A beautiful city, a spectacular country, an incredibly welcoming people.
I have had the pleasure of travelling to Canada on a number of occasions, and each and every time I go, I fall more in love with it.
During a trip to Vancouver several months prior to this, I had climbed Grouse Mountain. During our hike, a colleague mentioned Lynn Canyon Park in North Vancouver: it’s waterfalls, aqua blue rivers and hiking trails.
Anyone who knows me knows I am very outdoorsy, and so that was that; I decided there and then that if I ever went back to Vancouver, I would go there.
What follows is an account of my little adventure in the hope that, should you fancy making the trip yourself on a short layover, you learn some handy tips on how to get there and what you shouldn’t do in the process!
To go or not to go…
Layovers to North America tend to be about 24 hours, sometimes slightly (minutely) more. This includes getting to the hotel, sleeping and getting back to the airport to go home.
We had departed London at around 18:00 and arrived in Vancouver at around 20:00 local – our 9.5 hour flight had only technically lost us 2 hours of the day.
It had been a very busy flight and, despite the apparent stasis on time, back home it was already 04:00 in the morning and I had been awake since 09:00 am the previous day. My quick on board nap during break had only made me feel worse – my bed was calling.
With this in mind, it was unsurprising that when I suggested my plan the next day for a trip to Lynn Canyon Park and a potential hike to the peak, no one wanted to go. I couldn’t really blame them – I was planning to do this on our day of departure which meant a long day hiking followed by a long night working. Yes, I must be mad.
Usually, a lack of interest from everyone else to do such an audacious trek into the unknown would mean I do the sensible thing: just rest and relax until our flight home.
Plus, hiking can be dangerous, particularly when done alone and especially in Canada… is what I should have said to myself.
But, as crew, the opportunity to do something or go somewhere is not always guaranteed – an airlines route network changes constantly (and pandemics shut down the industry completely…). I therefore like to make every trip count where I can.
So instead, I said to myself: I’ve planned to make the journey to Lynn Canyon Park and I’ll be damned if I don’t go just because I’m on my own (see my post here to understand why this element of independence is important to me). But, alas, here in lies my first tip on how NOT to hike a mountain in Canada:
Tip #1: Don’t hike alone
The day of departure…
I set my alarm for 05:30 am but snoozed it for an extra fifteen minute nap. I had only managed to get about four hours sleep. And thus we have my second tip:
Tip #2: Don’t hike on minimal sleep
I pulled myself out of bed and packed my tiny rucksack with 2 small bottles of water, a mini tupperware of mixed nuts and a portable phone charger. I had researched how to get to the Park the night before and had bought a £5 mobile add-on to have unlimited data for the day – I wasn’t anticipating any problems, but I thought it safest to have constant access to the real world. If you plan on hiking, this is a good move.
The adventure begins…
With my hiking boots on, I began my short, sleepy walk to the waterfront.
Wondering through Vancouver early in the morning was a lovely experience. It was quiet, calm and I felt very safe. A brief stop in Starbucks resulted in a peppermint tea and an unsatisfying spinach and mushroom flat bread for breakfast that I managed to drop on the floor almost immediately (five second rule…). With hindsight, this was hardly sufficient and is the reason for my next tip:
Tip #3: Have a big breakfast and get those carbs in you!
I ate on the move to ensure I could explore as much as possible before coming back – I estimated that I needed at least 5 or 6 hours sleep to be remotely functional on our flight home that evening, so needed to be back at the hotel for about 2pm.
Vancouver is surrounded by gorgeous wilderness. Situated on the coast, the city doesn’t feel like an imposition on the environment it has grown into, it feels organic, almost. I love it.
Once at Vancouver Harbour, I had time to enjoy the sunrise, and what a glorious sight it was.
The orange-y pinks of the sunrise glistened in the water and reflected on the windows of buildings lining the harbour. Trees on the north – my destination – were a hazy blue and towered by the silhouettes of mountains. It was beautiful.
I headed for the Sea Bus Terminal. This is a wonderful mode of transport for locals to get from the main city to North Vancouver. It departs every 30 minutes from the harbour front, only takes 10 minutes to reach the other side and it offers beautiful views of the city.
The Sea Bus dropped me off at Lonsdale Quay bus terminal, where the next leg of the journey would involve a regular bus. I actually managed to get lost in the terminal for several minutes. My excuse? Jet lag and the building works taking place at the time…
I eventually found the 228 bus to Lynn Valley and boarded for my 15 minute bus journey. I disembarked at stop 54185 and took a stroll down Peters Road, a beautiful suburban area. This road eventually becomes Park Road and takes you to Lynn Park Ecology Centre.
I learnt later that I could have saved some shoe leather and transferred onto the 227 bus to get there, but I enjoyed the stroll nonetheless.
Arriving at Lynn Canyon Park…
The Ecology Centre was closed, I’m guessing because it was so early. I was alone in the the Park aside from 2 people I spotted walking in the opposite direction. It was so peaceful listening to the sounds of the birds, wind and water in unison. Sometimes, there is nothing better than being in the great outdoors, and for a moment I forgot that I was absolutely knackered already.
Following the sound of the water, I immediately noticed a suspension bridge to the right of the ecology centre that straddled the canyon.
On a previous trip to Vancouver, I had visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge but found it was a tourist hotspot. It was a must see in Vancouver, but I can’t say I enjoyed the throngs of people and queues on the bridge itself – it ruined the experience for me.
However, the bridge I had just stumbled across was, although considerably smaller than Capilano, utterly deserted, and I loved that.
Walking across the bridge takes you over a small waterfall within the canyon and then into the forest. Having spotted something called ‘Twin Falls Bridge’ on the map, I decided I would wander through the park itself before attempting the hike to the peak as a sort of ‘warm up’. I didn’t realise quite how big the park was, and so my next tip…
Tip #4: Don’t do miles of walking before tackling a hike
I turned right once over the bridge and followed the path that wound through the trees. The trail I had joined was called the Baden Powell Trail: it had a combination of steps, boarded pathways and some slightly steeper, uneven areas, but in general the route was easy.
At the Twin Falls, I was a little naughty and crawled underneath a fence to get a little closer. I wanted to sit and enjoy the sight and sound of it all and hadn’t seen a soul since starting the trail so figured it would be okay. I’m glad I did as I found the most beautiful opening in the canyon – aqua blue water trickling over rounded stones and lined by towering green trees – I was in awe. That might sound silly but I had honestly never seen anything like it except for on TV . The photos do not do it justice…
On crossing Twin Falls Bridge, I was greeted with a steep staircase that ascends the canyon and leads to the Centennial Trail back in the direction of the suspension bridge. If I wasn’t warmed up before, I was now! I had been walking just over an hour by this point with my various detours up and down the banks of the canyon and so far, so good.
I knew that the start of the Lynn Peak Trail was North of the Canyon and not featured on the park map, so I crossed the suspension bridge once more and made my way towards the 30 Foot Pool. By this point, I had been completely alone throughout my entire walk and I was loving it. On reaching the ‘pool’, I finally came across a few people swimming in the crystal clear waters.
30 Foot Pool is a popular swimming spot where swimmers can move from the open pool, through a narrow passage and up to a small waterfall. It was September, but had I come in the summer I would most definitely have gone for a swim, it was beautiful.
To get from 30 Foot Pool to the next leg of the walk involved another steep set of steps ascending into the forest and from here, I followed the trail for what seemed like miles. I hadn’t fully anticipated how far the start of the Peak trail was from the park, or maybe it wasn’t that far but felt that way because I was so tired already. In any case, I marched on and only saw a handful of people along the way. By the time I reached the start of the Lynn Loop Trail – an alternative and considerably easier hiking route compared to the Peak- I hadn’t seen another soul for quite some time.
This was when I actually gave some further thought to a sign I had seen earlier in the walk and started questioning why I was the ONLY person on the trail…
Yep. There were bears in the area. Now, before you panic and ask whether I was about to become one of those people featured in the Darwin Awards; no, I was not mauled by a bear in the Canadian back country. But their presence was enough to warrant these glaring signs. It’s only since speaking with Canadian colleagues that I realise what a truly silly move it was to hike alone. So:
Tip #5: Be ‘bear aware’ if you’re going hiking in Canada (i.e. travel in groups) and take the necessary, precautionary equipment
Tip #6: Be sure to register yourself at a hiker registration station – I must have walked straight past it as I didn’t realise there was one!
Onward to the Lynn Peak Trail…
Against this backdrop of ignorance and jet lag, I continued on my quest into the forest to find the start of the hike, which I eventually did; it was an offshoot of the Lynn Loop Trail that I almost missed. A signpost stated that to and from the Peak was roughly 6km (although other sources state 9km – there is debate over where the summit actually is) and it would require 4 hours to complete. Easy. I thought.
Well, I actually managed to do the hike in less than 4 hours. But it was by no stretch of the imagination an easy hike. I found the terrain very difficult – rocky, unstable, uneven – and I was extremely glad I had worn my sturdy hiking boots. I wasn’t so glad that I had already drained a bottle and a half of my water already whilst wandering the park for two hours. So another tip:
Tip #7: Bring loads of water, and then some more.
Despite the difficulty of the terrain, I actually really enjoyed the hike, at first. The trail was pretty easy to follow with way markers stapled to trees throughout. Sometimes I had to stop to try and find them, but generally they were quite obvious.
It was beautiful too, so wild and peaceful at the same time with the light of the sun shining through the trees. And trees that had fallen looked like artwork, twisted into a spiral and blanketed in moss. Sometimes it looked like something out of a fairy tale. Nature is amazing.
I also met multiple squirrels (that I thought were chipmunks at first) who provided great entertainment as they scrapped with each other, darting around my feet and into the undergrowth.
A noticeable silence…
It was about three quarters of the way up that I eventually found a break in the canopy of the trees and could see a slither of the view, but it wasn’t fantastic. I find hikes most rewarding when there’s a good view from the top so this was disheartening. I knew the summit itself didn’t have a view as the trees were so tall. but I was aware of a viewpoint near to it that did. So I pressed on in an attempt to find it.
At this point, the forest became noticeably quiet. I don’t know why I suddenly noticed this as it had been me, myself and I for the entire hike so far. Perhaps it was because I had been singing to myself to try and deter bears, but the silence in that moment became deafening. Birds singing stopped and even my quarrelling squirrel friends had vanished.
For the first time on the hike I felt uncomfortable and on edge a little. Maybe I was just winding myself up – my fatigue was starting to catch up with me after all – but it felt quite instinctual.
For the rest of the hike up, I was in two minds to just turn around a go back, I’d walked far enough, surely. But I carried on.
A passerby in the park mentioned earlier that a lady had been seen heading up the trail; this gave me some comfort to know someone else was tackling the hike. As I trudged on, I was expecting to see her either at the summit or on her way back down, but I never did. Perhaps she carried on beyond the trail markers, or never went at all, but I’ll never know. Either way this didn’t help my failing nerves.
I was later told that cougars, a.k.a mountain lions, also reside in the Canadian back country of Vancouver. I was pretty thankful I wasn’t greeted by one of those, but reflecting on my unease at the silence in that moment is interesting with this knowledge in mind.
I eventually found a decent opening in the trees that overlooked a part of Vancouver. The cloud had rolled in so the view was not great, and the gloom of the sky was beginning to match my mood – I was extremely hungry and thirsty now – my water bottles had been bone dry for a while now.
I would normally spend some time at a viewpoint to get hundreds of photos and enjoy the moment, and in all fairness it felt great to get there! However, I also felt really rotten. The amount of energy I had used far exceeded the amount of energy I had put in to myself in the form of food and rest. I took a quick photo, balancing my phone on a rock, and then headed back into the forest.
Trying to get home…
My fiancé always complains about how many photos I take when I go anywhere or do anything. And he’s right, I do have a bad habit of taking HUNDREDS of photos unnecessarily. But I always maintain that I would rather have photo memories than things.
My love of photo taking makes it all the stranger that, in the time that elapsed between the summit photo above and arriving at the hotel, I didn’t take a single snap. And this is a pretty good indication of just how shit I felt.
Coming down is always harder than going up a steep, unstable, rocky path. Add fatigue on top and it isn’t a great combination. I put my head down and began the climb down, falling several times on the way and commentating with an abundance of swear words.
My blood sugar got pretty low too – I felt very dizzy and sick and had to stop several times for fear of passing out. So my next tip kids:
Tip #8: BRING LOTS OF SUGARY SNACKS!
Having walked around the park and then hiked to the peak, my energy levels were in the negative. The climb down is still a bit of a blur if I’m honest, but once at the start of the Peak Trail again, I remembered the exit from the forest was still quite a trek away. I decided I wasn’t going to make it back to Ecology Centre and Cafe; I needed to find somewhere closer, and quickly, that sold food otherwise I would pass out.
I exited the park via the Pipeline Bridge and found myself on a residential street that lead to the top of Lynn Valley Road where all the bus stops were. I wandered gingerly down down it, trying not to pass out. The only shop I saw was a souvenir shop and it had a huge queue, so I carried on.
Eventually reaching the bus stop, I climbed aboard and sat close to the front with the window cracked open to get some air – what little I had in my stomach was attempting to make an appearance on the bus floor but I figured a cool breeze and some deep breathing would keep it at bay. I was thankfully correct.
For some reason, the bus suddenly became rammed with students and the subsequent body heat was unbearable. I remember getting a few funny looks as I breathed in my nose and out my mouth to stop the queasiness.
When we arrived at Lonsdale Quay, I drained whatever energy reserves I had left (nil) and speed walked to the only place I knew would make me feel better at that moment… McDonalds! I usually avoid fast food and never, ever, buy full fat coke, but I ordered myself an extra large one with a fillet o’ fish meal, apple pie AND McFlurry. No shame. I really needed it.
After a few sips of coke the queasiness started to abate and the dizziness improved – I was never so thankful for ridiculously sugary drinks in my life! Once I felt slightly better, I jumped aboard the Sea Bus and headed back to Vancouver City. I ended up paying for a taxi from the waterfront to the hotel – I just had nothing left in me.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing…
Gareth is still angry at me for going on this hike and assures me that he will continue to be for some time. I can’t blame him. Had I actually passed out on the mountain, I imagine I would have made a tasty meal for a bear or mountain lion.
For what it’s worth, the hike to the Peak itself was pretty beautiful – the scenery, the sounds, the squirrels. But I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d followed the tips I’ve given here. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. About two weeks after this, I went on a four day hike and wild camping trip to Dartmoor in the UK. Suffice to say, I was properly prepared that time.
Lynn Canyon Park is also stunning and if I ever have the opportunity to return, I will. The scenery, the water, the sounds- I loved wandering around and exploring it and I would absolutely return with a swimsuit in tow for the 30 Foot Pool.
The flight home was a very long one, and I slept like a baby on my break, unsurprisingly!