Hiking the Chief

Last fall, in late September, I hiked the Chief in Squamish, which I try to make an annual habit.  The Stawamus Chief, as it is officially named, is a massive knob of granite overlooking the town of Squamish, BC.

Some claim it to be the second largest granite monolith in the world, after El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California.

In any case it is an impressive hunk of rock.  I can see why the local natives might view it to be of spiritual significance.  In some sense it has become that to me: as I get older it becomes a measure of what I can do, and it has long been my favorite hike in the Lower Mainland.

Although steep and mildly challenging in a few parts of the ascent, getting up to one of the three peaks, and back, can be done in a long afternoon.

I’m talking here about the hiking trail; the Chief is probably more famous as a destination for rock-climbers.  I remember sitting up on First Peak with a friend having lunch near the rim of the cliff overlooking Howe Sound one day, when a helmeted head peaked up at us from over the sheer drop, shortly followed by another.  Two young guys clambered over the rim, gathered their ropes amidst the clanking of carabiners, said hi, and made their way nonchalantly to the trail we had come up on.

There are three main summit areas, First, Second and Third Peak, but apparently there is also a more distant peak called the Zodiac Summit, which I’ve never been to.  On the occasion of this hike, I decided to go up to Second Peak.

At 65, the steepness of the hike over the rocks, although occasionally arranged stepwise by those who maintain the trail in this provincial park, made me understand more of the reality of aging.  I had to stop and rest a number of times, but I was glad to see that many of the younger set also had to pull over for a moment or two to catch their breaths and allow their legs to recover.

I don’t know how many more years I will be fortunate enough to clamber upwards on the Chief, but I am grateful for all the the times I have done it.  To stand on the top on a sunny day and gaze over Creation with a friend or on my own lifts my spirits.


The Chief


At the Trail Bottom


A Steep Hike


Alternate Path to First Peak

Upwards to Second Peak

First Peak

From Second Peak, the View Over Howe Sound

The Way Down


Note:  Photos taken with my little Olympus XZ-1.

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6 Comments on “Hiking the Chief”

  1. Climbed anything bigger than the Chief?

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Mr. Beer,

    No, afraid I can’t claim anything more than that. I’m a hiker, not a climber, although for job and interest in times long ago I learned how to climb up and rappel down a rock face. Never pursued it.

    Maybe I should take it up when I retire! Aging dangerously….


  3. Got me beat. Never climbed anything higher than Vedder Mountain. My one and only look down on everything.

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi Mr. Beer,

    If you haven’t gone up the Chief, you really should – it’s a great view from up there. Or at least, if you haven’t already, go up the nearby gondola between Shannon Falls and the Chief. A little expensive, but all the benefit with very little of the work!


  5. MDW Says:


    I’m living in Indiana now which, except for the very southern parts, is flat as a pancake. The highest point in town is the highway overpass. I miss the hiking back in New York, but I can go vicariously through your pics. Thanks.

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Great to hear from you….

    Indiana!? I identify your photographic work so much with where you lived in upstate New York. But I’m sure there’s lots to shoot wherever you are….

    Maybe you’ll eventually make your way to New Mexico?

    We are blessed in the Greater Vancouver area of having so many accessible more or less wild spots…. Although on a summer long weekend they too become crowded.


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