The Lions or the the two sisters as they are know to the native peoples, are twin peaks that were named by white settlers after the twins statues of seated lions in London's Trafalgar Square (which they resemble). They are believed in this day and age to be the erosional remnant of a volcanic cone.
The Lions are perhaps the most well known of the North Shore mountains as they can be readily seen on a clear day from downtown Vancouver and many of its surrounding suburbs... because of this they see a lot of traffic and become the focal point for many inexperienced hikers looking for material to brag about or for a feather in their cap.
The Lions are part of the Capilano watershed and are supposed to be off limits to hikers, but this is violently ignored and never enforced. There are two major access points: one is from a trailhead in North Vancouver and the other is from the parking lot at Cypress bowl (a local ski resort).
The trees around the Lions are spectacular... as a general rule the higher up one goes the larger the trees seem to get. With Douglas Firs, Hemlock and Spruce soaring 50m or higher.
The East Lion is a more technically demanding climb and because of this is climbed much less frequently. Also climbing the East lion is much more seriously frowned upon by area rangers. It is also the shorter of the two peaks at 1599m or 5246ft. The most common route up the East lion is via the 'Great Thrash' a line of vegetation that is found on the eastern face of the mountaIn. The vegetation can be avoided for the first half of the climb by sticking to the left, but for the second half it is unavoidable. There is also a relatively easy route up the NE buttress that takes about 6 hours and is a 5.3.
The West Lion (1648m or 5408ft) sees a lot more traffic and is less demanding technically. You can reach the summit via the snow choked SE gully or via the southwest platform where you have to use a fixed rope to lower yourself to a platform and then traverse along a rock ledge (class III-IV), up to more manageable terrain and from there the summit scramble is a straighforward (but exposed) class III jaunt to the top.
The standard route to the base of the Lions is via the downhill (skiing) parking lot at Cypress Bwol ski resort. From there you follow the Howe Sound Crest trail around the west side of Mt. Strachan, and up Unnecessary mountain to the base of the Lions. This is a 9 hour 15km hike with an overall elevation gain of about 500 meters, so plan accordingly.
The other route which is the shorter of the two) to the actual trailhead can be reached via Highway 99 to Lions Bay. At Lions Bay you get off at Oceanview Rd., take a left onto Crosscreek rd., a right on Center Rd., left onto Bayview, followed by a left onto mountainview Drive, and after a further 2 kilometers you will reach sunset drive where the parking lot and trailhead of the Paul Binkert trail is located.
It is important to remember to always follow the trail to the right. In section there is a stone cairn in the center of the trail in the shape of an arrow... again stay to the right following the orange trail markers. You make your way along a plain, uninspiring logging road up to a steep 2-3 hour section just after you pass Harvey Creek... this area is covered with the usual debris... roots and rocks and undercover of the vibrant northshore forest. From here it is 10-12 hour roundtrip hike with an overall elevation gain of around 1300 meters.
As with any trip in Vancouver in any season you should always bring rain gear and warm weather gear just to be on the safe side.
There are no permits or user fees. The parking lot at the trailhead is small but no pass is needed, while the parking lot at Cypress Bowl has a lot more room but once again no pass is needed and there are no user fees. Recently fees have been added for parking which are set at $5 a day or $50 for a year long pass.
Conservation is of course encouraged, you are simply asked to leave the local animals and vegetaion alone and try to keep all impact to a minimum.
When To Climb
The best time of year to climb is from late May to mid October. In the winter it is possible, but snowfall in the North Shore Mountains is measured in the meters and any trip into the backcountry should only be made after talking to experienced members of the park staff.
The climb isn't much more difficult but getting there could be a real hazard as Vancouver can go for weeks at a time without seeing the sun and because of the egregious amounts of snow (as previously mentioned). Also the bowl of the valley that the Lions occupy is a fairly serious avalanche hazard in the winter so one should be sure to check with informed park staff before even considering a winter ascent.
One can camp if necessary at the base of the peaks but becasue access to the Capilano watershed is supposed to be non existent it is asked that you try at all costs to avoid camping overnight. If necessary there are no permits or fees but one should practice the golden rule of camping by packing out what you bring in.
The best way to check the weather is to check the weather at the Cypress Bowl ski resort, or failing that check the weather (the weathernetwork.com) for the city of Vancouver or its suburbs of North and West Vancouver.
Check www.compusmart.ab.ca. I found this on a page entitled extensive moutnain weather forecasts. I checked it out and it has forecasts for all of the parks. Straightforward to navigate as well.
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