I’m struggling with where to start for this one, so I might as well go back to the source. A few years ago I heard about a route that local hero and renowned mountain man Ken Legg had devised, which started at Porteau Cove and ended up at Deep Cove, taking in all the best backcountry areas that Vancouver’s North Shore has to offer along the way. I’ve been dreaming of attempting this ever since, and this weekend dreams came true.
It started with a dip of the toe into the water at Porteau Cove, and I also filled up a little vial that I planned to pour into Deep Cove whenever we got there. Just to mix things up a bit.
The assembled crew consisted of myself, Craig, Colin, James and Steve (although Steve was “only” planning on joining us as far as Cleveland Dam, the symbolic halfway point and a block from his house).
As we hiked up the road to the Howe Sound Crest Trail trailhead at Porteau Road, our spirits were as high as our expectations. We’d been planning this adventure for a few months and it had been looking like it might not happen with all that lingering snow coupled with everyone’s varied and limited availabilities. But as luck and an unbearable heat wave would have it, the stars had aligned and we were off under perfect conditions forecasted for the entire weekend.
The route was based on Ken’s original Cove to Cove run, but I’d made a couple tweaks to give it a bit of a personal stamp. In a nutshell, the route is Porteau Cove to the HSCT, throw in Brunswick Mountain (the highest point on the North Shore), the Baden Powell trail to the BCMC with a quick trip up Grouse Mountain, down Hanes Valley then up Coliseum Mountain, down the Paton side then up the Vicar Lakes trail, along Vicar Ridge to where I believe mine and Ken’s routes begin to differ. The original went around to Seymour Mountain and then down to Deep Cove, where mine took us up Mount Elsay and then down the boulders to the Elsay Lake trail before finishing with a blistering romp down Three Chop to finally end in Deep Cove.
The HSCT, of course, was spectacular. Because the north to south direction is a bit tougher, and because we had a pretty long day(s) ahead of us, we took it slow and easy. The lakes were beautiful and the free flowing water everywhere was delicious. We searched for and even found a couple elusive whisky stashes. This was the first time I’d been to Brunswick without my trusty canine sidekick Bella, and although I missed having her share the adventure, I was happy to finally make it up to the proper dizzying summit. Apart from some leg cramps that had me writhing around in agony two or three times, it was pretty much a perfect day out on my favourite trail. Lots of hikers and campers and trail runners were out and since we were going against the flow of traffic, we got to stop and say hi to gangs of happy and/or exhausted folks along the way. I hope those two young women with the huge packs and Vans on their feet didn’t actually try to make it to Magnesia Meadows and heeded our advice to camp somewhere a bit more realistically doable for them.
We were met by wives, partners, visiting in-laws and dogs at Cypress for a rest stop which included burgers, homemade cookies, cold beers and changes of socks and shirts. I sprawled out on the ground cramping in agony for a few minutes before we all headed out for the BP and everyone’s favourite section between Cypress and Hollyburn. Uphill both ways, they say.
We rolled into Cleveland Dam around midnight to find that a hidden stash of coffee, beer and Bad Dog cookies had been left for us by our pal Dasha. While we enjoyed our little impromptu picnic, James slept for a couple minutes and we were joined by Peter, who had been in on the planning but hadn’t been able to free up enough time to commit to a full weekend away from the fatherly duties. He’d be joining us for his slowest ever BCMC ascent instead. This was also the planned end of the road for Steve, he told us that he’d be sleeping in his bivvy sack in his backyard as an act of solidarity. We thanked him and bid him adieu.
By the time we were half way up to the Grouse Chalet on the BCMC, it was clear that one in our party was losing a battle against the sleep monsters, he shall remain nameless but his initials are James Clarke. In a group endeavour like this, you’re only as awake as your sleepiest member, so we decided to head over to the top of the Flint and Feather trail and spread out the emergency bivvies for an hour of blissful rest on rocks and moss while feeding the local mosquitoes.
The cat nap did us well and in no time we were up on Grouse catching the sunrise before heading down into Hanes Valley below. Although the downward travel on the boulder field was a bit more mentally exhausting than the traditional direction, we were still in relatively cool conditions, so things sort of evened out. We met a black bear feasting on berries at the bottom of the boulders who could not have cared less about us and we joined along eating as many blueberries as we could handle. How many berries does a bear have to eat to get that big? I remember seeing a documentary about an ultra marathoner who ate nothing but fruit and he was nowhere near bear sized.
Next up was Coliseum. This one holds a special place in my heart because it was the first “real” mountain that I ever ventured up into back when all this tomfoolery was beginning. Every time I return, I hear the mumbly old words of Bob Dylan singing in my head…
“Oh, the hours that I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin’ time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb.”
Unlike Bob, I’ve never seen a lion on Coliseum but I’ve seen plenty of bears.
The heat was unrelenting and Colin was getting close to succumbing to it. Up at the summit, he made the call literally and figuratively to pack it in. Colin’s wife Alanna would be meeting him at the LSCR parking lot once we got down off Paton. At this point James realized that time wasn’t on his side and with the small children and visiting grandparents, he should probably take the opportunity to make the bailout as well. Once back at the paved Seymour Valley Trail, Craig and I watched as the two of them started the long walk of shame, and now we were two.
The climb up to Vicar Lakes is steep as heck and goes on and on. I knew I’d make it, but my brain was attempting to tell me otherwise. So we trudged and plodded and played on the many fixed ropes and eventually got to the top. The lakes were gorgeous in the early twilight with Mount Bishop looming in the background. Knowing that the ridge would likely be pretty dry, we took the opportunity to load up on enough water to get through the night, taking good care not to scoop up any salamanders and as few waterbugs as possible before filtering a couple litres.
Vicar Ridge is a wreck. There’s so much deadfall and overgrown ankle biters that when combined with the sparse flagging it made for a long, exhausting, frustrating night. It was near constant route fining and bushwhacking that I normally find enjoyable and challenging in a positive sense but when coupled with exhaustion to the point of hallucination, was quite the opposite. Thankfully Craig and I had each other to keep ourselves from doing anything stupid and we eventually made it through. I had an hour’s sleep on the top of Curate Peak more to shake out the hallucinations than anything and it worked well enough. It’s funny what these human bodies of ours can do if we let them. The mozzies had other plans for Craig, he didn’t sleep a wink.
We were so relieved to be done with the horror of the Vicar Ridge that we hardly even noticed the climb up Elsay. It was our 14th peak and it was all downhill from there. Being on the top of a big mountain at 3am was a new experience for me. It was cool, quiet, peaceful and I could have stayed there all night. But we had bigger fish to fry and we soon headed down to the boulder field below. Navigating the descent in the dark was a bit difficult but when the sun popped up in front of us things got much easier. That valley, meadow and boulder field really is one of the most incredibly beautiful spots on the North Shore, if you ask me.
The end was in sight and Wes’ Staircase leading up and out to the Mount Seymour parking lot was brutal. Craig may or may not have been cursing my name for planning such a demented end to this journey, but all was forgotten as we got set for the final descent into Deep Cove. “48 hours,” said Craig, “we just missed the cutoff for every 100 miler!” The absurdity was infectious as we laughed our way down Perimeter Trail, Old Buck and Three Chop before joining the early morning Quarry Rockers and eventually dipping our toes in the water of Deep Cove. I poured out my vial of Porteau Cove water into Deep Cove and we called it a day.
Something like 100km, 8,700m and 50 hours.