Lots of outdoors lovers I know in Vancouver, the kind who wouldn’t think twice about doing the Grouse Grind during the summer, tend to avoid winter hiking. The usual complaints: It’s too technical and requires specialized equipment.
Not necessarily. There are a number of relatively easy, accessible winter hikes for beginners around the city, offering access to pristine alpine scenery and plenty of snow without a lot of headaches. I recently profiled a great trek to Dog Mountain, near Mount Seymour.
Another one my favourites is the hike up Black Mountain at Cypress Mountain Ski Area, which I did over the weekend. The route is approximately 4-5 kilometres and takes around 2.5 hours to complete. But in that relatively short distance, you’re rewarded with great views and even a frozen mountain lake.
The hardest part might be finding the trailhead. After driving up winding, Cypress Bowl Road, I parked in the ski resort parking lot. Because the trail crosses some of the ski area’s terrain, you have to make a quick stop inside the Black Mountain Lodge (the smaller of the mountain’s two lodges) to pick up a free pass. Pass in hand, I headed past Cypress’s big green Olympic rings and toward the Eagle Express chairlift (just ask someone if you get a little lost).
The trail snakes into the woods just beyond the chairlift. Almost immediately, you encounter a fork: Stay to the left for the climb up Black Mountain. I quickly found myself in thick forest, walking along quiet paths with a foot or two of snow on them. Just a quick word about footgear here: Because the snow had been hard-packed, I was just wearing ordinary hiking boots. If you want a bit of extra grip, you can purchase lightweight crampons at an outdoors store. Alternately, if there’s been a lot of fresh snow, a basic pair of snowshoes might be in order.
After a few hundred metres, the trail up Black Mountain begins to ascend quite steeply, roughly paralleling one of Cypress’s ski runs. I worked my way up a series of switchbacks, pausing to catch my breath and admiring the view of Howe Sound, visible just over the tops of the trees. There’s nothing technically challenging about the trail here, but it is quite a workout – a kind of wintry version of the famous Grouse Grind.
After roughly 45 minutes of continuous ascent, the trail finally begins to level off. I reached a junction and followed a small sign pointing towards Cabin Lake. A minute or so later, I found myself all alone at the frozen lake on top of Black Mountain. It looked like a stage for some kind of enchanted winter performance: perfectly flat and dusted with snow, surrounded on all sides by towering evergreen trees with snow in their boughs. Sun cut through the trees and cast long shadows over the frozen surface.
I did a quick circuit of the lake (It’s generally frozen solid at this time of year, but always use caution.), then trekked back a bit to that trail junction. Easy to miss, a small trail leads about 250 metres to a spot called the Yew Lake viewpoint. It’s definitely worth taking.
I scrambled up the trail, through rocky, heavily forested terrain, and suddenly emerged at a snowy clearing on top. The view was spectacular. To the north, loomed the dramatic profile of the Lions – Vancouver’s two iconic peaks – under a brilliant blue sky. Beyond, Howe Sound threaded its way into the mountains. I could even make out a tiny strand of silver which turned out to be the Sea to Sky Highway.
I turned around the opposite direction. Squinting through the bright sun, I was able to make out the Georgia Strait in the distance and even (if my geography is right) the rugged outline of Mt. Baker in Washington. All in all, not too shabby after just about an hour of hiking.
The Black Mountain Trail on Cypress Mountain is approximately 4-5 kilometres roundtrip and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. While the hike is not technically difficult, it is rated as intermediate and caution should be used while on the trail. For more detailed trail information, check out the great resources on Vancouver Trails.
Have you done the Black Mountain hike this winter? How was it? Let us know below.
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