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. 🙂

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Musical hiking

The Musical Bumps is a hike near Whistler that doesn’t make it into many guide books, mostly because it starts in the ski area and requires payment of a (pretty substantial) fee to access it. However, while it is definitely best hiked from Whistler summit, it can be approached from a different angle for much less money. That route involves heading to Singing Pass and picking up the trail from there. But it makes for a long tough day, and so a popular option is to camp at Russet Lake for a night to split the journey into two parts.

We hiked up the long (but quite pleasant) trail with a group of friends, enjoyed a peaceful night of camping, and then followed the Musical Bumps trail (passing this pair of marmots along the way) to the Roundhouse on Whistler mountain, taking the gondola back down into the village. Why is it called the Musical Bumps? There’s a musical theme to the whole area with the trail crossing the gentle summits of Flute, Oboe, and Piccolo mountains, and passing through the Harmony Bowl. When started at Whistler summit, the path follows the High Note Trail, with an option to shorten the route with the Half-Note Trail.

For some reason, I posted the photos on Instagram in reverse order, in other words, most recent first. Here I’m listing them in the correct time order.

1. Approaching Russet Lake

After a long, long slog of 16 km and about 1500 metres of elevation gain, this is the most welcome sight in the world. Russet Lake sited in a shallow bowl beneath Fissile Peak with a superb view across the Fitzsimmons Creek valley to the mountains of the Spearhead Range. Alas, the sun went in more or less as soon as I decided to take this shot.

2. Evening light

Russet Lake is an alpine lake which makes it a great place to camp when the weather’s good. With superb views available nearby, it’s a superb place to take in the sunset (or sunrise). At the end of the day, the warm light from the setting sun makes the rusty colours of Fissile Peak look even redder. This was the only time I used an Instagram filter on one of my photos as the effect is really quite horrible. I reverted to using the manual editing features after that. Mind you, I’m torn as to whether it made the original photo any worse…

3. Black Tusk through a split boulder

As I’ve mentioned before, Black Tusk is one of the most distinctive and photogenic mountains around. The view from close to Whistler summit is perhaps the most dramatic with the peak viewed end-on, but it’s still pretty nice further along the Musical Bumps trail, especially when framed by a boulder that looks like it just fell apart. This shot is actually best captured with a phone or other compact camera; cameras with larger sensors (like dSLRs) will have a hard time keeping both the rock and Black Tusk in focus at the same time. Score one for phone cameras, even terrible ones!

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 🙂

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…

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! 🙂

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…

To see a snowy frozen lake

Snow sculptures and Mt Price: throwback Thursday to 10 years ago when we snowshoed up to Garibaldi Lake and had the place to ourselves.

Re-reading my trip report from a decade ago I immediately pick up on how thrilled I was to make it to Garibaldi Lake in the winter. There’s no doubt it felt like quite the achievement, and it was our longest day of snowshoeing to date. What was most remarkable was how few people we encountered, no doubt helped by our decision to head up into Taylor Meadows rather than going straight for the lake. By the time we made it down to the lake, everyone else was on their way back down. I’ve been back once since then, on my all-time longest day of snowshoeing (11 hours) much of which was spent slogging through fresh powder. (But what a day that was – the clearest blue sky I’ve ever seen!)

I had to work quite hard to pick a good photo from this trip, though. Our camera was showing signs of its age (giving us the famous E200 lens error a few times), and there’s clearly an awful lot of muck either on the sensor or on the lens judging by all the dark patches that show up so clearly when photographing a scene that is mostly white! Alas given the weather, it was hard to capture the drama and scale of the view before us – white snow and white clouds don’t make for exciting pictures.

But I was pleased to find this one photo. I was intrigued by how bumpy the snow was, which I guessed was due to winds blowing across the lake and piling it up, and in particular by this one area where the ice of the lake was also exposed. Mt Price looked spectacular with its corniced north face and lit by soft afternoon light. It’s not a classic composition but it’s still quite a lovely scene, and – apart from the ones of us looking happy to have made it – is probably my favourite of the day.

I’ll finish by saying I can’t believe it’s 10 years since we did this. Perhaps we need to do it again this year? Hmmm…

Zig Zag

Zig-zag falls – at least, that’s what I call them – on the way up to Red Heather Meadows and beyond to Elfin Lakes.

I’ve tried to get photos of this creek so many times before that I almost didn’t bother on this trip, but for some reason the zigzag in the cascades really stood out and I just had to capture it.

I still remember the first time I saw these falls – except they were nothing more than a trickle on a hot, early October day. I remember them because one of the people we were hiking with decided to fill their water bottle straight from the creek and drink it. I never found out if they got sick or not, but it’s something I simply won’t risk. The only time I’ve drunk untreated water in the backcountry was from a stream on the surface of a glacier. That water went beautifully with some good single malt whisky…