The Stawamus Chief is quite possibly the most photographed hike anywhere on the south coast of British Columbia. Nearly every climber has taken a picturesque selfie when they reach the top of any of the peaks.
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The Stawamus Chief to me, resembles what a perfect hike in British Columbia should be about. It is a challenging vertical climb, mixed with rock scrambles, ropes, ladders and a wide array of weather conditions. It is definitely not to be taken lightly. Either a lack of preparedness, or the unfavorable weather can leave even the most seasoned hikers stranded and in need of rescue. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Stawamus Chief offers an accessible outdoor exercise, just 30 minutes from Vancouver. Which on a sunny Saturday, you can see throngs of eager climbers making their way out to Squamish. Many of which to test their mettle on one of the south coast’s most scenic climbs.
Start off by leaving downtown Vancouver via the Lions gate bridge. Take the Sea to Sky highway north through West Vancouver to Squamish. As you enter the valley to Squamish, you will see the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park on your right.
The mountain is a stunning view, in contrast to the sea-level setting that is the town of Squamish. From the parking lot, take the paved trails that lead up to Shannon Falls. The trail splits and changes to gravel, you will be facing directly north and the first of the 3 peaks of The Stawamus Chief comes into view.
The trail quickly becomes challenging as you leave the gravel making your ascent towards the first peak. This hike is definitely a cardio beat down. The trail uses a combination of switchbacks, and straight stair climbs to take you quickly up in elevation. The first sign that you have made progress comes at a scenic bridge. This bridge gives you a breathtaking glimpse of the view that is to come. A 45-minute hike awaits from here. The trail is clearly marked and follows the river as it winds into the back country. Once you make your way past the river and along the ridge, you will see a large rock that almost looks as if it were placed on the edge of the plateau. This makes for a good resting point and chance for a quick supply check.
150 meters down the trail you will have the opportunity to take the path leading up to the first peak or make your way to the second peak. The decision really rests on the level of fitness at this point. While the first peak offers many of the same view points as the second, the climb is less satisfying. However it is much more manageable if you have exhausted your energy supply and just want a shorter option. I recommend the second peak though. Not only is the view a 360 vantage point of Squamish, but it’s also a more challenging and diverse hike.
To make your way to the second peak, follow the signs from the split a little further north.
You will begin a steep ascent via a series of switchbacks and make your way between the peaks. The trail comes to an abrupt end after 30 minutes. You will need to navigate a chain rock wall, pulling yourself up the south side of the second peak. Once this is complete you make your way around a very narrow ledge, then up the middle of the rock itself.
You will come to a long, narrow split in the rock. This area gets very congested with hikers during the summer, sometimes taking 20-30 minutes to navigate through, so give yourself ample time. At the end of the rock shaft, there is a steel ladder bolted to the rock. This again is an area to take your time; in winter with high winds and rain, and in summer with long lines of photo happy climbers. Once you have advanced up the ladder, a short rock scramble awaits, but no more than 15 minutes up the rock face and you will be at the top.
The view is stunning. You will see the snow capped mountains and the highway through the valley, north to Whistler, and the ocean meeting the land at the port, with the town of Squamish behind it. Truly exceptional. All that’s left is the trip down, but is really the most challenging part of the climb. You will feel the burn in your legs and thighs as you traverse the many stairs and switch backs, be sure to pack energy bars and water, this really is the time to use them, if you haven’t already.
The Stawamus Chief is a great weekend excursion from downtown Vancouver, and offers a quick getaway from the city, while allowing you to indulge in the truly epic scenery that the South Coast of British Columbia has to offer. To read about a much more difficult hike, click here!