Light on Brunswick

Light on Brunswick – the view from the sunny summit of Black Mountain.

We’d spent a good while basking in the sunshine on the rocks at Eagle Bluffs and on our return opted for the quick detour up and over the south summit of Black Mountain. To our amazement, the summit was silent. I was expecting at least one group of people to be there, but it was vacant. Not even a whisky jack or raven to be seen. The view towards the Lions and other nearby peaks isn’t that great from here (the view from the north summit is better) but it was good enough and we had some superb dappled light hitting Brunswick and the East Lion. Having just posted a whole series of photos of the Lions, I figured today should be about Brunswick Mountain!

I grabbed a couple of shots, ensuring I didn’t blow out the highlights (thinking back to Sean Tucker’s excellent recent video called Protect your highlights) which is still quite easy to do on the little Sony RX100II. This meant that the shadows fell really dark, but I felt that was the point of a photo like this one. With the dramatic dark cloud behind the peaks, my idea was to produce something “moody”, maybe a little ominous, in contrast with my photo of the Lions from Hollyburn a couple of weeks ago which had a more ethereal feel to it. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded with the processing I went with – perhaps I should have increased the contrast even more, especially in the mid-tones. I may re-edit the photo for the Flickr version.

Still, I like the way the clouds rise up over the summit of Brunswick, keeping their distance as if giving it some respect, and the gleaming white snow does look good against the dark background. And every time I look at Brunswick, I’m transported to the wonderful day we had up there.

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Lions Week

A brief encounter of the nebulous and mountainous kind last Saturday inspired a week’s worth of photos of the Lions, a distinctive pair of peaks visible from downtown Vancouver and many places around. Originally named the Twin Sisters by local First Nations people, westerners re-named them the Lions, because – and even Chief Joe Capilano admitted – they looked like the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

Getting to them requires a tough hike in from a couple of directions – both of which we’ve tried now, first in 2005 at the end of our first real summer of hiking in BC. Attaining the summit of the West Lion is possible, though requires a head for heights and scrambling experience; the East Lion is in the Capilano watershed and officially off limits to the public.

However the best view is from other nearby peaks instead, or from further afield. Here I give 7 examples of the various views of the Lions from different vantage points on the North Shore and beyond that I hope capture some of the essence of these iconic mountains.

  1. A fleeting glimpse of the West Lion through the clouds to the north, Harvey and Brunswick barely visible if you know where to look. Behind us lay blue sky and sunshine but this was the view that held our attention.

    The photo that got me thinking; we’d just plodded our way up to the top of Hollyburn in glorious sunshine but could see the thick grey clouds to the north. I thought that we’d have no view at all so I was really pleased to see that the Lions were playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. Our camera/lens played up for some of the photos where the peaks were more clearly visible, but at least this one turned out well. The very tip of the East Lion is barely visible through the clouds.

  2. After posting yesterday’s photo I found myself browsing our collection of Lions photos. I enjoyed rediscovering them so much that I decided to make this week an impromptu Lions week 🏔 Here’s the view from the Cleveland dam taken a few winters ago. From this angle it’s easy to see how they were given their original name of the Twin Sisters.

    After I wrote the caption for this photo, I also realized that it’s easy to understand why early western visitors saw them as lions, particularly for the West Lion with its back and haunches pointing to the left in this view. The story of how they were originally called the Twin Sisters is described in Pauline Johnson’s book, “Legends of Vancouver” which is well worth reading by all residents on the area. Also worth reading are some of the early expeditions to climb the peaks. One such article from the 1920s (I think) describes a multi-day trip to those peaks, following Capilano River and then Sisters Creek. Hard to believe what an effort it once was to reach such nearby mountains!

  3. After yesterday’s classic view of the Lions from Vancouver, I thought it’d be fun to see the view from a totally different angle. This photo was taken near Seed Peak in Pinecone-Burke provincial park, about 33 km northwest of the Lions, the distinctive twin summits clearly recognizable, despite Mt Harvey’s attempts to confuse matters!

    This view was a complete surprise: we were on our way up (or down – can’t remember now) Seed Peak at the northern end of Pinecone-Burke provincial park when, as I often do, I scanned the mountain vista in search of familiar peaks. The twin peaks caught my eye like a pair of distant bunny ears. At first the similar-looking peak to the right puzzled me, but then I realized it was Mt Harvey, which does look a bit like one of the Lions from this – and the opposite – angle.

  4. Mt Seymour is a great hike/snowshoe and gives a unique side-on view of the Lions – they’re almost unrecognizable from this angle and it takes a moment or two of looking to realize what you’re seeing.

    It’s easy to miss the Lions completely from the Mt Seymour trail as they are seen almost side-on and appear as a just another peak along the ridgeline of the Howe Sound peaks. At least in winter there is some contrast between the snow and the rock; in summer the peaks tend to merge with their surroundings. It took a fairly long telephoto lens to get this shot, I think equivalent to about 300 mm in 35-mm terms.

  5. Today’s view of the Lions (well, only the West Lion) comes from a New Year’s Eve snowshoe trip to Mt Strachan back in 2010. We reached the summit only a few minutes before sunset after a hard slog up Christmas gully. We’re glad we made it in time because the light was just beautiful. One of my all-time favourite mountain sunsets!

    Oh what a trip this was! We set off under bluebird skies just after lunch and slogged our way up the gully barely in time to catch sunset. And what a sunset it was: the snow around us turned from white to cream, to yellow, then orange, and finally pink before returning to white as the sun dropped below the horizon. It was a stunning sunset, and over all too soon. All the while we admired the surrounding peaks, though none more so than the Lions. Our descent in the twilight and then darkness was a lot of fun and a good exercise in navigation and reading the terrain.

  6. If you’ve been following my series on the Lions then today’s photo probably won’t come as a surprise. Continuing working my way around the Lions, this view is from the top of Brunswick Mountain looking south towards those well-known twin outlines, Vancouver lost in the haze beyond. But what a great day to be in that little floatplane!

    Out of the frame to the left in the previous photo is Brunswick Mountain, the tallest mountain in the immediate vicinity of Vancouver, approaching 1800 m in height. It’s a favourite of many hikers owing to its superlative summit experience involving some fun scrambling and exceptional views. The downside is the unending slog to get there.

    But those views… And this view of the Lions is particularly good, though the light is rarely good enough to get a decent photo. That would take camping out at or near the summit, which is something to bear in mind for a future trip. As we were enjoying the scene, we heard a floatplane and looked round to see one flying a couple of hundred metres below us, cruising the western slopes of the Howe Sound peaks. I immediately knew where it would most likely head next and trained the camera on the Lions. Sure enough, the plane flew right by them. That’s a flight I’ll have to take one of these days.

  7. Drawing my Lions week to a close is the view seen by many tourists in Vancouver from the seawall near Canada Place and the convention centre. And yes, I did wait until that floatplane flew into the frame 🙂

    Finally I come back to the city. Last Friday morning I was downtown for a conference and decided to take advantage of the gorgeous morning to walk around the convention centre. It’s been a while since I’ve walked there and was pleasantly surprised to see the subjects of this week’s series of photos staring me in the face, gleaming white against the blue morning sky.

    Naturally I felt compelled to capture them, though given their distance, how little of them is visible, and the fact that I had only a modest zoom on my camera meant I felt my initial photos were lacking. However, as I watched a floatplane take off and bank left past the Lions I realized how I could add a little more interest to my photo. The next plane lined up to take off and I waited for it to turn towards the west and fly past the Lions. Alas it flew much higher than the previous plane, but an obliging bird decided to fly past about mid-way between the aircraft and the Lions. It wasn’t quite the shot I had in mind, but it was definitely good enough for me.

And so concludes a week of photos of the Lions. It’s been fun for me to look back through some of our older photos to find these views, and it’s re-planted the idea back in my head of putting in a little more effort to capture them again. Given the number of photos we’ve amassed over the past decade and more, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a few more mountains that could be turned into a themed week of posts. Watch this space….!

The long way round

There are two main approaches to the Lions. The most popular route starts in Lions Bay and climbs up 1300 vertical metres to reach the base of the West Lion. Alternatively, follow the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress Bowl, over St Mark’s Summit and the well-named Unnecessary Mountain. It’s more scenic, but nearly half as long again. On this occasion back in June 2015, we decided to combine the two: hike in from Cypress Bowl, and then descend to Lions Bay where we’d left one of our cars earlier in the day.

The hike can be broken into three: Cypress Bowl to St Mark’s, St Mark’s to the Lions, then the Lions down to Lions Bay. The first section is a hike we’ve done many times, and obviously the third leg is just the descent of the route from Lions Bay. The middle part is what we were most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint, treating us to some of most enjoyable hiking near Vancouver.

1. Howe Sound views from St Mark’s Summit.

Howe Sound views from St Mark's Summit #hsct #hiking #explorebc #howesound #stmarks

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This is the classic view of the rocky outcrop by St Mark’s, one of the most common hiking photos of the Lower Mainland on Instagram. For many years, the trail to St Mark’s was a truly awful mess of roots and rocks. Upgrades began a few years ago, but they weren’t done yet so we had to endure a little bit of old-time misery. Eventually we made it to the viewpoint and admired the sheer drop down towards Howe Sound, while trying to ignore the scampering chipmunks and swooping whisky jacks on the hunt for unattended food.

2. Vancouver from the Lions.

#Vancouver from the Lions #hsct #thelions #hiking #cypressprovincialpark

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The Lions are a distinctive landmark and visible from many parts of Vancouver. So it makes a nice change to be able to admire the reverse view, looking down the Capilano River valley towards the city and to the Fraser delta beyond.

3. The Lions from Unnecessary Mountain. Classic.

The Lions from Unnecessary Mountain. Classic. #hsct #thelions #hiking #explorebc

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OK I’ve saved the best for last. As I mentioned above, the section of the trail over Unnecessary Mountain to the base of the Lions is some of the best hiking in the area. Gorgeous open subalpine rambling through a green-and-grey landscape. This was our favourite part of the trip and had the best views, such as this one. The route ahead is clearly visible along the ridge top.

We could have sat at the top of Unnecessary Mountain and stared at this view all day.

Would we do this hike again? Not sure – it ended up being one of our longest days on the trail at nearly 11 hours. Somehow we just need to get to that magic middle section…

The path ahead

Still some snow along the ridge towards Mount Harvey. Saturday was a beautiful day to be up high, and the snow was a welcome cooler! Full trip report on LiveTrails.

The last (and only other) time I reached the summit of Mt Harvey, the only view we had was straight up through the clouds to blue sky above. All around us was heavy cloud that refused to lift or burn off. I therefore wanted to wait for a clear day to repeat the long, steep climb, and Saturday was perfect. (Well, nearly: it was probably a bit too hot for hiking, though we were in shade for most of the ascent and there was a nice breeze at the top.) And it was worth the wait: the view is incredible, and I think I prefer it to that from Mt Harvey’s taller neighbour, Brunswick Mountain.

Of course, it was never far from our minds that this was the place where five snowshoers died back in April, and we met a Korean hiking group at the summit who were there to remember their friends. This part of the ridge shows the remnants of some of the cornices that form during the winter, and even though they are a shadow of their former selves, we were careful to ensure we kept well back from their edges.

Mount Harvey

A view of Mt Harvey and its sheer north face, the site of a heartbreaking tragedy this past weekend where 5 snowshoers died when a cornice collapsed beneath them. My thoughts go out to their families and friends, especially to the surviving member of that group. I’ve often wondered about tackling Mt Harvey in the winter, but I’ve always had those cornices (and my relative inexperience in winter backcountry travel) at the back of my mind, which has always led me to leave it for another day.

My heart sank when I heard that SAR teams had been called out to an incident on Mt Harvey. My immediate thoughts were that someone triggered a cornice collapse and had fallen several hundred metres. Sadly I was right, except it was worse because five people were involved. Perhaps the only reason that the sixth member of the group survived was that they had slowed down on the ascent and reached the summit later than the others. What an awful realization that must be.

A tragic reminder that the local mountains can be as deadly as they are beautiful.

Lions in a frame

The Lions, framed at the north summit of Black Mountain.

Last Wednesday was a gorgeous blue-sky day and I couldn’t resist getting back out in the snow with my camera. The wind that greeted us at the north summit felt almost as cold as that in the Coquihalla at New Year and we quickly retreated to a nearby bump that retained a view of the Lions at least. And that’s when I saw the picture: the famous twin peaks were framed neatly between two snow-laden trees, and I had a nice foreground of smooth sunlit snow. Even the existing snowshoe tracks serve to frame the Lions.

Tree family

Snowy tree family – another photo from our Christmas day snowshoe up Hollyburn.

Sometimes you see something and can instantly recognize that it’s a square photo. As I framed this shot I could see that the group of trees could be isolated and placed them with just enough sky above and snow below to complete the picture. I like the way the trees appear to be interacting with one another. I saw a photo on Instragram recently where the photographer thought the same, a small group of trees all leaning in and appearing to be deep in conversation. It’s the weight of the snow that does it, bending over the tops of the trees (and sometimes much more). I’ve been caught in the spring many times by trees shedding their snow and springing back up to surprise me 🙂