A stunning wilderness trail right in Vancouver's backyard
I first found out about the Halvor Lunden Trail by simply spending too much time looking at
maps. Lord knows I never went to Buntzen Lake, looked up at the rocky ridge impossibly far above,
and wondered how I could best get up there—the mountains had always been little more than a
picturesque backdrop to a perfectly decent swimming lake. Until now.
I asked our friend Kerria Gray
if she wanted to check it out. I had done a little research and knew that it would be a long and
difficult hike. But I also knew it offered unsurpassed views of Indian Arm and the smoggy foggy
Lower Mainland, and besides, I figured it would be great fun. She was game.
It always seems so improbable to discover rich and rewarding alpine hikes within the city and
accessible by transit, but there are a few. It's kind of astounding really, and something I think
everyone should try take advantage of. Sure, it's nice to have the comfort of a car waiting for you at
trail's bottom, but sometimes its nice to not have anything waiting at all. You kinda feel like you're
on your own, off on an unsupported adventure.
So ok, taking the bus wasn't exactly convenient—we got off at the wrong transfer, had to
backtrack, and took 3 hrs to get there—but that was part of the spirit of the adventure. And hey!
public transit to the mountains! You can't beat that. It's like discovering an undercurrent of
everyday magic, of untapped and previously unimagined potential. It isn't every day you get to
transform public transit into a kick-ass adventure mobile.
There are a few trails in the Buntzen area: around the lake you have the Lake Trail, popular with
joggers and dog walkers and perfect for finding quiet swimming holes. On the far west side up on the
ridge you have the Diez Vista, a five hour trail popular with trail runners. And on the east, twice as
high as the Diez and twice as long, you have the Halvor Lunden, itself a modest little network of 3
connected routes, which, as best I can tell, remains largely unknown.
Named after renowned local trail builder and hiker Halvor Lunden—a Norwegian who migrated to
Canada in the early 1950s and built, named, and maintained many of the trails throughout Southwest
BC—the trail, while never easy, has begun to slowly deteriorate after his sudden death from cancer
in 2008. Well into his 80s Mr Lunden, heavy tool-laden pack in tow, would be found sprinting up the
steep slopes, clearing fallen trees, repairing features, and offering many an ill-prepared hiker
friendly advice (or even his boots). There are a lot of stories about coming across him on
the trail, and his smile, his face, and his warm welcoming voice are all sorely missed. But his legacy
endures, and if you've spent much time in the wilderness around the lower mainland chances are you've
benefitted from his tireless efforts.
Each of the hikes in the Halvor Lunden are listed as day hikes, but with posted 8-12 hr lengths
and over 1000m of elevation gain, doing it an overnighter seemed like a much more manageable
and enjoyable way to tackle it. I didn't want to spend all those gruelling sweaty hours clambering
up a hill and not even get a sunset/sunrise out of it. No way. I'm just not that kind of hiker.
After a quick consideration we chose the Swan Falls Loop. It's shorter than the Dilly Dally, and
unlike Lindsay Lake Loop, it summits Mt Beautiful and descends via a different route than the one you
climb. You get to cover more ground, see different views, and as such the marginal increase in length
seemed more than worth it.
We packed light, bringing just some trail mix, crackers, a water filter, and our sleeping bags.
The bus dropped us off and we made our way down to the lake. I looked out over the water, at
all the happy people splashing and swimming, and then I looked up, way up, to where we'd
be hiking. It was daunting. It was crazy. The mountain just rises straight up, one sheer rocky
forested face, and it looked almost impossible. Mr Lunden must've been a quite the fellow
indeed to carve the trail out of wilderness and hike it on the regular.
We eased into the idea slowly by spending the first few hours down at the lake in the early
summer heatwave, swimming and napping and eating a long lazy lunch. It was 4pm by the time we
finally took our last swim, shouldered our packs, booted up, and headed for the hill. We found
the trailhead in one of the parking lots, and immediately plunged into an idyllic lush mossy
west coast forest. But just as quick the trail spat us back out into a clearing with millions of
berries. So yeah we put that hike on pause for just a little while longer.
The trail up is steep, and we stopped a lot in the stifling late afternoon heat. But we
pushed through and kept going, climbing and stopping and climbing some more, and the trail gets
higher and higher and eventually begins to level out and you enter old growth alpine groves and you
kinda forget about the heat and the bugs for a moment. There are thick towering cedars, old and
quiet, and you are there, among them. You are there.
By the time we got to the first substantial viewpoint the day was already on the wane, so we ate
a bit, hung our food up in a tree, found a nice rocky mossy ledge, and rolled out our sleeping bags.
Before us lay sweeping views of faraway Mt Baker and a sprawling dirt-pink Fraser Valley sunset.
It was beautiful.
But we hadn't packed a tent or any mesh, and the bugs were truly terrible. As the evening
progressed the clouds of black flies gave way to squalls of whining mosquitoes. It was too hot to
hide in our sleeping bags, and there were too many bugs not to remain uncovered. We alternated
between boiling alive and being eaten alive. We barely slept at all.
The morning couldn't come soon enough. It's always a joy waking up in the wilderness, but after
a night sleeping on rocks in bear country with a million buzzing bug butts in your face morning
is all the more welcome still. But there is something to be said for bivouacking without a tent,
and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Sure, you may not sleep well, but your life will be filled with
sleep. There are few enough opportunities to wake up under a blanket of stars and casually look out
over a city's soft speckled glow. Without a tent you truly feel the morning slowly building, the
slow shift in temperature and humidity, the change in forest sounds, the delicious fresh smell.
You see it, you smell it, you feel it coming. The day dawns with you.
Continuing on, there were ample viewpoints and plenty more forest. As we approached the summit
the snow began piling up, until we scrambled up onto hot solid rock. One last haul up a rope and we'd
done it. The views from atop Mt Beautiful are incredible—Indian Arm blue and dazzling on the one side
and Coquitlam Lake crowned with countless snow-capped peaks on the other. It is truly a thing of
beauty. It would be a great place to see the sun set and rise, witness a whole night's worth of
stargazing. There would probably even be less bugs. Mountaintops are good like that. Next time.
After a little rest and a long gaze out over the landscape we began the long descent. It started
slowly, over deep mushy snow. We kept post-holing, feet sometimes plunging into icey creeks hidden
beneath the soft surface. At times it was hard to find the trail, but eventually the snow receded and
the trail re-emerged, as clear and well-marked as ever.
By golly, the descent is steep! We were tired and exhausted and rushing down the trail to catch
the last bus and stumbling on the rock- and root-filled trail. We staggered back down through lush
coastal old growth, through groves and gullies, across ancient rock slides, the forest changing
dramatically as we quickly descended between climatic zones.
Swan Falls themselves are quite something—the melting snow cascading down the steep rough rounded
granite slopes, here and there little pools to quickly cool off in, to clean away the bug juice and
sweat. They're but a temporary relief, but sometimes that's all you need to keep going. With the lake
still far below, we were hot and sweaty all over again by the time we finally made it down.
That was when we gave in. Last bus be damned, we needed a swim.
The trail ejected us out onto the North Beach, maybe an hour's hobble from the parking lot.
It feels like an endless and painfully long walk after a hike like the Halvor Lunden. And since
we had missed the bus we had to walk even further—but without cell reception we had no idea just
how much further that would be. We began the long slow trek out of the park, our thumbs outstretched
to the stream of cars, until we entered cell service and learned the bus stop was only 15 minutes
away, at the Anmore Grocery. Perfect! We could have an ice cream cone while we waited.
And so we did. Things do work out for the best.
So yeah. I'd hike it again. Definitely.
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