Howe Sound Crest Trail

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARehabilitating the Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT) is a legacy project from the 2010 Winter Olympics when funding was first obtained through VANOC to begin upgrading the trail. Since that time the FMCBC has worked with BC Parks on both planning and fundraising for the project.  Some of the main benefits of rehabilitating the trail include:

Improving access to the backcountry for all levels of user- Improving the HSCT will provide recreation opportunities for all levels of user from novice hiker to advanced mountaineer. The improved trail will offer an easier access route to the Lions (already one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Lower Mainland) and make this hiking opportunity available to a larger number of users including novice hikers, youth and older adults.

Improving user safety – Upgrading the HSCT and improving directional signage will increase safe usage of the trail and reduce the number of users becoming lost, injured or worse. Users will feel safer and more confident on the repaired and clearly marked trail and the number of search and rescue efforts will be reduced.

HSCT Trail Section rebuilt in August 2013Providing environmental protection – By improving the condition of the trail, sensitive ecological features of the park, which were identified in the 2008 Environmetal Assessment of the proposed HSCT upgrades, will be better protected because users will be more likely to remain on the well established trail. By ensuring these sensitive ecological features are protected, the park can encourage users to experience the backcountry and its varied plant and animal wildlife. In addition, keeping users on the main trail will help to protect the area surrounding the Capilano Watershed and prevent contamination.

Offering opportunities to stay active through life-long outdoor recreation activities – The HSCT has the potential to provide ongoing and ever increasing challenges to keep users motivated and interested in accessing the backcountry. Children who do day hikes with their families when they are young have the potential to achieve great satisfaction when they are able to hike, ski or snowshoe the HSCT on their own as adults. The planned trail improvements are designed to make the trail more accessible for novice hikers, children and older adults so they can all enjoy the spectacular setting of the trail while staying physically active.

Project Updates

The following updates have been provided by Alex Wallace, Co-Chair for the Southwest BC Trails Committee

The trail crew made good progress on the Howe Sound Crest Trail in 2017, but when snow hit early on October 12th—   followed by torrential rain—a decision was made to call a halt, so the season of work was shortened to less than four months this year. As well, a decision to reroute had been made by BC Parks to reduce the length of the last switchback by some 200 metres, and also to avoid the constant hiker traffic on busy days through the area under construction with machinery. However, visitors soon realized that the partly built new section of trail was more appealing than the unimproved section with boulders and roots to clamber over, so they followed the trail crew, and this cunning strategy to avoid sporadic interruptions to the work was only partly successful.

After it snowed, the trail crew was able to withdraw the equipment safely from the higher elevation during a break in the weather, and they continued in late October working to reroute the eroded section of the trail at the green water tank trailhead on the Howe Sound Crest Trail East.

  • HSCT 2016 update

Howe Sound Crest Trail upgrade: This popular trail has become twice, or perhaps three times as popular since we started rebuilding it in partnership with BC Parks. It was already a busy trail in summer, with two previous attempts to rebuild it and repair erosion over the last forty years. The difficult section up to the preliminary summit on St. Mark’s is still being tackled, which again involves excavating material that can be used to rebuild the trail. This year, the crew has had to start detouring and building new switchbacks just to get away from the crowds of hikers, as several pieces of machinery are being used to excavate and rebuild the trail. It is similar to having a construction site on Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver, where the public walks through the site intermittently all day instead of being kept out by the yellow rental fencing. (This is also why we are not in the role of contractor or project manager. We are explicitly leaving BC Parks to handle that area of responsibility, and any liability issues that may arise.)

Newly rebuilt switchback on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, September 2016. The trail was in a dire state at this location and was quite hazardous in wet conditions. It was rebuilt to withstand heavy rain and the rapidly increasing number of hikers.

Since we can’t fence off the area under construction on a long ridge in the mountains, we have had to leave sections of old trail for the public to use while upgrading is under way. This can only happen for a short section, but the trail crew was increasingly getting slowed down by hiker traffic in 2016, and this was while working weekdays. Given the usual four-month construction season each year at high elevation (the crew was pulled out in mid-October just before the torrential rainstorms), it would be good to work weekends to take advantage of any dry weather, but this is clearly only going to happen if we can get away from the crowds. In fact, the rain in October 2016 was so extremely heavy at this elevation that it washed away part of the gravel trailbed from some sections that had been rebuilt in previous years, and had withstood several winters’ runoff conditions. Luckily, the trail crew had taken steps to clear and repair any drains and culverts on their way out. As you can see in the photo, switchbacks are being rebuilt with rock to withstand both the weather and hiker numbers.

Unfortunately, the Canada 150 Grant that we secured from Ottawa last year was rescinded, as we did not meet certain criteria in the small print despite being approved under these same conditions (i.e. specifically not being the contractor, although we had been able to work around this previously as the partner or sponsor of the project). Despite direct appeals, we were unable to retain these federal funds. This was frustrating and time consuming, but fortunately BC Parks still had their matching funds in place for the 2016 work. Their experienced contractor worked an entire season on the trail, and we hope they are able to again continue in 2017 while we look for other funding sources.

  • HSCT 2015 Update

    The Howe Sound Crest Trail project is progressing satisfactorily and the trail is increasingly popular. This can have its drawbacks due to the constant interruptions to machine work, and in 2015 it is hoped to get the trail crew started early. However there are already signs that this lack of snowpack may also have the effect of closing the backcountry if a fire season closure is declared early in the summer, so it still may be a short season. A lot of difficult rock work is being done as it approaches St Marks, but past St Marks we hope to be moving along quite a bit faster. Again, we hope to start some high-elevation work with volunteers out towards Magnesia Meadows from a camp, dependent on BC Parks staffing and budget. In 2014, BC Parks applied for $5,000 for helicopter hours (meaning about 5 hours) but got zero dollars allocated to this. Nonetheless this is a worthwhile project that originated with the VANOC 2010 Olympic legacy funding that we negotiated for. Another block of this funding is now being used as seed money in the Hollyburn Lodge restoration, a $1.5 million project now under way to fully restore the last of the North Shore ski lodges from the 1930’s (telemarking) era.

  • HSCT 2014 Update

    The Howe Sound Crest Trail project has progressed to the point where a lot of difficult rock work is being done as it approaches St Marks. We hope to get more of this awkward section completed in 2014, possibly with some high-elevation work out towards Magnesia Meadows cleared from a camp this summer, dependent on BC Parks staffing and budget. As noted in our other reports, we originally raised a total of $450,000 from VANOC and NTC with assistance of Friends of Cypress and ORC, and Government is now regularly putting in funding, however there is a short season at this elevation, and BC Parks has suggested that possibly we need bigger machinery and an earlier start by snow clearing to the work site.

  • HSCT 2013 Update

    The first section of the Howe Sound Crest Trail has now reached completion, and the crew and machinery has completed a section on the approach to St. Marks, past the new bridges that we installed at Strachan Meadows, with the bad switchbacks ahead due to be decommissioned and replaced. However we now are told that the $450,000 that FMCBC and Friends of Cypress raised from VANOC and the NTC (i.e. Federal Government funding sources) has now been spent. BC Parks has also spent some $11,000 of their funds and has committed valuable staff time, however we now have pointed out that we have provided all of our available funds and volunteer time, and it is now BC Parks’ responsibility to put in matching funds to upgrade their trail, as 80% of the trail has yet to be upgraded – even if this is modest amount on a year by year basis. So far we have not made much progress in negotiations, and it would be unfortunate if the experienced and capable contractor who has taken on this project has to take on other work, as we are approaching the start of the short construction season at this elevation, which only lasts from July to Mid-October, i.e. less than four months.

  • HSCT 2012 Update

    The first section of the Howe Sound Crest Trail has now neared completion, and we did get a small crew and machinery as far the new bridges that we installed at Strachan Meadows in order to reinforce them with rock just before the snow fell in November. In fact we were within a few hours of having the machinery stuck as there had been several machinery and weather delays in what is nowadays a 3 or 4 month construction season at 1,000 metres due to the “extended” yearly snowpack which lasted past July 16th in 2011, and as a result the crew kept going to the bitter end to reach the bridges and reinforce them as the snow was starting for the winter. I was concerned to the point of getting on the phone to BC Parks when the weather was turning to snow, in order to get the crew out of there. We are still hopeful of getting matching funds from Victoria to complete the project to the West Lion over the next  several years, and then proceeding beyond that to the more exposed trail sections (that I showed at the last AGM) where the need for funding will be less, although these sections clearly are still in need of work, safety updates, and signage. As noted in our other reports, we raised a total of $450,000 from VANOC and NTC with considerable assistance of Friends of Cypress and ORC, but Government now needs to chip in their funds to work on the high elevation sections to the West Lion, as it is their trail and the public uses it a lot. There are some land tenure complications due to this trail repeatedly detouring into the Capilano Watershed, and while these are not of day-to-day concern as long as hikers keep going along – as they have for decades; these inadvertent ‘trespasses’ will have to be formally acknowledged if a trail crew sponsored by BC Parks and FMC is to work on Metro Vancouver land, and so a presentation to the Metro Board by myself and BC Parks will have to be made to formally request the necessary permissions. In the interim I am applying for one of the small Park Enhancement Fund grants to keep the Howe Sound Crest project going along, and again this isn’t direct government funding, it’s money that was donated or fundraised and now is held in trust by Victoria.

  • HSCT 2010 Update

    The Howe Sound Crest trail upgrade has been several years in the planning and preparation stage, but the delays had a silver lining as this summer with the project still not started we were able to apply for federal trails funding through the National Trails Coalition and Outdoor Recreation Council, with assistance from Jeremy McCall. Despite a tight timeline and stringent criteria, Jodi Appleton helped the FMCBC Trails Committee put together a successful application and this has added $150,000 to the $300,000 in Cypress Legacy Funding provided for this trail project by VANOC. This was the second largest NTC grant awarded in BC for non-motorized projects. As a result, the contract for the first section of the trail in Cypress Bowl went to bid in August 2009 and by early October significant progress had been made. This included blasting out 20 tonnes of a rock outcrop sitting just above an eroded section of the trail: this would have remained a serious and unpredictable hazard for hikers had it had been left in place – with water running under it. The late start date meant that by the end of the 2009 construction season the contractor was working with three crews under difficult conditions. When the NTC representatives, Terry Norman and Terje Vold, visited the site on September 29th they experienced wet snow and heavy rain. Work will continue in 2010 and by next summer signage will be up and a new trail information kiosk will be constructed in a central location by the new daylodge. In March 2010, new signage was helicoptered to St. Marks Summit and Unnecessary Mountain and secured for installation in August. Several loads of bridge materials were longlined into Strachan Meadows for assembly in summer of 2010.