It comes as a surprise to most of the people who know me well, but truthfully, it wasn’t until late in 2003 that I first discovered the existence of the Hydraulic Creek Trail. The very idea of a rugged track winding its way to the South Needle from the Seymour Valley was more than enough to pique my curiosity. The real clincher, though, was that much of the terrain in the upper Hydraulic Creek valley was reputed to be old growth forest. The trail had apparently already existed for five years before I’d ever heard of it, indeed, I’d already ridden my bike past the trailhead countless times!
The trail starts just north of the Hydraulic Creek Bridge, beginning inauspiciously in second growth forest. Massive stumps are poignant reminders of past glories, but nevertheless this forest has somehow managed to retain its character. The first order of the day, naturally, is to find a place to stash your bike, if you’ve ridden to the trailhead.
It was noted big tree hunter Ralf Kelman who first explored the lower Seymour Valley in search of the remaining groves of ancient trees back in the 1990s. In conjunction with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, and individuals such as Paul George and Will Koop, a combined effort was successful in banning the practice of logging in Greater Vancouver’s watersheds. Today, the former Seymour Demonstration Forest is now called the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR) and the entire valley has protected status.
According to Kelman, it was Gabriel Mazoret of the North Shore Hikers who first contributed the sweat equity required to extend the Hydraulic Creek Trail and connect it to the Lynn Ridge Trail. He had already put in considerable effort marking the latter route, which begins at Lynn Peak and traverses to the South Needle. Forging this new trail, he felt, would in effect provide an alternate and more direct route to the South Needle.
Today, the track is reasonably well worn, but when I began using it in 2004, it had seen far less traffic. Walking westward, following the sounds of water upstream, you’ll first discover a junction that will beckon you south, and over the creek. It leads into the Temples of Time Grove of Giants, which itself is well worth discovering! The trail proper, however, begins moving away from the creek for reasons that will soon become obvious, as it swings northwest and gains elevation. Presently, you’ll soon find out whether or not your legs are conditioned for the hills, or maybe you’ll just be regretting taking a pass on that second cup of coffee!
Inexorably, as you rise a couple hundred metres higher, the forest begins to show its age, while glimpses of Hydraulic Creek’s canyon appear fleetingly. It was obvious why Gabriel did not choose a route closer to the water course, as the terrain simply dictates otherwise!
The trail begins to climb in earnest now, entering a forest that has seen very little disturbance over the years. From a conservation standpoint, this stroke of luck has been a blessing, as most of the lower Seymour Valley’s stands of prime timber vanished long ago. Towering Western Red Cedars and Western Hemlocks abound, and the surrounding greenery contributes an almost primeval aura to this rugged trek.
Elevation is quickly gained on so many trails in southwestern British Columbia, and the Hydraulic Creek Trail is certainly no exception. Subtle changes in the forest can be noted, as you ascend, for soon Amabilis (Silver) Firs begin to appear, as do Yellow Cedar. The understory is lush, as the area sees abundant rainfall, and there is also a strong chance of seeing wildlife here. Birds such as Pileated and Downy Woodpeckers are common, as are Barred Owls. It’s not unusual to see deer, Black Bear, and even the occasional Pacific Water Shrew or Pine Marten!
The trail continues to climb steadily, until you reach the trunk of an old Yellow Cedar, where Mazoret has affixed a plaque with an appropriate poem. It’s taken from prose written by English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) called “Uphill“.
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
These are well chosen words, and if you ask me, an apt summary of this journey, which continues from that tree ever higher into the ancient forest. It culminates at another junction at 930m in elevation, this one exceedingly well marked, where it meets the Lynn Ridge Trail. A sharp right turn is required at this time to reach the South Needle, some 230 metres higher in elevation.
Once more, your path ascends sharply, contouring to the top of a knoll at roughly 1030 metres, only to double back into a sharp ravine, losing much of that elevation. Here, the forest is enveloped in shade and the trail becomes somewhat harder to discern, but predictably you’re heading straight uphill again. A scant half hour of hiking should have you close to the summit of the South Needle!
Just as you gain the ridge, there are some cautious steps that skirt the top of tall bluffs, where a precipitous drop will most certainly warrant your attention. Mindfully, you need only scramble to the right, proceeding north onto the tiny, subalpine plateau and its summit cairn above. Your reward is a sweeping view of the Lynn Creek Valley and nearby Coast Mountains, if the weather happens to be favourable, that is. From the South Needle, an especially challenging route traverses the Middle and North Needles on its way to the Needle Coliseum Col, but for most, the friendlier confines of the South Needle will more than suffice.
Here, at just 1160m in elevation, where the southern section of Lynn Ridge and the teeming metropolis of Vancouver may be within sight, is a chance to savour some rewards. Sometimes, just reclining on sun warmed rock among the gnarled, weather beaten trees of the alpine and a carpet of heather and wildflowers is more than enough to make your day!