Sign post reached after ~1.5km.

The trail is wide and pretty smooth for the first 5.5km, where we reached St. Mark’s summit after 1.5h of hiking. This part of the trail is usually very popular, but we only passed a few group going up. We didn’t spend any time looking at the view, as we knew it would be completely blocked by the smoke cloud. After the short break and a granola bar, we started the descent to the base of Unnecessary Mt. We talked about how we really suffered going up last time and how unpleasant it was going to be. We came across a sign stating that the improved trial now ended. The sign itself had fallen from the tree and was clearly not new. I remembered coming across the same sign last time, which marked the beginning of the ascent of Unnecessary Mt.

Sign post marking the beginning of the ascent of Unnecessary Mt.
Sign post marking the beginning of the ascent of Unnecessary Mt.

We reached the south summit of Unnecessary Mt. after 2.5h of hiking. We were both very surprised that the climb up hadn’t been tougher! We agreed that we must be in way better shape this time compared to last. We were now above the smoke cloud and had the sun on our faces. We had to stop and get out the sunscreen, a pleasant surprise. We spend an additional hour hiking to the base of the Lion’s, where we stopped for lunch. The trail between the south and north summit of Unnecessary Mt. and along the ridge between Unnecessary Mt. and the Lion’s is very rugged. One can easily be fooled into thinking that this couple of kilometers are easy, when looking at the Lion’s in the distance. Be warned, it’s a quite technical bit of trail and it’s never just flat. Constantly losing/gaining 20m-50m of elevation.

View towards the Lion's and Brunswick Mt. from Unnecessary Mt.
View towards the Lion’s and Brunswick Mt. from Unnecessary Mt.

It’s roughly 4km from the base of the Lion’s to the Magnesia Meadows. The trail descents a bit after leaving the Lion’s before passing Thomas Peak and dropping another 100m down to a big bolder field. This section of the trail shouldn’t be hiked unless it’s dry. There are a couple of quite exposed sections that would be very slippery if wet. After the bolder field the trail starts going up towards James Peak. The ascent feels more like a scramble than a hike, with many sections where both hands are needed to avoid falling down the steep slope. From the summit we could see both the Lion’s and Unnecessary Mt. that we passed earlier. Off to the right the deep blue Enchantment Lake can be seen. Ahead lies David Peak, the last peak to be transversed before the campsite. Both the descent from James Peak and the ascent of David Peak are very steep and it’s impossible to keep a high pace on this section of the trail. We sad down for a snack on top of David Peak. From here we could see the last bit of switch backs we needed to navigate going up before reaching the campground. We reached the campground at 3PM, with plenty of daylight to spare. We talked about pushing on to Brunswick Lake but decided to stay at Magnesia Meadows. If the weather stayed good we would go up Harvey the next morning. We were only ones at the meadows, but we had passed 4 groups along the trail so we knew that we weren’t going to be alone. The next group arrived at 5:30PM, but they pushed on to Brunswick Lake another 4km along the trail. It was now overcast so there were no stars or moon to be seen and it got very dark right after the sun had set behind Brunswick Mt. We went to bed around 8:30PM. The last people poured in about 30min later! They had clearly started too late and had to hike the last hour in pitch black.

It was unfortunately still overcast in the morning, so we ditched our Harvey plan and took our time preparing breakfast and packing all out gear. We left Magnesia Meadows at 9:30AM, after everyone else had already left. We passed them all again before we reached Brunswick Lake and was alone on the trail again, just like we had been the day before. After a bit of up/down right after the meadows the trail follows a string of lakes down, getting quite steep in sections. The hike down was quite uneventful, apart from an encounter with an angry wasp!

We hit the old logging road with 3.5km to go, but was detoured off again after approximately 1.5km. We followed a newer trail through the forrest down to the highway some 300m away from the parking lot. Chris was waiting for us when we reached the parking lot, ready to take us home to a hot shower and a lot of food😄.