Mount Underhill – Peak Bagging

Mount Underhill – Peak Bagging

Mount Underhill is a small knob on the edge of Mount Seymour that I had never heard about until I started Peak Bagging this year. It turns out that although this may not be a big mountain, it is a fantastic adventure! If you like long walks through incredible forest with a bit of bushwhacking and creek-crossings, this is a fantastic day out! It is also one of the possible places to find a whiskey cache if you keep your eyes peeled near the cairn.

Mount Underhill Map

I couldn’t find any online maps for this one, so I made a recording of when we hiked this trail. Please note, we didn’t go the best way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Sunshine Falls Lane is a private road, and the locals prefer people not to use it. Please do not drive or park anywhere on that road! A better way is to follow the “Old Elsay Lake” trail. It doesn’t look like it joins up on the map, but there is flagging to show you the way. You can also see my map on strava.

Mount Underhill – the basics

Distance: 21 km
Cumulative Elevation gain: 1226m
Highest Point: 450m
Time: 5-6 hours
What to bring:
The 10 Essentials
Facilities:
There is an outhouse where we parked, on the Baden Powell Trail
Dogs:
There are some creek crossings which would make this hard for dogs.
How hard is it?
Intermediate/hard. This isn’t an official maintained trail, so you may need to use route finding skills. It also undulates a lot and includes a couple of creek crossings, so it is harder than you might expect for a 450m high mini-mountain.

Wait, what is Peak Bagging?

If you have read my post about the fabulous book, the Glorious Mountains of Vancouver’s North Shore, you might have learned about Peak Bagging. This is where hikers and climbers try to reach a collection of summits in one geographical area. Every summer people compete to see who can bag the most North Shore peaks. This year I joined a facebook group of friendly peak baggers in Vancouver.

Mount Underhill was my 4th official peak for 2021. The previous peak was West Knob.

Mount Underhill- Getting started

We started on Mount Seymour Road where the Baden Powell trail crosses the main road. There is space for several cars to park there. We then took the Baden Powell trail down to Indian River Drive. From there, we should have taken the “Three Chop trail” up to the “Old Elsay Lake” trail. However we didn’t know this at the time, so we followed the path of least resistance down Indian River Drive and Sunshine Falls Lane.

The first part of the route we took is pretty fast as it is along shady roads. There was lots of skunk cabbage in the ditches next to the road, and we also found edible red current flowers.

Route finding and Bushwhacking

We were delighted to find that most of this hike is well flagged, so we didn’t need to do as much bushwhacking (navigating our own path through the forest) as we expected. However we did have some route finding fails.

If you zoom into my map, you can see that we went wrong almost instantly when we left the main road (doh!) We followed some flagging along a path that seemed to go in the right direction, until it lead to some ropes to help us scale a small cliff. From there we reached a pretty waterfall that is used as someone’s drinking water. The main path we wanted is actually right above this point! We had to back-track and find the actual path.

Turn at the Powerline trail

By this point we had re-joined the proper route via the Old Elsay Lake trail. You need to watch out for a path to the left with a sign that says “Powerline trail.” The other way will take you down a private road to some cabins.

Follow the flags

Some hikers from the Vancouver Peak Baggers group have done a great job at marking the way for this hike. There are orange ribbons and blazes (little diamonds nailed to trees) to show you the way. Still, if you are used to the super obvious trails like the Grouse Grind, or Mount Seymour, the lack of path might come as a bit of a shock. We spent a lot of the day saying “this sort of looks like a trail” while we checked our maps.

Leave no trace

Hopefully if you are considering heading out into the wilderness you know this already, but please make sure you leave no trace along this route. It looks like the creeks provide water for the cabins down near Indian Arm. We didn’t find any rubbish along the trail (for once) so hopefully this will not become an issue if more people find this gem of a trail.

Turkey Tail mushrooms

There was a log totally covered in turkey tail mushrooms. Robin told me these are not only edible, but also really good for you. They are good antioxidants and can help boost your immune system, improve your gut bacteria balance, or even help fight cancer. (You can read more here.) It’s mostly ground into a powder and added to tea or cooking. I had a small taste, and it was pretty gross – so I don’t recommend eating it straight!

Creek Crossings

There are at least 3 creeks that you’ll need to cross on the way to Mount Underhill. The toughest two to cross in the springtime were Shone Creek and Underhill Creek. I managed to find logs that acted like bridges, while Robin took off her shoes and used one of the logs as a banister for her crossing. Later in the summer, these creeks will have less water flowing through them so these crossings may be much easier.

We found the flagging pretty useful for showing where other hikers crossed successfully. However there was lots of cold, fast-flowing water when we did this hike! If you can’t see a safe crossing point at first, hike up and down the creek until you find a better spot. On our return journey I crossed the log in the photo above, but Robin didn’t feel safe there, so we ended up walking on opposite sides of the creek until we found a place she felt comfortable with.

Once you have crossed Shone Creek, you walk down along the creek, before turning back into the forest. Once you get back into the forest, look out for a notch in one of the trees by the path, there is a teeny digger hidden there!

Mount Underhill ascent

After all the creek crossings, you will make it to the base of Mount Underhill itself. This about 9.5 km into the adventure, just after you cross Holmden Creek. The final 1km to the peak is the steep, tiring section of the walk.

Mount Underhill Cliffs

After the initial steep climb we met another Peak Bagger; Mike. He was super speedy, and in no time at all he had overtaken us and zipped up the cliff. If you look carefully at my photo you can see him between the trees way ahead of us.

There are some ropes hanging down from the dodgiest section to help you pull yourself up. It is really fun, but I wouldn’t want to do this on a wet day!

The path became harder to follow at the top of the cliffs. Basically just keep heading up, this time over some mossy outcrops. We followed things like broken sticks where we could see Mike (or other Peak Baggers) must have walked through.

Whiskey Bag!

We made it to the peak and found Whiskey for the second time! Woot woot! I mentioned this in my previous peak bagging post; There are lots of whiskey caches hidden in the mountains around Vancouver. The rules of whiskey caches are if you finish the bottle, you need to hike back up and replace it.

As Robin and I arrived, so did three other Peak baggers, Meryn, Jodie and James. This meant we could offer them some whiskey too. I have seen more recent photos, and this whiskey has been replaced by a different bottle now.

Russell’s Viewpoint

The actual peak of Mount Underhill doesn’t have any views, but there are some bluffs to the southeast of the summit. We all headed there to look down to the Indian Arm and see the beautiful scenery.

That mountain the other side of the water is the location of the Diez Vistas trail. Marc and I were there the previous day, so it was cool to see the same scenery from a new viewpoint.

You can also see the back side of Mount Seymour. Everything looks different from down here!

We returned the same way we came, back along the Old Elsay Lake trail. Although I had to fight my way through some ferns after crossing the creek a bit lower than the way we came. The ferns and moss all looked fabulous back-lit by the sunshine. You can see why this trail feels like wilderness, even though it is super close to Deep Cove and Quarry Rock!

The hike to Mount Underhill was my favourite new trail so far in 2021. It is just such a fun with the variety of terrain, the lovely (and quiet) views as well as the whiskey. It just goes to show, it’s not always the tallest peaks that lead to the best adventures.

Do you like the look of this adventure? Or, do you have a similar hike in your area that is epic, even when you didn’t expect it to be impressive? Or if you want to learn about the other peaks on Vancouver’s North Shore, please see my massive post introducing them all.

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27 thoughts on “Mount Underhill – Peak Bagging

    1. Yay! I hope you like it Carol! I really loved this one, and Devils Peak (if you fancy another non-famous North Shore Adventure.)

  1. What an adventure! I always appreciate your beautiful photos and thorough hike descriptions. Nice Turkey Tail find and it is always great to see and smell Skunk Cabbage near the trail. The views are gorgeous, thanks for another helpful and inspiring post!

    1. I love seeing those skunk cabbage flowers too – they are all gone now, they just look like giant cabbage plants.

  2. While hiking, I’ve never come across a spring where it was obvious it was someone’s main source of drinking water, that is so cool. I’m imagining those people have a good, secluded life out there. Now that I’m thinking about it, surely I must have passed springs like this plenty of times, but maybe I didn’t realize they were being used for anything? I’m glad they put up the little signs! I always Leave No Trace but I think I mainly do it as a matter of principle and habit; repercussions like this (ie contaminating someone’s drinking water) don’t actually occur to me on a day-to-day basis when I’m out hiking. A great reminder to think of the bigger picture!

    The cliffs section looks like pure bushwhacking, that’s pretty badass! Definitely looks like you just scramble up random rocks and brush in the vague direction of “up” haha, I would for sure make use of those ropes. It must have been a proud feeling to complete that one!

    1. The waterfall near the start (where we got lost) had pipes leading from it, so we knew people must get their drinking water from this area, but I agree it is always nice to have an extra reminder with those signs.

      It’s sort of interesting through, I rarely find rubbish on obscure trails like this. It seems like if you’re confident enough to go bushwhacking, you know to leave no trace. (I always find loads on more popular trail though…)

  3. Hehe, I like the toy backhoe loader. We prefer to hike on blazed and well maintained trails so that we don’t need to worry about finding our way and getting lost. You appear to be just the opposite and even white water rivers don’t stop you. Have you ever considered hiking is Alaska or some other middle-of-nowhere place?

    1. Yeeees! I would love to explore Alaska! We were considering it last summer before all the covid-19 madness started. I still really like the idea when the borders reopen.

  4. This hike is something I would love to do! Sometimes I think hiking the less maintained trails is better as it gives you a more of a chance to explore nature on your own and enjoy a more secluded journey while putting some of your survival skills to use. Even though its a “mini mountain” Mount Underhill looks like a great hiking experience!

    1. Thanks Melissa! Yeah it’s funny sometimes you can have a bigger adventure just by choosing more obscure routes. Although this one was so nice, I am honestly not sure why it is not more famous.

  5. So beautiful, green and lush! I love any hike where a big view is involved. I will definitely have to check this one out. Thank you so much for sharing. Hoping to have the chance to get back out there soon 🙂

  6. I have never heard of peak bagging or whiskey caches before… how cool! I live just south near Seattle Washington and I feel like we must have a similar community here. How cool! I also love your notes about the river crossing. We’re not super experienced hikers, but we did do a trail involving river crossings last year and it was my favorite part!

    1. Oooh nice- I feel like the hiking culture is really similar in BC and Washington (although you guys seem to have slightly better maintained trails!?) I hope you can find a similar group near you!

  7. As a non-hiker I am in complete awe at what you do. I would be afraid of getting lost or falling in the water and being swept away. I looked up peak bagging when I read about it in the first paragraph. New words to my vocabulary. Also bush whacking!

  8. I haven’t heard of Peak Bagging but I love the idea! It sounds like a fun way to encourage locals to explore! I love your eye for detail when you hike, from finding the turkey tail mushrooms to that little digger in the tree. Those mushrooms definitely look bright and colorful, so my guess would’ve been that they’re poisonous! I guess that’s a good adaptation on their part, huh? 🙂

  9. It looks like Mount Underhill was a great find. Good advice about being prepared for an unofficial path and the need to make your own path. And avoid private property! I am sure I would be anxiously looking for the next ribbon. It was great that you found some ropes on the steeper section to help. Even my hiking poles might not have been enough. But well worth the climb for that view!

  10. Love it! This looks like such an adventure. Thanks for sharing all these tips, I bet this hike would be much harder without knowing all this info.

  11. I loved everything about this trail and your experience on this hike! This is the first time I hear about peak bagging and seems very intersting and a super fun challenge!

  12. I’m an avid geocacher and a cache has just been dropped at Mt. Underhill. I was sussing out routes to Mt. Underhill when I cam across this blog. Interesting!

    About 3 years ago we were geocaching up to Mt Harvey. Near the top, beside the trail I spotted a small hollow tree stump about a meter in height and about 20 centimeters in diameter. I facetiously said to my caching companion “This would be a great spot to drop a cache!” I looked in and there was what appeared to be an old rag. I pulled out the rag and there was a bottle of whisky in the stump. I now know what the whiskey was about. I’m fond of whiskey, but not knowing the history of it we declined to partake.

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