It was time to turn up the effort for this one. A popular and imposing set of peaks that border the Sea-to-Sky on your way north up coastal British Columbia, the Stawamus Chief will get your heart racing and happy you made the effort.
For a recap of previous hikes during a Canadian summer, check out a couple of the links below:
So a lot of previous hikes have been within the capabilities of public transit. You’ll need a vehicle (or, shudder, book yourself on a tour bus) to access this one. This is a popular hiking destination, especially on a sunny day. We got to the trail head around 10 am, and the carparks were thick with cars and tour buses. The canine companion was left at home for this one, which was a wise decision as you will find out below.
How to get there:
So assuming you found yourself a vehicle, you can’t miss the Chief as you head north up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, just before you hit the town of Squamish. There’s parking available at Shannon Falls carpark, and a little further north at the Sea-to-Sky gondola. We pulled in at Shannon Falls so we could check out the waterfall, and add a couple more km’s to the day.
There are three peaks that make up this hike, which takes around 5-6 hours to complete, covering a distance of 11 km for the round trip. The elevation gain is 600 m, a lot of that covered at the start of the trail. If you don’t have 5 hours to spare, you can summit the first peak in half the time and still get yourself some amazing views of Howe Sound.
If you started from Shannon Falls like we did, once you’ve taken a gander at the waterfall, about face and walk in the opposite direction until you find a path leading to the right.
This will take you through the woods for a kilometre or so, exiting at the Sea-to-Sky gondola carpark. As you exit the path, keep right and follow the tree line until you find another path marked Sea-to-Sky Trail. Follow this until the junction, where you take a right which brings you to the base of the Chief trail.
The trail up is extremely easy to follow to the first peak. It was reminiscent of the Grouse Grind, insofar as the stairs felt like they were vertical with no respite on the horizon.
There is a junction for the first and third peak about 45 minutes into the climb. You can go right to go directly to the third peak, or left to access first and second. We went left.
A little way up on your right is a giant slab of granite that offers a great view into the mountains and doubles as a helipad.
We decided to skip the first peak, and summit the second peak to start with. You’ll have no trouble following the trail and you’ll know you’re in the right place when you have to use a chain rope, try your hand at some amateur canyoning and then climb a steel ladder.
Opposite the access point to the ladder is a more precarious access point to the first peak in the way of rebar handholds on a bare rock face which we will come back to later.
So now that you’ve climbed the ladder, you’ll summit the second peak after carefully making your way up some relatively smooth-ish rock.
Time for lunch and a meet and greet with some equally hungry squirrels.
Third peak was a little more difficult to find. Best advice is to stay to the right as you continue north. There is a large canyon that divides these peaks, and had us staring over the precipice when we couldn’t locate the trail markers. If you also find yourself staring over the abyss at the third peak, just turn right and you’ll eventually pick up the trail into the tree line. We actually didn’t make it all the way to the top, but still managed to get a great view north to some Garibaldi Peaks.
So once you’ve backtracked and gone back down the chain rope, look left and you’ll see that rebar ladder of doom, and work past your fear of heights. There’s two sections of these ladders, after getting up the first one, take a left and you’ll find the second, even more precarious ladder section. After some jelly legs and deeps breaths, you’re on top of the first summit. Pat yourself on the back, take in the view, and prepare yourself for a wobbly return journey.
That’s a wrap
Seeing that we started our journey around 10 am, the crowds weren’t too bad on the way up. Coming back down a few hours later, things were heating up. The chain rope and ladder access points were quite congested and the foot traffic was getting thick throughout the whole trail. This was a great way to get the legs working, especially on the return journey as you’re doing your best to stay upright on the steep descent.
Highly recommended for the views and exercise on an iconic landmark in south-west British Columbia.
Hope you guys enjoyed the journey and hopefully you can all get up here yourselves!
Be sure to check out Vancouver Trails if you live in the area to get the low down on all the best hikes in south-west British Columbia.
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Happy hiking everyone.