West Lion

Elevation Gain: 1,503m
Distance: 17.18km
Total Time: 7 hours 36 minutes
Date: September 25th, 2022

The Lions are no doubt one of the most iconic mountains to occupy the Vancouver sky line. Hundreds of locals and tourists alike make the pilgrimage to the summit of the West Lion each year, despite a stiff 4th class route guarding the summit. The East Lion, meanwhile, sees far few visitors as it’s the lower of the two peaks and is a much more challenging ascent. Since moving to Vancouver over 5 years ago, the Lions have frequently come into my view, but I’ve never felt a strong pull to climbing them. Last year I discovered there’s a multi-pitch alpine ice route that forms for a few weeks each winter and decided that would be the funnest way to ascend the West Lion. However, that’s still several seasons of skills building a way. So, when my friends Jacob and Kyle invited me along to make a go for the summit, I couldn’t really pass it up. The destination didn’t matter so much as just going for a casual adventure with some close friends.

Sea 2 Sky weather was looking best on Sunday so Jacob selected that as our leave date with the standard Lions Bay route as our approach. The parking in Lions Bay is notoriously difficult at practically all reasonable hours in the week, so we tried to start early for 6am. Due to a slow start we didn’t really get out of Vancouver until 6:30am or so and by then parking in Lions Bay was already full up. As usual, we had to locate street parking, but at least it wasn’t too far away.

Some time around 8am we started the familiar plod up the old service road towards Harvey, Brunswick and The Lions. We kept a good pace and hit the Brunswick/Harvey turn off pretty quickly. From this junction it was a few more kilometers on nice moderate service road until reaching about 835m of elevation. The route then continued climber’s right off the road and winded steeply up the flanks of the West Lion. This trail was quintessentially north shore with a mix of roots, rocks and steep dirt that make for quick ascents but slow returns.

The titillating service road to The Lions
Some views of Unnecessary
Typical north shore trail terrain
Via ferrata?

At around 1250m we broke out onto an open shoulder of sorts with good views of the West Lions north face. From here, the route felt in touching distance, but in fact there was still another 1km+ and 250m elevation to reach the summit. After the shoulder the terrain opened up considerably and we found a mix of boulders, slabs and worn heather foot beds to ascend. By 10:30am we reached the ridge line and followed it to the base of the West Lion. A short descent down the ridge later and we reached a notch that must be down climbed to start up the summit. Before heading down, we paused to ditch some unnecessary gears and then started down at last.

First views of West Lion!
Looking towards Mount Harvey as we ascend the boulder field to the summit ridge
North Shore Rescue cache on the summit ridge
A short bit of elevation gain before we drop down towards West Lion
West Lion and East Lion!

The notch is protected/descended with a bat man rope and all three of us down climbed off it to reach the bottom. From there, we made a short climb up a 3m block and then traversed over the famous slab section. The rock was quite grippy and traversing was not problematic for any of us. We then went up a gully/channel that looked well worn and went about class 4 for 6-7m before topping out on a ledge area. We spotted flagging at climber’s right and realized we’d bypassed an easier route. Now looking up I saw two options. Directly ahead a steep-ish rock face that looked well traveled and an exposed traverse to a flagged tree. I started the traverse to check it out, but Jacob said the other route went, so decided we might as well try that.

Another group dropping down into the notch
Now they’re ascending a short step up to the slab traverse
Jacob descending
Climbing up that short step from the notch
Starting the slab traverse
Kyle making the traverse

We started the climb up the well-worn looking route and as we gained distance, realized we were off-route on low 5th class terrain. There were generous hand and feet holds though, so we just went for it and didn’t encounter any difficulties. This took is to within 20m of the summit after which the route mellowed out to hiking terrain and we topped out on the summit without any issue.

Jacob starting up our off-route 5th class choice
Fun climbing in here
Jacob nearing the top of our route
Kyle coming out of the 5th class section
Easy terrain at the top
The summit!

I had a stashed away a cold watermelon sparkling water and pastry for the summit and now I got to take in the views with a long anticipated snack combo. As I ate, we chatted on the summit for awhile and then made our way down. This time, we agreed to take the correct route down as down climbing up ascent line would be a little too tricky for our tastes. As it turns out the route is quite easy to locate on descent and we simply followed the flagging down. There were a few sections of 4th class and one exposed wall traverse before we reached the slabs again. Reversing these on the descent was a bit harder, but we had ample hand holds to work with so it was no issue.

Castle Towers and Phyllis’s Engine way off in the distance
Jacob aiming for the easier descent line this time
A few tricky spots but fairly straightforward overall
Kyle descending this short step
More down climbing
Looks worse than it is don’t worry
Kyle making the tricky traverse. Probably the only other crux of the descent besides the slab
Jacob reversing the slab section
Kyle’s turn now

Now back at the notch, Jacob and I had fun climbing rope free up the wall and Kyle bat-manned up shortly after. Back at the ridge, we stopped for another round of snacks and then started the return to the car. There’s not much to say about the descent, but the trail can be quite tedious in sections so we couldn’t turn autopilot on until the service road.

Heading back down
A welcome sight!

Another fun day with really good friends. I’ve really grown to appreciate these more experience over objective based days out and this day only helped to solidify that.

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