Climbing The Lions
“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” -Greg Child
The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks in the North Shore Mountains in British Columbia. The West Lion is 1,646 metres (5,400 feet) and the East Lion is 1,606 metres (5,269 feet). The Lions are composed of hornblende diorite, the oldest plutonic rock on the West Coast of Canada.
The twin summits are one of Metro Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks. They can be seen from locations in Metro Vancouver, and as far as Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, parts of Surrey, and from the west on the Howe Sound Islands and the Sunshine Coast.
Along with the Lions Gate Bridge, the BC Lions CFL football team is also named in their honour. Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation, founded in Vancouver in July 1997, is also named for the peaks.
In 1889, Dr Henry Bell-Irving and Sḵwxwú7mesh Chief Joe Capilano (Squamish Nation) made the first ascent of the West Lion. According to an article by Steven Threndyle in The Greater Vancouver Book, “the earliest recorded climb of the West Lion in 1889 happened almost by accident. A group of hunters following a herd of goats found themselves at the top with no place to go but down. The hunting party was guided by native chief Joe Capilano. One of the members of the hunting team was Doctor Henry Bell-Irving, who asked Capilano if he could time one of the chief’s young natives to see how long it would take him to run from the base of the West Lion to the summit. The youth, stripped completely naked, made the round trip ascent and descent in under 20 minutes.”
John Latta and his two brothers made the first ascent of the East Lion in 1903. Initially, the East Lion was believed to be impossible to scale because of its steep granitic face. That did not deter John and his brothers from setting out to climb the East Lion in 1903. Hearing that climbers used ropes for mountaineering ascents, they brought one along although they did not know how to use it. Instead they grabbed shrubs and bushes growing out of cracks in the rock. The Latta brothers climbed the West Lion on their way out.
Hiking and Rock Climbing Routes
Hikers can climb to the ridge between the East and West Lion peaks using the Binkert Trail leading up from Lions Bay, or the Howe Sound Crest Trail. The Binkert Trail, named after Paul Binkert of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club, is one of the most popular trails in Metro Vancouver. Hiking to the ridge from Lions Bay takes approximately four hours and gains 1,280 metres (4,199 feet) in elevation. Most hikers stop at the ridge, as the East and West Lion peaks require rock climbing equipment and expertise. The East Lion is located in the Metro Vancouver watershed and is out-of-bounds for climbing.
Read more about climbing The Lions.
Read more about hiking in Metro Vancouver.
The Indigenous Peoples Sḵwxwú7mesh named the two peaks “Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn,” which translates as Twin Sisters. These mountains are sacred for their significance in a Peace Treaty, family lineage histories, and spiritual value. The two peaks were transformed by the Sky Brothers, after twin sisters had married Haida twins creating the path for a war to end between the Sḵwxwú7mesh and Haida. The families that made the Peace Treaty still live in the Sḵwxwú7mesh and Haida Nations.
Sometime around 1890, Judge John Hamilton Gray proposed that Canada rename the mountain peaks to The Lions. The post-colonial name “The Lions” was a reference to the appearance these summits had in the light of the setting sun, and their resemblance to monumental lions commonly found in London, most notably in Trafalgar Square.