Suki’s Guide to the Stawamus Chief

When I first hiked The Chief I couldn’t find any information on taking your dog, so I decided to put together my own quick briefing on what to expect, tips to help you out, and things to bring.

13.06.17

On the whole the hike is not too strenuous, although a large portion of it is stairs and there are some narrow sections. Very tiny or very large dogs might find it difficult, as well as dogs with joint problems. If your dog is large you might also run into trouble getting to the summit because of the ladder and narrow, uneven rocky sections. When we went there were lots of dogs on the lower section, but we only saw three dogs on the summit: a Toy Poodle-type mix, a Rat Terrier, and Suki. That’s not to say larger dogs can’t make it, and I’ve seen a video of a larger dog being carried down the ladder, but it’s something to take into consideration.

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Because of the narrow sections I’d recommend leaving your dog’s backpack at home. Even Suki’s little pack would have gotten hung up on the rocks, and the added weight and bulk will make the stair climb a lot harder on your dog’s joints. I’ve seen some guides call The Chief a six hour hike, but I can’t think of any way it could take that long and we made it to the top and back in 3.5 hours. Carrying your dog’s water and energy snacks (definitely bring those) for him along with your own shouldn’t be too difficult for a quick hike like this. If it is, you should probably reconsider tackling The Chief at this point in time.

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On the topic of water, Suki and I consumed a bit less than the 1.5 liters my Camelbak holds during the hike. We tend to be pretty bad about staying hydrated on the trail though, so I’d recommend aiming for a bit more just in case (my boyfriend emptied his 3 liter pack on his own). Take frequent water breaks for your dog to compensate for the extra heat his muscles are going to generate on the stairs (calling it a water break for your dog will allow you to deny it’s actually so you can cool off).

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Go early if you’re taking your dog. The Chief is popular and attracts a lot of tourists, who tend to start hiking in the late morning or afternoon. Try to get there by no later than eight o’clock to avoid huge lineups at the chain assist and ladder. Next time I go I plan to aim for six or seven o’clock rather than eight, because we ran into lineups on our way down (which meant I couldn’t get a photo at the ladder!). We had planned to go to the first peak on the return trip, but ended up skipping it because of the crowd that had formed up there.

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The crowd had at least tripled, if not quadrupled, when we were heading back down.

The easiest way to get there early is to camp the night before. There is a basic walk-in camp at the foot of The Chief, but if you’re wanting a few more amenities or would like to guarantee having a space to camp there is the Klahanie Campground and R.V. Park just down the road (they do charge a $5.00+tax dog fee though, and pack your own hand soap for the restroom sinks). While the highway can be heard from the campsite, I didn’t find it overwhelmingly loud and it didn’t disrupt my sleep. I have to admit, being able to shower before heading back to Vancouver was nice. From Klahanie turn left onto the highway towards Squamish and watch for the Stawamus Chief sign on the right.

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Please note that if you do choose to stay here that it’s still important to exercise the same bear precautions you would in a less populated site. Don’t give bears a reason to think of the campsite as a source of food; dispose of all dog poop right away and put all food away when you’re done with it. The difference between this and a hike-in site is that you can keep your food in your car instead of a tree.

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While there were plenty of dogs on The Chief wearing just a collar, my recommendation would be to use a secure harness. There are a lot of cliffs and a number of narrow sections that a harness will make a lot safer. It will also make passing your dog up and down the ladder much more simple, and it could be what makes or breaks the hike for a bigger dog. When we reached the ladder I had my boyfriend climb down first, then I lowered Suki to him using her harness and leash, allowing me to climb down normally rather than try to hold her and climb one-handed. This method is a lot safer for everyone, and the people waiting for us to climb down so they could go up didn’t need to wait as long. Keeping the lines moving at a steady pace is important, as I noticed in a few reviews hikers were complaining about dog owners slowing the lines down. While I’m not sure if leashes are required by law on the summit trails, I would also suggest keeping your dog clipped in. At the second peak there were a lot of very bold chipmunks running around taunting Suki, and I suspect they could tempt a dog with any modicum of prey drive to chase them right over a cliff. The cliff is sloped enough to seem climbable and safe to a dog, but you’d have a really hard time getting him back up afterwards. Aside from exercising safety around cliffs there are cougars in the area. Cougar attacks are not just lethal to the dog but also the cougar, who may end up being tracked down and shot. While cougars generally try to avoid people, potentially save two lives by using a good lead anyway and save the off leash hike for another trail. The trail is narrow enough that your dog won’t even notice the shorter freedom.

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He’ll be too busy taking in the views to care about a leash.

The Stawamus Chief, dubbed The Chief or occasionally called the Squamish Chief, was listed in B.C. Magazine’s Summer of 2009 edition titled 50 Things to do in B.C. Before You Die. This is a great hike, and if you find yourself on the west coast of Canada I would put it on a list of things to check off your bucket list. Check it off on a Summer Saturday, then head into Squamish to enjoy their farmer’s market.

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The view of Squamish from the second peak.

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