July 05, 2013

About Hanes Valley - Safe Backcountry Run Travel

I had the good fortune of completing one of my favorite local routes yesterday, the Hanes Valley traverse. This typically makes for a great trail running adventure around mid summer. You can create a full loop via either Grouse Mountain or Lynn Valley. My preferred direction of attack is Lynn Valley as you get to start out with the relatively flat warm up out towards Norvan Falls first. Once you crest the backside of the mountain and come through Grouse Resort you are then left with a plethora of options to return back to your can in Lynn Headwaters with the easiest and most direct being a jaunt down Mountain Highway.

I have always loved the wild feel of this route yet always desired to link it into a bigger outing. Yesterday I did just that by adding in an additional mini-climb to the Top of Grouse after contouring Dam Mountain, then a descent of BCMC (17m30s) followed by a return to the Top of Grouse via Jetboy/The Cut. I then proceeded down Mountain Highway to intersect with a climb to the top of Fromme, followed by a descent down Peer Gynt to Mountain Highway, to Lynn Headwaters, and then a climb up to the first lookout point on Lynn Peak to hit my goal for the day which was to acquire over 10,000ft / 3,000m of climbing and descent. It was my best training day in many years and happy making all around. I've since posted the pictures to my FB athlete page (where I host all my running content and photos now) and am getting numerous inquires about the route, and rightfully so of course.

Here's what you need to know before attempting the Hanes Valley circuit though:

This is not a beginners route. There is some rock travel and a minimal amount of navigation involved. The route looks to have been freshly flagged last year but there are still mini gaps in the flagging which could send you off route if you're not familiar with proper route finding.

There is still a sign up once you cross the suspension bridge at Norvan Falls saying this area is closed. It's there for a reason even though many experienced runners/hikers have started making their way through there already.

There is a heli-pad in the valley. It's there for a reason.

There is a permanent North Shore Search and Rescue cache in the valley. It's there for a reason.

This was probably my sixth time doing Hanes Valley and the first time I've done it completely solo (without at least Roxy as a companion). You will feel how isolated you are on this route because you really are in the backcountry. There are consequences if something goes wrong while in the backcountry and if you're not prepared for this possibility than you shouldn't be back there to begin with. Hanes feels safer than it really is because it's flanked by two of the more heavily trafficked areas of our local trail system, those being Lynn Headwaters and Grouse Mountain. Once you cross that suspension bridge at Norvan and until you find your way back down to Grouse Mountain Resort on the far side however, you are on your own. If something goes wrong out there it's going to be a lengthy and challenging extraction that will likely involve a helicopter ride. From experience, though it looks like and is certainly fun for the limited time you are in the air, waiting for the helicopter to arrive and dealing with the aftermath of a serious injury will be low lights of your year. I can guarantee you of that.

Snake bite kit not needed in these parts thankfully
Hanes Valley should be enjoyed by every experienced trail runner and I'd highly recommend the route, with a few caveats. If you've never been through there before, don't attempt it until all the snow has melted out. There is still a decent amount of snow on the high point around Crown and Goat mountains. If you lose your footing on this stuff you're sliding all the way to the bottom. You're not going to die but the propensity to injure an ankle or foot in this circumstance is high. The lingering snow also blurs out the route and can make navigating the area difficult for those who have never been through before. The safest time of year to enjoy Hanes Valley is still a good 2-3 weeks away. It'll usually a mid to late July opening.

Trip Plan: Even though you're only 'off the grid' for an hour or two while back there you are completely off the grid as there's little to no cell phone reception. I left a full trip plan in place with Linda which included exactly who to call and when should I not check in with her by our specified time. I would never go back here without leaving a trip plan because if something does happen to go wrong you can rest assured that people know where you are and are coming to help you within a few hours. You could sit tight and confidently wait for help to arrive vs the highly stressful task of attempting to get out a call for help and hope that someone finds you before nightfall.

Safety Gear: I brought a lightweight jacket, a space blanket, sunblock, a knife, a whistle (you will never be able to yell as loud or create as shrill a sound as a whistle will. If you fall off trail or down a slope a whistle can literally save your life), a fire starting kit, and a spare battery for my phone (in case I did get signal I would prefer to have access to two full phone charges vs just one). If it were later in the season or I had left it later in the day I also would have packed along a lightweight headlamp. Everything all in weighed next to nothing and packed into a side pockets on my Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5L.

There is simply NO REASON to ever venture back into areas like Hanes Valley and Coliseum Mountain without these bare essentials. On longer routes like the Howe Sound Crest Trail I pack additional supplies such as an emergency bivy sack. I pack my phone on every single run that I do, whether I expect cell service or not, after watching the unfortunate passing of a trail runner on a group run a few years back after taking a wrong turn. In that circumstance a phone would have been his greatest survival tool.

Enjoy these summer routes as they are truly spectacular, and another reason why North Vancouver really is one of the best trail destinations in North America.

Think before you head out there though, as you'll never regret the extra few ounces of gear should something actually go wrong, and in the end, on bigger routes, it might just save your life. Know the Ten Essentials, own them pack them down into a small carry sack and have them ready to go at a moments notice. I have effectively crammed all of my emergency supplies into the stuff sack that comes with the emergency bivy, including of course still having the bivy in there. *If you've ever had to spend a night under a space blanket you've been left longing for an emergency bivy instead*

Stay safe, play safe, and get out there and explore your backyard this summer. It's truly one of the best playgrounds in the world!

What say you? Any other suggestions? Any piece of kit you won't venture into the backcountry without?

Run link on Movescount


Unknown said...

Awesome report Gary. Looking forward to finally doing this route in a few weeks once it opens up!

Solana Leigh said...

Thanks for the tips Gary! This has also been on my to-run list for a while now, hopefully get out there this year!

garobbins said...

Good stuff Jeff and Solana. You'll both love the route and fully appreciate what I mean by feeling quite 'out there' once you get back into the valley.