Thoughts

My North Shore Peaks Challenge: Reflections on a Season in the Mountains

North Shore blueberry bushes

This year I decided I wanted to hike more.  My motivation was simple: being outside makes me happy, so the more I committed to being outside, the happier I would be.  I decided to set a goal for myself.  I wanted my goal to be challenging, yet achievable.  After my first longer hike this spring I decided my goal would be to summit all the North Shore peaks this summer.

However, I realized that I wanted my goal to be attainable and I didn’t want to get too stressed out about it, so I modified my mission statement: I want to hike as many North Shore peaks as possible this summer.  My revised goal restricted me to hiking (not climbing or scrambling) and didn’t tie me to finishing ALL of the peaks, just as many as I could.  I picked the North Shore because it has the closest mountains to my home in Vancouver so commuting to the mountains wouldn’t eat up a bunch of my time.

I came up with a list of 31 peaks I wanted to attempt and mapped them out.  You can see them all on the map image below (Spoiler: stars are ones I’ve completed and mountain icons are ones I haven’t) and you can click the map to see the hikes in more detail on Google maps. Many of the peaks were old favourites or ones I had hiked at least once before but some of the more obscure ones were new to me.  Since this was my project and my list, I got to set the criteria I decided that the North Shore peaks were the mountains that had a named summit, could be reached on a hiking trail in less than a day and were visible from Vancouver.  I also counted sub-peaks separately as it often takes much more effort to reach other peaks on the same mountain.

North Shore Peaks Challenge Map

North Shore Peaks Challenge Map

When I started the project I just had the simple goal of getting outside more.  But as the hiking season wraps up, I started to realize that this project was about much more than just hiking peaks.  Over the years I had only hiked on the North Shore as a backup option when I couldn’t find the time or the energy to get out to more glamourous destinations further afield.  The North Shore seemed boring and second rate with less sweeping views, lots of dull second growth forest and way more uphill slogging through the trees.

While working on this project this summer I discovered the hidden beauty of the North Shore mountains.  I learned to love the rooty trails and the relentless climbs.  I learned to appreciate the lush undergrowth and the intermittent rocky outcrops.  I learned that there was something amazing to discover around every corner from giant old growth trees and old logging relics, to hidden waterfalls, warm lakes to swim in and beautiful handmade bridges.  I even learned to love the peak-a-boo views.

Lynn canyon boardwalks and stairs

Lynn canyon boardwalks and stairs

And since I was outside more often I saw the mountains in many different lights: I was there to track the snow melt as spring came, I gorged on the blueberry crops of summer, and now I’m watching the leaves turn as the forest goes to sleep for winter.  I’ve been sunburned, and rained on and navigated through mist.  I’ve walked on trails that were snowy, muddy, and so dry they were dusty.  I’ve seen the glow of the early morning sun, the searing brightness of noon, the eerily quiet of twilight and the forest as illuminated only by the moon or the beam of my headlamp.  And in the end, I’ve fallen in love with the North Shore trails and somehow, I’ve even fallen more in love with being outdoors.

North Shore blueberry bushes

Blueberry bushes after a rainstorm

So far I’m sure you’re thinking that it sounds like my project was successful and of course it was: I went outside more and I was happier as a result.  I even fell in love with the North Shore, something I once thought was impossible.  However, it wasn’t entirely positive.  I definitely felt pressure to finish all the peaks in one year, despite my goal being to hike “as many as possible”.  I got irritated when I couldn’t get out to go hiking, I was annoyed when I couldn’t find hiking partners whose schedule meshed with mine, and most frustratingly of all, I was mad at myself on those days that I went hiking but didn’t reach a peak when what I should have been doing was just enjoying being outside.

Much of what is written about the outdoors is all about going farther, faster, higher and striving to reach even more lofty goals.  In some ways I definitely relate to that and want to push myself outside of my comfort zone to do hikes that are harder or longer or more remote or more “EXTREME!!!”.  But at the same time I realize that there is so much value in just being outside, in enjoying nature, in slowing down to notice the beauty in a gnarled tree stump, the way a squirrel leaps from tree to tree or the sound of wind in the treetops.

Trying to find balance between the summit fever of my North Shore peaks project and my desire to slow down and enjoy nature has been a struggle for me.  But I think I’m starting to figure it out.  If you’ve been to a yoga class, chances are that your teacher has started the class by asking you to set an intention for your practice that day.  It’s a good way of asking yourself why you are there and what you hope to accomplish.  I’ve started to apply this to my hikes.  Before I set off on a hike I ask myself what kind of mood I’m in, and what I hope to get out of the hike.  Sometimes my intention is to summit a peak or get a good workout, but sometimes my intention is to enjoy a walk in the woods with friends, to take my time and really see what is around me and that’s OK too.  Being in the mountains is more than just the incredible views from the peak and it took me a summer of hiking the North Shore mountains to really discover that.

BCMC Trail smile

All smiles on the BCMC trail

If you’re looking to explore some of the North Shore’s beautiful trails on your own, check out a few of my favourites:

Quarry Rock in Deep Cove

Mount Seymour in Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Kennedy Falls and the Big Cedar in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park

Lynn Peak in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park

The BCMC Trail on Grouse Mountain

Black Mountain and Cabin Lake in Cypress Provincial Park

Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver

 

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