The view from our tent

Throwback Thursday to the view from our tent this past summer. It seems that if we weren’t counting mosquitoes, we were listening to raindrops. There’s a tree shadow as an interlude, a photo I took one morning to remind me of the same silhouette cast by the moon during the night. Brings back some great memories of peaceful nights, including perhaps the quietest night I’ve ever experienced when we were far from any creeks and there wasn’t even a breath of wind…

Some people seem to manage to set up their tent and get those Insta-famous shots of a gorgeous landscape as seen through the open doorway of the tent. We’ve camped in many beautiful places, but on only a few occasions have we felt that we could get a great photo just from looking out of the tent. In practice, we’ve found it difficult to get those kinds of shots; mostly it’s just not possible to set up your tent with such a good aspect.

A more typical tent view is that shown in the photos above (click through to see the selection). The first photo reveals that we’re not habitual early risers, instead often waiting until the sun has risen over a nearby ridge at which point the tent becomes an unbearable greenhouse in minutes. The play of light and shadow on the roof of the tent (complete with mosquitoes, of course), along with the intersection of the support poles were pleasing elements that caught my eye. When we do get a nice mountain view, as in the second, the light is rarely great, where, on this occasion, we were again besieged by insects after our blood.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a great fan of symmetry in photos. The third photo is a simple straightforward example, the tent neatly bisected by the centre ridge pole with a difference in light on either side. It’s not perfectly symmetric though; there are two more mosquitoes on the left than on the right…

The fourth photo is the alluded-to interlude. I remember opening my eyes around 1 am that night and noticing the lovely shadow cast on the tent by a tree lit up by the rising moon. For a moment I was tempted to try a long-exposure photo to capture it, but I’m not sure Maria would have appreciated it, and so I treasured the moment and closed my eyes again. To my delight I noticed that the morning sun cast the same shadow on the tent, making it easy for me to capture it, and preserve the memory from the night before.

By the beginning of September the mosquitoes had died off, and so, in order to continue my series of tent-view photos, I resorted to recording the rain drops beading on the fly. While the previous night had been probably the quietest ever night I’ve experienced, this particular night it had rained for many hours, tapering off at times before returning, sometimes as rain, but also sometimes as sleet or snow. I half expected to wake up and find snow all around, but that didn’t happen until I started preparing breakfast!

Of course, snow did settle around us a month later on our final backpacking trip of the year, and for once we had an almost photogenic view from our tent pad. We packed away our gear inside the tent, only making a hot drink when our bags were more or less ready, at which point we sat nursing our morning tea and coffee peering out at the misty, snowy view beyond. That done, all we had left to do was take down, shake out, and stuff away our sopping wet tent. It took two days to dry out at home…

Here’s to a year of tent views! Can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us 🙂

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Summer views

Another Friday, another flashback. I posted a photo of this view back in October last year after the first fall of snow (feel free to scroll back through my feed to find it). It was nice to revisit it on a warmer day.

As we headed out on our hike, I kept an eye on the view back towards the lake to see if it would be possible to recognize the spot where we sat in the snow last October. It turned out to be easy and I could even identify the very rock we’d sat on. Without being able to see exactly what I’d taken last year, I did my best to size up what seemed to be the most likely composition, hoping that consistency would be on my side.

Reproducing the scene turned out to be surprisingly easy, but where I got it wrong was in my editing of the photo above; I was a little too keen to crop out the right-hand side, and I used a different aspect ratio (4:3 rather than 3:2) which I can put down to using a different camera. The end result makes for quite a nice comparison. See for yourself:

Winter in July

Flashback-Friday to four weeks ago and a thundery summer hailstorm that turned the surrounding landscape white while we huddled under a tarp.

We suspected that we’d be in for some wild weather as we watched the sunlit snow pellets float towards us on the wind. For the longest time it looked like we might escape as we watched heavy showers drift either side of us. But as we retraced our steps back down to Camel Pass, a clap of thunder had us scurrying down towards the treeline as fast as we could safely scramble. The thunder got closer and we walked faster as hail began to fall.

We made it to a small clump of spruce trees, stashed the metal items in our possession several metres away, and pulled out our never-before-used Siltarp to provide some cover against the now-stinging hailstones. Then a flash and crack of thunder right overhead. We’d definitely made the right call to get off the ridge: thunderstorms in the alpine are no joke.

The tarp was our shelter for the next hour as a mix of hail and snow fell all around us, decorating the landscape in a thin coat of white. Our sunflower butter and apple chip wraps included pea-size hail pellets for a little extra crunch. As it finally tapered off and ended, we picked up our gear and walked the rest of the way back down to our tent, marvelling at how the scenery had changed in such a short time. By the end of the day it had all melted, but for a few hours we had a bracing dose of winter in July.

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….!

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…

Full moon shining

The nearly-full moon shines through the clouds above Cox Bay beach on New Year’s Eve. Hoping for clear skies next week to see the full moon, and maybe the lunar eclipse too – if I can wake up early enough…

Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was saying I don’t take many photos of the moon these days? Well, technically this isn’t a moon photo; it’s a cloud photo with the moon merely providing the light. I really like the crepuscular rays from the moonlight shining through gaps in the clouds, as well as the colourful iridescence. It almost looks like a photo of a distant nebula out in the Galaxy…

The weather forecast doesn’t look good for the full moon next week, but if it’s clear then I might try and drag myself out to see the early-morning lunar eclipse. I’d love to catch the moonrise like last year but there’s this thing called “work” that prevents that from happening this year. It’s about time I tried another timelapse though…

Sunshine and coffee

These last couple of days here in Vancouver have me dreaming of hot coffee and sunshine – flashback-Friday to sunset light on Coffee Pot rock in Sedona. Mind you it was pretty cold when I took this photo. I guess the fact it was December might explain that…

It feels like it’s been dull or raining all year so far (12 days in). I think we’ve had a couple of sunny breaks during the day, but they’ve only shown up during the working week, and when you’re working 9-to-5 you don’t get much chance to enjoy them. The highlight of this past week was seeing a barred owl right outside our office. Oh and hearing the first chickadees singing. But I digress.

Seeking winter sun was the very reason we headed to Sedona, AZ, back in December 2013. Alas it was not as warm as we had hoped; a large Arctic airmass had made its way south across western North America with sub-zero temperatures in Vancouver and distinctly chillier-than-usual here in this part of Arizona. We had driven up to Airport Mesa on the southern edge of Sedona to get a sunset view over the town and were greeted by a bitterly cold wind as we lined up to take our photographs. All I remember was shivering and trying to get out of that wind, and we escaped back down the mountain as soon as we could.

But it was worth it for the light: golden sunset light on red rock is unbelievably photogenic and we enjoyed glorious sunsets on every day we were there, from our drive in from Phoenix, to this view, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rocks, the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest. It’s definitely a superb area to visit and explore. Just watch the red channel on the histogram…