How We Got To Hollyburn
Iola Knight & Donald Grant
Today, would we walk from Richards and Smithe all the way, except for the North Van ferry ride, up Capilano Valley, climb the two Lions, then return? The Latta brothers did in 1903. Or, how about walking from the NV ferry up Lonsdale, hiking up Grouse Mtn., then climbing Crown Mtn. and the Camel and not going to bed from Friday night to Sunday night - Buddy Barker and her friends did in July, 1928. Feet and legs were how one got there.
The first ascent of Hollyburn Peak was in 1908 by members of Vancouver Mountaineering Club (forerunner of BCMC), following trails made by loggers. In 1910, John Davidson did a botanical survey of this area, hiking from St. Mark’s Camp on Howe Sound (Lions Bay today.)
West Vancouver developed as a result of forestry - from the late 1800’s, trees were cut up to as high an elevation as possible with skidroads and flumes used to transport them to sea level in the days before logging trucks. In the vicinity of McDonald Creek (near 22nd Street) and Marr Creek (near 26th Street), where logging had taken place, trails up Hollyburn Ridge were the legacy. It was up one of these trails that Rudolph Verne and a friend hiked in May 1923 when they came upon James Nasmyth's abandoned lumber mill buildings at an elevation of 2,500 feet (762 m). Verne, an avid skier, saw possibilities for skiing at this location. In December 1924, he told Eilif Haxthow, a recent emigrant from Norway, that he had rented an old building and had a plan to start a ski camp that winter, where hikers could rent skis, purchase coffee and sandwiches – even spend the night. Eilif accepted the offer and with Hjalmer Fahlander, another Swede, helped Rudolph put his plan in place. Everything was carried up the mountain on the backs of these Scandinavians and a few others that joined them later - food, tools, building materials, cement. They opened the ski camp on January 11, 1925. During the last weekend in January, they had close to 150 guests. Despite a low snowfall, things went fairly well that first year.
In May 1925, a couple of ‘wranglers’ came to the ‘Old Mill’ ski camp with horses. An entrepreneur named Fred Scott conceived the idea that ‘dudes’ from Vancouver, clothed in full cowboy regalia, might enjoy a ride up the Hollyburn trail on a horse. He persuaded Captain Lindermere, the forest ranger on the mountain, to be his first ‘customer.’ Since few were inclined to follow Lindermere’s example, Fred’s business venture faded quickly into obscurity, but in 1926 horses did participate in transport on Hollyburn - as packers and to haul building materials on a stoneboat up to the new ski camp site at First Lake. In the 1930’s there was ‘Baldy’, Ted Russell’s packhorse.
Word got around and soon hundreds of local youths hiked up the ‘Hollyburn Trail’ to try the new sport of skiing, extolled in a number of Pollough Pogue’s Vancouver Province articles. Who could not be charmed and intrigued by the following words? “
A skier …loves the snow and the pure sharp air, the crystal days of winter sunshine, blue shadows on the white meadows, the large free wind of the mountain top; the sculptured peaks that enclose the high plateau in a pattern of violets and silver, the nights of white moon and icy stars.” (“The Craft So Long To Learn,” Pollough Pogue, The Province, November 30, 1928)
During the Depression years, some of the hikers that made the trek to ‘the Ridge’ from the West Vancouver ferry wharf at the foot of 14th Street built almost 300 cabins on municipal land - from shake shanties to elaborate lodge cabins. Except for what they found left by the loggers, materials were carried up – stoves - sofas - a sewing machine - even a piano, because the four guys who carried it wanted some music! Brian Creer and Bert Baker earned 5¢ per pound to haul other folks’ packs from Marine Drive up the mountain. The ‘Bread Lady,’ Barbara Hughes and her son would carry 100 lb. sacks of flour to their cabin at the Forks. One day, a hiker volunteered to pack it for her, but soon tuckered out and left the sack on the trail. She never saw him again!
In the 1940’s, Harry Huff who operated the service station at 25th and Marine Drive, had a wood truck that on Fridays and Saturdays, he would use to transport hikers’ packs up to the Forks charging 75¢ a pack. At tree line above 26th and Ottawa, the hikers would swarm aboard for an illegal trip to the Forks.
By 1952, things were becoming modern! ‘Hi’ Colville, Bill Theodore, Dick Lawrence and others had built a single chairlift from a point near the top of Chairlift Place to Hi-View Lodge at 2,600 feet (793 m). It was called the “Chairway to the Stars,” but hikers still had to hike either to Westlake Lodge or Hollyburn Ski Lodge to enjoy their favorite winter sports. Folks referred to the lift as “going from nowhere to nowhere.” By this time, Grouse had a double chairlift up the south side; the clearing scar is still visible today. On Seymour, there was a road to the ski area.
Before the chairlift was built, in winter, the Burfields, who now owned the Hollyburn Ski Lodge, had a Bombardier “Sno-Cat” to transport skiers from the ‘Old Mill’ site to the ski area at First Lake. This was great in a winter of good snow; otherwise hikers ‘hoofed’ it. For hauling around the ski camp, the Burfields at first used ‘Red’, their trusting horse. Later Red was replaced by a little John Deere tractor. Norm Deacon at Westlake also had a John Deere.
In 1965, the top terminal of the lift and Hi-View Lodge burned down. Hollyburners drove their own vehicles or rode Fred Burfield’s new bus up a rough road as far as they could and then transferred to the Bombardier or walked in to their cabins. Some people began to use skidoos to get around the mountain.
Alex Swanson’s children would often ride down the mountain on dilapidated old bikes purchased at police auctions. By the time they got to the bottom, these bikes would usually be a wreck.
In 1967, the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts of Canada began work on the Baden-Powell Trail, a British Columbia Centennial project for these two groups. This 50 km trail, completed in 1971, begins near the Eagleridge exit above Horseshoe Bay, crosses over Black Mountain and the Hollyburn Plateau, descends via Hollyburn ski runs and a forest trail to the Capilano Reservoir and then continues east crossing the lower slopes of Grouse, Fromme, and Seymour before reaching its terminus in Deep Cove. For the past 32 years, many hikers have accessed Hollyburn via the western section of the popular Baden-Powell Trail.
In the early ‘70s, a three-lane highway was constructed to provide access to the newly created Cypress Provincial Park, which officially opened in 1975. In 1976, thousands of Vancouverites used this highway to get to the new downhill ski facilities on Black and Strachan. In the late 70’s, hang gliders flew from Highview Lookout beside the highway to landing sites in West Vancouver. After a couple of glider pilots failed to reach their intended destination, this form of transportation down the mountain was forbidden!
Today, cyclists and mountain bikers can frequently be seen pedaling their way up and down the mountain, most using the highway, a few using an network of forest paths to make their clandestine descents.
Parts of the old trail systems used by the loggers and ski pioneers are still in use. In 1981, as a training run, Peter Croft, a well-known rock climber, would walk to the Centennial Seawalk at Dundarave, run all the way up the original 26th Street trail to the ski camp at First Lake, and then walk down! With increased traffic on the Grouse Grind, more hikers are returning to the quieter trails of Hollyburn. Natural history enthusiasts are attracted by the mountain’s flora and fauna. Others come to revisit the pathways of their youth.