If you’ve followed the exploits of the hiking world in southwestern British Columbia, it’s likely you’ve heard of the Hanes Valley Trail. It’s without question one of the signature hikes of the North Shore Mountains, taking you on a rugged journey through some of the most scenic and challenging terrain the region has to offer.
The route, which begins at Lynn Headwaters Regional Park near the gatehouse at the end of Lynn Valley Road, stretches roughly sixteen kilometres one way before reaching the chalet on Grouse Mountain. A reasonably fit hiker can expect to take up to eight hours to finish the trail point to point. Once you reach the Grouse Chalet, you’ll either need to take the gondola down or walk the the BCMC Trail to reach the base of Grouse Mountain. If you’ve planned the day well, you’ll have shuttled a second car to the Grouse parking lot to use to pick up your car in Lynn Valley, unless you are using BC Transit. There is also the option of returning to Lynn Headwaters via the Baden Powell Trail, which will lengthen your day accordingly. Make sure you do all of your homework before attempting this route!
Given that this is not a hike to be underestimated, there remains a glaring question: What is it about Hanes Valley that seems to result in so many lost, stranded and ill equipped hikers in need of rescue? That’s a complicated question, and I one I hope to shed some much needed light on here.
To start with, Hanes Valley has always been advertised as a hike which is transit accessible, and that’s great. Just hop on the bus and make your way to the end of Lynn Valley Road, and later, jump on the Grouse Mountain Skyride then catch another bus home to Vancouver to complete your day! Sounds convenient, right? Well it can be, but what they don’t tell you is that you’ll need to catch that bus bright and early, as it’s recommended you begin this hike no later than 9 am, even when days are long. I’ve always made a point of being at the park when the gates open to allow myself as much time as possible.
The hike is also widely publicized on a vast array of what I’d politely describe as clickbait websites, where they sing loudly of the virtues, but seldom make the dangers clear. There are a plethora of reasons this route should only be attempted by experienced hikers, especially in what’s referred to as the shoulder season, when the days are too short to allow an adequate margin of safety. Metro Vancouver, which controls the park, generally closes back country access for safety reasons from sometime in the month of October until such time as the snow melts in late spring or early summer and the trail can be inspected and marked. Unfortunately, many media sources don’t include that essential information even though there is plenty of signage in the park to reflect closures.
The result is that you have a great many inexperienced hikers looking for enjoyment in a place that can be both highly exhilarating or decidedly hazardous, depending on how well they have planned their outing. Over the years, countless unsuspecting people have found themselves in trouble in Hanes Valley. It is my aim to help prevent this from happening, and to give North Shore Rescue a much needed break from the many callouts that occur there every year. Education, after all, is the key to safety! There are a number of hiking guides that provide thorough descriptions, and here is an excellent guide from Outdoor Vancouver that also discusses the route in depth. Another such publication, The Glorious Mountains of Vancouver’s North Shore, is a particularly good source of information on the route.
The trail begins innocuously enough, as you hike just over seven kilometres to the bridge over Norvan Creek, reached by following the Cedar Mills Trail to the Third Debris Chute, then on to the Headwaters Trail. This part of your trek is the easiest en route, and it’s a well marked and pleasant path through mostly second growth forest. It’s quite seldom that a hiker encounters problems on this part of the hike, but it is a section where you might consider pacing yourself. Why? Because the second half of the hike is considerably steeper and more difficult!
Once you reach Norvan Falls, you will cross over a suspension bridge and continue hiking north, where eventually you’ll heading west and crossing over Lynn Creek. I emphasize here that there is no bridge to aid you in this task. Arguably, there should have been one installed here many years ago, as the creek has been known to be difficult in certain conditions. Basically, you hop boulders and walk atop logs to facilitate the crossing. To date, Metro Vancouver has no plans to build a bridge there, to my knowledge. Keep in mind that if you attempt this route at certain times of the year, you may not have the option of turning around for safety reasons as the creek can become impossible to recross if water flow increases. I know this firsthand, as it happened to me once! Lynn Creek is fed by a healthy snowpack and the waters of Lynn Lake, and current is generally brisk year round.
The following series of photos was taken back in the year 2003. Following a summer long drought when British Columbia’s back country was completely closed to hikers, it rained quite heavily for a week. (I took the photos with an old Sony Mavica diskette camera, if you’re fond of obsolete technology!) I had run to this exact spot the day before, and Lynn Creek was crossable. Not so on the second day! One additional note about the Lynn crossing is that it’s the last reliable water source on the trail. You might want to take on water there, and bringing a filtration device for that purpose is also advised.
Safely across the creek, you now wind your way into the Hanes Creek Valley through another tract of forest, until you reach a brushy section below the boulder field. It is here that many a trekker has gone astray, as this part of the route is frequently affected by rolling fog, and rapidly changing weather. The mountains, unpredictable as they are, don’t always get the memo from our weather forecasters. You may even need to wait out storms on occasion.
Ideally, following tapes and markers, you’ll soon find your way to North Shore Rescue’s equipment cache, where you may also be able to shelter in an emergency. The direction you’ll want to head in from there is still due west, toward what’s called Crown Pass. To get there, it’s necessary to navigate your way through the boulder field, and be very mindful of your footing. In early spring, this area is fraught with melting snow and the hidden holes beneath it. They are not so lovingly referred to by some mountaineers as “tiger traps” for their propensity to ensnare unsuspecting victims!
Another prevalent issue is visibility. When the cloud and mist descend upon you, it can be very easy to get off track, despite the diligent efforts by park personnel to mark the trail. The ridge to the north, unfortunately, often tends to clear first, tempting the unaware into the gullies and various other routes on nearby Crown Mountain, as well as the ridge that runs toward Lynn Lake. Here, you will want to possess navigational skill! Don’t just carry a phone, a dedicated GPS with a reliable track is also recommended. Cellular phone reception in this valley has always been notoriously poor, so carrying a personal locator beacon is also a worthy idea.
This boulder field has the effect of tiring hikers, as it is both steep and exposed to the elements at the best of times. Keeping a steady pace, with the cliffs of Goat Mountain on your left and the cliffs of Crown Mountain on your right, battle onward to Crown Pass.
Once there, you will be looking for yellow markers and will be turning left before working your way onto the ridge above. You must make sure not to turn right, as that’s the trail to Crown Mountain! There will be a number of chains to aid you in the ensuing climb up to the junction between the Goat Mountain Trail and the Grouse Mountain Trail. The path eases in grade from this point on, but there is still more hiking to do! Frequent ups and downs are the norm, and by now, many hikers start to get fatigued. Getting lost on this section of the trail is less a problem for some than simply running out of daylight. Quite recently a pair of hikers foundered here because they began the hike too late in the day. Did you pack headlamps and spare batteries? You should have!
Staying on the main trail is your goal here, ignoring branching trails to Goat Mountain, Dam Mountain, and Thunderbird Ridge as you walk to the chalet. Once there, you will need to have a Grouse Mountain user pass or you must buy a ticket to ride the Skyride down. If you’re strapped for cash, it’s also possible to hike down the BCMC Trail which is just east of the Grouse Grind. Remember that The Grind is not open to downhill hiking.
Over the years, as noted, many have been rescued on this route, most of them due to lack of preparation. You need to carefully assess your skills, and bring with you all of the necessary gear. For most, that means hiking boots and hiking poles, and if you wind up there in snow conditions, you may need additional gear. Bring adequate food, water, and clothing in case you are injured or benighted, and be sure to leave a trip plan with someone who can contact search and rescue personnel if need be. Are you sure you’re prepared? Have a look at the Adventure Smart website and make sure you’re ready for the trails!
The Hanes Valley Trail is best attempted from July to mid September, when the snow has melted completely and the weather is far friendlier. If you’re not a well accomplished mountain hiker, I don’t recommend this hike after September 15, and take a pass on it unless the weather forecast is excellent. If you’ve never walked the Hanes Valley Trail, it’s a highly memorable experience, but you want to remember it for all the right reasons!