A Run in My Shoes: The Baden Powell Trail

by Hilary Matheson
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A Run in My Shoes: The Baden Powell Trail

Introducing “A Run in My Shoes,” our new series where runners share their favorite runs.

First up is @thehilaryann and her home trail: the Baden Powell Trail in Vancouver, Canada.


The Run

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The Baden Powell Trail — or the BP, as locals call it — is a 30-mile trail that forms the backbone of North Vancouver’s world-class trail network. It’s the site of one of North America’s most iconic races, the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run. With 16,000 feet of vertical gain over terrain featuring steep boulder fields, root networks and perfectly groomed gravel, this trail has it all.

The Runner

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I first ran/hiked the entirety of the BP with my boyfriend, armed with excessively heavy boots, inadequate food and water and endless enthusiasm. It was accidentally my first ultramarathon. I remember lying on the grass at the end of the trail 12 hours later, completely exhausted and exhilarated. I’ve since logged countless training hours on this trail as I’ve graduated to longer ultramarathons — most recently finishing third in a 120-mile race.

The Routes

The BP is traditionally traversed west to east, if one were to run the whole thing. However, it is more commonly broken into chunks, in which case you can run it any way you want. The most spectacular views are undeniably on the west end, where the steepest climb of the trail tops out on Eagle Bluffs and features epic views of the sprawling Howe Sound.

The Start

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Oh, Cleveland Dam. A destination for tourists and locals alike, and approximately the halfway point of the BP, the iconic dam is one of my favorite places to start — mostly so that I can finish by leaning over the railing and watching the water rage beneath me. The thunderous sound of the dam, so loud that you have to shout to be heard, is tempered by the serene beauty of the lake that feeds this roaring beast. A lesson in contrasts, and in balance.

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Bang for the Buck

If I’m looking for a “bang for the buck” workout, one of my favorite routes is to bomb up the boulder fields of Cypress Mountain to catch the last rays of sun as they set over the Pacific Ocean, before (carefully) heading back down the trail by headlamp. There is something so satisfying about taking advantage of every possible drop of daylight — and the views here are some of the best that Vancouver has to offer.

For Miles

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During longer runs, I love to meander through subalpine meadows before dipping down to Cypress Bowl. One of my favorite things about the BP is the endless variety, and the dramatic change from boulder fields to lush meadows and tiny, pristine lakes. I never get bored on this trail. Fun fact: Cypress Mountain is where many of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games events were held, and remnants of their legacy still dot the landscape.

Go-To

Another one of my go-to routes traverses Hollyburn Mountain, winding through lush forests carpeted with fragrant needles. The air is still and hushed, broken only by the sound of my breathing and the crunch of leaves underfoot. On the rare day that I feel more gazelle than elephant, the resulting silence is purely meditative. This part of the trail doesn’t see much traffic, and I always head here when I’m looking for an escape. The weather changes rapidly along this section; it isn’t uncommon to be completely socked in by fog, even as the rest of Vancouver is enjoying blue skies below.

Training Ground

The North Shore mountains have a well-deserved reputation for having some of the toughest trails around — and my training on the BP taught me how to navigate even the steepest and most treacherous race courses. I love dodging trees and careening off rocks as I weave through the dense woods like a pinball in a classic arcade machine. Mountain bike trails connect and then disperse in an endless maze, and hikers with a menagerie of dogs in tow also frequent this off-leash area.

The Finish

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The newest section of the 40-some year-old trail is the BP Memorial Connector, which spares users from a 500-meter walk along a busy section of road. It was built by a local family as a memorial to their son. It is also, incidentally, just a few miles from the eastern trailhead— and the beloved Honey’s Doughnuts. My pace usually picks up around here thanks to the intoxicating aroma of fresh doughnuts wafting up the trail and drawing me toward them. (Not food motivated at all… nope, not one bit.)

The more I run this trail, the more peace and comfort I find in each familiar rock, root and tree. At the end of my runs, I love to stop and catch my breath and soak in the beauty I’m so lucky to enjoy. The Baden Powell has been home base from my very first foray into trail running, and I couldn’t ask for a better backyard.

What’s your BP? Let us know @MapMyRun.


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