North Shore Boys Storm the South Needle

It was, of all things, a chance encounter. He had read several of my trip reports, posted on a hiking forum, on relatively obscure pursuits in the North Shore Mountains, and simply sent me a message. At first I was not even certain I’d answer, as I’m given to solo pursuits, but for whatever reason I did. That was in late May of 2004, and it likely marked a distinct change in the course of both of our lives. That was how I met Doug, who has become my regular partner in crime on so many of my most enjoyable trips, and one of my closest friends..

We’re probably, no, definitely, thinking about beer!

We have similar backgrounds, besides both being from North Vancouver, we had spent some of our youth in eastern Canada, myself in my hometown Montreal and Doug in Toronto (though he’d been born in Burnaby) and we were both trail runners and mountain bikers. His forte as a planner and navigator and my knack for reading terrain immediately blended well, and our ability to read off each other’s thoughts and make decisions together was well apparent from the start. Add to that sports, beer, and all things outdoors and we began with a lot in common!

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Doug, on the move!
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Me, grooving on Mt Brunswick

A lot of people ask me, “So where did you two hosers actually meet?” The story of our first trip is, as follows, I thought worth sharing here. It begins on a typical North Shore spring day, with morning clouds obscuring the mountains, and the two of us biking up the Seymour Valley Trailway. Our destination, soon to be all too familiar, was the bridge at Hydraulic Creek.

I can recall having had very little sleep the night before – for a long time that was normal for me, as my wife and I raise a son with autism which, especially then, deprived us of sleep on a regular basis.

We had been hearing about a trail that led up from the bridge to connect with the Lynn Ridge Trail to the South Needle, an 1160m pinnacle just north of the end of the ridge, and were definitely intrigued.

Having biked the 6 kms to the bridge, we walked our bikes into the woods and found a place to lock them down. It was at this point I knew that Doug had no shortage of leg power, as he produced an enormous steel chain lock to secure our rides, weighing about least fifteen pounds! We then set off to explore the Hydraulic Creek Valley.

Locked up and ready to go!

The enchanting nature of this forest became swiftly apparent. I had been told of the route by friend Ralf Kelman, who had first reconnoitred the area some years ago. Now, a route had been blazed by North Shore Hikers member Gabriel Mazoret up to the Lynn Ridge junction. Gabriel was, and still is, something of a legend among trail builders; I’ve still not managed to get to know him very well. His work, it must be said, is admirable, as he has a real sense of taking the path of least erosion and resistance that is obvious as you hike the trail.

Hydraulic Creek

The trail wastes no time gaining elevation from its beginnings at about 240m. The forest on that morning was swirling with mist. You had the sense that it was not going to rain, but that you would certainly be getting wet.

There were quite a few trees that had escaped early twentieth century logging. As goes the story, a fire in 1936 halted logging in the valley, and afterward it was no longer viable to resume operations when it was over. One Douglas fir we found, tall, straight, and true, was well over eight feet in diameter! It was among the biggest trees Doug had seen at the time, and he was duly impressed.

Four centuries of amazing Douglas fir!
Greenery abounds!

The sounds of nature were everywhere as we walked. An eagle screeched from high above, and woodpeckers could be heard hammering on the trees in search of food, while the sound of  ravens echoed off the walls of the canyon. We shared a mutual appreciation of the relative silence and lost ourselves in the efforts of the hike.

Oplopanax Horridus aka Devil’s Club…Do Not Touch!

Altogether, it took us just a couple of hours to reach the junction at 905m. Though the fog had descended heavily, we opted to continue on to the summit of the South Needle, in hopes the sun might show itself.

Here are some more images that I captured along the way, starting with a stand of sizeable  Western hemlock.


Claim boundary marker?

Just before the junction we entered a forest of Pacific silver firs, which, though beautiful, gave us  a thorough soaking. The creek itself could be heard but remained unseen, as it is hidden by steep rock walls, or so I had been told. I have still yet to explore the upper canyon more closely.

These young silver firs made for a wet section of the trail here
Uncommonly large Western red cedar at 800m in elevation

As we climbed the remaining 250 metres of elevation to the summit, the fog thickened noticeably, to the point where we had to be very alert to stay on track. Really though, it was just a matter of being persistent and just digging in, because soon we reached the alpine. You would never know this was a reasonably warm spring day, at least by the photograph below here!

Dark and foreboding

While there were no views of distant peaks, the subalpine tundra with its stunted trees was still enjoyable to walk. The scrambling was not too complicated, but there were a few sections to be mindful of. Just to the right of this there is a severe and dangerous drop of at least 200 metres.


It’s a very short walk from here to the rocky summit, where today there are no other signs of life, just heather coming into bloom. There are two colours of heather that you find in the Coast Mountains, pink and white.

Ghostly summit awaits


Things were quiet indeed, save for the sounds of the two of us discussing what the ridge beyond the South Needle might look like. We resolved to give that a try soon.

Here’s Doug calibrating his GPS, amid spectacular mountain views!

Foggy mountain views, as far as the eye could see, so about 20 metres or so

We lingered for some time and ate lunch, but soon we departed for the bikes as I had a deadline to keep. Unfortunately, on the way down, we both made a very uncharacteristic mistake and carried on uphill past the ridiculously well marked junction. We decided to continue on toward Lynn Peak via the Lynn Ridge Trail to complete the loop back to Rice Lake where we had begun. Unfortunately, that would mean we would have to go for a little run and ride the next day to retrieve our bikes, but heck, we were both game for the task. Next time, less talking, and more paying attention was the lesson learned, mea culpa.

Lynn Ridge Trail giants

As it turned out, we were glad to have hiked the Lynn Ridge Trail as the trail is a decent challenge. It took us another hour and a half to reach the Lynn Peak Lookout, then we ran down the trail from there to make up some time. This was right in my wheelhouse, as at the time I was using the trail to train several times a week. The forest remained clouded in mist; here are a few more scenes from the Lynn Ridge Trail.

Forest fog
Remnants of winter snows

In another hour we were on the drive home, discussing things like how we lived only five minutes apart, and that each of us had two kids, so on and so forth. I ended up getting home an hour and a half late, something I rarely end up doing, but it had been a memorable and eventful day. The next day we ventured out again to retrieve our bikes, and the fog had yet to lift.

If you drop in here from time to time you’ll no doubt be reading about some of the many expeditions we’ve been on that followed this one. Here’s hoping you enjoy hearing about those treks as much as we have enjoyed those days in the mountains. I think I speak for Doug when I say “Crack a cold one and enjoy getting outside!”  Cheers!

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