Highlights of a grey day

Today in Vancouver could not have been described as a nice day. And yet, looking back I realized there were still a number of moments that really stand out as worth noting. There are many who extol the virtue of expressing gratitude daily; I haven’t got to that point yet, but perhaps this is a good start. It’s just nice to remember the good things that happen, and the good things you’ve seen.

The first moment was just after sunrise: despite heavy cloud, the sun found the smallest of gaps to shine through and for just a minute or two, lit up a couple of small cotton-wool clouds in pink. As that faded, a partial rainbow appeared. Soon that too had faded away and the fullness of the grey took over.

The second was meeting and stopping to chat with a couple of friends at the Vancouver Farmers’ Market, always a good thing. Once we were back home the rain returned and we watched the mountains play peek-a-boo with the passing showers. It may have been grey, but it was a soft, pale shade, almost like a mist ebbing and flowing. A gentle rain, not like the downpour to come later.

In the afternoon we braved the rain and went for a walk along the beach between Spanish Banks and Jericho. As we passed in front of the Jericho Sailing Centre, the sea had a lovely hint of green as it washed up onto the wave-smoothed sand. Even the grey mountains looked a fine sight across the water, its surface dotted with goldeneye and roughed slightly by an easterly breeze.

Now for the standout highlight. As we walked back to the car, a pair of bald eagles flew overhead, scattering the beached seagulls into flight before flying out of sight and landing in a distant tree. As it happened, that tree was close to our car, which we’d parked next to Spanish Banks Creek. We were about to drive off when the pair dropped out of the tree and over the water in front of us, wheeling around and chasing one another. I ran down to the water’s edge where they were more or less overhead at times. A second pair joined in for a moment, though the two didn’t interact, as if they were separated by an invisible line that neither pair would cross. Perhaps the creek marked a territorial boundary. Perhaps there were salmon in the creek awaiting their talons (though we saw none). In any case I stood in awe watching these giant birds soar and swoop above me, the smaller male calling all the while. Our guess is that they were a courting pair, or at least reaffirming their partnership since they mate for life. Whatever it was, it was a joy to watch.

Eagle sightings are something I will always notice, especially as they form the backbone of what I call “BC Moments”, those times that really seem to sum up living here in BC most appropriately. The picture below wasn’t taken today (it’s from our Cape Scott backpacking trip in 2016), but I really felt like showing an eagle photo.

Experiment Bight, 6 Aug 2016

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Musical hiking

The Musical Bumps is a hike near Whistler that doesn’t make it into many guide books, mostly because it starts in the ski area and requires payment of a (pretty substantial) fee to access it. However, while it is definitely best hiked from Whistler summit, it can be approached from a different angle for much less money. That route involves heading to Singing Pass and picking up the trail from there. But it makes for a long tough day, and so a popular option is to camp at Russet Lake for a night to split the journey into two parts.

We hiked up the long (but quite pleasant) trail with a group of friends, enjoyed a peaceful night of camping, and then followed the Musical Bumps trail (passing this pair of marmots along the way) to the Roundhouse on Whistler mountain, taking the gondola back down into the village. Why is it called the Musical Bumps? There’s a musical theme to the whole area with the trail crossing the gentle summits of Flute, Oboe, and Piccolo mountains, and passing through the Harmony Bowl. When started at Whistler summit, the path follows the High Note Trail, with an option to shorten the route with the Half-Note Trail.

For some reason, I posted the photos on Instagram in reverse order, in other words, most recent first. Here I’m listing them in the correct time order.

1. Approaching Russet Lake

After a long, long slog of 16 km and about 1500 metres of elevation gain, this is the most welcome sight in the world. Russet Lake sited in a shallow bowl beneath Fissile Peak with a superb view across the Fitzsimmons Creek valley to the mountains of the Spearhead Range. Alas, the sun went in more or less as soon as I decided to take this shot.

2. Evening light

Russet Lake is an alpine lake which makes it a great place to camp when the weather’s good. With superb views available nearby, it’s a superb place to take in the sunset (or sunrise). At the end of the day, the warm light from the setting sun makes the rusty colours of Fissile Peak look even redder. This was the only time I used an Instagram filter on one of my photos as the effect is really quite horrible. I reverted to using the manual editing features after that. Mind you, I’m torn as to whether it made the original photo any worse…

3. Black Tusk through a split boulder

As I’ve mentioned before, Black Tusk is one of the most distinctive and photogenic mountains around. The view from close to Whistler summit is perhaps the most dramatic with the peak viewed end-on, but it’s still pretty nice further along the Musical Bumps trail, especially when framed by a boulder that looks like it just fell apart. This shot is actually best captured with a phone or other compact camera; cameras with larger sensors (like dSLRs) will have a hard time keeping both the rock and Black Tusk in focus at the same time. Score one for phone cameras, even terrible ones!

Stormy

Stormy seas for wave-Wednesday, taken on Monday’s choppy crossing to Mayne Island.

The colour of the sea convinced me to leave the warm and dry passenger cabin for the open car deck on our crossing from Vancouver Island to Mayne Island, especially when the sky brightened and warmed from the dull stormy grey clouds that we set sail under.

I sized up and took a few photos. However, this one caught me by surprise. I actually pointed the camera along the side of the ferry to take it, and the shot was about 5-degrees off level since I was holding it at arm’s length and had no clue where the horizon was. But I instantly saw the wave leaving the ship defining a path, with another wave crossing it at the left of the image to add an even greater sense of movement. The bright sky above Prevost Island reflected beautifully in the water, but not so much as to reduce the depth of its colour.

A square crop suited it perfectly, getting rid of the ferry superstructure and – remarkably – placing the horizon on the upper third line. It’s not perfect – the light level was quite low, so the motion of the wave is blurred – but in this case I feel it only adds more dynamism. A partly accidental shot for sure, but one I’m really happy with.

The crossing itself was really not that bad as the ferry route is quite sheltered: the strongest winds blew up the open waters of the Strait of Georgia. Certainly nothing like as bad as some of the cross-channel sailings I’ve experienced between the UK and Europe…

About town

A few random-ish photos taken out and about in Vancouver for this week’s Flashback-Friday post. (I missed Throwback Thursday this week…)

1. Sometimes two U-locks are not enough

Bike theft is very common in Vancouver. Not just whole bikes, though, but pretty much whatever can be taken away (a friend had their bell stolen – just the bell, for some reason…). Unfortunately, not every bike owner is aware of how make best use of their lock(s): locking the frame to the bike rack isn’t enough as it leaves the wheels exposed. What mystifies me about this bike is the second lock that is just locked around the frame – it’s not doing a thing to help prevent any part of the bike being stolen. I’ve seen lots of cases where a wheel has gone missing because the lock didn’t pass through it, which is why I often carry two locks: one to lock the frame and one wheel to the rack, the other to lock the second wheel to the frame. It’s not foolproof, and it’s a pain carrying two U-locks, but if it makes my bike look like too much hassle to pinch then it’s fine by me.

2. Crows

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Crows #birds #crows #Vancouver

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One of the notable features of Vancouver is its crow population. Every dusk they can be seen streaming east to a roost in Burnaby where hundreds if not thousands gather to spend the night. It’s quite the sight. Occasionally they fly right over our apartment, and I was glad to be able to get so many in the frame at once. It’s even more remarkable that the phone focussed on the moving birds…

3. Sun halo

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Sun halo #sun #halo #atmosphericoptics

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I always look up. Maybe it’s my training as an astronomer. Or maybe I became an astronomer because I always look up… On sunny days I always check to see if there’s a halo or a sun-dog near the sun. A good way to view a halo is to block out the sun using the corner of a building. In this case I was fortunate enough to have a small corner along an otherwise featureless edge of this building. The dark building and uniform blue sky actually make a nice abstract picture in themselves, but the corner jutting out into the frame really forced me to look for a way to make it into a feature. Tilting the camera (well, phone) gave me this interesting angle. Simple lines and plain colours. Works for me.

4. Vancouver on a sunny day

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Vancouver on a sunny day #Vancouver #mountains #bluesky

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Back in 2015, I was working in the Mt Pleasant area of the city and could just see Crown Mountain from my office. I can never resist a photo-op with Crown, and I walked up the steps of one building to catch this view over the flat-topped roofs across the road. With blue sky and lovely wispy clouds, the Google Photos HDR processing actually worked to make this phone pic worth posting.

Black in white

Black Tusk decked out in white, as seen from Brandywine Meadows on this day in 2013. Probably looks very similar today after yesterday’s snow. 🌨

Black Tusk is an obvious landmark up and down the Sea to Sky corridor, and we’ve taken many a photo of it. I always like seeing a familiar peak from different angles, and this is one of my favourite aspects on Black Tusk, especially late on a sunny afternoon in early winter where the low angle of the Sun highlights the texture in the landscape. This view is almost exactly opposite the view I posted a few weeks ago, though is much further away so I had to resort to the 55-200 mm lens to get in close. Ah those were the days when that lens would still focus on things at infinity…

And so, right on cue, winter begins again – yesterday we even had some snow in Vancouver, though it didn’t settle.

The long way round

There are two main approaches to the Lions. The most popular route starts in Lions Bay and climbs up 1300 vertical metres to reach the base of the West Lion. Alternatively, follow the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress Bowl, over St Mark’s Summit and the well-named Unnecessary Mountain. It’s more scenic, but nearly half as long again. On this occasion back in June 2015, we decided to combine the two: hike in from Cypress Bowl, and then descend to Lions Bay where we’d left one of our cars earlier in the day.

The hike can be broken into three: Cypress Bowl to St Mark’s, St Mark’s to the Lions, then the Lions down to Lions Bay. The first section is a hike we’ve done many times, and obviously the third leg is just the descent of the route from Lions Bay. The middle part is what we were most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint, treating us to some of most enjoyable hiking near Vancouver.

1. Howe Sound views from St Mark’s Summit.

This is the classic view of the rocky outcrop by St Mark’s, one of the most common hiking photos of the Lower Mainland on Instagram. For many years, the trail to St Mark’s was a truly awful mess of roots and rocks. Upgrades began a few years ago, but they weren’t done yet so we had to endure a little bit of old-time misery. Eventually we made it to the viewpoint and admired the sheer drop down towards Howe Sound, while trying to ignore the scampering chipmunks and swooping whisky jacks on the hunt for unattended food.

2. Vancouver from the Lions.

The Lions are a distinctive landmark and visible from many parts of Vancouver. So it makes a nice change to be able to admire the reverse view, looking down the Capilano River valley towards the city and to the Fraser delta beyond.

3. The Lions from Unnecessary Mountain. Classic.

OK I’ve saved the best for last. As I mentioned above, the section of the trail over Unnecessary Mountain to the base of the Lions is some of the best hiking in the area. Gorgeous open subalpine rambling through a green-and-grey landscape. This was our favourite part of the trip and had the best views, such as this one. The route ahead is clearly visible along the ridge top.

We could have sat at the top of Unnecessary Mountain and stared at this view all day.

Would we do this hike again? Not sure – it ended up being one of our longest days on the trail at nearly 11 hours. Somehow we just need to get to that magic middle section…