Chasing spring

We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.

Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.

Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.

My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.

Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.

Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…

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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.

Behind you!

Behind you! This awesome view of the Wedge group is waiting behind your back as you admire Iceberg Lake.

Hikes to lakes rarely offer 360-degree views, but sometimes you get a good 180. Iceberg Lake is definitely one of those lakes. As you’re admiring the sheer headwall and the glacial lake at its base, all it takes to get the view above is to turn around. The meadows were a beautiful burnished gold and the distant peaks dusted with the season’s first fall of snow. I read a recent blog article from someone who climbed up Mt Cook on this same day: he’s in one of the pixels somewhere πŸ™‚

There’s something off about this photo though: Wedge Mountain (right) is actually higher than Mt Weart (left) which appears as the highest point. I guess I didn’t hold the camera as level as I should have, always tricky when there’s no obvious horizon. Except – wait – there are actually two; there’s the treeline and the snowline. Going by the trees next to the meadow, I thought that this was about right but I can clearly see from the either that I’m still a little bit off, and that a further correction would probably restore the natural order to the world. Mind you, those trees are starting to look like they’re leaning to my eyes – the final result will be some sort of compromise between the two, a blend of reality and perspective.

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…

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…

Window seat

Home again after an all-too-short but wonderful family visit. Garibaldi Lake and the Barrier as seen from our seats in the middle of the plane. Anyone with a window seat not staring out of the window at this point should forfeit their seats! πŸ™‚

Despite not having window seats, we were delighted to see this familiar view from the plane as we descended into Vancouver. While I would have preferred an unobstructed view, I’m pleased that I was at least able to make a feature of the aircraft window, and that I had enough of a zoom to focus on the scene outside. Initially, I kept the camera in my usual aperture-priority mode, but when I realized that it was consistently giving me about 1/125 s exposure, I just dialled that in using manual mode, which meant the camera didn’t have to spend time re-metering the scene just because I’d moved the camera away from the window.

And of course, I have to count on a little bit of luck, namely that the person in the window seat was glued to it taking loads of pictures of their own. Thankfully, they were content to just take one or two. If that had been me, I suspect no one else would have been able to get a shot in…

Cape Scott

A few days ago I finally completed my write-up of our 6-day trip to Cape Scott, already a year ago now! Although I’d published the summary post soon after returning home, it took months for us to sift through all the photos and for me to rediscover our notes to help me write up each day on the trip.

Looking back on a trip it’s sometimes hard to remember just how it made you feel, and when you do remember, was it just euphoria talking or was it really as good a trip as your words say? I quote my opening line: “Wow! I don’t remember the last time a hike so clearly won me over.” And instantly I’m transported back to those big open beaches, the dense forest, and the sense of wilderness.

I think what contributed to how we felt about this trip was the fact that we weren’t expecting to be wowed in the way that spectacular mountain scenes do. The beauty of the place crept up on us and was just there for us to experience. The rest was up to us to be open to that.

If you haven’t done any coastal hiking, then I highly recommend Cape Scott. I would also suggest that you wait for a good weather window, though that is tricky given the logistics of getting there. But it’s worth it. Who can resist such idyllic beach camping?

Nissen Bight, 4 Aug 2016