Hiking: Never mind the Grind, Upper Grouse offers great backcountry options

In the course of writing 16 hiking articles over the last three years, I have not included the Grouse Grind, which really isn’t a “hike” — more of an extreme cardio/stairmaster session in the trees. But Grouse Mountain’s upper chalet is the starting point for some great backcountry hiking.

How you get to the chalet is your choice. You can do the Grind or the BCMC trail (my preference if you’re hoofing it). It will eventually cost you $10 to take the Skyride gondola down. But if you want to avoid starting the hike drenched in sweat and exhausted, you can pay for the Skyride up ($42), or purchase an annual pass for $119. The latter is a great deal if you’re going to be a repeat visitor. It gives you unlimited access to the alpine area -- including snowshoeing in winter.   

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There are multiple well-marked routes and options in the Upper Grouse backcountry. Dam Mountain, Little Goat Mountain, Goat Mountain and Thunderbird Ridge are described here. Crown Mountain is also an option but only for experienced and properly equipped back-country hikers.

 

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Hiking in the backcountry always involves a certain amount of risk. But you can reduce the risk dramatically by being prepared and using common sense. Every week we read and hear about North Shore Rescue searching for lost hikers or people who ventured into the backcountry without proper clothing, footwear, food and water.

 

A gravel access road hugging the west side of the Grouse Mountain peak takes you to the actual trailhead entering the alpine section of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. Don’t forget to register at the information signboard. It takes three minutes but gives parks staff a way to keep tabs on who is in the backcountry and if they’ve returned safely.

The Alpine Trail towards Dam Mountain is steep and rocky, with multiple crossings under a water pipe originating at Kennedy Lake (visible soon). At a signpost junction with the Ridge Trail, stay left for the route to the top of Dam Mountain. Or turn right for the Goats.

If you decide to try Dam first, turn left at a small side trail which loops around a plateau and gives you occasional views south to the city, and west to Crown Mountain. Many of the views are disappearing due to growing trees — in fact this side trail is actually better during snowshoeing season, when you’re raised a few metres on top of the snow.

The side trail rejoins the main Ridge Trail for the final steep ascent to the rocky peak of Dam Mountain. Savour the experience. No matter if it’s your first or 40th time, it’s always a thrill to stand on the pointy top of a mountain.

Eventually you have to move on — either down the extremely steep north face, or retracing your steps down the Ridge Trail and back to the first junction.

If you decide to bypass Dam Mountain, stay on the Alpine Trail towards Goat Mountain. Be prepared for a challenging route with plenty of mud, rocks and slippery roots that require some scrambling. The .7 kilometre side trail to Thunderbird Ridge is worth a look on a clear day, with views east to Lynn Valley, Coliseum Mountain, The Needles and Lynn Peak. On the north side, Kennedy Lake glimmers far, far below in the valley.

Back on the Alpine Trail, stay right at junctions for the north face of Dam Mountain and the extremely steep south face of Little Goat Mountain. If you want to visit Little Goat, access it from the north side with a much more civilized climb.

Stay right at the fairly new signposts indicating the trail to Goat Mountain. Once again, this is not a route for beginners. It starts out flat through an area full of blueberry bushes, but quickly rises into a tricky climb — including ropes and chains to help you through more precarious sections.

To reach the top of Goat, go around the right side of the peak, then scramble up the back side (more ropes). It’s the safer of the two options. The top of Goat Mountain is another wonderful spot to eat lunch, soak in the views and take pride in your accomplishment of actually reaching the peak.

Use just as much caution and common sense on your return trip to the Grouse chalet. And make sure you deposit your registration slip back in the box at the information board.

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Updating our first hiking article of 2014 (“Family goes the extra mile on Baden Powell Trail extension,” July 2) – the main trail portion of the new extension below Indian River Drive is almost complete and can be used with care. There are still some spots under construction, but small bridges and boardwalks are completed. The main bridge over Francis Creek will be completed over the next few months. It is a welcome addition to the local hiking landscape.   

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