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!

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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.

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

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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.

Real sunshine

Dreaming of sunnier Saturdays in today’s liquid sunshine…

Looks like we’re back into the rainy season here in Vancouver. Time to look back at those glorious sunny days of summer to remind us that it’s not always grey! This photo was taken as we stirred on the second morning of our Cape Scott backpacking trip. The night before had been misty and drizzly, and after we’d come round in the morning, we were kept in the tent a little longer by a passing shower. But it wasn’t too long later that the clouds began to clear and we saw hints of blue sky that gradually turned into glorious sunshine. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and by lunchtime decided that we wanted to explore further, so we packed up our gear and hiked on to Guise Bay where we spent two lovely nights.

The joys of camping…

Another photo from the weekend’s beautiful sunrise on Golden Ears. A spectacular place to camp but some people really need to learn that their voices carry way beyond their tent, and that yelling to your buds at 5 am is just not cool. Check out this week’s Leave No Trace Tuesday tip from @happiestoutdoors about being considerate of others in the backcountry.

I love spending time in the backcountry, and one of the things that appeals to me is the peace and quiet. It seems natural that leaving the city behind means leaving city attitudes behind as well (though I must admit, I’d like it if city folk could be a little more courteous of their fellow city-dwellers).

Historically, most of the people venturing into the backcountry were people who really wanted to be there for its own sake. My impression – and this could just be the curmudgeonly view of someone getting older! – is that there is now a significant number of (young) people going into the backcountry because it’s cool to do so. They don’t really love it, they’re not there to leave behind the busyness of life, they’re ticking a box, trying to impress their friends and get that ultimate sick Instagram shot.

I suspect most of them will grow out of hiking, taking up alternative pursuits in the process, and of course it’s not my place to say they shouldn’t be allowed in the backcountry. After all, the more people who get out and hike, the more people there will be who think there is value in protecting those areas. But I do feel that people venturing into an environment should go in with a view of adopting the existing traditions and attitudes, kind of like seeing how things are done before making your mark. Is it too much to ask for a little more respect and humility?

Tent by moonlight

We’re just back from two weeks on Vancouver Island and have some catching up to do 🙂 We took over 2000 photos and filled 3 16GB memory cards… In the meantime, here’s a shot of our tent lit by moonlight at Baby Bedwell Lake from last Friday after the mosquitoes had finally gone to bed. I was hoping to catch a Perseid or two but caught a satellite instead. You may be able to make out the Andromeda galaxy, M31, if you look closely enough…

This night we’d retired to the tent before it got dark as the mosquitoes were getting way too annoying. Which meant we had to get up again before settling down to sleep to attend the call of nature. By then the moon had risen and was illuminating the landscape around us perfectly well for me to see without my headlamp. And the bugs had gone, so I was able to lie on the rocks for a while and just enjoy the warm night air. By now everyone else had crawled into their tents and the campground was still and quiet. Perfect conditions for a few night photographs.

I remember being captivated by a long exposure photograph taken under full moonlight that showed a landscape and stars. Since then – which was back in 1990 or thereabouts – I’ve wanted to recreate something similar. This is a 30-second exposure – not long enough really to capture the light properly, but it’s always hard to tell at the time since the camera screen is so bright relative to the surroundings. Next time I know to try for a minute or so. And now that it’s later in the year, the moon will be higher in the sky and thus a little brighter too. OK – roll on some nice September and October weekends!

Room with a view

Room with a view – it was nice to celebrate National Trails Day by meeting the folks who’d built the trail we hiked to get here. Thank you!

We weren’t really expecting to get out on a backpacking trip so early in the season, but I was inspired by a recent visit to this area by a friend (whose photos showed the snow disappearing fast) and by my glacier lily sightings from earlier in the week. More on the glacier lilies we saw here in future posts, but after a long drive it almost felt like cheating to spend so little time hiking to reach the alpine and set up our tent in a nice dry snow-free patch of meadow.

The order of the day was definitely relaxation, and so rather than try and bag any peaks, we just hung out. The sun was warm (almost too warm!), the nearby creek was the perfect volume, the flowers were blooming all over the place, and there were no bugs to bite us! We couldn’t believe our luck. Of course, camping so high (we were at 2150 m or 7050 ft) it got pretty chilly after the sun went down but we were cosy enough in our tent.

I was almost tempted to claim a summit, but I just couldn’t be bothered to move as the following day dawned. A fantastic leisurely and relaxing weekend 🙂