We had arrived in Squamish for a week of fun in the sun and mountains. For our first hike we chose the Stawamus Chief which was just a short 5 minute drive from the house we were renting in town. This is one of THE hikes to do when in Squamish and we were excited to see the views of the surrounding mountains that this hike promised. We had gotten to the trailhead just before 7:00am and were the first car in the lot. This hike is notoriously popular and we had decided that our 5:30am cheerful alarm that goes off every single day without fail wasn’t such a bad thing. He allows us to get an early start on every day! With temperatures unseasonably warm in British Columbia, with highs in the upper 80s and low 90s the early start allowed us to begin the hike when temps were still in the upper 60s. We began our hike at the Shannon Falls trailhead. We were able to make the short detour and take in the falls before setting off on the hike.
The hike begins with an easy, meandering grade with a few large rocks to step over and a couple of easily climbed wooden stairs. We crossed a bridge over Olesen Creek, a trickle of a waterfall, and then met up with the Stawamus Chief trail, veer right to stay on the trail.
Here is where the fun begins! The guidebook we had purchased for the trip, 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia, did not describe the difficulty of this hike enough. We hadn’t thought through the fact that it would clearly be difficult when you take the 1,980 feet of elevation gain in just 2.5 miles. But, we had read the book’s description and decided it wouldn’t be that bad. Wow! We were so wrong! This hike is HARD! Stair stepping up large boulders, huge staircases, and ladders and chains assist you in the climb up some of the steeper sections.
It was so hard for me after doing Minnesota hikes for the last 4 months that have little to no elevation gain. It was incredibly difficult for Bobby, as he had roughly 30 pounds on his back with Jack and his carrier. We were stopping regularly to take long breaks to catch our breath. Jack was encouraging Bobby to go faster by hollering loudly in his ears whenever Bobby would get too slow. We were playing leapfrog with two other groups on the trail but were happy that there weren’t more hikers out. From what we had read beforehand this hike is extremely popular and we were concerned about getting swamped with other visitors.
Large, well placed boulders, rock stairs, and large wooden staircases had been built up to form a challenging and vertical hike. At 2 miles we reached a viewpoint with stunning scenery.
Keep going up to reach the true summit. Small orange triangles are placed at regular intervals along the trail to help hikers find their way.
Shortly after the viewpoint we reached a trail junction. Veer left to continue along the trail to the Chief. Going right takes hikers to upper Shannon Falls. From here the trail becomes really intense and lots of large steps make the trek slow and difficult. The next major trail junction isn’t far away. Here we had to decide which peak we would go to. We had three options, all with varying pros and cons. The third, and farthest peak, is highest and few hikers venture there. The first peak is the most frequently visited and we were worried about crowds. Our aching bodies and sweaty brows made the decision for us and we opted for the shortest and easiest first peak. We veered left to stay on the trail that would bring us to the 2,001 foot summit of the first peak.
We couldn’t believe we had made it!
When we arrived there were two small groups of hikers enjoying the view. We took some pictures and had a snack (Jack had hid first ever PB&J Summit Sandwich!).
Sadly, Jack was long over due for his morning nap and he was beginning to get very frustrated with us that we weren’t letting him crawl around the summit. Though the area is large, rocky, and somewhat flat we decided that the downward slope and nearby cliff-edges didn’t make this an ideal spot for a rambunctious, fear-free 11 month old who is super fast when crawling. He was soon screaming and on the verge of a total melt down so our break was cut very short and we were soon headed back down. The number of people at the summit had been steadily growing during our small break and by the time we left there must’ve been close to 20 people up there.
The hike down took much longer then we expected for two reasons. Firstly, the large steps and boulders that had to be descended was rough on the knees and legs and had us going at a much slower pace then normal. Secondly, the sheer number of hikers that we had to wait to let pass as they were making their way up was staggering. It was July 1st, which is Canada day, so we’re thinking a lot of people had the day off and were out enjoying the sunshine at this popular hiking destination. We lost count of the hundreds of hikers we passed and reached a point where we had to get a little aggressive in our hiking if we were ever going to make it back down the mountain. We eventually did and had our customary celebratory cookies! Thankfully Jack had slept for a good portion of the hike down and was in much better spirits! We returned to our rental house to cool down and to nap!
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