Waiting for sunset

Waiting for sunset on Black Mountain, a good little hike for when you’re getting over a cold. Plus we got to hang out with creeks.and.peaks and her pup Abby – we were all a little chilly by the time we headed back down!

We didn’t get out hiking at all in February, and we paid for it towards the end of the month when we were both struck down with colds. That knocked us out of action for a couple of weeks, and today’s hike was our first attempt at some exercise in well over a month. I struggled on the ascent, stopping often to do battle with a fit of coughing, the cold air and exertion threatening to stop me in my tracks.

Thankfully we had chosen a short hike, and we eventually levelled off on the Black Mountain plateau. As we wandered up to the north summit I recognized Ngaio whom we’d met at Keith’s Hut back in September 2016. We stopped to chat and swap stories of our respective colds.

While the sun was shining, the air was cool and we discussed the possibility of hanging around for an hour to catch the sunset. Somehow we all thought it was worth doing and so we wiled away the time taking photos, chatting, and commiserating with a shivering Abby – poor thing! When the time came, the clouds cleared and the snow turned pink-ish. The colours weren’t very strong, especially to the eye, and by now we were all cold – I was also shivering and having a hard time holding the camera still having decided to leave the tripod at home – and I’m not sure anyone thought it was actually worth our time.

However, when I looked at the photos at home I was pleasantly surprised at how well they turned out. The three above are all square crops from photos taken with my phone (my preferred source for Instagram) and I really like them all. The light in the first one is just lovely, the pink light on the trees looks stunning in the second, while the last light is cast across the uppermost slopes of the mountains in the third. I must admit I’ve gone back to look at these photos multiple times even before I posted them on Instagram.


Keep your anemones closer!

“Keep your friends close; keep your anemones closer” as seen on a t-shirt at the Seattle aquarium. Not to mention urchins, seastars, giant clams, and other fishy friends.

Aquarium photography is hard. Most things are behind glass that varies from clear to water-splashed to grimy, or are under moving water. There are lights everywhere, reflecting off water and glass alike. But sometimes it’s possible to get an angle that allows a half-decent photo.

The first photo is my favourite, perhaps my second favourite of the day after the close-up of the octopus tentacles. I love the reflection of the anemone in the underside of the surface of the water above it, both for its colour and its striking symmetry. With all the tiny barnacles on the black rock, it’s almost as if it were in outer space…

The second photo is probably my next favourite: the plumose anemones were just so delicate and had so much detail just waiting to be captured. My phone did a really nice job of focusing on the tiny tentacles too. I wasn’t sure what colour to make this. I was tempted to take out the colour caste to make it black and white, but I felt that the picture lost something in the process. The original blue tint felt more natural and more effective somehow.

Next up are some sea urchins in a touch-pool. It wasn’t until we were able to watch some live sand dollars in Parksville that we realized urchins have soft tentacles as well as the well-known hard spines. Very cool! In the touch pool you could place a finger between the spines and have the tentacles latch onto your skin briefly.

Sea star on the glass: irresistible! Unfortunately I cannot remember the species, though it may have been a blood star.

I was thrilled to see live giant clams and hadn’t appreciated they were quite so large. I mean, I knew the shells were large but for some reason I hadn’t made the connection that the animal’s body would completely fill that shell. Fantastic to see, and the little orange blenny (not an eel as a nearby young lad’s father insisted on calling it) just adds the perfect contrast.

Walking through the aquarium to the outside exhibits (seals, sea lions, sea otters, etc), the corridor goes directly under a tank full of salmon. They’re a bit chaotic in this shot (they arranged more symmetrically later!) but it’s still really cool to see a large school of fish from underneath. I like how there’s no sense that they’re in water; the impressions is that they’re just floating in the air.

Classic clownfish and anemone pairing. Just lovely to see. The clownfish would occasionally wiggle its way through the arms of the anemone as it having a scratch. (OK get it out of your system… It’s Nemo!!! Happy now?)


A couple of giant Pacific octopuses 🐙 at the Seattle Aquarium. I’ve found octopuses fascinating for years – so much intelligence in such a short-lived animal – so it was very cool to be able to get such close up views of them!

This week (February 16th to 24th) was Octopus Week at the Seattle Aquarium and to be honest that was the main reason we decided to visit. We arrived just in time to catch “Meet the Octopus” where we were introduced to Bailey the female giant Pacific octopus. At first I was a little concerned as she was brought by the divers into a strange tank and attached the glass (well, perspex) for us all to gawp. Gradually she extended a few tentative tentacles out to the divers and seemed to relax and explore the environment a little bit.

The highlight was being able to get right up to the perspex and place my phone flat to cut out reflections and get a beautiful close-up view of the suction cups on her tentacles. Just amazing! The last entry is a short video of Bailey moving across the perspex, which is just hypnotic to watch.

The third and fourth photos are of a different octopus in its own tank. Even then it was content to squeeze itself into a corner and eye up the visitors as they came and went.

The rest of the aquarium was fun too, but I’ll save that discussion for the next post!

Showers over Seattle

Showers over Seattle: monochrome views on a rainy day in Luther Burbank Park.

My initial plan was to explore a nearby forest park but the weather (and my desire for a nostalgic trip to Einstein Bros bagels) had me looking for closer options. I settled on Luther Burbank Park, where I’d be able to go with my bagel still warm. I wandered the trails to the northern tip of the park with its gravelly beach and a clear view across Lake Washington to the high-rises of downtown Seattle.

I sat on a log and ate my bagel (which I really enjoyed!) and watched the rain showers pass over the city, thankfully not coming too close to where I was sitting, with only a few raindrops to dampen my breakfast.

The rain was drifting down in sheets and patterns, brighter skies following behind it – an irresistible combination for photography! I tried to get some foreground interest in the first, mostly because I couldn’t avoid the rocks, but I’m not sure it succeeded. Still, I like the rest of the image with that trailing rainfall column that almost looks like a microburst. My favourite of the bunch is the one of the airliner descending into SeaTac airport (I didn’t see that annoying black speck of a seagull at the time), though I also like the last pic of the shower over the northern end of Lake Washington.

It was tempting to make all of these pure black and white (which, it should be noted, is not the same thing as monochrome) but in the end I left them as is to preserve what little colour there was. While it was tempting to warm up the photos to a more neutral colour, I decided to keep the cool blue-grey cast as I think it makes for more atmospheric storm photos than pure black-and-white. I think it worked.

28 Valentines

A picture of two people admiring the view of the Athabasca Glacier from Wilcox Pass, two people who have enjoyed a few hikes together over the past 28 Valentine’s Days. Strollmates 💜

On Valentine’s Day, I found myself scrolling through Instagram seeing many photos of couples celebrating their time together. This prompted me to sift back through photos of us, pretty much all of which were taken on hikes. We have a few that we like, but I wanted something that was more about the scenery and not just a picture of the two of us.

I settled on this photo taken in Wilcox Pass back in 2009, with its grand view over the valley and the Athabasca Glacier below. It appeals to me because the fact that we are also looking at the view makes it feel like a viewer could be there with us, rather than just looking at a photo of us.

The word strollmates came to my attention via our favourite guide-book authors, Kathy and Craig Copeland (who, coincidentally, have a very similar photo of the two of them on their current home page!). I don’t know if they coined the term or heard it from someone else but they talked about finding your “strollmate”, someone with whom you want to be while hiking. I immediately felt that summed up the two of us, and I’ve since helped spread that definition to a few other fellow hikers.

This then prompted me to add up how many Valentine’s Days we’d shared. Twenty-eight. And then how many miles or kilometres we’ve walked together in that time. Thousands, many thousands. Truly, strollmates.

Snowmageddon 2019

I went out for a wander in the snow to experience Vancouver’s own version of Snowmageddon 2019. My favourite first signs of spring got a timely reminder of winter (I guess that pesky rodent saw its shadow last week) and if you zoom in on the photo you might be able to see some cute little snowflakes.

And snow it continues… Snowmageddon 2019 is well and truly here! I love seeing snow on the beach, even one that’s decorated with a stranded yacht.

It’s been a long time coming but we finally get some wintry weather in Vancouver. Despite its rainy and mild reputation, Vancouver does see some snow most winters, invariably causing the city to grind to a halt as the car drivers freak out and the buses try and get up hills without winter tyres. At least it started on a weekend so we could get outside to admire it before it turned to a frozen or slushy mess.

I took quite a few photos that I was happy with, and my original plan was to post five or six of them on Instagram. For some reason I preferred the idea of separate posts to a multi-photo post but I probably should have stuck with the latter as I ran out of steam posting the individual photos.

One of the problems with a multi-photo post is that it’s the first photo that is the one that catches a viewer’s attention; if that’s not the strongest of the bunch then the viewer probably is not going feel inspired to swipe to see the others. Now I know that Instagram will show the second in a group if you didn’t swipe the first time but I don’t want to rely on that. I’d prefer that my photos were noticed first time round (uh oh, that begins to sound like I’m being sucked in to the whole social media game…). But often the first photo of a group isn’t always the one that makes the most sense, to me at least.

So there’s always some tension when creating a multi-photo post (and that’s before you get to the issue of remembering the exact sequence so you can write a meaningful caption!), which, at some unconscious level, is probably behind my initial thinking about posting the photos separately. Alas in this instance I only had the energy/inspiration to post the first two and so my approach failed.

With that in mind, let’s get to the two photos above. The first is a no-brainer for me: colourful witch hazel blooms wearing a hat of pure white snow? I’ll take that picture every time, especially for a tree like this one with the multi-coloured flowers. I don’t think I realized at the time that I could make out the individual snowflakes so I was really pleased to notice that when I viewed the photos on my laptop. Instant post!

The second appealed to me for several reasons. There’s the obvious feature of the snow on the beach, especially as it’s right up to the water’s edge. The second is how the city fades into the background, the high-rises barely visible across False Creek. Third is the stranded yacht, which we’d seen being buffeted by high waves a week or two earlier, having dragged its anchor in the storm. Finally, the beach is empty, a rare sight indeed. This is a popular view in the city, but there’s one thing about that that bugs me: the beach is just too straight! It drags my eye to the middle and forces me to look there, making it hard for the other elements in the scene to be appreciated. Ideally I could have taken a few steps to my left to keep some perspective along the edge of the beach but what can’t be seen is a large tree that would make that shot impossible.

And there you have it. Only a couple of photos from the storm of the year. If I post some more on Instagram I may add them to this article. But don’t hold your breath…

Expansive peace

A few throwback-Thursday favourites from our Heather Trail backpacking trip last September. A great hike to soak up some wide open alpine space and big skies…

Our decision to hike the Heather Trail on the Labour Day weekend was made as we approached Hope along Highway 1. Do we take the turnoff and continue into the Fraser Canyon towards the Stein Valley, or head for the alpine of the Heather Trail? In the end the weather looked good enough for a few days of alpine enjoyment, and so we continued on to Highway 3 and into Manning Park.

It turned out to be an inspired move. We set off under cool, cloudy skies and began our 12 km hike in to Kicking Horse campground. Late afternoon sunshine caught up with us near the final pass, bathing the meadows in warm light (photos 1 and 2) for some wonderful scenes. These two photos are among my favourites from the entire trip.

We found a suitable spot for our tent and enjoyed as quiet a night as we’ve ever experienced in the backcountry with not even the slightest breeze to ripple the fly sheet. I remember lying in my sleeping bag, probably around 1 or 2 am, holding my breath and enjoying the sheer weight of the silence.

The next day we hauled ourselves off in the direction of Nicomen Lake for a day’s hiking. We passed through more expansive meadows below azure skies, meeting barely a handful people along the way. (At least, until the ridge above Nicomen Lake itself.) We enjoyed lunch on a peak high above the lake (photo 3) before retracing our steps.

The light was perfect on our return, though we could see the beginnings of some dramatic clouds over the summit of Third Brother (fourth photo), portents of the weather to come that night and the following morning. The square format of this photo doesn’t really do justice to the size of the meadows we were passing through.

As we neared the campground we opted to pick our way carefully across country to the windy summit of Fourth Brother (photo 5) to enjoy a view we hadn’t experienced before. Then back to the tent, a rainy night followed by a snowy morning, and a steady hike back to the car.

It was only three days but it was some of the most enjoyable hiking and camping we’ve had, adding to some of the best hiking and camping we’d already savoured over the summer. Gambling on the Heather Trail was definitely the right decision.