Vancouver Walks – Stawamus Chief

Vancouver Walks – Stawamus Chief

Now THIS was a good walk! Marc, Bernhard and I used the Monday after Canada’s 150th Anniversary to scale the amazing Stawamus Chief. “The Chief” is the second largest granite monolith in the world, after the Rock in Gibralta. It is made up of three peaks. The first two are the most popular with hundreds of hikers climbing up to see the amazing views. The third and highest peak seems less popular, but it was full of squirrels and chipmunks so I loved it!

To get the Stawamus Chief, we had to wake up early and drive up route 99 to the town of Squamish. Just before you reach the town there is a car park on the right. This is the early morning view from the car park…

Even though we arrived really early, the car park was already pretty full. It seems like lots of people had been camping over the holiday weekend, so there were plenty of people milling around in tents. There is a loo near the car park, but it is a pit toilet and is truly stinky! It’s still useful before you set off on the hike but I waited until we reached a pub on the way back!

The walk is a little like the Grouse Grind that I did earlier the previous week. You need to walk up steep steps though trees, and there are quite a few other hikers around. The main differences are:

  • A river close to the path providing the lush sound of flowing waterfalls, and a cool breeze near the water
  • The rock walls! The granite provides an almost vertical rock wall next to the path. It is amazing!
  • Unlike the Grind, there are some moments when you peek above the trees to see the stunning world around you.
  • There is no skyride down! So your knees need to take your weight on the return journey.

Marc and Bernhard zoomed off when I stopped to take photos. Normally I take pictures and then run to catch up, but that was impossible when the steps were so steep! Luckily the boys had noticed my snail-pace, so they kept checking and waiting for me. The problem was, whenever they stopped, I’d stop to take more photos…and then they’d be long gone again! Ah well. I am going to need even stronger legs to keep up with them and take photos!

The first peek-out point was around a large bolder. We hadn’t been walking for very long, but we’d already climbed up high enough for a pretty view. I celebrated with a jumping photo. Sorry about my belly sticking out so much!

After that we went into the trees and climbed up between a ravine with two steep walls. By now the sun had risen up enough to shine through the trees bathing everything in a stunning bright green light.

Near the top, the edges of the ravine were too steep, so someone has added chains to help people pull themselves up. I don’t have very much upper body strength at all, but even I managed it.

Pull me up!

Marc and I both recently bought some trekking poles. I had never used them before, but I have been really impressed with how much they help!

I normally don’t have too much trouble going up mountains, but my knees often really hurt during the descents. We figured it was worth trying them after we saw how useful they were in the snow on Mount Seymour. On this kind of super-steep walk, you can push on them to help get yourself up steep steps and slopes. They are also great for keeping you steady if you are good at twisting your ankles like I am!! I read that if we start using them while we are still young (ish) we should be able to keep hiking for an extra 10-20 years. That sounds worth it to me!!

Anyway, it is a little tricky to pull yourself up some chains while also carrying poles. I made them smaller and looped them around one wrist while I climbed up the steepest sections.

One place was so steep that we had to climb up a metal ladder! Then, once you’re up, you have to walk along a thin ledge, next to the vertical drop we’d just ascended. This would not be a good hike for people that don’t like heights. But I loved it!

Once we’d made it up the chains and ladder, it is a simple walk up the smooth granite to the top of the second peak. We didn’t go to the top of the first peak, but we still had a good view of it from here!

The last little bit was lovely. The granite is a little warm from the sun and you can look down to the teeny people on the first peak. This really is a popular hiking spot, so I could see more and more people arriving over there with each minute. We made it to the top of the second peak (655m) and found there were quite a few people up here too!

You can look down to Howe Sound, which is a network of fjords heading out to the ocean. It was a sort of green colour, but I have no idea what causes the colour. Maybe it is all the silt washed down at this time of year as the snow melts? I loved seeing all the wood that has been collected down stream. I’d been wondering how they manage to transport so much timber from these steep forests – here is the answer; Just send them down stream!

Bernie took a jumping photo of Marc and I, but he isn’t quite used to our madness…so he didn’t quite catch us in the air. Then he got involved in a jump…but he looks a little terrified and confused. I probably should mention that there is a vertical drop off the Stawamus Chief just behind us. I think that might make my mum stressed out. In the second photo it sort of looks like my shadow fell off the cliff!

I think the original plan was just to climb the Cheif’s second peak, but then Bernie wanted to show us a really cool cliff between the second and third peaks. It wasn’t too far a walk through the trees, but it was completely worth the extra effort – look how steep it is between the two peaks!

It is hard to show just how awe-inspiring this drop was from the top. Bernie told us to crawl to the edge of the cliff on our bellies. It was stunning! You can see the drop the whole way back to sea level. This definitely isn’t a place for people that don’t like heights! I LOVE seeing the world from high places, but this even made me a little queasy!

This is the view between the peaks down to Squamish. Although you can’t see from the photo how epic it feels to be this high. Trust me, it is awesome.

As we’d made it this far, Bernie let us keep going up to the Stawamus Chief’s third and highest Peak (702m). From up here, the other two peaks look quite small and you get an uninterrupted view of mountains in the other direction. We were hoping to see Mount Garibaldi, but it was a little shy, hiding away behind the clouds. I think we need to visit Garibaldi carrying some tea and garibaldi biscuits. Most Canadians don’t seem to realise that one of their mountains is basically a biscuit to us Brits.

While we were at the top, I took one last jumping photo for the day. Marc, who took the photo, said “why do you have to spoil this lovely view with your face.” I was about to knock him off the side of the mountain for being so cheeky, but then he showed me the photo. Hehehe. I tend to make a sort of happy squeaking noise in my jumping photos, but that does mean I pull some pretty special faces. Oops. I posted the embarrassing photo anyway as my face is pretty ridiculous, and I do have some good air!

Anyway, this is the view from the highest part of the Stawamus Chief, without my face to ruin it.

The best part about the peaks was the squirrels and chipmunks! We had brought some nuts to give them. They must be used to hikers giving them nuts as quite a few of them came over to say hello and ask for snacks. They are really light on their toes and super-fast. I took quite a few photos just to get these few. Isn’t he a cutie!?

After a nice break looking at the views we decided it was nearly time for lunch, so we headed back down the mountain. The route from the third peak is amazing, but slightly tough going. You have to scramble over boulders while making your way down another very steep ravine. This is when I really appreciated the trekking poles! At one point I twisted my ankle a little, but having the poles to stead me made it not such a big deal. Phew.

We still got to look up at the amazing steep edges of the granite. Some areas must stay shady all the time as we found some parts of the wood were completely covered in fluffy-looking moss.

Mushroom mushroomI also found quite a few really cool mushrooms on our way down. Unfortunately, while I took photos of the ‘shrooms, the boys kept walking and so I couldn’t see them, or the path. Oops! I had to keep wandering down on my own until I heard Marc calling for me. Phew!

I don’t recommend losing your friends on the way down this hike as there are so many steep drops! Ah well. Luckily I found them pretty quickly by staying calm and searching.

The sun coming through

Once we made it down to the main path it had become so, so busy! There were crowds of people starting their treks to the top. Some of them were not really dressed for a hike, and several were carrying stereos to play (pretty rubbish sounding) music. It seems such a shame to spoil the peacefulness of this hike with blaring music. I am really glad we went early enough to avoid the worst of the crowds.

To be fair though, I think I’d still want to climb the Stawamus Chief, even if we had to wander with the crowd. It was such a fun walk, with such stunning views. It’d be worth it, even when accompanied by hoards of people.

We finished off our walk with a visit to the Howe Sound Brewery restaurant. It was perfect, with an amazing view of the Chief.

The day of the hike we were still full of energy, but the following morning Marc and I both had super achy legs! Since then, my legs have been feeling a little better each day, but they are only just getting back to normal now it is Friday! This is an amaaaazing walk, but if you’re not used to steep hikes, please be aware your legs might die the following day!

52 thoughts on “Vancouver Walks – Stawamus Chief

    1. Thanks Willow!

      P.s. sorry about my slow response! I only just found your comment in my spam folder. I am glad I found it!!

    1. Thank you!
      Don’t worry! We made sure we had plenty of distance from the edge. My husband knows how rubbish my balance is, so he wouldn’t risk it!

  1. You Canadians sure know how to do it right. I was jealous of those ladders and chains to help scale the vertical faces.
    And I feel your (knee) pain on the descents. Thanks for letting us take a virtual hike without having to leave the comfort of our chairs! I could almost feel the mist from the river/waterfall during your early ascent…

    1. Did they have similar chains etc to help you up the hard parts of the Appalachian trail?

      These kind of hikes make me more in awe of through hikers! Doing any amount of elevation gain with a large backpack is blooming impressive!!

    1. Thanks Christine. I was completely in awe. Plus I could see soooooo many other amazing looking peaks to explore!

      Canada is awesome.

  2. Happy belated Canada Day! I always think the people should have to just accept that when you hang out with a blogger, YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR PICTURES!! Haha. What a gorgeous view, BC has some truly stunning views!!

    1. Happy Canada day right back atcha!! 😀

      Hehehe…we did lots of hikes in the UK (to get ready to move here) But as the hills were small, I could always run to catch up. I think Marc got used to my mini runs so he doesn’t wait for photos anymore.

      I think I need to get him to bring a camera too. That should solve it!

    1. Thanks Theresa!
      I have a feeling the blue light must come from all those trees. It does make them look lush and pretty doesn’t it. 😀

    1. NZ was the other place we were thinking of moving to. I can’t wait to explore the mountains there too!

      I think it would be harder for us to live there though as the VFX companies make people work so hard, my poor husband probably wouldn’t have time to see the scenery!

    1. Yaaay! I definitely recommend it. Although I have always found that there are amazing places to walk and explore wherever you are in the world. I bet you can find some good hikes near your home too!

    1. Oooh where did you go? Canada is sooo massive! We haven’t explored further than an hour away from Vancouver so far…so I have so many more places to visit!

      1. I started in Toronto and followed the trans canadian highway as far as Smithers BC. You have an incredible country and I loved all of it… well most of it… the black flies in Manatoba didn’t make me too happy though. I’d love to come back one day.

        1. Oooh I am not looking forward to meeting black flies! We bought soo much DEET – but there is so much snow that the flies didn’t come out…yet!

    1. Oooh where are you based Frede?

      We went to the Eastern side of Canada a couple of years ago (Ontario, Ottawa and Quebec.) I loved it, but the scenery was so, so different to BC!! This country has an amazing amount of variety!

      1. Oops! Sorry I just realised I know where you’re based! My brain hadn’t connected your wordpress avatar with flamingos!

  3. Welcome to hiking in the Coast Mountains 🙂 You’re gonna use those poles a lot! And your knees will thank you when you get into your 40s (trust me on that one!).

    I love hiking the Chief – such incredible landscape and fantastic views – but I hate the crowds and the city attitudes that come along for the ride. Starting early or late is the only way to go (we set off at about 3 pm a few weeks back, and then headed for 3rd peak first – much quieter!) The music is one of my biggest annoyances. I actually asked someone to turn it off when we hiked up to the Sea to Sky gondola on Saturday! And they did – yay!

    Watch out for the chipmunks – they’re so used to being fed that they’ll crawl into your pack looking for food. Then there are the grey jays (aka whisky jacks) which will mob you and steal it from your hand. Even the ravens are getting bolder on the North Shore peaks now. It’s got so bad with people feeding them that I’ve long since stopped. Plus they can carry nasty diseases which I don’t want to catch 🙂

    1. Oooh thanks Andy! I’ll be careful about feeding them then. At the moment I am so freaked out by how cute they are, I’ll probably calm down as I see more of them!

      My hiking book also suggested going to the third peak first but this time we just followed my friend Bernie. It still worked out okay because there were hardly any people that bothered going to the third peak. I am not sure why because I thought it was gorgeous up there!!

      1. I know, right? Chipmunks are just so cute. You wait until you see the Columbia ground squirrels in Manning Park too 🙂 What I tend to do is fake them out to see if they’ll come close for a photo-op but not actually feed them.

        Normally I wouldn’t recommend going to Third Peak first because it means descending off Second Peak through the narrow section with the chains and ladder, which is exactly how most people go up. Having two large groups meet there is a recipe for disaster – I’ve watched it happen and it makes everybody grumpy (and the dogs freak out). Early or late in the day when it’s quiet is fine.

        We saw a garter snake in the little pond on Third Peak back in May 🙂

  4. These photos are amazing and the views pretty unbeatable! Good exercise and a rewarding experience indeed! If I’m totally honest, I am not a fan of the wildlife feeding, though…

    1. Someone else mentioned that to me after I wrote this. I honestly didn’t think of it when my friend started to give them nuts (my initial reaction was “squeeee they are so cute!!”…)

      Now I have thought about it I am not planning to feed them like that again. It’s probably safer if they are not so friendly to humans.

      1. It is a common misconception about wildlife feeding. I think the biggest problem (other than that they should not get acquainted with people – imagine everyone also doing this with bears, which some actually might, because they are so cute…) is that humans are changing the behaviors and instincts of animals when feeding them. These cute ones will not be able to find – or hunt – their own food anymore when used to being fed, which might lead to their death in the off season… Plus, they loose their awareness, which in turn could be trouble when there are predators.

        1. How do you feel about bird feeding? I’ve previously made bird cakes to help them get through the winter in the UK, and I never even considered that it might be a bad idea.

          I can totally see that it is different for critters that have to come up and take food from peoples hands though.

          1. Good question!

            Initially, I would think the feeding might make them weaker, but, it is such a widespread – and seemingly accepted – behavior now, that I am not against it. I can’t really be against it, since we have been asked by the home owners we house and pet sit for to refill the bird feeders with seed and the hummingbird feeders with sugar water or syrup… I think it is up to anyone doing it. It is a repeated environment for these birds and I believe that they will still catch their own food as well, plus, they might find food in the neighborhood’s other bird feeders if needed. 🙂 What I did last spring was leave the feeders empty for a couple of days, before refilling them… It is really nice to watch them, isn’t it? 🙂

            1. I never got to watch them in London!

              The wall behind our garden is a cat & fox highway, so if I left food where I could see it, the cats or foxes would just use it as a lure to eat the birds… We left our bird cakes in one of the parks on our walk to work. 🙂

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