Hiking Stawamus Chief

Crystal and I had been talking about hiking “The Chief” for a while and, on August 28, 2011, we finally got around to it. I had hiked the trail before, but it was quite a few years ago, so I looked it up on vancouvertrails.com.

We usually stick to trails with transit access, but there isn’t really a practical way of getting to the Chief via transit, so we enlisted a friend with a van. Our friend who joined us on the Lynn Canyon to Grouse Mountain hike decided to come along and the driver invited a friend as well, for a total of five people.

Getting There

The trip from downtown Vancouver to Shannon Falls is about 45 minutes along the amazing Sea to Sky Highway. The parking lot entrance is quite well marked, but even if you miss it, there is a second parking lot specifically for The Chief a little bit closer to Squamish.

Shannon Falls

We piled out of the van about 10:00 am. The Shannon Falls parking lot was about half full, plus a few tour busses. Shannon Falls is a very popular tourist spot, offering a gorgeous view from the base of the waterfall only a minute’s walk from the parking lot.

One benefit of being such a popular spot is that there are some very nice washrooms to use before heading out.

After using the facilities, we walked over and took a quick look at the falls, feeling a bit out of place with our packs and walking sticks among the well-dressed tourists. A quick back-track brought us to the gravel trail that started us on our way up The Chief.

First Impressions

Bridge over Olesen Creek

The first 5 minutes on the trail were gentle and gave us a chance to warm up a little bit. That changed pretty quickly, however, as soon as we crossed the wooden bridge over Olesen Creek. From there on the trail was a series of stairs and steep sections with lots of cool rock formations and exposed roots.

I’m not sure what caused it, but I started getting very nauseous about 20 minutes into the hike. We took a short break and I drank a bunch of water, which calmed down my stomach. I’m not sure what the problem was – it could have been the yoghurt I had for breakfast, but it also might just have been me trying to set too fast a pace.


There were a number of very cool view points along the trail, starting from about half way up.

Crystal and I in front of the rock that (temporarily) defeated me

Even though I don’t do it very often, I’m a big fan of bouldering, and there is a great specimen off the right hand side of the trail about 2/3 of the way up. The first time I hiked The Chief, I managed to scramble to the top of the boulder. I’m embarrassed to admit I wasn’t up to the task this time. In case the hike wasn’t cool enough, I now have to come back just to defeat this rock!

We decided to take a bit of a break in front of the rock, and while people were grabbing snacks I ran down the exposed rock slope and took a quick video with my iPhone. The spot I was standing to shoot the video has been made into a helipad for emergency services.

I got to do some more rock-scrambling near the top of the first peak. The recommended route is to use the chains and ladder, but there was a bit of a lineup so a few of us decided to climb the adjacent ridge. (I don’t recommend this route, as it’s much more dangerous than the chains and ladder).

Crystal climbing the ladder near the top of First Peak

After the ladder we climbed a short but steep section of exposed rock to the top of First Peak.

The view is pretty mind-blowing, and well worth the few hours of effort it took us to get up there.

We considered hiking to the second and third peaks, but one member of our group had to be back in Vancouver by 4:00, so we just ate some lunch and started back down.

We had some visitors during lunch in the form of half a dozen chipmunks. They are very tame and are obviously used to using their cuteness factor to score free food. All it took was sitting still for a few minutes and they were soon eating from our hands.

The second video was shot from the top of First Peak. There was a strong wind that ruined the audio, so you won’t get to hear Crystal speculating about how many chipmunks would be required to make a good stew. (You also won’t hear the burst of laughter that followed her extremely out-of-character statement).

Going Down

As every hiker knows, the trip up might be hard on the heart and lungs, but the trip down can be murder on the knees.

Descending the upper trail

We formed into three groups on our way down to accomodate everyone’s comfort level with descents. Amy and I ran most of the way down and I very thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to do some back-to-nature parkour. I won’t recommend that everyone try the running method, but it’s pretty fun if it’s within your comfort zone.

At the bottom of the trail is a small shop to buy souvenirs and snacks. Few things taste quite as good as an ice cream sandwich after three or four hours of hiking. (Of course, I showed iron discipline and commitment to my low carb diet by abstaining).

Including half an hour for lunch and a few breaks on the way up, the hike was about four hours. If we were in a hurry, I’m pretty sure we could have done it in three, even at our present fitness level.

Have you hiked The Chief? How does this summary compare to your experience?


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