1.5 hour drive from Vancouver
Moderate / Difficult hike – West Canyon / Golden Ears Trail
(Moderate start, difficult and steep sections requiring some scrambling, one short ladder to continue to next section). Trail is poorly marked, lack of signage.
Trail begins at West Canyon parking lot.
Distance from parking lot to Alder Flats via West Canyon Trail (walk-in camp site): 5km, 250m elevation change, 2.5 hours one way.
Distance from parking lot to North Ear summit via West Canyon / Golden Ears Trail: 12km, 1500m elevation change, 6 hours one way.
Don’t let the first mellow section to the trail to Alder flats fool you like it did me – once you pass Alder Flats at the 5km mark and continue from the West Canyon Trail on to the Golden Ears Trail the route becomes a relatively steep uphill hike with some sections requiring some scrambling. The view from the summit of North Ear though makes all the hard work worth it!
I found the trail to be poorly marked – there was very little signage indicating if I was heading in the right direction and there are sections of the Golden Ears trail that are quite dense with undergrowth. The hike from the parking lot to Alder Flats (5km) took me about two hours since there is little elevation gain. The initial plan was to set up camp at Alder Flats but the sight of two sketchy looking shirtless men throwing knives into a tree trunk while starting an open campfire can easily convince one to carry on. Two things wrong with this scenario: 1. I’m pretty sure that tree didn’t do anything to deserve to be continuously stabbed. 2. No open fires are permitted in the backcountry as per BC Parks; you run a risk of starting a forest fire, and you’re choking up what is supposed to be fresh mountain air. Remember when doing anything outdoorsy to follow the golden rules so that everyone can have a safe and awesome time.
Refill your water bottles at the creek at Alder Flats, there is no water source from here to Panorama Ridge which is another four hours of hiking. As you make your way up the Golden Ears Trail it starts to get steeper and most of the elevation gain happens here. Some parts require scrambling which can be difficult with a heavy pack. There is an emergency shelter close to the peak at about the 10km mark where I decided to have lunch. It took me about 6 hours to get to this point and figured that since I was staying overnight I’ll tackle the summit tomorrow morning. I decided to set up my tent a little below the emergency shelter where I found a nice flat spot with a stunning view, and a creek nearby for water. Watching the sunset on one side and the moon get brighter on the other side was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
The next morning brought great sunshine for the climb up. To reach the summit of North Ear and back to the emergency shelter took me about 2 hours. I think it is easy to underestimate the difficulty of this section – as you cross the snowfield it does become quite steep. Crossing the snowfield without an ice axe or walking poles would be difficult. The trail is also poorly marked; on your ascent to the North Ear be sure to approach from the left (east) side. Coming back down can be confusing – higher up you’re not able to see the shelter below to use as a marker. It would help to have a GPS to ensure that you’re following the path you took coming up.
The total return time down to West Canyon parking lot including the summit to North Peak was 6 hours. I estimate without the weight of a heavy pack it could take 10 – 12 hours return for a day trip. Doable during long summer days with plenty of sunlight but definitely still bring a headlamp on the return trip in case. A pretty long and difficult hike but so worth the views up top!