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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Phone Friday IX

It’s Friday again so here’s another selection of phone photos for a very frosty Phone Friday, aka Frosty Friday or even Frosty Phone Friday! These were all taken sometime in the past two weeks as we encountered winter on various hikes in northern Washington and BC.

Winter is doing its best to make its presence felt, although it hasn’t really succeeded up to now. The upside to that is we’ve easily been able to access quite a few hikes without the need of our snowshoes and without risk of avalanches.

  1. At the end of our hike on the Chain Lakes circuit, we stopped off at the famous Picture Lake to see if we could catch any sunset light on Mount Shuksan. For the briefest moment we could see the faintest glimmer of light on Shuksan’s peaks and I quickly took a few shots. By the time I looked up again the light had gone.
  2. It’s hard to make out in this photo but I took it because the ice had formed a shape a bit like a duck’s or a swan’s head.
  3. Along the trail to Heliotrope Ridge we had to cross a couple of mostly frozen creeks, which was much easier than I’ve read it can be in summer. The creeks were still running beneath the ice, and in places the flowing water could be seen through gaps. It was the gaps that interested me, providing a contrasting background that highlighted the shapes along their edge.
  4. The Coleman Glacier greets you at the end of the Heliotrope Ridge trail, a stunning blue and white mass of ice and snow fractured into dozens of deep crevasses. We didn’t have the best light owing to our late-ish start but the blue of the crevasse walls was still intense.
  5. Our third hike in the Mount Baker area took us up to Yellow Aster Butte, a place we’d visited on a beautiful autumn day back in 2010. This time we had the trail entirely to ourselves and enjoyed the hike up as far as this view of the summit of Yellow Aster Butte and the Border Peaks. What can’t be seen in this photo is the freezing gale-force wind whipping the snow around our ankles and taking our breath away. A few quick photos and it was time to hastily retrace our steps.
  6. About 40 minutes after setting off on the trail to Elfin Lakes, the trail passes a creek cascading down a short rock face. I call the lower section of this cascade Zig-Zag Falls due to the way the water is diverted this way then that by the angled rock. Unsurprisingly, the edges of the creek were adorned with ice that nicely framed the moving water.
  7. In the frozen puddles in the ditch alongside the trail, needles of ice had formed overlapping patterns as they grew towards the centre. In this puddle, they hadn’t quite met in the middle, the thinner ice allowing some contrast into the scene. Perhaps my favourite photo of the day.
  8. Both Elfin Lakes had frozen over, but it looked like someone had been throwing rocks in while the ice was thickening, creating an ice crater complete with rim and ejecta. Of course, it could be that the rock has been there for some time and the pattern reflects the manner in which the ice froze. Who knows?
  9. Last but not least, this is one of my favourite views of the Garibaldi massif from Elfin Lakes. In summer, a calm day offers up a perfect reflection of the mountain. Today we had a mix of clear ice and “frosted” ice giving a two-tone reflection. It’s hard to believe from this angle, but the dominant peak is actually lower than the summit of Mount Garibaldi itself, that tooth-like peak to its right.

A bear at breakfast

Throwback to that time a grizzly bear dropped by for breakfast. Thankfully it took no notice of us, which is good because our bear spray was in the tent, 100 m away! Lesson learned: keep bear spray with you at all times.

The beginning of our third day saw us sat at the edge of the trees sipping away at our respective caffeine delivery systems, gazing out over the meadows and up to the peaks and ridge-lines to the west lit up by the morning sunshine. We were packing away our food when some movement caught my eye; a bear in the far meadow.

Not just any old bear either but an adult grizzly, snout down and browsing the meadow in search of food. We froze. This was our first grizzly sighting in the backcountry, and we were just two people. Looking wide-eyed at each other, we discussed what we should do. Our assessment of the situation had us thinking that we shouldn’t alert the bear to our presence and we were relieved to notice that it wandered off into the forest along the trail leading to the horse cabin below Spruce Peak.

That should have been our cue to go and get the bear spray but for some reason we didn’t. We used this time to stow our food, hoping that our knots wouldn’t be tested by a hungry grizzly. Five minutes later the bear reappeared, continuing its path along the edge of the trees and – more concerning – closer to our tent, although still the other side of Eldorado Creek.

The bear still hadn’t sensed us so we opted to remain quiet and hidden by the trees. After briefly going out of sight it reappeared, now heading back the way it came, much to our relief. Over the next few and exceedingly long minutes, it retraced its steps through the meadow, until it heard a sound which stopped it in its tracks and began to look around, ears pricked up.

That sound was a mountain biker descending from Windy Pass (our intended destination for the day), whooping and/or hollering loud enough for his voice to echo off the sides of the valley. For a moment the bear paused before beginning to run. We looked at each other and voiced our thoughts, “where is it running to?”. At first we thought it was going towards the source of the sound but we were relieved to note that the bear was actually just heading for the nearest tree cover. We followed its path across the meadow until it disappeared among the trees – the very trees that we would have to walk through to get to Windy Pass no less!

With the bear gone from sight we felt we could relax a little and continue getting ourselves ready for our day’s hiking. We never saw the bear again though we did find where it had dug up the ground in the meadow right next to the trail. Paw prints and claw marks were clearly visible in the disturbed earth. We were fine with that and had no desire to encounter the bear at any closer range.

After that morning, the bear spray came with us to breakfast. Always.

Scenes from a hike I

Views from the Chief – a selection of sights from last Friday’s hike in warm November sunshine with a freezing November wind.

The last day of my week off work and I joined a couple of friends for a quick sunny day-hike. (Or is that a quick sunny-day hike?) The Chief seemed like the perfect option – great views, not too long, not too tough.

  1. Garibaldi reflections – I had to lie down on the rock to get low enough for the reflection to show up, which was a little daunting as the wind was really strong, and about 10 feet from my feet was the view in the next photo.
  2. Don’t look down! – I think this is the first time I’ve been able to see all the way down to the road from the Chief (apart from the more distant views of Squamish). What made this spot more than a little terrifying was the convex slope of the rock, inviting you closer to the ever-disappearing edge for a better look. The fact that it was windy also didn’t help.
  3. Mamquam framed redux – another view of Mamquam Mountain, this time framed by a pine tree. I think I’ve photographed this tree nearly every time we’ve been to the Second Peak.
  4. Lunch spot views – Third Peak has a small pond surrounded by pines that makes for a lovely lunch spot. Despite the wind, the pond was still and reflected the trees perfectly, Garibaldi and Mamquam shining bright in the distance.
  5. Chains – I like the shape that these chains make on the rock, especially seeing the way they’ve eroded the surface, rendering it with a reddish tinge from rust.
  6. More chains – this is the first encounter with chains when ascending Second Peak the usual way, a welcome guide on this narrow root-filled ramp which can be tricky when wet, as well as a portent of things to come. It’s difficult to show just how steep this section is without someone in the photo, and I don’t recommend attempting it when it’s icy.
  7. Steps down – helpful steps with a twist that caught my eye, especially when viewed from above.
  8. Rock colour – this series of colourful stripes really stood out in the sunshine today. I think I’ve tried to capture it in the past but it’s usually been in deep shadow, or a dull day. I’m very happy to have caught it this time round!

Lastly, I realized that it was almost ten years to the day that I hiked the Chief with my brother when he first came to visit.

Mamquam Framed

Mamquam Mountain framed.

The minute I saw Mamquam Mountain over to the east of our lunch spot on an open rocky bluff I knew I had to find a way to capture it. And it didn’t take long. I noticed the tree on the upper right with its arching canopy and decided to make that the top of a frame to give the mountain some context. After all, it’s a long way off (20 km) and while distant mountains are nice to look at, they don’t always make interesting photos.

All that I had to do to complete my framing was to gain a little more height so I could get an unobstructed view the icefield on the mountain. Thankfully it didn’t take much, and I was able to do it safely without venturing anywhere near the steep drop-off. The trees have the added benefit of obscuring some of the logging roads and clearcuts on the intervening slopes.

Back home I knew a square crop would work. Apart from that, the only other change I made was to apply a warming filter to the shady part of the rock to take out some of the blue in the shadows. Very simple, and I’m really happy with the result.

The Best View

Mountains, mountains, and yet more mountains! This might be the most amazing view I’ve seen in the Lower Mainland: Sky Pilot, Mt Habrich, Mt Garibaldi, the Tantalus Range, and so many more. Absolutely incredible! And a bit of autumn colour to finish off. Definitely one of my favourite hikes of the year, though not for beginners…! Finished the day at Backcountry Brewing for good beer and pizza.

I don’t know where to begin in trying to describe how it felt to be greeted by the stunning view of Sky Pilot and Mount Habrich when we reached the top of the ridge. It was utterly breathtaking. We had worked hard for those views and it was worth every step; we were running short on time and had we been a bit more conservative we might not have seen them at all! But we took a chance and it paid off, big time! We still made it back down to the gondola in plenty of time too, so we could have explored a bit further. That’ll have to wait until next time.

  1. Sky Pilot – the craggy multiple peaks of the Sky Pilot group, so captivating no matter what angle they’re viewed at. But up close they are simply stunning, and even better from here than on the neighbouring Skyline Ridge.
  2. Mount Habrich – a gorgeous imposing cone of a peak, with slabs of sheer granite on all sides, it’s definitely a climber’s summit. Mount Baker can be seen on the horizon to the right of Habrich; Meslilloet to the left (the nearest glacier to Vancouver).
  3. Mount Garibaldi – a regular sight on this hike, with many opportunities to stop and admire our nearest volcano. Each of those viewpoints would have made a good-enough turnaround point, but we’re so glad we pushed on higher. All the snow coating Garibaldi’s lower flanks two weeks previously (seen on our trip to Watersprite Lake) had melted. I’m sure it’ll get some new snow this week.
  4. Tantalus Range – I really like this angle on the Tantalus Range, and that tree in the middle of the granite bluff is just so photogenic.
  5. Autumn colour – there wasn’t much in the way of colourful shrubbery, but these two bushes were glowing beautifully in the late afternoon sunshine.
  6. A maple avenue – walking back to the car between the gondola and Shannon Falls, we passed through a tunnel of vine and big-leaf maples whose leaves had turned a lovely golden colour. Many leaves had fallen, creating a bright, cheery carpet for us to walk on in the deepening pre-sunset shadow.

Watersprite

Finally we get to see this Instagram-famous view with our own eyes! A sunny hike in was followed by a snowy and rainy hike out the next day. And it was worth it. A big thank-you to the BCMC for all their hard work in creating this trail.

Warning: potentially unpopular opinions ahead.

So I finally got to see Watersprite Lake in person at the weekend and I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what I think of it. My initial reaction is that I was not wowed by it at all, which I put down to a few things:

  1. I’ve seen a billion photos of that same view on Instagram. Yawn.
  2. The lake is smaller than you think.
  3. The sun was dipping below the ridge to the south west, casting deep shadows over the lake and making it hard to get a good photo. Plus I found that the scene would have benefited from the wide-angle lens that I had left at home in favour of a telephoto that didn’t get used. Then it clouded over anyway.

I was also a bit tired and impatient to get to the campground and drop my overnight pack, and we still had a snowy boulder field to cross.

And while the approach is on a good logging road, it’s still just a logging road, although the views are rather gorgeous on a fine day. On a wet day it’s a long soggy trudge.

The view of the lake from the campground is nothing to write home about. I probably need to get higher up.

Sounds like a terrible place doesn’t it?

Well, after getting all that out of my system, my conclusion is that I simply didn’t get to spend long enough at the lake to explore and size up the best angles for photos, or catch the best light, so I simply have to go back! The reality is that the lake is a fantastic colour and nestled in a stunning amphitheatre of sheer mountains. The BCMC has done (and is still doing) an excellent job in ensuring that this beautiful place will hopefully be able to withstand its new-found fame. It was a lovely place to camp for a night, and was so atmospheric in the snow.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Pick up a copy of 105 Hikes and check it out yourself!