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!

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Fancy a brew?

Backcountry huts attract a lot of attention, so much so that we rarely intend to stay in them. However, on this particular weekend in July 2015, we found ourselves the only people at the Brew Hut, run by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club and opted to spend the night there. Just us and the mice.

Or so we thought. Not long before sunset, a couple of guys staggered into the hut proclaiming thanks at eventually finding it. Our quiet bubble well and truly burst, we ended up having a really pleasant evening chatting with them and helping them demolish the 13 cans of beer they’d brought along. Remarkably, they went to bed at the same time as us, and only stirred when we started moving in the morning. Their reason for visiting? They just liked the name and its association with beer…

1. Instagram-ready view of Garibaldi from Brew Hut.

I really liked this shot, especially at the time it was taken when Instagram was home to square photos. Indeed, one of the reasons I joined Instagram was to explore the possibilities with square crops. Now that it supports other crops (though no more than 5×4 in portrait orientation) I feel some of that creativity has been lost as I no longer feel I have to think in terms of that constraint.

2. Brew Hut with Garibaldi, a very nice place to spend a weekend.

Brew Hut in all its glory – the location is stunning with great views in every direction. The tricky part is the access road which requires at least modest clearance and potentially 4-wheel drive for the final section (though there is a lower trailhead for vehicles that can’t make it up the last hill). I was happy to make it to the upper parking lot on a stifling hot day.

I remember the drive home after that trip, coming back through Squamish and being unable to see the Chief from the highway due to the thick smoke from forest fires in the neighbouring Elaho valley. We could see the red glow from those fires – very eery.

Best seat in the house

Looking back 5 years ago today to a balmy Thanksgiving weekend in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is one of my all-time favourite views, and possibly the best in the park. Black Tusk looks amazing from all angles but especially this one.

I love this view. Actually I love the entire view from this spot on Panorama Ridge. To the south is Garibaldi Lake and Mt Garibaldi itself, to the east lies the heavily-glaciated Castle Towers, while to the west is the Tantalus Range. For a hike that requires only relatively modest effort (at least when camping nearby), it offers the greatest value in terms of views. Plus the hike itself is quite enjoyable, passing through vast flower meadows or across volcanic cinder flats, depending on your approach.

I haven’t yet summited Black Tusk itself, and while I don’t doubt that the view from up there is superb, I still expect that it won’t be better than this view. After all, Panorama Ridge overlooks Garibaldi Lake directly, and of course you get to admire the stunning Black Tusk: Panorama Ridge is a much less visually impressive summit!

And I think that it looks best in the autumn too as the meadows on its flanks turn that lovely burnished golden colour as the flowers die back. Having said that, it looks pretty good in any season…

Downton panorama

Panoramic view of the Downton Creek basin, taken on our first visit 5 years ago today.

It’s a funny thing looking back at trips from 5 or more years ago. So many of them felt like they’d been on our to-do list for many years, and yet when I think about it, they were on that list for less time than has since elapsed. Time is a strange thing. Downton Creek was one of those areas that had been talked up on Club Tread as an exceptional destination, and in Sep 2012 we spent a weekend there exploring some of the area.

We had a fantastic couple of days, but I remember coming home and feeling a little disappointed with the photos – it didn’t seem to me that they’d captured the feel of the area. I’ve had this reaction on multiple occasions before and the only solution is time – leave them alone and go back to the photos some time later. This has the disadvantage of delaying putting any photos online; I’ve read many trip reports that were composed within a day of getting home, but I don’t seem to be able to do that. I like to savour the feeling of the weekend in my own mind before jumping in to the photos.

For me, one of the biggest problems with photos is that, once you’re away from the place, they define your memories of it. That’s another reason that taking a bit a time to get back to the photos works for me. Then I’m in a position where I’m having to rely on the photos to relive the experience.

And so it was several years after I took this panorama that I revisited it, reprocessed the 18 or so photos, and recreated the panorama with Hugin. And now when I look at it, I can sit back and enjoy the view and remind myself of what it was like to be there. I like the soft light, the autumn colours, and the mountains seem more impressive than I remembered. Here’s the full panorama (as linked from Flickr):

Downton Creek, 22 Sep 2012

The king of views

Can’t believe it was 10 years ago that we were admiring this view. Still one of my favourite backpacking trips and I think about returning every time I see yet another Instagram post from this area…

Our first backpacking trip to the Rockies; indeed our first hiking experience in the Rockies (though not our first sight of them – we rode the Rocky Mountaineer train from Calgary to Vancouver when we first immigrated to Canada). And what a way to start, with one of the highest-rated trips from the book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” (one of my favourite guide books ever written).

We were fortunate with the weather for our first couple of days with clear blue skies (if chilly nights) which meant we had the rare treat of seeing the summit of Mt Robson (also sometimes referred to as the King of the Rockies) free of cloud. This photo was taken on our second day on a short hike up past Toboggan Falls to visit the cave. Just an incredible view. We sat and admired it for quite some time before heading back down to the Hargreaves Shelter for dinner.

For the full photographic experience, check out the full set on Flickr.

I really can’t believe it’s been a whole decade since we hiked this trail. Like so many of the beautiful places we’ve visited, I want to return to this area and explore it some more. There’s always next year…

Marmot

When you camp in a marmot’s garden, you have to expect a visit from the landlord… Payment was made in the form of half-a-dozen chunks from the grips of my hiking poles.

We knew there were loads of marmots here, and friends had mentioned how “friendly” they were. On our first night we confidently hung out food bags from a steeply-sloped rock face thinking that they were safe from marmots there. After all, marmots don’t climb rock faces, do they?

Well, the following morning we were relieved to find that our food bags were untouched, but we soon got a lesson in just how well marmots can climb as this guy scampered effortlessly up the very rock face we’d thought was unclimbable. Huh. After that the marmot explored where we were having breakfast and then had a good nose around our friends’ tent – where I managed to capture it for the photo above.

Having earned no food, the marmot wandered off into the rocks and that was the last we saw of it that day. I didn’t take my hiking poles out on the hike and it was only the next morning that I found the grips had quite a few marmot-bite-sized chunks taken out of the foam. All I could think of was how gross it was to have to now use those poles, all covered in marmot spit… Yuck!

Sunset eye candy

A sea of mountains at sunset. Mt Matier, Joffre Peak, and Mt Rohr sure make for a pretty skyline.

One of the things I love about hiking in the mountains north and east of Pemberton is the wonderful “sea of mountains” effect as ridge after ridge of peaks fades into the distance. On our second night at Twin Lakes, a cloudless day turned into a subtly golden sunset with the snow fields on Mt Matier catching the last of the light.

When I took this shot, I exposed for the brighter portions of the image to keep the shutter speed manageable for a hand-held shot in the darkening dusk (the lower half of the photo looked almost completely black). Adjusting the shadows in DxO afterwards revealed a surprising amount of colour detail had still been captured despite being underexposed by at least one stop. Not bad for a camera from 2009! Now obviously, looking closely at the image shows that it’s smeary and lacking detail (plus the blacks still look crushed flat), but for posting on Instagram and Flickr, it has turned out well enough for me to let other people see it.

It’s photos like this that justify carrying the weight and bulk of a digital SLR, and they ensure I will always have a camera of this class, though whether it’s an SLR or mirrorless remains to be seen. I wonder what Nikon has in store for us…