Columbia lilies

Columbia lilies in an open meadow for wildflower Wednesday – many of the orange blobs in this photo are Columbia lilies. Unfortunately my attempts to capture the extent of their bloom didn’t work out: I have a picture of orange dots in a field of mostly green. I’ve never seen so many in one place before, and it seemed like most of them had multiple flowers per stem, with as many as 5 on one.

I think this is my first Columbia lily photo on Instagram. I don’t have many photos of them because we simply don’t encounter that many on our hikes. I can think of a few places I’ve seen them, but they’re not as widespread as other flowers, and they don’t usually grow in abundance. Even where they do – such as the meadow in the photo above – trying to capture the sense of their number is really difficult as they’re tall and gangly flowers and they tend to be fairly spaced out. So I was happy to see that many of the stems had multiple flower heads, allowing me to get some more interesting photos, rather than simply a single flower atop a tall stalk.

One thing I noticed in taking pictures of these flowers with the Sony RX100II was that the red channel clipped very easily. As a result I have quite a few photos where the flowers are much yellower than in reality, and even processing from raw can’t bring the full detail back, so they remain kinda washed-out looking. I’ve got used to being a little cavalier with my exposure thanks to the dynamic range of the SLRs, and I guess this is one case where I well and truly hit the limits of what the smaller sensor can do. Darn. But now I know.

Mountain double act

Gratuitous mountain view for Mountain Monday – Brunswick and Harvey, a superb double act of Howe Sound summits. Which do you prefer?

Brunswick and Harvey, often mentioned together in conversations about the peaks of the Howe Sound Crest Trail (a backpacking trip I’ve yet to tackle), and two of several tough hikes that begin in Lions Bay. From what I’ve read, Brunswick – being the higher, slightly tougher, and more technical – seems to have the majority mindshare among hikers. I don’t disagree that it’s an impressive peak, and the summit is a fantastic area, but personally I prefer Mt Harvey because the approach is more pleasant (or less unpleasant depending on your point of view!), and I really liked the closer view of the Lions.

Both hikes are hard, involving over 1450 m of elevation gain at an average gradient exceeding 20%. Brunswick has the additional excitement of some scrambling and tricky terrain to negotiate (with some exposure too), whereas Harvey has only a few places near the top where hands are helpful. But for me, the hike up to Brunswick is just awful: over 2 hours of logging road followed by a direct line up the mountain through scrappy second-growth forest. Only once the trail hits the Howe Sound Crest Trail does it become interesting and fun. By comparison, the hike up to Harvey passes through more pleasant forest (even though a lot is second-growth), and winds its way up the steep slope in a more manageable fashion.

Maybe it’s only because I only recently saw the view from Mt Harvey for the first time, but, at least for now, I’ll take the less exciting summit with the more interesting approach!

And that was my 400th post on Instagram. It’s only taken me two years 🙂

Wildflowers galore!

Wildflowers galore on the way up to Mt Outram. Best viewed from the trail, of course.

As we plodded our way up the steep trail to Mt Outram, we met a hiker on her descent who exclaimed that the flower display awaiting us was possibly the best she’d ever seen. When we broke out of the trees onto the open slopes, we could barely believe our eyes. The meadows were absolutely filled with all manner of flowers; the blues, reds, and yellows of lupine, paintbrush, and arnica making for a truly eye-catching view. I think every colour of the rainbow was well represented.

It’s always a little difficult to capture such rich displays. Either the flowers end up looking like little dots, and there’s nothing to draw you into the photo, or a small number of flowers becomes the focus, and some of the grandeur and extent of the meadows is lost. But this one seems to strike the right balance, especially with the distant mountains lending a bit of depth and providing a level horizon to emphasize the steep slope.

Misty mountain top

Not much of a view atop Mt Outram yesterday, but the flowers were beyond spectacular. Check out the lovely purple silky phacelia (sky pilot) which was in full bloom throughout this alpine area.

Oh wow. This weekend’s trip up to Mt Outram was nothing short of spectacular. Beautiful forest, superb views, and some of the most extensive and abundant flower meadows I’ve ever seen. Sure, the hike up was every bit as tough as the stats suggest (especially with an overnight pack) but it was worth every step.

Our glorious sunny Saturday gave way to a cloudy and sometime snowy Sunday. We didn’t really have time to make the summit on Saturday, and we believed the weather forecast that predicted sunshine for Sunday. Well it didn’t quite turn out that way, as it rained in the night, and we woke to low cloud shrouding the summits. Not that we cared. We’d come this far, so why not head up to the summit anyway? And we’re glad we did – it was eery and atmospheric up there in the mist. And so what if we missed the panoramic views? We found other things to enjoy, such as all the flowers, and the sheer delight in being up in the mountains.

Definitely a hike to repeat.

(I should point out that the obvious, pale purple flower in the foreground is not silky phacelia – that is the darker purple flower behind – but the well-named skunky Jacob’s ladder, confusingly also known as sky pilot. I thought I caught a hint of something skunky as I was crawling around getting flower photos at the summit!)

Pinesap

It’s pinesap season! I love how these flowers emerge from the ground, uncurling and unfurling as they grow. Saw a few along the Sea to Summit trail at the weekend, and on Mt Gardner the previous weekend, and more on our hike to Mt Harvey a couple of weeks ago. Alice Lake is a great place to see them at this time of year.

Much like coralroot, I was intrigued by these colourful flowers that grew in the shade of the forest. I don’t remember exactly when I first saw one of these flowers, but I could immediately see it was unlike any other flower I’d ever seen. Varying from creamy-yellow to salmon-pink in colour, this tiny flower unfurls directly on the forest floor, starting out as a tiny coloured bump before growing up and straightening out to a full height of about 30 cm. Like coralroot, there’s not a hint of green anywhere. They sometimes grow alone, but more often in small groups, two or three, maybe half-a-dozen. Since then I’ve found a place where it grows in profusion, and the trail becomes one of the slowest half-miles I’ll ever walk 🙂

So keep your eyes open – they’re picky about where they grow, but when they find a place they like, they can spread out and colonize the area.

Camping without campfires

It’s Leave-No-Trace Tuesday and it seems appropriate to talk about campfires since they are banned across BC right now.

I’m firmly of the opinion that camping does not need a campfire. I prefer it because I get to see the night sky, and there are no concerns about anything catching fire or melting from stray sparks, or finding firewood, plus there’s no messy, stinky fire ring which in turn means no scar on the landscape. Also with a campfire, everyone huddles around it looking inwards. Why not sit and look out at the landscape?

So here’s our tent, lit by a headlamp inside and the full moon outside. What you can’t see in this photo is that we had to dodge two (!) fire rings to pitch our tent, despite the fact that campfires are forbidden here.

Strangely, most of the articles and posts I’ve seen about the current campfire ban use pictures of roaring campfires to make the point. I think the various news organizations and public bodies should invest in some alternative stock photos that either show campfires being extinguished or have campers enjoying a campfire-free life! It is possible!

And I’ve finally found a hashtag that no one has used yet: #campingwithoutcampfires Try it 🙂

It's #LeaveNoTraceTuesday and it seems appropriate to talk about campfires since they are banned across BC right now. I'm firmly of the opinion that camping does not need a campfire. I prefer it because I get to see the night sky, and there are no concerns about anything catching fire or melting from stray sparks, or finding firewood, plus there's no messy, stinky fire ring which in turn means no scar on the landscape. Also with a campfire, everyone huddles around it looking inwards. Why not sit and look out at the landscape? So here's our tent, lit by a headlamp inside and the full moon outside. What you can't see in this photo is that we had to dodge two (!) fire rings to pitch our tent, despite the fact that campfires are forbidden here. Strangely, most of the articles and posts I've seen about the current campfire ban use pictures of roaring campfires to make the point. I think the various news organizations and public bodies should invest in some alternative stock photos that either show campfires being extinguished or have campers enjoying a campfire-free life! It is possible! And I've finally found a hashtag that no one has used yet: #campingwithoutcampfires Try it 🙂 #leavenotrace #lnt #ge_rlparks #goldenears #goldenearsprovincialpark #nocampfires #bcparks #explorebc #backpacking #hiking #hikebc #bchiking #beautifulbc #bigagnes #beautifulbritishcolumbia #ifttt

A post shared by Andy Gibb (@_andy_gibb_) on

The obsession with campfires remains one of my biggest pet peeves when in the backcountry. Here in Canada (and probably elsewhere too), camping is intimately linked to having a campfire, be it for cooking, warmth, or as a TV substitute. They’re in all manner of adverts for camping and spending time in the great outdoors. And so it perhaps no great surprise that when people raised on this message venture into the backcountry to camp, they immediately feel some primal need for a campfire.

The thing is that they are completely unnecessary, borderline useless for cooking (I’ve tried), and damage the fragile backcountry environment to an extent that takes decades to restore. A portable gas stove is so much more efficient, and modern setups weigh very little. It’s the damage and mess that bugs me the most, especially when people don’t reuse an existing scar. As I mention above, there were two fire scars right next to where we pitched our tent, barely 2 metres apart. And when a place looks trashed, people are less inclined to take care and not trash it some more.

And so I do my best to leave places as I find them – or better. If I can walk away from a campsite and see no evidence I was there, I’m happy. That includes campfires. In many places we hike, they’re forbidden anyway (although that doesn’t stop people since enforcement is sadly minimal). And despite my fascination with fire as a youth, I never developed the camping-campfire association.

I’ll admit, then, that I find it easy to not bother with campfires. But I look at what I gain from not having one: no mess, no damage, no smell, no risks, and a clear view. A crackling fire is fine in a log cabin; in the backcountry, I want to hear the sounds around me. A fire draws my eye to its flames: without it, I have the entire landscape to admire. A bright fire accentuates the difference between light and dark: the night is rarely as dark as you think. In the backcountry, I accept there may be mosquitoes, and it may be chilly. I have warm clothing, plus bug wipes and a net if necessary.

I am quite happy to camp without a campfire.

Afloat

Afloat. Mount Baker seems to float in the sky behind Vancouver as seen from the summit of Mount Gardner.

The hike up Mt Gardner is a pretty good one overall – it’s not the most interesting approach (especially if you have to start at the ferry terminal), and it can be confusing without a map, but there are a couple of great viewpoints and this stunning view from the summit. I always love the way that Mt Baker (Kulshan) seems to float on the clouds above and behind the city. Today was perfect: clear enough to get a good view of the city, and hazy enough to obscure the distant mountains.

I wrote up a quick trip report on Live Trails with a few more details of the hike.