If you live in British Columbia, you probably have heard of Cypress Mountain, right? After all, several events of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games were hosted there. Well ironically, that Cypress Mountain exists in name only. True, the ski resort is within Cypress Provincial Park, but its ski runs are actually on Black Mountain and Mt Strachan. Meanwhile, as I finally get to my point, within an hour and a half’s drive from Vancouver there really IS a mountain named Cypress, and it’s well worth a visit!
Cypress Peak, as it’s officially known, is high on the Squamish-Cheakamus Divide, not far as the crow flies from Squamish or Whistler. It can be seen from a number of vantage points on Highway 99 if you know where to look, where it appears as a striking pyramid on the skyline. Standing at 2083 metres in elevation at the head of Roe Creek, it’s as aesthetic an objective as the area has to offer, and affords a true wilderness experience. The route is well described in Matt Gunn’s Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia, which is the definitive guide for Coast Mountain scrambles in the Sea to Sky region.
It was in July of 2007 that I first climbed Cypress Peak. I remember being somewhat reluctant that day, and the coffee we downed along the way hardly seemed to motivate me. Still, I knew I needed a day in the hills. It had been about a month since my mother had passed away, taken by a stroke at the age of 73, and I wasn’t having the easiest of times getting through the experience. Still, it’s in the mountains where life makes the most sense to me, and I was glad I’d let Doug convince me the trip was a good idea!
It wasn’t long before the sun warmed the day considerably, and as Doug’s trusty Ford Explorer made its way up the Roe Creek Valley, it was clear this was going to be a memorable day. The road was in relatively rough shape, but we managed to drive to within a kilometre of the trailhead. We made it as far as the junction with the logging spur that goes up toward Mt Brew, then began gearing up for the day. We had reports of decent snow conditions, and decided that hiking poles, ice axes, and boots would be the gear of choice. Luckily, we would not be alone on this hike, courtesy of the hordes of insects bound and determined to keep us company!
Doug had printed a map of the route and even laminated it as well. I liked it so much I volunteered to let him attach it to the back of my pack for the hike so he could read it, which was good for a laugh or two. As we walked up what remained of the Roe Creek logging road, we knew that our next task was to locate some flagging tape that marked the inconspicuous “trailhead”. Calling it a trail at all was generous, as it’s basically a short bushwhack through old growth Silver Fir and Mountain Hemlock that eventually has you brushing aside willow on the banks of Roe Creek. The first thing we noticed as we took to the forest was the godawful stench of something really rank and foul. I had no clue what could stink that badly, but Doug knew immediately that this was likely a bear’s summer denning spot that was also serving as a latrine. Bears, specifically male grizzlies, apparently also like to wallow in said places, so that the female bears know they’re nearby. I guess we humans have it easy, the worst our ladies have to put up with is the scent of various colognes! Hmmm, on the other hand, some of those can be pretty bad…
It took just ten minutes to get to Roe Creek, but the trick, of course, was going to be finding an ideal way to ford this raging torrent. We ended up improvising our own methods, though had we continued a little further there was a far, far better crossing a short distance upstream! Once we were on the other side of the creek, the route was both self explanatory and steep, so it was time to begin the work in earnest.
We’d begun the hike at an elevation of roughly 1050 metres, so to gain the summit we’d need to ascend just over a thousand metres. It was easy to kick steps in the snow as needed, and occasionally take to the rock in the heather lined meadows. Beneath the snows, wildflowers were just beginning to emerge, and False Hellebore grew thickly alongside runnels of melt water.
As focused as I was on moving up the steep draw, I hadn’t looked behind us for a while, but Doug had. He quickly caught up to me and got my attention, as he had seen something moving about well below in the distance. It turned out it was a grizzly, probably the one whose latrine we’d stumbled upon. He was wandering the banks of Roe Creek. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to spot the bear myself, but suffice it to say we were going to be treading cautiously on our return trip!
We were definitely beginning to feel the heat of the day on those lower slopes, unprotected from the sun as they were. Each of us had the occasion to have downed more than a few drinks the night before, a bit unusual for either us the night before a trek, so we seemed slow to start. Soon though, our pace accelerated, as curiosity drove us to discover what the source of roaring water was just ahead of us. Roe Creek, which has its source in permanent snowfields and several pocket glaciers above, cascades over some granite cliffs about an hour into the hike.
We both busied ourselves taking photos with new cameras. Since I had forgotten mine, I was borrowing Doug’s old Pentax Optio, which I enjoyed using. Doug too had a new camera, but I can’t recall which one it was. I think it was a Sony, but there have been a few over the years! All of that fidgeting helped us pass the time pleasantly as we got most of the hard work out of the way. A glance at the map showed that we were nearing the ridge above, and would soon be able to see our mountain!
We could easily see that one way to gain elevation quickly was to skirt the edge of one of the glaciers, still snow covered at that point. I already knew that there were no longer any crevasses left on that ice sheet, and according to reports thirteen years later, the glacier is fast disappearing like many others in British Columbia.
Temperatures were soaring now, reaching the high twenties in degrees Celsius, as we moved deliberately to the col above. Here, things flattened out reasonably, and on a high bench below the summit block of Cypress Peak we were treated to some impressive views.
Seldom have I experienced a range where such a short trek had you in the thick of such rugged territory. The features were typical of the Coast Mountains, of course, but the scale of the mountain seemed to allow you to experience it all on a somewhat more manageable scale. It was at that point I realized I was hooked on the Squamish Cheakamus Divide! Nearby, we could see the jagged towers of Mt Fee piercing the summer sky. Pyroclastic Peak, with the unclimbed Vulcan’s Thumb, was even closer. Mt Cayley lurked defiantly in the background. The mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park were also on prominent display. Rainbow Mountain, as well, looked particularly imposing.
After gathering ourselves, we readied for the summit, which we could now see quite clearly. It never ceases to amaze that nature somehow manages to arrange piles of random granite blocks into the most symmetrical shapes, and Cypress Peak is a classic example of that phenomenon.
The first order of business was to traverse its northwestern slopes and meander through a field of massive boulders to approach the summit from the west. A good deal of snow had melted out, so some care had to be taken as we scrambled along a narrow shelf beside a deep moat of sorts, but soon we were able to double back to the north ridge.
Weaving our way upward on well consolidated snow and hopping on rock when necessary, we soon found ourselves on the summit. It had taken us around three hours to get there, and it was worth every minute of effort!
A sea of mountains greeted us as we broke out the snacks and ate lunch. Tricouni Peak loomed prominently to the south, and I lost myself for a minute scrutinizing the valley below. Rushing creeks and waterfalls seemed everywhere, and a brisk wind soon began buffeting our lofty perch. I was as content as I’ve ever been to be atop a mountain, and the smile on Doug’s face showed me he felt the same. Eventually our attention shifted westward to the Squamish Elaho Divide, as we both hoped to explore those mysterious mountains. Years later, we’ve not managed to do that just yet, but they are just as fascinating to me today as they were then!
In keeping with our usual habits, it wasn’t too much later that we began our descent, treating ourselves to a long glissade off the ridge. Reversing our steps, it was then just a question of regaining the col before hiking down the steep valley. The trip back to the truck took us just two hours, and we enjoyed every single step.
Much of our attention on the walk back down was preoccupied by views of Garibaldi and scanning for the grizzly Doug had spotted earlier, but fortunately, the bear was nowhere to be found. Crossing the creek was ridiculously easy on the return trip, as this time we found much safer passage.
A short time later, we found ourselves back on the highway again, rather taken aback by a lengthy traffic jam. This was at the time when Highway 99 was being expanded in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, so the journey home took much longer than usual. None of that really seemed to matter, though, because there is something ultimately satisfying about returning to everyday life after some quality time in the alpine. Cypress Peak had given us all of that, and more.