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|257 Horseshoe Bay Express||map||schedule|
|250 Horseshoe Bay||map||schedule|
Mount Gardner is an easy day trip from Vancouver and has nice views on sunny days (although still worthwhile on cloudy ones too). The south summit is higher, but is completely forested and has no views. The north summit has a microwave repeater station, helipad and good views of Vancouver and Howe Sound.
Take a bus from downtown (either the 250 or the 257) to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal on the North Shore. 257 is much faster if coming from downtown vancouver. You can bring a bike along; both these buses will have bike racks for you to use (alternatively, you could bike to the ferry terminal if you're really hardcore). Ferries for Bowen leave about every hour (see bcferries.com for schedule). The crossing takes 20 min. and a round-trip ticket with bike will be under $10. You can get more info about the hike from the tourist information centre at Bowen island near the ferry dock.
From the ferry terminal on Bowen, follow the main road up a gigantic hill until you find Mt Gardner Rd on your right. Turn onto this road and follow it until you get to a hydro pole with the number 490 on it; at this pole look left and you should see a gravel road headed up. If you're biking, try to find a place to lock your bike here; if there isn't one, push/ride your bike up the steep logging road until you get to the gate (about 500m along?).
Alternately, you can walk along trails from the ferry terminal to Killarney Lake, take a trail along the west side of the lake and eventually end up back on the main road.
From the main road there are many routes to the top. The simplest one just followed the logging road until it ended, which involved maybe half an hour of fairly steep uphill. Eventually, the logging road forks; the left fork is marked with a sign saying "Mt. Gardner north summit". A few hundred meters later, the logging road ends (yay!) and the trail begins, going through coastal rainforest with flat and uphill sections well-mixed. It's fairly well-marked with orange squares and signs at major junctions. At one point there is a fork where a sign says "Mt Gardner North Summit" to the left and "Mt. Gardner Loop Trail" to the right. Both will actually get you to the top, although apparently the north summit option is steeper and more direct. The north summit is lower than the south summit, but has better views. You can access the south summit by taking the loop trail fork.
On the way down, you can just retrace your route up, or try your luck with one of the many bike trails criss-crossing the mountain. I felt like I was lost many times, but if you just keep going down you'll eventually find something. :) If you're worried, bring a topographical map. All trails going down the east side of the mountain end up more or less at the same place, but make sure not to get onto any trails going down the west side.
Another option is to take the "Skid Trail" and follow it up the south side of the mountain. This can be quite steep at times but is well maintained, clearly marked, and somewhat more pleasant and shaded than the road on the opposite side of the mountain. This brings you to the higher south summit first, which is only a short walk from the more scenic (and crowded) north summit. Being steeper at points, this south route is probably less ideal for descent. It is easy to make your hike into a loop by taking the trails on the north side of the mountain for the descent. Should you decide on this "Skid Trail" route for your ascent, be warned: very shortly after junction post 2 (a well marked fork in the path) along the skid trail there is another junction that is not as well advertised. Taking a left turn at this one and ignoring the "mid-island-trail" sign shortly after your turn will take you down the mountain as far as your nagging intuition will allow.
The criss-crossing trails on Mount Gardner can be confusing, so bring a map or GPS (even though Bowen Island is probably a pretty safe place to get lost...).
If you have a bicycle, another option is to climb from the South side using a trail that begins at Laura Rd. You need to ride about 6km along the main road from the ferry terminal (Bowen Island Trunk Rd. - Grafton Rd. - Adams Rd.), then make a right onto Bowen Bay road, first right onto Westside Rd, and then take your first left onto Laura Rd. The trail-head is at the end of Laura Rd. and has a big map. This is a decent ride and almost all uphill, but the upside is that is all elevation you don't have to hike now. There are signs at the junctions indicating which way to go, but I found the route a bit hard to follow in between. There are orange markers on trees the whole way up but are sometimes hard to spot.
Elevation gain is about 720m from the ferry terminal to the south summit.
Catching the 9:00 a.m. ferry to Bowen, I was standing on the north summit by noon and was back at the ferry terminal by 2:00; however, I didn't take many breaks for photos/sunbathing as the mountain was pretty much engulfed by clouds the whole day. There's a pretty decent pub right by the ferry terminal as well, if you feel like a victory pint.
For the south side/Laura Rd. route, it took me about 3 hours round-trip from the trailhead on a clear January day with snowshoes. Add at least an hour roundtrip to that for the bike riding. This route appears to be a bit shorter than the normal one, but is steep at points.