Explore Squamish - August 12, 2016

Friday Trail Feature - The Sea to Summit Trail

Summit Sea to Sky Gondola
Photo: D'Arcy McLeish

I’m loving my summer hiking adventure but my knees are starting to feel the descents, so today I thought I might add a little twist into things and opt out of hiking down from somewhere and just do the hike up. This is usually an option open only to base jumpers and paragliders, neither of which I am or intend to be. But here in Squamish there is another option, and that’s taking a gondola down. Opened two years ago, the Sea to Sky Gondola sits between The Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls and climbs some 900 metres above Howe Sound to a ridge below Mt Habrich. An area once only accessible to the hardiest of mountain folk, the gondola has opened a new world to explore for hikers of all ages and abilities.

 

 

Upper Shannon Falls Trail
The first crossing of the lift line on the Upper Shannon Falls Trail.
Photo - D'Arcy McLeish

 

 

From the valley, there is only one option for ascent, and that’s up the Sea to Summit Trail. It’s a long hike, taking 3 to 5 hours at a fairly easy pace, but it winds its way through some spectacular terrain. I start early, parking right at the base of the gondola just after 7 am. There’s no one around, and even the gondola staff have yet to arrive. The Sea to Summit Trail can be accessed from here or from the Chief or Shannon Falls parking lots.

 

 

Chains on Sea to Summit Trail
Like the hike up the Chief, there are a few chains here and there to help you out. 
Photo - D'Arcy McLeish

 

 

The Sea to Summit is a shared trail, which is to say that it starts at the base of the Gondola, but then merges with the Chief Trail. So ya, those stairs? We have to hike those stairs again. I h---, I mean, love, those stairs. Especially when I only have to climb them once.

 

 

Sea to Sky Gondola
View of a cabin and the backside of the Chief in the background. 
Photo - D'Arcy McLeish

 

 

The Sea to Summit Trail is very well marked, with numbered trail blazes the length of the trail. There are also distance markers along the 7.5km hike. It’s longer than the Chief hike in terms of elevation gain so plan accordingly. Around marker 148 the trail crosses under the gondola just between towers 5 and tower 6. This is a good rest stop, with plenty of views and places to sit. After crossing the lift line, the trail dips into one of the most spectacular forests in Squamish. Here the trees are ancient, and I find myself stopping constantly to take photos or just marvel at these great sentinels of the coast forest that have stood, in some cases, for hundreds of years.

 

 

Shannon Creek on the Sea to Summit
Shannon Creek. 
Photo - D'Arcy McLeish

 

 

The trail is a little more technical in this section, with the odd chain to help you negotiate the steeper bits. This whole section, starting around marker 208, is dotted with small viewpoints over Shannon Creek and the valley below. Marker 250 is the half -way point, where the trail opens onto a huge slab of granite. The views of Howe Sound here are breathtaking. Just as well, as my legs have started lobbying me for a break. I settle in for a half hour of snacks and water and ponder the rest of the hike.

 

 

Sea to Summit View
View of Skypilot and the Skypilot Suspension Bridge from the deck at the Summit of the Sea to Sky Gondola. Epic. 
Photo - D'Arcy McLeish

 

 

I think what I like most about hiking is the solitude. Sure, it’s fun to be in a group, but there’s something about being by yourself that helps feed my longing for awe. Here in the rugged beauty of the coast mountains, I can’t help but take some time to enjoy the moment. There’s no history or future here, only the moment. But there’s still a ways to go. After a short section on a skid road, the trail branches left into more single track and some granite slabs under the lift line. It’s hot now, and I’m sweaty, but I keep my eyes on the prize: an espresso, a pastry and a seat on the deck of the Summit Lodge, enjoying one of the best views in Southern BC.

 

 

Howe Sound
Howe Sound in all its glory.
Photo - D'Arcy McLeish

 

 

It took me a few hours this morning, but it’s all been worth it. The sun has broken over the summit of Sky Pilot Mountain and is shining down on Howe Sound and the valley below. As I walk out to the deck with my espresso and pastry, I am grateful for two things: good coffee and the fact that I don’t have to walk down.

 

 

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