El Capitan

Watching Free Solo last night had me in awe of Alex Honnold’s achievement and reminded me of just how impressive and beautiful the Yosemite Valley is to see in person. We’ve visited just once, way back in May 2003 and this photo was taken from one of the many pullouts on the road. If you enjoy spending time in the mountains, I highly recommend checking out the film on the big screen while you can!

The movie Free Solo is about Alex Honnold’s unroped climb of El Capitan. I’m not a climber and I spent most of the film wiping my palms, wishing I had a climber’s chalk bag myself. But I love the mountains, and Yosemite is a wonderful place, and I’m fascinated enough by climbing and mountaineering to want to watch this film. And I’m glad I did.

We took the photo above with our first digital camera on our one and (so far) only visit to Yosemite. It was a real treat to marvel at the famous rock formations of El Capitan and Half Dome with our own eyes, and to spend a couple of days exploring the park, even in the rain. On the plus side, the waterfalls – Yosemite, Vernal, and Nevada – were spectacular.

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Memories of summer

On a soggy day at the beginning of November it’s nice to be able to look back at those sunnier days on summer trips. Our backpacking trip to the Southern Chilcotins was the highlight of our summer, especially this day up on Harris Ridge – even though we got chased off by a thunderstorm that chucked hail pellets and snow at us for an hour!

It’s been pretty wet over the past few days; it feels like autumn has finally caught up with us as the first hints of snow are decorating the tips of the North Shore mountains. Summer seemed to come and go quickly this year but we did get out on some memorable trips, not least of all our week in the Southern Chilcotins.

While we enjoyed travelling through the landscape, it’s our two days of day-hiking that stand out as our favourites, and especially the second of those days on which we hiked up and along Harris Ridge.

After a bit of hard work we ended up on the broad expanse of the ridge, walked to its end, and sat down for an early lunch with the view above. The sun came and went, and we waited as long as we dared to get this shot as the storm clouds rolled in our direction.

This view was one of our favourites as we looked down into the meadow where we’d camped for two nights – the same meadow we watched a grizzly bear patrol while we cleaned up after breakfast – and up to Windy Pass with its endless views to the west. It’s possible to gain the ridge from those meadows although it looks quite steep from down there.

We tried to outrun the weather but it caught up with us as we began our descent back to the tent, pelting us with hail that turned the landscape white for a time. As I said, a memorable trip…!

Phone Friday VIII

It’s been a while since I did a Phone Friday post, so here’s a selection of photos I liked from the past week, including some from our hike last Saturday, a walk down to Tower Beach (including a fogbow!), Monday’s moonrise, and some nice afternoon light through the leaves.

  1. The Chief and the Tantalus Range above the Squamish River valley – the more I look at this photo, the more I like it. It’s such an incredible view to be so high above the Chief, itself such an imposing mountain from the valley floor, and I find my eye is naturally drawn across to the pointy summits of the Tantalus Range.
  2. Bendy trees – we had just levelled off beneath this cliff face when Maria called to me to look up. I’m glad I did as these Douglas firs are amazing! I love the way they curve out over the cliff before turning upwards. And the four together look like they started growing at about the same time.
  3. Half-and-half tree – this tree is a lodgepole pine on the open bluffs and I was struck by the fact that one half is completely dead while the other is doing just fine with a well-established crown of pine needles. Not only that but the symmetry of the branches is also evident. It’s hard to say what may have caused one side to die off, but perhaps a lightning strike?
  4. Mushrooms galore – I was really pleased to find a few tree stumps festooned with these little mushrooms. I haven’t taken many fungus photos this autumn, it feels like there haven’t been as many on the trails. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty on Instagram so they are definitely out there…
  5. Dew on redwood sorrel – a group of us at work decided to walk down to Tower Beach while the weather was fine. Along the way I noticed this patch of redwood sorrel (note: must come back next year when it’s in flower), a few of the leaves still covered in droplets of either dew or water from the university’s irrigation system. Either way they looked really striking.
  6. Snowberries – I still think of my photo-a-day project when I see snowberries. I tried many times to get a good photo of them and failed every time. Thanks to the wide aperture and computing power behind the phone camera, all I needed to do was to get the camera to focus on the desired spot and then just tap the button. Just like that, I have a better photo than any of those I took with our SLR back in 2011-2012!
  7. Fogbow – this is only the second fogbow I’ve ever seen! I wasn’t thinking about how misty it might be down by the water, but as soon as I saw the mist I wondered if we’d see one. Sure enough – it’s only a partial bow, but it’s good enough for me. Awesome!
  8. Moonrise – my phone camera’s view of last Monday’s moonrise. Such a beautifully calm evening…
  9. Afternoon light – Friday afternoon on the UBC campus and the setting sun lit up a couple of trees just outside our building. I ran downstairs to take a few pictures before the light disappeared. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with any of the shots I got, as it didn’t feel like they captured the light or scene as I could see it, but this one’s not bad.

Another moonrise

Another month, another (almost full) moonrise, this time with the city as backdrop. We had seals for company (plus a few other photographers) on this clear, calm evening, perfect for picture-taking and kayaking…

I was hesitant to put in the effort to get yet another set of moonrise photos. After last month’s experience with getting less-than-sharp photos my hopes weren’t particularly high. Plus at the weekend I’d been reminded of how our telephoto lens has a sharp side and a very blurry side. With a city skyline as the likely feature of the moonrise photos, how could I work around this? Did I even feel like trying to work around it?

The weather and timing were in our favour though. I got home from work, we grabbed some food, and drove out to Locarno Beach with just enough time to spare. I ran over to the pier by the Jericho Sailing Centre, trying to undo the tripod as I went (not recommended, especially when on a sandy beach) as I could see the moon just clearing the tops of the condo towers.

I set up the camera and tripod as quickly as I could, remembering to take off the image stabilization but relying on autofocus this time as there was more light. I used the remote shutter release to take the photos, and I just kept pressing the button, changing the framing and/or focal length in between to capture different scenes. In retrospect this wasn’t the best idea as our tripod isn’t particularly sturdy and I ended up with more than a few blurry shots from camera shake. But thankfully enough turned out well enough, given the limits of taking distant photos towards a heat-hazy city, and I learned that the blurriness with this lens actually comes from the image stabilization mechanism; the lens itself is fine. Every single photo I took had uniform sharpness across the (important parts of the) frame. Yay!

  1. The moon just clearing the tops of the high-rises
  2. The moon on the edge of the belt of Venus, kayakers enjoying the calm evening
  3. The sun has set, the moon is getting brighter
  4. Set-up photo with my phone – I see a lot of these on Instagram and yes, I wanted to copy it 🙂

Well worth doing especially as the last couple of weeks of sunny weather has just given way to the first real taste of autumnal rain. Will I be able to make it three full (-ish) moons in a row? I guess we’ll see…

Mamquam Framed

Mamquam Mountain framed.

The minute I saw Mamquam Mountain over to the east of our lunch spot on an open rocky bluff I knew I had to find a way to capture it. And it didn’t take long. I noticed the tree on the upper right with its arching canopy and decided to make that the top of a frame to give the mountain some context. After all, it’s a long way off (20 km) and while distant mountains are nice to look at, they don’t always make interesting photos.

All that I had to do to complete my framing was to gain a little more height so I could get an unobstructed view the icefield on the mountain. Thankfully it didn’t take much, and I was able to do it safely without venturing anywhere near the steep drop-off. The trees have the added benefit of obscuring some of the logging roads and clearcuts on the intervening slopes.

Back home I knew a square crop would work. Apart from that, the only other change I made was to apply a warming filter to the shady part of the rock to take out some of the blue in the shadows. Very simple, and I’m really happy with the result.

The Best View

Mountains, mountains, and yet more mountains! This might be the most amazing view I’ve seen in the Lower Mainland: Sky Pilot, Mt Habrich, Mt Garibaldi, the Tantalus Range, and so many more. Absolutely incredible! And a bit of autumn colour to finish off. Definitely one of my favourite hikes of the year, though not for beginners…! Finished the day at Backcountry Brewing for good beer and pizza.

I don’t know where to begin in trying to describe how it felt to be greeted by the stunning view of Sky Pilot and Mount Habrich when we reached the top of the ridge. It was utterly breathtaking. We had worked hard for those views and it was worth every step; we were running short on time and had we been a bit more conservative we might not have seen them at all! But we took a chance and it paid off, big time! We still made it back down to the gondola in plenty of time too, so we could have explored a bit further. That’ll have to wait until next time.

  1. Sky Pilot – the craggy multiple peaks of the Sky Pilot group, so captivating no matter what angle they’re viewed at. But up close they are simply stunning, and even better from here than on the neighbouring Skyline Ridge.
  2. Mount Habrich – a gorgeous imposing cone of a peak, with slabs of sheer granite on all sides, it’s definitely a climber’s summit. Mount Baker can be seen on the horizon to the right of Habrich; Meslilloet to the left (the nearest glacier to Vancouver).
  3. Mount Garibaldi – a regular sight on this hike, with many opportunities to stop and admire our nearest volcano. Each of those viewpoints would have made a good-enough turnaround point, but we’re so glad we pushed on higher. All the snow coating Garibaldi’s lower flanks two weeks previously (seen on our trip to Watersprite Lake) had melted. I’m sure it’ll get some new snow this week.
  4. Tantalus Range – I really like this angle on the Tantalus Range, and that tree in the middle of the granite bluff is just so photogenic.
  5. Autumn colour – there wasn’t much in the way of colourful shrubbery, but these two bushes were glowing beautifully in the late afternoon sunshine.
  6. A maple avenue – walking back to the car between the gondola and Shannon Falls, we passed through a tunnel of vine and big-leaf maples whose leaves had turned a lovely golden colour. Many leaves had fallen, creating a bright, cheery carpet for us to walk on in the deepening pre-sunset shadow.

Sights from the North Shore

Sights from the North Shore – a couple of hours well spent rambling through subalpine forest with occasional spectacular views of distant cities, mountains, and islands.

We had one of those rare events in Vancouver: a sunny weekend! Alas we had in-town commitments (naturally…) so we couldn’t get out for a whole day, but I was able to grab a couple of hours up exploring some trails on Dog Mountain while Maria was in Deep Cove.

  1. One of my favourite photos from the afternoon, I really like the little puddle in the foreground, the rugged rocks of the bluffs beyond, a bit of autumn colour, the shadows, and the distant view of Cathedral Mountain (and even Mount Garibaldi in Squamish). It all adds up to many layers and a natural path for the viewer’s eyes to follow from front to back.
  2. Vancouver far below, the bright afternoon sun reflecting off the Salish Sea and Burrard Inlet between Stanley Park and the west side of the city. In the distance, the mountains of Vancouver Island are visible – later as we drove home along the Upper Levels Highway, we had a stunning view of the orange sky behind the silhouette of Mount Arrowsmith, between Nanaimo and Port Alberni. Just glorious!
  3. Decaying skunk cabbage leaves, nicely arranged on the forest floor. It’s amazing to think that those giant, robust green leaves of summer soon wither and decay to paper-thin fragments.
  4. Reflections in a small tarn – the trail passed by several small tarns or ponds, all of which reflected the surrounding trees and bushes just beautifully. I really like the tufts of grass at the water’s edge in this view.
  5. A dab of colour – many of the bushes and shrubs change colour to gorgeous shades of orange, yellow, and red. It may not be the spectacular maple displays of the eastern deciduous forests, but the subalpine and alpine plants put on their own diminutive show. I just love the vivid primary colours on display: red, yellow, green, blue…
  6. Mushrooms! I was surprised that there weren’t more on display – I only really found this little group and another nice patch of fly agaric. I don’t know what they are so if anyone can identify them then please let me know.
  7. OK so this might actually be my favourite from the day. There’s just something about dead trees; they’re often so photogenic and full of character. I always think about how old these trees are, how many summers and winters they have lived through, watching people come and go.
  8. Last but not least is another favourite showing the terrain dropping away into bowl below the bluffs, and the distance mountains of Coliseum and Cathedral, Garibaldi barely showing up at the edge of the treed slope of Mount Seymour.

So there you have it, my attempt at showcasing the glorious sunny subalpine experience I had last Saturday.

All photos taken on a Pixel 2 phone, edited to taste in Google Photos.