See more at Mount Elsay
Matt Shipley (he/him) // Columnist
No matter how long I spend here, Vancouver never ceases to amaze me. Everybody loves a quick trip to Quarry Rock, or a little hike around Grouse Mountain or Mount Seymour. Consequently, those places draw massive crowds. The suspension bridges are mobbed; the Cut on Grouse Mountain is thronged. If all you see is those well-trodden places, you might be discouraged from adventuring around Vancouver at all.
But what if I told you that if you walked just a little further, you could be the only person on the mountain? You don’t have to wake up at five in the morning to get a crowd-free shot of the skyline from four thousand feet up. In fact, I doubt anyone would bat an eye if you brought a tent and spent the night on a few of these peaks.
Just to the north of the Mount Seymour ski hill lies a series of peaks that culminate in the angular skyscraper that is the resort’s namesake. A well-known backcountry ski destination, it still gets a few visits in the summer, but not nearly as many as its subpeaks. Soaring in at an impressive 4754 feet above sea level, this beautiful beast is made more manageable by its proximity to the Mount Seymour parking lot and the well-maintained trail leading more or less directly to the summit.
If you’ve summited Mount Seymour, and it’s still early in the day, you have a choice. Either go back and have lunch at your car, or keep on pushing one peak further. This peak is one of my personal favourites, and I’ve hiked it multiple times over the past two summers. Mount Elsay, named after the lake that you won’t see until you look over the north side of the wide, spacious peak, is one of the most interesting mountains I’ve ever tried to find. The trail, for one, is hard to distinguish — just barely a hole in the woods off of the main Mount Seymour trail. I spent three hours on the short trek between Seymour and Elsay on my first time out, constantly checking GPS coordinates, backtracking, and frowning at a nearly marking-free boulder field.
The summit, though, is worth the effort. The trail is threadbare for a reason — nearly nobody knows about it, and even fewer take the extra two hours to scramble out to Elsay and back. The few people you will meet — and only on a very popular day — will all be kind, interesting people with a penchant for adventure. They’ll get out of the way for a picture, take your picture for you, and share their stories with you, if you work up the courage to ask.
Another mountain with a similar, if not even more eccentric, sect of hikers is Crown Mountain, a jutting, bare-rock scramble above Grouse Mountain. Again, this one has a trail leading all the way to it, and it’s much better marked than the Elsay trail, but from a technical standpoint it’s much more difficult. You’ll hike a wide, well-trodden trail up past Tim Jones Peak towards Goat Mountain, but before you reach that peak, you’ll tear off to a side trail that leads across a small saddle and seemingly straight up to a knife-edge ridge that marks the summit of Crown Mountain.
The feeling of standing on a five-foot-wide ridge, with moderately forgiving falls on either side, is something that can only be described by the experience itself. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but, luckily for us, all of the subpeaks between the parking lot and Crown Mountain are stellar. It works kind of like a ladder: it’s totally okay to take one step, then call it a day. The next time, you take a second step, then a third, and so on. None of those adventures will feel like failures. Just the ecstasy of clean, crisp air, sparse crowds and new personal roads is more than enough of a reward for the effort.