I have a confession to make: I don’t love the Chief.
That’s not quite true – I love looking at it a lot, but I don’t love hiking it. I get the appeal: it’s a good workout, it’s relatively quick (especially if you’re only after one peak), and the views are highly rewarding. But I find the climb to be a bit of a mind-numbing slog and the exposed parts at the top always make me nervous – I get a feeling of vertigo looking down over Squamish and the Howe Sound. So, I do the Chief from time to time, but I don’t love it.
A hike that I do love is the Sea to Summit trail. And now that I have a Sea to Sky Gondola pass (rejoice!), I can do it whenever I want and catch a ride back down for free. Here’s what I love about it:
- It’s just the right amount of hard. There’s lots of climbing, but there are plenty of flat bits (and even a few dips) to break it up.
- Hiking it is like playing in a jungle gym. Swinging through trees, clambering up rocks, skipping through sections of roots – there’s lots of variety, and it’s all fun.
- The timing is just right. I walk/ran it (walked up the steeps, ran through the flats) in about 2 hours. That’s long enough for me to feel like I got a solid dose of nature, but short enough that I can still put in a full day of work.
- The reward factor is extreme. Your prize for getting to the top: awesome views, food and beverages if you please, and an easy (and scenic) ride back down the gondola.
If you haven’t done the hike yet, read on for a brief recap.
The first part of the hike consists of the first 15 or 20 minutes of the Chief climb (hence my comparison of the two trails). This is my least favourite part – it mainly consists of stepping up wood stairs, stone stairs, even stairs, and uneven stairs. It’s not unlike the Grouse Grind.
After a little while, a little sign points you towards the gondola. This is where you leave the Chief trail behind – and, in my opinion, the trail becomes a lot more fun. Instead of going straight up, it starts to meander a little bit.
Getting lost on the Sea to Summit trail is not an issue. I like to imagine the trail marking meeting: “How many trail markers do you think we’ll need, Bob? A hundred?” “Double it. And double it again. You can never have too many trail markers.” Seriously – there are so many trail markers on this trail that it’s alllllmost ridiculous. If you don’t see one within three seconds of seeing the last, you start to feel a little panicky. But I have to admit it makes it easy and very tourist friendly.
Relatively early on in the hike, an ominous sign warns you that the trail is about to get really real – so steep you’ll need ropes to help you shimmy your way up. While it is true that there are a few rope assisted sections to contend with, I’d argue that the first 20 minutes is the hardest part. The rope sections are short and not exposed in the least (yay for me) – they’re more fun than anything else.
There are a few noteworthy points of interest along the way. Passing under the gondola lines is novel (be sure to wave if you see anyone floating by). Getting to the falls is a treat, and there’s a nice slabby lookout as you get closer to the top. But really, if you take the time to look around, the whole thing is pretty gorgeous. The trees are tall and lush and green and it just smells so darn delicious – it’s the kind of sight that you can start to take for granted if you’ve lived in Squamish for awhile.
In my opinion, the closer you get to the top, the easier the trail feels. At one point, it widens to an old logging road – there’s a longer, but easier option that continues along this road if you’re feeling it, or else you can go the shorter (and steeper) regular route. The trail picks up a bit and once again becomes steep right at the end, but that’s when you know you’re almost there.
Suddenly, the trail opens up and you can see the gondola up ahead – shining like a sweet little beacon. You’ve made it! If you don’t have a pass, you can pick up a download ticket for $15. You can make it worth your while by taking your time to explore at the top.
I imagine this trail can get a little crowded, but I got an early start on a weekday and I saw exactly two other people: a couple in the first 10 minutes of the hike (on the Chief portion). Otherwise, I had the place to myself – not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.