West Lion summit scramble September 23, 2017


West Lion (elevation 1,646 m) is a prominent peak in the Howe Sound group of the North Shore Mountain range, BC, Canada. Along with its sister mountain East Lion (elevation 1,606 m), the Lions are visible from downtown Vancouver and have become a recognizable landmark of the city of Vancouver.

The Lions view from Howe Sound Crest Trail (July 2016)

Lions close-up view from the ridge on September 23, 2017:

West Lion can be accessed either from Lions Bay parking lot via Lions Binkert trail (16 km return, 1280 elevation gain) or from Cypress parking lot via Howe Sound Crest Trail.

We have summited West Lion twice: the first ascent was on August 22, 2015 with my husband without climbing gear, and the second one was on September 23, 2017  with kids and carrying climbing gear to protect them on exposed steep sections. We also approached West Lion when hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail in July 2016 but decided not to attempt summiting due to foggy and soggy conditions, which made scrambling West Lion summit extremely dangerous. Weather conditions are to be taken seriously when planning West Lion scramble, as there was a casualty there on a foggy wet day several years ago, when two hikers lost their way in the fog while descending from the summit and one of them slipped and fell to death.

Below is a GPS track of our latest ascent of West Lion from Lions Bay with kids on September 23, 2017:

We arrived at Lions Bay at 8 a.m. and were very lucky to find a parking spot along the road only 50 meters from the pay parking which was already full. We started hiking Lions Brinkert trail at about 8:20 and reached West Lion at around 1 p.m.

After about an hour into the hike there was a colourful artsy sign pointing to Lions to the right and Brunswick to the left:

The first 3 km of the Lions Binkert trail runs along the Forest Service Road and is relatively easy with a moderate incline and even flat sections. At the end of the FSR, the trail becomes steeper and more rugged, crosses a short boulder field, Harvey creek (via a solid wooden bridge) and enters an extended steep forest section, which took us over an hour to complete.

We took a short brunch break at the end of the forest section, where we finally could see our target: West Lion

As we entered an open rock and boulder field, we enjoyed scenic Howe Sound views:

After a short steep ascent, we gained the Howe Sound Crest Trail ridge leading up to West Lion.

We could not find the below trail direction sign at the intersection of Lions Binkert trail and Howe Sound Crest Trail that used to be there two years ago:

August 22, 2015

It must have been swept away by an avalanche in winter.

At about 1 p.m. we approached West Lion face. To ascend the summit you have to downclimb a small cliff about 4 m high using an attached rope. We were happy to see a brand new rope attached, which made our descent and ascent much safer and easier than the first time. The old worn rope was still dangling there as a backup.

We crossed a narrow rocky notch between the ridge and West Lion and followed painted round red markers to the treed ridge of West Lion. There was an exposed slab traverse which, which we navigated carefully trying to secure firmly handholds and footholds at all times. There used to be a rope attached for protection along this exposed traverse, which is no longer there.

Some sections looked almost like a normal mountain trail. We used them for short picture breaks.

East Lion view from the West Lion summit trail

We used tree trunks and branches as belay.

Right before the treed ridge there is a short exposed traverse section, which we found challenging during our first ascent. My husband decided to make a detour and climb up what initially looked like an easy slab. I had a gut feeling that this slab may turn vertical at the end. I retraced and searched around for a trail mark. When I finally saw it and called out to my husband to follow the mark, he was already too high up to return and it was easier for him to proceed and set up a top rope to assist kids with climbing the steep section.

I followed the trail mark across a short exposed traverse to the right towards to the treed ridge. Luckily I found solid holds for both hands and feet, which helped me gain the ridge really fast. From there to the top there was a relatively easy scramble with limited exposure. It took me 30 minutes to climb to the summit of West Lion, where I waited for another 30 minutes for my family members to catch up, as setting up and clearing a top rope for three kids took quite some time.

At around 2 p.m. we all were the summit of West Lion soaking in breathtaking views, taking pictures and having a well-deserved lunch break.

The marked descending route from the summit

Summit cairn

Enchanted Lake view from the summit

Looking down on East Lion from the West Lion summit

Harvey and Brunswick mountains

Dreamy views of Howe Sound

Harvey Mountain and Howe Sound

At 2:30 p.m. we started our descent from the West Lion summit, which took us 1.5 hours to complete, as my husband had to use a rope to belay kids on the exposed traverse from the ridge. The descent is always tougher than the ascent, because you face the exposure when downclimbing. We proceeded with an extreme caution guiding kids carefully through steep and exposed sections.

At 4 p.m. we were back at the Howe Sound Crest Trail ridge and took a final look at West Lion.

It took us another three hours to complete our descent to the parking lot. Losing 1280 m in elevation was tough on our toes and knees, but luckily nobody twisted an ankle or incurred any other injuries, and we could keep up a good pace.

We made a short stop at Harvey creek to refill our Life Straw water bottle.

At 7 p.m. we were back at the parking lot, right before the early sunset of late September. This was a truly challenging hike and our kids made us proud, as most hikers stop and turn back at the end of Lions Binkert trail and only a handful of brave and skillful hikers dare to proceed to the summit. The West Lion summit ascent requires rock climbing and route finding skills and climbing gear (optional) to protect less experienced hikers.

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