Late season backpacking

Spring is getting nearer and our thoughts turn to backpacking options for the summer. But first, a quick throwback to a couple of trips from September 2015…

1. All set for the night – camping in the Barkley Valley

We’d heard many good things about this area and we were not disappointed. Well, except that our plan was to camp up in the alpine by the gorgeous lakes and not down here in the valley. However, we inadvertently made the right choice: it was so cold up at the lakes that we were much better off here!

See those slopes? They’re covered with wildflowers in the summer, which means that I have no choice but to return another day to see them in bloom.

2. Gorgeous green, lower Twin Lake

The colour of this lake completely took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting such a gorgeous glacial green lake as no previous photo I’d seen showed that colour. Given that the lake wasn’t this colour on our return last year, I’m guessing that it was due to the melting snow washing lots of fine particles into the water.

Snow? What snow? According to the hunters who stayed in the cabin next to our tent, a weekday snowstorm had dropped about 50-60 cm of snow in the valley! In our planning for this trip we hadn’t reckoned on that, so it was a good thing that it all melted before we arrived. And it contributed to the beauty of this lake, especially in contrast against the red rocks shown in the photo below.

The upper lake is just beyond the pass at the top of this photo. There’s a sporadic trail that leads up through a lovely meadow, across the aptly-named Crystal Creek which tumbles down the waterfall seen across the lake, and over some boulders to a more spacious bowl. A little less dramatic than this, perhaps, but I liked it because it really reminded me of the Lake District in the UK.

3. Steep slopes around lower Twin Lake. Glad I rediscovered this photo as it doesn’t work as a square.

When I joined Instagram in mid-2015, it was limited to square photos, a feature I actually liked because it forced me to think differently about framing and cropping. Square photos can be exceptionally effective and are ideal for scenes with symmetry or strong geometry. Of course, most of the photos Maria and I take don’t work for Instagram as we try and fill the frame with our compositions. However, it was only a few months into my Instagram experiment that they started allowing alternative aspect ratios, which led me to re-examine a few photos. I was really pleased to find that I could squeeze this one onto the new format as it was no good as a square crop. It still loses a little of its presence, but retains enough, in my mind, to be quite effective.

Ideally I would have taken the scene from a greater distance to permit a square crop, but that’s really hard to do when you’ve just arrived at a new location. Furthermore, the scale of this area overwhelmed me: none of the photos I’d seen before had come anywhere near capturing the scale of the lakes. It’s really quite spectacular, and I posted a few photos from our revisit back in September 2017.

For more photos from 2015, take a look at our set on Flickr, or read some more about that trip on my hiking blog.

4. End of the day in Illal Meadows, Jim Kelly and Coquihalla Mountain in silhouette

As ever, a still photograph conveys nothing of what it was actually like to be in spot it was taken. What can’t be shown is the freezing cold, howling wind that caused us to rethink our attempt on Jim Kelly Peak. We were so very grateful for the shelter of the trees.

Despite being taken with my phone, I’m quite happy with the appearance of the shadows which I had to lift quite a bit. The colours on the side of Jim Kelly are a bit garish and the shadows are a bit blue, but overall it works to my eye. What I like most about this photo is the curve of the creek, which stands out clearly reflecting the blue sky.

Funnily enough, I didn’t take this scene with either of our SLRs as we were filtering water at the time, but my phone was in my pocket and as ever it’s the camera that’s on you that counts. However, I did take it the following morning. Alas the light was not as good… A lesson to learn there!


West is best

Having recently visited Vancouver Island I thought it would be fun to feature a couple more shots in my Throwback Thursday series.

1. Sunset over Vancouver Island.

A typical summer view when taking a Friday evening ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Who can resist a glorious colourful sunset? The journey is not as scenic as the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route, so it lends itself well to “big sky” and abstract photos.

You can’t get much simpler a composition that this: sun in the centre, horizon dividing the scene in two, contrasting textures (if not colour) in each half. Looking back at this photo, the vapour trail from the airliner annoys me, but I’m not (yet) into removing features I don’t like from images so it’ll have to stay put for now.

2. Carmanah lighthouse on the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island.

Now this was a treat. Through a friend we managed to wrangle a stay at the lighthouse for a night which meant we had about 24 hours to enjoy the beaches of the west coast of the Island. And I distinctly remember stopping in my tracks when we emerged from the forest onto the driftwood logs and were confronted by a beautiful idyllic scene of a blue ocean lapping at a sandy beach. I had forgotten just about gorgeous the west-coast beaches were, and it definitely inspired us to spend more time way-out west. The icing on the proverbial cake was seeing a number of grey whales and finding some whale fossils.

That particular view of the beach is on Flickr:
West Coast Trail, 22 Aug 2015

But it’s not just that section of the West Coast Trail (WCT); many parts of the coast of Vancouver Island have sandy beaches. While we have still yet to tackle the WCT, we did manage to spend a few days at the northern tip of the Island in 2016. Much of our time on the Cape Scott Trail was spent lounging around or otherwise admiring the beautiful sandy beaches. Don’t believe me?

Nels Bight, 6 Aug 2016

And then there’s the Nootka Trail, where your first night is spent on this beach:
Nootka Trail, 25 Aug 2006
I even swam in the sea here!

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that we jumped at the opportunity to ring in the New Year on the sandy beaches of Tofino, and I’m already looking forward to our next visit.

On Ptarmigan (Ridge)

Yet another one of those hikes that had been on our radar for some time. The day we hiked in was thick, heavy mist with almost zero visibility. This, combined with exceedingly vague directions, meant that we walked right past the “official” camping area along the way, and we found ourselves on a flat part of the trail with cleared tent-sized patches, snow fields or glaciers either side of us. It turned out that we camped on an area that usually remains snow-covered, but with the low-snow winter before and the warm summer, that snow had melted out, leaving behind a tempting (if mucky) camping area.

As dusk approached, the clouds broke and the sun shone through, lighting up our surroundings for a few brief moments with the most surreal light before fading into the evening. The clouds drifted away overnight and we were greeted by a cloudless sunrise that allowed us to see our location for the first time. And what a location! We explored the trail to its end with stupendous views of Mt Baker and its many glaciers, before packing up and walking back past the daytime crowds to the car.

1. Camping on Mars? No, just Ptarmigan Ridge in the mist and drizzle with a little help from the setting sun.

The light was unreal as the setting sun lit up the mist and clouds around us; it really felt like we could have been camping on Mars. We had been in heavy grey mist all day up to this point and we got the first inkling that the clouds might just clear for us on the following day. Unfortunately, we pitched our tent facing the wrong direction and had to build a wall at one end to prevent the drizzle soaking through the mesh at the foot of our sleeping compartment. Then we placed our seat pads between our sleeping bags and the mesh. It worked: our sleeping bags were still dry in the morning, but a lesson learned!

2. The morning after the night before – the mist has cleared, the sun has risen and yesterday’s gloom has been forgotten.

And so we could now see where we were – spectacular! While Mt Baker is considerably foreshortened here, and diminished photographically, this is nevertheless a stunning place to wake up in, and I couldn’t resist a tent shot, especially with extent of the glacier behind us. The trail goes up to the left out of the frame, up steep slopes and over rocky sections to a viewpoint with sheer drops down to the glaciers on Mt Baker, and thankfully avoids the ice altogether. Well worth doing!

3. Clouds at the feet of Mt Shuksan.

In the other direction lay Mt Shuksan, the clouds beginning to bubble up in the valleys. I really like the effect of the clouds here, as they just fill the valleys to the height of the ridges. I’d woken up before sunrise to watch the sky lighten and change colour, the sun eventually peeking over the shoulder of Shuksan and turning Mt Baker various shades of pink, orange, and yellow before becoming dazzling white. Later in the day, those valley clouds would rise up and engulf us again on our walk back to the trailhead.

4. Mount Baker. ‘Nuff said.

Walking back to the trailhead, we had to keep checking behind us at the view we didn’t have on our hike in the day before. Mt Baker looms large for most of the way. In this shot, I like how the diagonal line of the ridge mimics the slope of Mt Baker itself. Eventually, though, the trail turns a corner and Mt Baker remains hidden for the last section until we return to the parking lot, where we turn for one last view before driving home.

To hear the mountains Rohr

What else do you do after a 5-day backpacking trip? Why you go on another backpacking trip of course!

It rained all day as we walked out of the Lizzie-Stein divide, and the weather forecast wasn’t looking good for the rest of the week. Our friends had only booked off enough time to do the Lizzie-Stein trip, while we had another 5 days to fill. Feeling a bit fed-up with the weather, we washed and dried all our gear at the Pemberton Valley Lodge (which was an awesome place to stay, by the way), and had a leisurely morning grabbing some breakfast before stopping off at North Arm farm for some extra goodies.

We’d formed a plan to do a little car-camping road trip that would take us into the warmer and drier interior of BC, and had packed the car accordingly. But as we headed across the Duffey Lake Road, we noticed the clouds were clearing over the mountains. That prompted an abrupt change of plan and we pulled off the road, unpacked the car, spread out our tarp, and re-packed our backpacks for a 3-day adventure. We then headed up the road towards the Marriot-Rohr area and had a leisurely late-afternoon hike up to Rohr Lake which was home for the next two nights.

1. Clouds over Mt Currie, as seen from North Arm Farm after savouring some gelato on the swings 🙂

We’ve driven past North Arm Farm so many times before that we were really pleased we had an excuse to stop off and sample some of their goodies. We opted for some gelato that we consumed out in the back yard, and just enjoyed the view, feeling like we were on vacation.

2. Evening light on Rancherie reflected in Rohr Lake. We camped where I’m standing – that’s someone else’s tent 🙂

After a couple of easy hours hauling our packs up to the lake, we sat back and relaxed to watch the sunset. It was so quiet up there, and the water was perfectly still. The stars came out and we crawled into our tent.

3. The Joffre Group as seen from the summit of Mt Rohr.

The following day we set out to re-attempt Mt Rohr, a summit we’d had to turn back from a few years ago due to snow and time constraints. This day we had no such trouble and were thrilled to make it to the top. The view was just incredible, with the peaks of the Joffre Group rising up and dominating the skyline to our south. Mt Rohr instantly became one of our favourite summits.

4. Shades of green and blue.

I always enjoy looking into the next valley when I reach a pass or mountain summit. Here was no exception and we were greeted by this gorgeous pair of lakes, one green and fed by a pocket glacier, the other a deeper greeny-blue. Beyond lay the usual sea of mountains, and a glimpse of Duffey Lake itself. More reasons to love this area!

At the edge of the Stein

A throwback-Thursday look at our big backpacking trip of 2015, a 5-day expedition to the Lizzie-Stein divide. I already posted (most of) these photos on my hiking blog with a brief overview of the hike and the beginnings of my more in-depth daily diary, but I can’t resist posting them again as it was such a fun trip and great to look back on. I’d love to return and explore some more, especially now the first day wouldn’t be spent fighting alders.

Day 1: Lizzie Lake, a welcome sight after slogging through 10 km of overgrown logging road.

Day 2: Crystal clear Arrowhead Lake, on the Lizzie-Stein divide with Tabletop Mountain.

Day 3: Tundra Lake. Yes, it really is that blue.

Day 4: Tabletop and Anemone Mountains on the way back to Lizzie Cabin.

Day 5: Yes, this is the trail. And it was wet.

Happy International Mountain Day 🙂 Caltha Peak above its namesake lake on the Lizzie-Stein divide. Next time we’ll scramble to the summit.

Last light

Last light – details on Mt Robson illuminated by the setting sun. Our last glimpse of sunshine for a while as the next day we’d have snow!

After a glorious day of hiking and exploring, we were treated to some lovely evening light highlighting some of the features on the northern side of Mt Robson. Taken in mid-September, summer sunsets would light up more of this face of the mountain, but I really like the diagonal lines that are catching the light. Camping at the eastern end of Berg Lake put us quite far from the mountain (and we were too lazy to walk the kilometre or so back to the western end to get a better view) so I needed the long zoom on the camera, in this case our old Canon S3IS. Much as I didn’t like that camera overall, there were still times it could turn out a decent image.

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!