In the footsteps of Elves: Brunswick Mountain, NE Gully

Ridge line

“Will I set my alarm for 5am or 6?” I thought. “Suppose I better set it for 5, there’s no where to park on Georgia St in Vancouver if he’s early and I’m late.” My friend, Dean, was going to be picking me up at 6am across from the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday morning. I’m not going to say he’s usually late, more, he’s playfully liberal with punctuality. I appreciate it though as I’m seldom wholly ready on time either.

I’d be heading out sans Spring, my better half, as she would be running the BMO Marathon. We agreed that she did not want me to burn a weekend waiting around at the finish line. So, Saturday, myself and Spring headed into the Big Smoke of Van city. We checked into the Four Seasons as they offer a runners rate for those in the Marathon. It’s funny how quickly cities and fancy hotels have moved out of our wheelhouses. Walking into the lobby with my mountaineering pack received skewed glances to say the least.

Side hilling

So Sunday morning rolled around. Luckily myself and Spring needed to be up around the same time. The weather outside looked amazing so I got ready, wished Spring good luck (not that she’d need it) and headed out. As I took the elevator down, with a throng of runners, an older gentleman was staring at the metal accoutrements affixed to my pack. As everyone vacated the lift in the lobby he put a heavy hand on my shoulder and leaned in to say “Good Luck Sir, it looks like you are about to do something serious today.” It was kinda weird, but I said “ok, thanks!” and left.

I was a few minutes late so I rushed down to the road. About a minute after I got there I seen Dean coming up Georgia towards me. Karmically, I felt the day was starting out good. We made good time to the trailhead. Dean wondered why I was not staying back to see Spring at the finish line. It’s understandable, but we just don’t roll like that. New experience trumps sentiment almost always. Later Spring would tell me that as she ran the Seawall in Vancouver she looked over at the North Shore mountains and pictured me climbing. As I looked out over the Howe Sound towards the glittering skyscrapers of the city I too pictured her running.


Anyway, we arrived at the usual parking spot in Lions Bay and geared up. We headed out and made quick time up an old road. As we hiked Dean regaled me with stories of how he used to be a champion swimmer back in his home country, they’d named streets after him and in the years after his swimming successes the number of babies being named Dean had spiked considerably. Most of that is a lie, except for his past interest in swimming. Later I’d think back on our day and how his talking about swimming was almost prescient.

Snow started continuously after the first viewpoint where the old road appears to end and you cut up steeply into the trees. We both switched to snowshoes shortly after that as the snow in the trees was compact and hard. Crampons or microspikes would have worked also.

We made good time to a junction with the Howe Sound Crest Trail. We met some skiers here who had spent the night in a snow cave and had had a fire. Hopefully the charred remains from it will not be too visible on the trail in the Summer as they appeared to camp directly on top of it.

Chute Gully Couloir

We both switched to crampons for the traverse around the flanks of Brunswick. Dean headed out and was gliding atop the snow so I proceeded to follow and immediately sank in up to my thighs and waist when I stepped off the trail. There was a crust on top of the snow that was strong enough to hold Deans Elvish weight but not mine. I tried to balance and not break the crust but nothing worked. So I switched back to snowshoes. Sidehilling in snowshoes is evil, but it was the lesser of two evils.

We traversed quickly and headed towards the NE gully on Brunswick, before we knew it, we were there. We had a quick break at the base of it and watched some snow sluffing down. It’s was just after 11am now and we where both acutely aware that the rocks exposed near the top were quickly heating up and the snow holding on to them was losing cohesion. All the sluff appeared to be channeled into a runnel in the middle of the gully, so we were confident we could avoid anything sliding down.

The gully itself is short. I haven’t checked my GPS but it must be less than a hundred meters. The gully was also completely filled in so the difficulty was considerably less than earlier or later in the season when the rock or ice is exposed.

Topping out

Anyway, I switched to crampons again and proceeded to sink in up to my thighs. Dean let out a laugh as he was standing easily on top. I recalled our conversation earlier and how, for me, there should really have been a swimming grade instead of a mountaineering grade for this gully. Until I got further up into a more shaded part of the gully it felt like I was doing the breaststroke through the snow. I couldn’t even walk in Deans broken steps as he had just broken the crust enough so that it held my weight less than the unbroken snow.

We pushed on, the degree of the slope is pleasant under the conditions we had. I wouldn’t even consider it a PD, maybe an F grade under the IFAS. It doesn’t feel like more than 35 to 40 degrees. I’d like to revisit it in late Fall or late Spring when the snow is neve or there are some technical rock steps in the gully itself.

You can see our tracks up and out of the gully in the picture below:


We topped out just after noon and my phone buzzed with a new message. Just as I topped out Spring had completed her Marathon. It felt serendipitous.

In fact the day had had a few pleasant coincidences. Both myself and Dean being equally late to the meeting spot. Deans talk about swimming and then feeling like I was swimming as I waded up the gully. Myself and Spring completing our goals at the same time and then, to top it all off, this:

Myself and Dean

That’s Deans photo. We had not planned this uniform, but somehow we both ended up wearing identical colors on the day. Sure, it’s probably apophenia, but it was one of those days where everything just seemed to slot into place.

Anyway, we spent precious little time on the subsummit that the gully spits you out on. We headed along the ridge towards the true summit. The ridge walk all the way back to the summer trail actually felt more objectively dangerous than the gully. The snow had near to no cohesion at this point in the day, the windward side of the ridge was steep scoured rock, the leeward side was hidden cornices enticing us towards them to stay away from the exposure and  underfoot was loose snow on rock, postholes and treewells.

Making the Summit

We made it to the summit and kicked back for what seemed like at least half an hour. It was warm. My first summit of the year where I felt like I wasn’t quickly losing body heat.

After that we traversed the ridge back to the summer trail. We roped up for this as there was a few sections where a loose rock or even a cornice breaking would have been fatal.

Once onto the summer trail it was just a straightforward hike out. We met Spring at the parking lot, shared a few tins of Red Racer Lager in the sunshine and exchanged stories about our day.


Also, I forgot to mention, but on this trip I got lobstered in the sun. My SPF 60 has gone back in my pack and will stay there now till October at least. Also, the chinstrap tan line from my helmet is totally in this season.

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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1 Comment

  1. I would love to be your third wheel.

    I love following your story. Thanks for all the great pics.I love living vicariously through your travels.

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