Mount Elsay is one of those rare hikes that for some reason is not crazily popular, despite being easy to reach, close to Vancouver and incredibly fun. This might just be because you can’t see Mount Elsay from Vancouver. I was keen to climb all the mountains I could see from home first, maybe everyone else feels this way too? Anyway, if you are happy to challenge yourself and visit a quieter, less famous peak, this one is a doozy.
Mount Elsay Trail Map
This version of the map follows the loop clockwise, but you can get the general idea. There is plenty of cumulative elevation gain/loss.
Mount Elsay – the basics
Elevation Gain: 500m
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1187m
High Point: 1422m
Time: 9-10 hours
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
The 10 essentials.
There are toilets at the trailhead
Ish. Dogs are allowed but there are several boulder fields, which could be difficult for paws.
How hard is it?
Challenging but so worth the effort!
Mount Elsay – Getting started
The trailhead for Mount Elsay (and beginning of the trail) is the same as for Mount Seymour; It’s the large car park at the Mount Seymour Ski Resort. If you start early in the morning on a clear day, pop over to the top of the lodge chairlift before you start walking. You might get a gorgeous sun-rise view of Mount Baker.
Hiking with Lisa
I did this walk with my super-strong hiking buddy Lisa. You should read more about Lisa’s hiking adventures here; She had an amazing year of hikes on the PCT and sunshine coast. And you can see her gorgeous photos around Mount Seymour here. We stopped for a selfie at Brockton Point as the sun was just getting up, so still very bright and glowing.
Mount Elsay Loop
The hike to Mount Elsay can be completed in a loop in either direction. Heading counter-clockwise seemed like the best option for us. For this, soon after Brockton Point (but before First Pump Peak) the trail turns right onto the Elsay Lake Trail. Once you’re on that trail, you’ll see great mountain views through the trees.
This part of the trail has some amazing giant old growth trees (see how teeny they make Lisa look!?)
Hiking in snow
We did this hike on November 1st, so there was a little snow on the Elsay Lake trail. However it was not deep, and we were pretty sure it would melt in the sun and wouldn’t provide much of an obstacle. I would not recommend this trail in winter once the snow is even a teeny bit deeper. The sides of Mount Seymour are very steep and it you’d be in avalanche terrain for large sections of the hike.
You hike down Wes’s Staircase, dropping over 360m in elevation. You’ll find yourself next to a huge rockslide where you get your first view of Mount Elsay.
There are some fantastic views around the back of Mount Seymour. The pointy bump below is Runners Peak, with Mount Elsay beyond that to the right.
This is the view looking back to Mount Seymour. There were already cliffs covered in icy waterfalls, and you can see why this area would be super dangerous for avalanches in winter.
Mount Elsay Route
Be careful to watch out for the turning onto the Mount Elsay Route. It is very easy to miss it and continue towards Elsay Lake. The trail heads up through the trees until you reach a pretty bowl. The tarn (mini pond) there had frozen and thawed to create contour-line-like stripes of ice. Have you ever seen something like this?
Now for the hard part! You need to scramble up a massive boulder field to the ridge between Mount Elsay and Runners Peak. The elevation gain is just over 230m, so it is not crazily steep, but you need to use your hands to pull yourself up and it was hard work. The rocks at the bottom of the bowl were in shadow and covered in ice, so we both slipped a few times and had to be extra careful. It was a bit easier once we made it into the sunshine.
Once you’re up on the ridge, it is a steep climb through the trees to the top of Mount Elsay.
Mount Elsay Views
The views from the top make this exhausting hike worth it! You can start by looking back at Mount Seymour. This is one of the most-climbed mountains in Vancouver, but few people get to see how crazily steep it looks from the back.
Then you can turn around and be dazzled by the views out to the rest of the North Shore Mountains, up to Squamish, Whistler and even over to Mount Baker.
This has to be one of the best possible lunch spots in Vancouver. We didn’t see a single other hiker, but we did get to wave to one of the North Shore Rescue helicopters when it flew over us. It’s pretty amazing to have such stunning scenery to yourself. Especially so close to Vancouver.
This is the view over to Eagle Mountain, with Mount Baker in the distance.
Mount Elsay Trail – heading home
The return journey from Mount Elsay is not as long or as challenging as the first half of the loop. However the path undulates with plenty of elevation loss (then gain, then loss, then more gain…) so it is still quite tiring.
There are several more boulder fields for you to navigate. This time you’ll have the near vertical cliffs of Runners Peak, then Mount Seymour on your left.
Mount Elsay and Vicars Ridge
There are some bluffs halfway up the climb to Mount Seymour. This is a great place to stop for views of Mount Elsay and the Vicars ridge trail beyond.
That ridge leads to Rector Peak, Curate Peak and Vicar Peak on the way to Mount Bishop. They are all overlooked by Cathedral Mountain, so I guess this is a religious area for mountain-lovers!?
You have to dip down once again after the bluffs, before climbing back up to Mount Seymour. Part of the path had been in shadow all day, so this is where we found the most snow and ice on the trail.
This is looking back once we were a bit higher. The views were spectacular, but all that ice was a bit scary sometimes!
The scariest (and dodgiest) section was the the pathway when we first re-joined the Mount Seymour trail. The path is not very wide and it was covered in ice, with steep drop-offs.
If we had done this walk in a clockwise-direction, I would have probably turned back at this point as the path felt very dangerous. We couldn’t turn back as it would have been even more dangerous to attempt the whole loop backwards this late in the afternoon!
Back on the busy trail
We stopped for a rest between Tim Jones Peak and First Pump Peak. Now we were back on the Mount Seymour trail there were several other hikers around, as well as some friendly Whiskey Jacks who kept sitting on the toes of my hiking boots. It was a fun end to a fantastic (if exhausting) day out.
Views down to Vancouver
By the time we were back on the main Mount Seymour trail, the light was starting to fade and the views down to Vancouver were gorgeous.
Mount Elsay Panoramas
I’ll finish this post with a couple of the panoramas from this epic trail. The top one is from our lunch spot on top of Mount Elsay. The second is the view of Mount Elsay from the bluffs on our return journey. Can you see why I liked this hike!?
If you fancy the views, but you’re not sure if you can manage such a long day out, here are some easy options for peak-bagging close to Vancouver (or click here for a map with all my Canadian hikes if you fancy something more challenging.)
- Dog Mountain This is the easiest option on Mount Seymour but has great views.
- Mount Seymour The very popular hike close to Mount Elsay.
- Lynn Peak This is the next-door mountain. It’s not too hard or too busy.
- Grouse Mountain (Grouse Grind) This one is crazily busy but you can take the gondola down.
- Goat Mountain One of my favourites. You can start from Grouse Mountain.
- Black Mountain A fun easy-ish climb from the Cypress Mountain resort.
- Hollyburn Mountain Another easy day out from the Cypress Mountain resort.
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