Near and far

Near and far – Mt Baker peeks over the ridge of De Pencier bluffs.

While the weather this weekend was good enough to take this photo, this was actually taken a week ago. Yesterday’s good weather caught us off-guard and we had made other plans for the middle of the day…

I noticed this alignment of the bluffs and Mt Baker on our way up to the First Peak of Mt Seymour and thought I’d leave it until the descent when the light on Mt Baker would be a little warmer in order to emphasize the distance between the subjects. I was quite pleased to see that I was right and, with a little help from the polarizer to deepen the blue sky, I got pretty exactly the shot I was after. Ideally I would have preferred to have the longer lens to really compress the scene and isolate the two but I’m stuck with the reach of the 18-55 mm for now until I upgrade.

I really like how the nearby bluffs are crystal clear with the snow retaining a slight blue cast while Mt Baker is distinctly yellower and softer. I did adjust the colour of the deep shadow of the bluffs, warming it up slightly to render it more neutral and make it less distracting; winter shadows in the snow tend to be very blue and I didn’t want that to compete with the rest of the photo.

What surprised me most of all is that I have walked this route a couple of dozen times and don’t remember ever seeing that particular view before. Now I have to go back and look through all my Mt Seymour photos to check!

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City sights on a sunny Sunday

City sights on a snowy sunny Sunday – mountains, birds, the sea, the city, snow, ice, and signs of spring. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that I live here.

Winter came to the city last night, and to everyone’s surprise, the clouds parted and we were treated to a gorgeous sunny day. Maria and I wandered out for some fresh air, heading down to the beach before grabbing a hot chocolate and walking home for lunch. And a lovely picturesque walk it was too!

1) The beach between Tatlow Park and Trafalgar Street has a nice tidal shelf with a few little raised rocks. This seagull was perfectly placed with the Vancouver skyline behind it, with the peaks of Mt Seymour and the Fannin Range forming the horizon.

2) I love this view of Kits Beach, especially when the tide is out a little like today. The ripples of the incoming waves add some lovely foreground interest – spot the seagull down on the beach too!

3) A couple of the streets offer a great view of Crown Mountain. I liked this one showing the street scene with the mountain as an imposing backdrop. The original version of this image (in a vertical 3:2 ratio) looks much better though. The square crop loses too much for my liking, and I wouldn’t post it alone in this format, but it works well enough for a multi-photo post.

4) I found some witch hazel still in bloom! Yay! This tree is the same one I photographed last year, and it’s a lovely hybrid tree with a mixture of yellow and red “petals”. Most are just one colour of the other, but this one blends the two into its own little spectrum.

5) I was hoping to find a scene like this: a dot of last night’s snow perched on top of some flowers. And with the blue sky behind, how could I resist?

6) Possibly the closest witch hazel tree to home, I hadn’t noticed this one before but it was a gorgeous pure yellow complete with a little icy hat!

Icy blue

This week’s Throwback-Thursday theme is ice. Perhaps my favourite topics in physical geography is glaciology (volcanoes and meteorology come a close second) and so it was with some delight that I realized I could get close-up views of glacier while hiking in BC and Alberta. I had visited Chamonix for a conference (wow – 20 years ago now!) and had enjoyed seeing the snowy icecap of Mt Blanc and the Mer de Glace, but they were still quite distant. What I wanted was to be able to touch that blue ice, without necessarily getting into mountaineering. I found two ways to do just that.

1. Scale. A lucky shot, these 2 photographers were packing up as we got to this viewpoint. Taken in Aug 2009.

Our third trek into the Canadian Rockies and our second time stopping at the Athabasca Glacier. In 2008 we’d taken the coach tour out onto the glacier, which gave us the chance to step out onto the ice and even sample the delicious cold meltwater. A year later we spent a few days exploring along the Icefields Parkway, stopping off at the Athabasca Glacier once again, this time just walking to the toe past all the signposts marking its position in recent years.

As we turned to leave, I noticed these two just beginning to walk away after taking a few photos. I changed to the telephoto lens and quickly captured them against the freshly-revealed ice in the background where a chunk had calved off, leaving behind a sheer blue cliff. It remains once of my favourite glacier photos because it lends scale to the immensity of the ice.

2. Wedge Glacier, getting further away each year.

By the end of our first summer of hiking in Vancouver, we had improved our strength and stamina sufficiently to tackle the steep hike to Wedgemount Lake, the site of perhaps the most accessible glacier in the area. That day, our turnaround point was the campground next to the lake, though I now wish we had continued on to the glacier on account of it being much closer than it was in the above photo (taken in 2015). I never expected to witness glacial retreat in my lifetime let alone in just a decade of hiking in BC. I was shocked when I revisited in 2013, and even more so in 2015 where the combined effect of a mild, low-snow winter and a warm dry summer had led to a huge retreat in the Wedge Glacier.

Where only 2 years previously the glacier terminated in an ice cave and a small pool, now the glacier’s snout ended in a much larger lake – indeed, a new glacial lake forming. Still impressive to be so close to this river of ice, but sobering to witness its retreat.

3. Wedgemount Lake, always a stunning place to be.

Lastly, a wider shot of Wedgemount Lake looking towards the Wedge Glacier, again taken in 2015. On our first hike here in 2005, the glacier extended to the obvious rocky outcrop visible near the end of the glacier. In the 1970s, the glacier calved into the lake itself! And that colour – always such a treat to see.

For sure the lake and its surroundings look spectacular on a sunny day such as this. But one of my favourite visits was on a misty, cloudy day in 2011, the rocks dusted in their first skiff of snow. The lake glowed a sage green being the only colour in an otherwise mostly-monochrome scene. A beautiful sight! The other highlight of that day was seeing a mountain goat. 🙂

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…

Kits Beach

Kits Beach is a 20-minute walk from our apartment. If ever we need a quick dose of outdoors, and don’t feel like taking the bus or driving anywhere, then we walk in the direction of the sea and usually end up by Kits Beach. It’s a great place to catch the low tide, and it’s been our go-to spot for photographing the aurora, at least for 2017 when we were treated to two great displays in May and September. I’ve already written a number of posts about photos taken at or near Kits Beach. What’s one more for Throwback Thursday?

1. Crescent moon at sunset.

Crescent moon at sunset #kitsbeach #moon #beautifulbritishcolumbia

A post shared by Andy Gibb (@_andy_gibb_) on

For a few years I was quite obsessed with taking photographs of the moon in all its phases. These days it takes something more than the moon itself to inspire me to take a photo, such as a colourful sky, or a colour gradient, which is perhaps more likely to catch my eye. I like how the moon is holding on to the blue sky while the sunset tinges the sky pink and orange below it.

2. Admiring the sunset.

We’ve seen quite a few sunsets at the beach over the years. I particularly like the colours in this one, reflected in the blissfully calm water, with Maria walking across the sand to stand and admire the view from the water’s edge.

3. Blustery day at Kits Beach.

In stark contrast to the photo above, a rare windy day whipped up some great waves, their white caps standing out against the bottle-green water. Dark clouds over the North Shore complete the picture. One of my favourite phone photos: not only did it turn out quite well (at least for viewing at Instagram size) but it was a clear example of the best camera for the job is the one you’re carrying.

Back in the mountains again

Good to be back in the mountains again! The Tantalus Range and a fine mountain hemlock looking good against that sky of unusual colour.

We set off from Vancouver in thick fog. Driving over the Lions Gate bridge, the tops of the uprights were hidden, the green arrows marking our lanes barely visible until we were underneath the gantry, blindly trusting our forward motion into the wall of grey ahead of us. The fog greeted us again on our return in the evening, our drive around a deserted Stanley Park proving quite eery with our headlights shining straight back into our eyes. But in between we had nothing but bright sunshine and a sky of a colour we barely recognized after the last two weeks of rain.

By coincidence, two-and-a-half months after our last hike (our jaunt up to Mt Parke on Mayne didn’t really qualify as such), we found ourselves at the same trailhead as that very same hike, this time with snow. We pulled on our snowshoes and made our way up through the snow to the same bluff with this incredible view. I was delighted to find this tree surrounded by untouched snow and I tried to take a leaf out of a landscape photographer’s book by actually finding something resembling a composition. Mountains on one side, big tree on the third-line, and lines in rain-washed snow against an azure backdrop. Unoriginal perhaps, but fine with me.

Stormy (mountain) Monday Blues

Stormy (mountain) Monday blues – Crown Mountain reflected in the mudflats at the blue hour.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago on Christmas Day as we walked along the sand on Locarno Beach. I was really pleased to get the top of Crown reflected in the still water ponded on the mudflats, something I’ve tried many times before without much success. It wasn’t until afterwards that I really noticed the low cloud hanging in the Capilano River valley, spilling out across the flanks of the enclosing mountains, and adding to the atmosphere of the scene. I had to work around the dust on the sensor of our RX100II, but I had a square crop in mind from the beginning so that was easy.

I came up with the title based on the weather forecast for the beginning of this week, which should surprise no Vancouverite: rain, rain, rain. And today is “Mountain Monday” on Instagram. The title is actually the name of an old blues tune, “Stormy Monday Blues”, of which we have a wonderful recording from 1948. The first couple of lines of the song are:

They call it Stormy Monday
But Tuesday's just as bad

which seemed fitting (given the weather forecast). Of course, with the photo being taken at the start of the so-called “blue hour”, the song naturally popped into my head.

As it happened, today wasn’t as wet as I expected, tomorrow’s forecast has improved, and I even got to see a barred owl chasing crows on the UBC campus. Not bad for a Monday.