Idyllic Winter on Suicide Bluffs

Over the years, hiking and snowshoeing in and around Mt Seymour Provincial Park has occupied plenty of my free time, and, if you ask me, very few parts of the area can capture your heart the way the Suicide Bluffs do. It’s become something of a tradition for Doug and me to make it up there once the snow falls. While it’s not an entirely unknown area, it does tend to be a lot quieter. Why? Because the sometimes complicated route finding and difficult micro terrain can be challenging. Like anywhere in the Coast Mountains, all the usual cautions apply, especially in winter. Maybe the name, too, is something of a deterrent.

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Suicide Bluffs and fresh snowfall
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Looking into the Suicide Creek Valley
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This shows a profile of one of the many cliffs

I don’t know exactly how these bluffs earned their auspicious name, but there are certainly a number of intimidating cliffs on the bluffs. The Suicide Creek drainage nearby even features a pair of waterfalls known for their death defying drops as they plummet to the Seymour Valley below. The bluffs, I only learned very recently, are actually within the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR), which is under the jurisdiction of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD).

We generally access the trail by first hiking to Dog Mountain, then branching onto it just before the lookout. We then make our way eastward to where the route eventually links with the main Mt Seymour Trail.

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Dog Mountain, a popular destination
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You’ll see a few warning signs like this along the way, meant to deter skiers from dangerous terrain

While I call it a trail, it definitely stretches that definition, as even in summer this convoluted route uses ropes and chains to help you out on some of the steeper sections.

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Vancouver Harbour

In winter, you have to be prepared for full on mountaineering. It’s not a place for the uninitiated, or for those expecting an easy and well marked track, so gear up appropriately if you go! We usually bring ice axes, snowshoes, and crampons as well as a GPS, compass, and maps. Clouds and fog can move in quickly as well, challenging your visibility.

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Cathedral Mountain in the clouds

The views are 360 degrees from all of the summits. You can see Mt Baker down in Washington state, all of the Vancouver area and harbour, as well as most of the North Shore Mountains. In summer, it’s still a beautiful hike, but it’s in winter that it truly shines!

My own history with the area actually began far below in the Seymour Valley, where it started with a hike with some friends to lower Suicide Creek. We explored an old logging camp near the Spur Four Bridge in the LSCR , where an incredible ancient forest once grew.

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Seymour River at Spur 4 Bridge, near the confluence with Suicide Creek
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Bigleaf Maples
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Former Giant Cedar
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Crosscut Saw
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Wood stove parts

I would also return later to the valley with Doug on several occasions to explore and maintain the rough track that leads up to Suicide Falls.  North Shore Rescue has used this route to save wayward skiers and snowboarders on more than a few occasions. The Suicide Creek Valley is rough, vertically steep in places, and under some conditions downright hazardous due to its frequent landslides. The two photos below here pretty much sum up the kind of hiking you get into on that trail.

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Me on one of the rope sections
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Doug working his way upward

But I digress. It was only after I explored these lower reaches that I actually hiked the Suicide Bluffs Trail, some 400 metres above the falls, and 800 metres above the Seymour River.  The first trek was so much fun that Doug and I began to make the bluffs an annual winter destination.

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Sunshine!
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Making Tracks
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Trees, Sky and Snow
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Doug climbing what I consider the crux of the route

When we go, we’re very careful about choosing the right conditions, especially in winter, both in regard to the snow conditions and to visibility. We’ve learned that it’s more prudent to ascend the steep slopes from west to east because those same slopes are usually much more precarious to descend during those times. In that way, we get to do a little more climbing, which we prefer. In summer, we have hiked it in both directions.

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Crown Mountain and the Britannia Range

The forest of Suicide Bluffs is predominantly mountain hemlock, sprinkled with the occasional yellow cedar. Some of those hemlocks are well over 500 years old. Interestingly, unlike the the trees of the lower valleys, they don’t tend to garner a lot of attention from conservationists. Perhaps because they are out of sight to many, they are also out of mind. There have been precious few studies devoted to their longevity as a result.

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Me with an ancient mountain hemlock near the Seymour Trail junction

All that said, here are some images from a hike on New Year’s Eve of 2015 and more from some of our previous treks. I hope you enjoy the tour!

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Incredible light!
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Clouds and mountains!
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Tree snow formations can be right out of a story book sometimes
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Cathedral Mountain with Paton’s Lookout below
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Mt Seymour and snow encrusted trees
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Mt Seymour on a cloudier day
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Vancouver in the distance, New Year’s Eve 2015
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Lynn Ridge and clouds

On a clear day you can also see Mt Garibaldi, and much of the Britannia Range and the peaks of the Coquitlam Divide and Golden Ears Provincial Park, in addition to most of the North Shore Mountains.

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North Shore Rescue Cabin
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What a backyard!

Really, it isn’t surprising that we have come to see Suicide Bluffs as our favourite winter stomping grounds. There is something about standing high above the treeline in fresh snow and looking at so many places that you have been lucky enough to visit. In twelve years we have hiked, climbed, and thrashed our way through countless North Shore valleys, and these bluffs afford fine views of many of them!

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Sunrise on Crown Mountain

If you’re looking for a local winter hike that still gives you that wilderness feel. and you have already honed your mountaineering skills, then make your way to the Suicide Bluffs. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it well!

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