The Lions in North Vancouver

When you’re looking at our beautiful North shore, the two Lions are such a typical Vancouver view. I simply can’t imagine the mountain skyline without them. Thanks to our hiking adventure, they have an extra special meaning. When seeing The Lions, I’ll forever think about my grandfather.

First of all, let’s talk about the Lions in case you have no clue what I’m referring to. The Lions are two mountain summits in the Coast Mountains of North Vancouver and West Vancouver. They’re not only an unmistakable part of the skyline, but also what the Vancouver Lions Gate Bridge is named after. Despite their visibility throughout the Lower Mainland, the Lions are quite hard to reach. Hidden away in the backcountry, you can only reach them with some serious hiking. Which is exactly what Jelger and I did this Last September.

The West Lion felt like the perfect spot to scatter a small portion of my grandfathers ashes. For as long as I’ve known him, he had an intense love for the mountains. Specifically the Swiss and Austrian Alps, of which he had an encyclopedic knowledge. He has organized a ton of guided tours to both countries. And until his sixties, he used to latch some skis on and hit the slopes as often as he could.

Even though I moved to Vancouver seven years ago, he never got to experience the beautiful British Columbia mountains in person. The 10-hour flight from Belgium would have been too much of a risk for his health. But he certainly was enthusiastic about the photos we shared. Which is why I chose The Lions as the spot for our final goodbye.

What I didn’t know, is how much the twin peaks look like the Swiss mountain where another part of my grandfather’s ashes were scattered. I showed my dad (it was his dad who passed away) a photo of the Lions and he honestly thought it was the European mountain. I like to think it’s no coincidence, and it made me even happier in my choice.

When you’re considering to hike to The Lions yourself, here’s some practical information. You can choose from two hiking trails. The most popular one, the Lions Binkert Trail, starts at sea level in Lions Bay (guess what the place is named after :)). Which is the one that Jelger and I did not take. We felt deterred by the thought of hiking up an entire mountain. So instead we picked the Howe Sound Crest Trail, which starts at the parking lot of Cypress Mountain Ski Resort. Big mistake, let me tell you. But hey, that’s how you learn. Next time I’m I’ll definitely start in Lions Bay. Because as it turns out, the headstart you gain by driving up Cypress mountain, is a joke compared to the additional challenges in distance and climbing. I remember wondering why there’s hardly any information available about this route.

The Howe Sound Crest trail leads forces you to cross several (yes, plural) “in-between” mountains. From Cypress mountain, you ascend to Saint Marks Summit. Then comes a stretch of down-hill hiking, only to be followed by the arduous climb of Unnessary Mountain. And even though I now understand how this mountain got its name, I still think it’s silly. Hidden as Unnecessary Mountain is, it’s a glorious beast that deserves a lot more exposure ;). Finally, once you’ve ‘tamed’ that monster, the hike turns into some light scrambling across the ridgeline until you meet the Lions. Visually that is. Because you’re not there yet.

You might notice in the photos that the spot I chose wasn’t the plateau right next to the Lions (the intended destination). Instead, it’s the edge of Unnecessary mountain, where it plunges down into the final ascent towards the Lions. We could have gone further, but we decided to stay there. We’d already covered a serious stretch of gruesome terrain and still had the long way back. Part of it would be in complete darkness. Despite it still being Summer, the sunsets had progressed to a considerable earlier time of day. And even though we carried head lamps, the darkness adds a burden on top of the terrain and fatigue. But more important, we chose to stay put, because it felt right.

This hike in particular, was a personal ritual to me. It was a final goodbye to my grandfather. The beautiful thing about creating a personal ritual, is that it’s personal. There are no rules. You can do anything that feels good or right to you.

In my case, I’d brought a dress in my backpack. That way I could change out of my mud-stained hiking gear, and feel more ceremonial. Jelger and I also shared some quality food, because my granddad definitely LOVED food. 😉  It reminds me that he actually loved food so much, that he’d remember his vacations by the meals he’d enjoyed. At first I even thought about bringing a bottle of Cremant D’Alsace (like Champagne), which was his favourite festive beverage. But considering the extent of the hike, I decided against drinking alcohol. Not to mention the additional weight I’d have to carry.

Finally, I’m grateful for photography. The hike and scattering my grandfather’s ashes was a unique adventure. The photos of this experience help me remember and relive the experience.

Standing here, a tiny human, in this powerful nature. Saying thank you for this life.

vancouver-wedding-photographer-tanja

The Lions and my grandfather