On Sunday I set out on an extreme route through the North Shore Mountains. The first thing I should say is that while there are sections of the Needles which I highly recommend - particularly the part from Lynn Peak up to the South Needle and the Hydraulic Creek trail down to the Seymour Valley Trailway which have been recently cleared and excellently flagged by some hikers who deserve major kudos - but that at this point I could not recommend this route in its entirety to anyone. The climb down to col from there and the climb up to the next peak are a worthwhile addition if you don't mind some tricky scrambling down ledges, from there there is an on and off overgrown trail with occasional flagging that either detiorates into nothing and ends at a cliff wall or I went off route. There are many peaks along the way with steep climbs and descents making it slow going, lots of bushwacking, and a trail that detiorates to the point that towards the end I am 99% sure I was following a trail that has not been used by humans. Although I did make it through and I will describe the route I will never go there again in its current condition and unless you are a climber I would recommend an out and back from the south which allows you the option to drop down the Hydraulic Creek trail not far from the South Needle.
At some point I am going to go up Coliseum and over to Burwell and possibly do the bushwack to Cathedral, I'll check around a bit in the Coliseum/Needle col for a better route and if there is for the two northernmost peaks of the Needles then this would not have been so bad. Although I still caution there are lots of steep slopes, up until the really tough part it was usually a case of it looks really bad and you will not be able to continue beyond the next couple of steps then you're on the trail, if it is really bad then you've gone off.
I started around 11:00 from the Lynn Headwaters parking lot and with a brisk warmup I was at the turnoff for the Lynn Loop trail in about 7 minutes. I took it easy on the climbs hiking the steep parts and running the flatter parts. I was up to what the government has signed as Lynn Peak pretty quick. I think this is more of a lookout although there is a slight drop in altitude and then another climb up to a higher peak. About 100m before this second peak is the turnoff for the South Needle/Hydraulic Creek this has been flagged by some very helpful hikers who even went to the trouble of leaving altitude charts for the area they worked on. I was up at this second peak in about an hour. There are no views from this peak labelled on flaggin Lynn Summit it is very bushy. I guess that is why the other peak with a decent viewpoint of the city below is labelled Lynn Peak.
I had some energy chew things and then set off towards the South Needle. There is a very bushy overgrown drop from the clearly marked intersection before the trail becomes mostly rolling and very runnable with the occasional very steep climb. The trail is fairly easy to follow here as long as you keep your head up and and eye on the flagging. It is not heavily used but I suspect it will be now that it is in suchgood shape. After about 2 hours I was at the South Needle. There are a series of other peaks along the way but it will be obvious when you reach the Needle as there will be a lot of wild blueberries which seem to take over at about 1200m and the terrain changes from bushy to very rocky. The peak is not marked but there is a cairn on top. There are spectacular 360 degree views which totally defy the nature of Lynn Ridge. Actually as you get closer to the Needles there are many great views those of you have never been past Lynn Peak will be suprised to find. For most I would recommend turning around from here and heading back the way you came or down Hydraulic Creek which is a steep but soft and squishy descent to the LSCR. Good treads recommended if you plan to be able to run down.
From there there is a trail leading off the northwest corner of the peak. It is very hard to distinguish, basically it is a series of ledges but they are in an almost switchback type formation and this descent was not bad for me. I would caution that if you end up off route things could get very bad very quickly here. Below there is a small trail that opens up in areas that do not have as much recent undergrowth. It is actually runnable at times but other times I had to slow down and look beneath blueberry or other bushes to see the trail. There is some flagging which is enough to give you occasional boosts of confidence that you are on the trail but not enough to show you where it is. The next Needle starts at end of this col where the trail seems to run right into a rock wall formation. Right in the middle of the wall where the trail runs into it there is a series of small ledges and handholds in the only place it looks possible to get up. It is actually not nearly as bad as it looks. Once on top if this rock wall there is an easy climb up to the summit. The climb down this next peak was not as apparent, I tried a couple of routes that all ended in sheer cliffs. Faced with one of these cliffs I noticed a small ledge just around the corner from me. I went back up again and bushwacked and climbed down holding onto trees to the ridge which from there was not terrible. There is another col and another big rock wall, this one with a big crack in the middle and steeper and higher. Luckily there is also a big broken tree right in the middle of the crack which is the only way I could have possible got up here. I may be confusing peaks at this poing trying to recollect what is really an unending series of bumps and peaks which goes right from Lynn Peak. Anyway around here was one of the most distinctive peaks. There was a rocky formation with a high sheer rock wall on the west side then this peak went down to a rock ridge and then there was a very similar looking peak right next to it.
The climb off of this peak was where it started getting really bad. I am starting to have trouble remembering all the details but basically eventually there yet more climbs and descents until I came to a sheer cliff. I found some ledges where it was obvious something had been stepping which had worked well for me up to this point. This final descent was where the map I had did not show a trail. I figured being so close to the Coliseum trail and another trail from there down to the LSCR there would be something to the northernmost Needle. There may very well be. But as I descended this slope it became obvious that this was not it. To say it was incredibly steep would be an understatement. To make matters worse - and this was true throughout the adventure - despite being a clear sunny day the rock was soaking wet and incredibly slippery. As the slope became completely vertical at times good hand and footholds became harder to find. I found myself relying more than I would have liked on things like handfuls of blueberry bushes and rotten roots. But I spotted a crack that almost seemed to contain a trail and in any event I could see a boulder field down below in the area of Norvan Meadows which I was hoping was where the Coliseum Mountain trail cuts across. Getting over to the crack was an adventure all its own and is a big reason why my arms are more sore today. At times there were rocky outcroppings I had to hang off of before I finally just lept for a flattish looking spot in the crack with some dirt and bushes. This crack was a lot steeper than it looked from above as I descended but at least I could keep on hand on each side. Eventually this turned into a sheer drop and a mini waterfall. I could now see the boulderfield just maybe 100m below. I climbed horizontally around the corner across some blueberry bushes then I was another chute. It was again tricky business getting over to it but this one quickly flattened out and led into a Hanes Valley like boulder field. In the upper reaches of this boulder field are some actual meadows in Norvan Meadows! It was a bit tricky finding my way down this boulder field but it was nice to know I would likely make it out alive.
This boulder field did eventually lead me towards where the trail is but it involved a lot of jumping from boulder to boulder, and bushwacking through what at this lower altitude is now a mixture of blackberries, boisonberries and blueberries which is a lot more prickly. It was tortuous but I could smell the barn and wasn't going to let a bit of pain deter me now. This boulder field eventually led me to some forest where I found scrappy overgrown trail. Eventually I came out in the area of Norvan Meadows where the Coliseum trail is which does not quite connect to the first boulder field I was in. I could now see that there was a ridge that seemed to slope a lot more gently down to the Coliseum/Needle col. Perhaps there is a better route for the last couple of peaks and then I would do this again but I didn't have the energy or time to look. It was 5:00 and I started running down towards Norvan Falls, stopping to fill up my bottles and quickly zap them with my Steripen. Once back on the Headwaters trail I picked up the pace to what seemed like a brisk run after a long day on the legs and was back at the car by 6:00.
I would like to say thanks to the Clubtread.com members who posted descriptions of the Needles trail and then went out and cleared it to make the trail downright runnable to the South Needle.
Some pics from my cell phone to follow when I figure out how to get them into the computer. As far as the peak bagging challenge I'm not sure how many peaks I bagged - I'll have to look at a topo map - things started to blur together after a few hours of bushwacking. It took me about 7 hours which was about what I expected, however it was much easier than I expected for the most part but then much harder than I expected in the tricky spots.