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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From on high

For this week’s Throwback Thursday post, I bring you a semi-random trio of photos with almost no link between them. Almost.

1. Looking back at the ridge from the summit of Needle Peak.

Needle Peak eluded me the first time I attempted it as I was unable to find the non-scary way up. After a fair bit of exploring, and a couple of false starts, I noticed some worn paint markings on the rock and decided to squeeze through the gap to see where they led. I found myself on a small ledge where a couple of (admittedly very careful) steps would take me to a protected gully to get onto the main ridge. I was delighted to find that route and so get past the first crux of the climb.

For most people this doesn’t even count as a crux as they squeeze under an overhang (with a sheer drop – no thanks!) or scramble up a dirty eroded gully and then use a couple of trees to get onto the rocks (which I wasn’t comfortable descending and wild horses won’t make me go up something I’m not 100% convinced I’ll be able to descend).

The second crux – which I’d read turned back more people – was easy for me as the hand- and footholds are plenty and very grippy. Within a couple of minutes I was standing in the clouds at the summit. Yay!

2. Extreme green at Lower Joffre Lake.

Joffre Lakes has exploded in popularity in recent years, and with good reason: on a sunny day, the lakes just glow. My one and only backpacking trip there was back in 2008, and it was a bit of a gong show then. I don’t want to think about camping there now. But many people don’t make it to the upper lakes, only venturing as far as the first lake, a mere 5 minutes from the parking lot. Assuming you can find a space in the parking lot, that is. In summer, cars end up being parked for hundreds of metres along the road, which means someone only going to the lower lake walks further along the road than among the trees to the lake shore.

On my most recent visit there I noticed one big downside to the lakes’ popularity, namely many people are walking off trail and across the meadows to get a different angle on the view across this lake. As such there are now well-beaten trails across the meadows as visitors have ignored the signs advising them of the fragility of the ground. But without reinforcement, who’s going to inform these users? The park needs a full-time ranger in the summer who can patrol these areas and educate people about why they should stick to the trails. At some point, BC Parks may be forced to create a second viewing area to protect the remaining less-trampled meadows. We’ll see.

3. Whoa, that’s a bit of a drop!

Cheddar Gorge was a place I’d wanted to visit my whole life. While my siblings got to visit on school trips, I ended up seeing places like Snowdonia instead so I can’t really complain. Family visits back to the UK used to involve lots of sitting around but we have been using our visits to get out and see parts of the country we didn’t get to see when we lived there.

We took my parents on a (long) day-trip to Cheddar, and walked the trail along the eastern edge of the gorge. What can I say other than it was spectacular! Not a long or tough hike by BC standards, but the cliffs are sheer, and the road looks pretty small from up there. Definitely not a place to lose your balance! Away from the edge, we found spring wildflowers and wild goats, complete with kids doing what kids do best. I couldn’t help but record a short video clip of them having fun:

Needless to say, having only spent a single cloudy day there I’d love to return and explore further. Too many places to revisit…

To hear the mountains Rohr

What else do you do after a 5-day backpacking trip? Why you go on another backpacking trip of course!

It rained all day as we walked out of the Lizzie-Stein divide, and the weather forecast wasn’t looking good for the rest of the week. Our friends had only booked off enough time to do the Lizzie-Stein trip, while we had another 5 days to fill. Feeling a bit fed-up with the weather, we washed and dried all our gear at the Pemberton Valley Lodge (which was an awesome place to stay, by the way), and had a leisurely morning grabbing some breakfast before stopping off at North Arm farm for some extra goodies.

We’d formed a plan to do a little car-camping road trip that would take us into the warmer and drier interior of BC, and had packed the car accordingly. But as we headed across the Duffey Lake Road, we noticed the clouds were clearing over the mountains. That prompted an abrupt change of plan and we pulled off the road, unpacked the car, spread out our tarp, and re-packed our backpacks for a 3-day adventure. We then headed up the road towards the Marriot-Rohr area and had a leisurely late-afternoon hike up to Rohr Lake which was home for the next two nights.

1. Clouds over Mt Currie, as seen from North Arm Farm after savouring some gelato on the swings 🙂

We’ve driven past North Arm Farm so many times before that we were really pleased we had an excuse to stop off and sample some of their goodies. We opted for some gelato that we consumed out in the back yard, and just enjoyed the view, feeling like we were on vacation.

2. Evening light on Rancherie reflected in Rohr Lake. We camped where I’m standing – that’s someone else’s tent 🙂

After a couple of easy hours hauling our packs up to the lake, we sat back and relaxed to watch the sunset. It was so quiet up there, and the water was perfectly still. The stars came out and we crawled into our tent.

3. The Joffre Group as seen from the summit of Mt Rohr.

The following day we set out to re-attempt Mt Rohr, a summit we’d had to turn back from a few years ago due to snow and time constraints. This day we had no such trouble and were thrilled to make it to the top. The view was just incredible, with the peaks of the Joffre Group rising up and dominating the skyline to our south. Mt Rohr instantly became one of our favourite summits.

4. Shades of green and blue.

I always enjoy looking into the next valley when I reach a pass or mountain summit. Here was no exception and we were greeted by this gorgeous pair of lakes, one green and fed by a pocket glacier, the other a deeper greeny-blue. Beyond lay the usual sea of mountains, and a glimpse of Duffey Lake itself. More reasons to love this area!

Garibaldi Views

Garibaldi views: the Table and the north face of Mt Garibaldi from the summit of Mt Price, taken on Thanksgiving 2012

I posted this because it’s a rainy grey Saturday and I wanted to see something nice 🙂

The summer of 2012 was long and dry, and we got out on quite a few backpacking trips. The last one of the year was to Garibaldi Lake on a warm and sunny Thanksgiving weekend. It really did feel more like summer. Like many destinations, Mt Price had been on our list for a while and we were happy to get to its summit and enjoy the incredible views. I usually say that Panorama Ridge has the best views in Garibaldi, but Mt Price is a close second, albeit at the expense of a much tougher hike; it’s not one for inexperienced hikers, which means it’s lovely and quiet, and we had this view all to ourselves.

Serac city

Serac city.

Apart from the lakes themselves, the Matier Glacier is one of the more spectacular features of the Joffre Lakes hike. Some people will scramble up the rocks to the snout of the glacier, which is something I won’t do when the daily temperature changes straddle freezing. On one of our trips here we found chunks of glacial ice mixed in the snow very close to the lake, and there’s only one place that ice could have come from. So, I’ll just be content with this view for now, thank you.

I’ve rather fallen out with our SLRs lately as their focus just hasn’t been as sharp as our little RX100II (and sometimes misses altogether, which just shouldn’t happen). But I needed the long reach of the telephoto lens for this shot and I managed to get a few sharp-enough photos to really emphasize the drama of the features in the glacier. This photo was taken as the sun came out and lit up parts of the glacier for just a short time, adding lots of contrast to what had been a fairly flat view until then, and showcasing the texture and structure in the ice. N’ice, as I like to say 🙂

Brandywine Glacier

Another angle on the Brandywine Glacier from last Friday.

I’ve been following the progress of photographer Quentin Lake as he hikes the entire coastline of Britain, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing his photographs and what he makes of the landscape (and seascape) around him. His ability to find interesting shapes and patterns has inspired me to look for similar things when I’m outdoors. In particular he frequently manages to find angles and intersecting lines that make for visually striking photos. This photo of the edge of Brandywine Mountain and the glacier below is my attempt to mimic this style. It’s not perfect (the shadows are a bit distracting in my view), but I’m still pretty happy with it.

Brandy, wine, ice

Brandy, wine, ice. With Pyroclastic and Cayley for company.

Perhaps my favourite photo from yesterday’s hike to Brandywine Mountain. This summit has quickly become one of my favourite with its relatively easy access (with a car that has enough clearance and oomph to get up a steep, bumpy logging road), gorgeous meadows, and absolutely stunning views. Ridiculously scenic is how I describe this hike/scramble.

More details can be found on my trip summary on Live Trails.