A winter wander-land hike leading to one of the most epic views in the Vancouver area, snowshoeing St. Mark’s is how D and I chose to start 2017…
Wow! What a magical way to kick off the new year! After our quiet Christmas in the Okanagan Valley, D and I returned to Vancouver with the goal to check a few awesome things off of our Vancouver bucket list before heading back to work and school (aka the real world). And snowshoeing St. Mark’s Summit of course was our top priority.
The Howe Sound Crest Trail originates from Cypress Mountain Ski Resort, and takes you to the very top of St. Mark’s summit, overlooking the picturesque Howe Sound. Due to its proximity to downtown Vancouver – only 30 mins on well-kept roads – and the breathtaking panorama, St. Mark’s is one of Vancouver’s busier hikes during the summer. In the winter, the 11 km round trip hike hosts only a few like-minded snowshoers, and keen back country skiers seeking some fresh powder. The hike is intermediate, easy-going for the first half and a bit of a winding climb for the second, but due to its backcountry location and winter-y conditions, knowledge and preparation are key.
Before You Go
The Howe Sound Crest Trail to St. Mark’s Summit crosses a few avalanche paths, so it is crucial that you check the avalanche conditions before you set out. Also be sure to check the weather report for Cypress Mountain. St Mark’s summit towers 1,370 meters above the often stormy Howe Sound, and weather may be extreme on the exposed peak. Do not risk your safety if conditions are not favourable, it’s an awesome hike, but not worth putting yourself in danger.
Allow yourself at least 5 hours for your round trip. It is done by most people in 4-4.5, but you will be slower in the snow. Derek and I are fairly speedy hikers, but underestimated our time a bit, giving ourselves only about 4.5, and while we made it back with time to spare before sunset, we definitely didn’t have a long lunch up at the top, because we were worrying about descent time. It’s beautiful up there, so give yourself time to enjoy, and still get back well before dark. Check the time of sunset and consider that most of the hike is on the northeastern side of the mountains, so it will get dark earlier.
Finally, make sure you tell people where you are going. Tell your friends or family or even workers at Cypress the trail you plan to take, how many people are with you, and at what time you are setting out. D and I both had cell phone service throughout the entire hike, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Access to the back country at Cypress Ski Resort requires a Backcountry Access Corridor pass. Don’t worry, its free! You can pick yours up in the Brown Bag Room at the Black Mountain Lodge right next to the lower parking lot. Make sure to display it on your jacket to be allowed into the park.
The Backcountry Access corridor is open every day from 9am-10pm.
What to Pack
St. Mark’s Trail in the winter definitely requires snow shoes. These can be rented at the Cypress Mountain Hollyburn Nordic Centre (located just before the Cypress Ski Resort parking lots) at 25$ for the day . Make sure to have warm and waterproof clothing and shoes! Gloves, warm socks, neck warmer, and hats are all recommended. Its better being too warm, and have to take off a few layers, than be too cold.
Besides packing an awesome picnic (hot chocolate recommended) to triumphantly enjoy at the summit, make sure you pack some essential survival gear as well. Extra socks, gloves, hats, and a layer or two are all good to have. In the forest on the way up, you will definitely have to shed a few layers, but on the exposed peak and on the way down, you will be thankful for that extra fleecy layer. Be sure to bring a flashlight just incase you get caught out after dark. A first aid kit is always smart, and something with which to start a fire. It’s easy to think that travelling super light is preferable, particularly on such a well-marked and nearby trail, but people do get lost in Cypress Backcountry every year. Being ready for the worst is always worth the extra pack weight.
Getting to the trail head is easy-peasy. Take Cypress Bowl Road off of Highway 99 in West Vancouver, all the way up to the Ski Resort. The trail head is north of the parking lot and the Cypress Creek Day lodge, behind the Lower Trumpeter chair lift. Just follow the Backcountry Access Corridor (BAC) signs! The Howe Sound Crest Trail is well-travelled and well-marked. Follow the signs to the Bowen Lookout.
Follow the trail towards the Bowen Lookout, as an inbounds and easy trail, this is very well-travelled. There will likely be a clear path in the snow, following bamboo marker sticks. About 2km in, the turnoff for the Howe Sound Crest Trail to St. Mark’s is just before the Bowen Lookout, to the right. There is a sign there stating that you are leaving the inbounds back country area at your own risk. A short distance in, there is a map hut, a fork in the road, and a marker post. All will direct you to Howe Crest Trail to the left. From here to St. Mark’s Summit, the trail is marked by orange reflective diamonds on the trees. These are very easy to follow, as is the usually well trodden trail, and will take you all the way to your beautiful destination!
Be safe out there, and have a wander-full day!