The highest summit on the north shore of Vancouver is Mount Brunswick (1,788 meters). It towers over Cypress Provincial Park from its position in the northern corridor that follows the popular Howe Sound Crest Trail. Reaching the summit is a fun but challenging scramble in summer, and it can become a full-on mountaineering outing in winter. This adventure will take you on a winter ascent of the west face of Mount Brunswick*.
The trailhead for this outing is located at the end of Sunset Drive in Lions Bay, where hikes to Hat Mountain, Mount Harvey and the Lions also start. Parking is free in winter, but there is a fee in summer. If the few parking spots are taken, parking is allowed in some places on the nearby streets. Read the signs carefully to avoid getting fined or towed.
More than half of this trail is on a gravel road and a decommissioned logging road. After about 2 kilometers and seven switchbacks on the gravel road you will reach the intersection to the Mount Brunswick trail on the hiker’s left (elevation of 600 meters). The next 2.5 kilometrs are on an old logging road and have a very gentle and easy grade. There are two creeks on this stretch that you can use to top off water bottles.
Upon reaching an elevation of 1,000 meters, the logging road ends and the real grind begins. While the trail does not have a lot of markers, it is relatively easy to follow. It ascends steeply to a junction with the Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT), gaining about 500 meters in 1 kilometer. It only gets steeper after that.
From the junction with the iconic HSCT (6 kilometers from the start), only 800 meters and 200 meters of elevation separate you from the summit of Mount Brunswick. However, the ascent becomes a slightly technical scramble up a rocky and snowy ridge. In summer, cairns will show the way, but in winter, you will likely have to find it yourself; a general rule is to keep right. Luckily, the first scrambling part is the hardest. After that, it’s a steep snow ascent until the saddle of the ridge is reached.
From the saddle, it may be wise to rope up to mitigate risks of falls, avalanches or cornices breaking. Less experienced parties may also want to set up rappel stations to manage two descents down exposed cliffs. However, this is a purely personal decision and a lot of people don’t feel the need to rope up at all. Whatever you decide, bringing proper mountaineering equipment is recommended.
The ridge gets steep and narrow in a few sections, adding an element of exposure, but it is not very technical. The airy summit offers truly fantastic views of the North Shore and of Howe Sound...likely the best that can be found within a 30-minute radius of Vancouver. More mountains than your eyes can handle can be seen from the summit, including the Lions and Mount Harvey to the south, Hat Mountain to the northwest and Mount Hanover to the northeast. The ridge you just traversed is also very impressive and should feature beautiful (but dangerous!) cornices in winter. Take a moment to soak in this breathtaking view.
The return is via the same trail. As with any ascent that starts in Lions Bay, you will have to work hard to get to your objective, but the reward will easily outweigh the cost, and this one will become an instant favorite!
*Note: This outing can also be done in summer, without the need for snow or mountaineering equipment. However, remember that snow can linger well into the summer depending on the winter’s snowfall. Always check the conditions before heading out.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.