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

Approaching Russet Lake #russetlake #garibaldiprovincialpark #singingpass #backpacking #hiking #myhomewaters

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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

Evening light #garibaldiprovincialpark #fissilepeak #whirlwindpeak #parksday #canadaparksday

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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

Black Tusk through a split boulder #blacktusk #whistler #musicalbumps #garibaldiprovincialpark

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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!

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Black in white

Black Tusk decked out in white, as seen from Brandywine Meadows on this day in 2013. Probably looks very similar today after yesterday’s snow. 🌨

Black Tusk is an obvious landmark up and down the Sea to Sky corridor, and we’ve taken many a photo of it. I always like seeing a familiar peak from different angles, and this is one of my favourite aspects on Black Tusk, especially late on a sunny afternoon in early winter where the low angle of the Sun highlights the texture in the landscape. This view is almost exactly opposite the view I posted a few weeks ago, though is much further away so I had to resort to the 55-200 mm lens to get in close. Ah those were the days when that lens would still focus on things at infinity…

And so, right on cue, winter begins again – yesterday we even had some snow in Vancouver, though it didn’t settle.

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…

Lunar pilots

The first-quarter moon hangs between Sky Pilot and Copilot at the end of a balmy autumn day.

Well who can resist such a sight? The moon floating in the sky between two of the most photogenic mountain peaks in the area. The biggest challenge was holding the camera steady, since I was down at 1/30 sec thanks to the polarizer (which helped enhance the colours). But the railing on the patio up at the Sea to Sky gondola makes a pretty good makeshift tripod.

Alas we were too late to have a post-hike celebratory beer, so we had to be content with taking the gondola back down and finding beer elsewhere.

Fancy a brew?

Backcountry huts attract a lot of attention, so much so that we rarely intend to stay in them. However, on this particular weekend in July 2015, we found ourselves the only people at the Brew Hut, run by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club and opted to spend the night there. Just us and the mice.

Or so we thought. Not long before sunset, a couple of guys staggered into the hut proclaiming thanks at eventually finding it. Our quiet bubble well and truly burst, we ended up having a really pleasant evening chatting with them and helping them demolish the 13 cans of beer they’d brought along. Remarkably, they went to bed at the same time as us, and only stirred when we started moving in the morning. Their reason for visiting? They just liked the name and its association with beer…

1. Instagram-ready view of Garibaldi from Brew Hut.

Instagram-ready view of #Garibaldi from Brew Hut #brewhut #hiking #backpacking #explorebc

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I really liked this shot, especially at the time it was taken when Instagram was home to square photos. Indeed, one of the reasons I joined Instagram was to explore the possibilities with square crops. Now that it supports other crops (though no more than 5×4 in portrait orientation) I feel some of that creativity has been lost as I no longer feel I have to think in terms of that constraint.

Brew Hut with Garibaldi, a very nice place to spend a weekend #explorebc #brewhut #hiking #backpacking

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2. Brew Hut with Garibaldi, a very nice place to spend a weekend.

Brew Hut in all its glory – the location is stunning with great views in every direction. The tricky part is the access road which requires at least modest clearance and potentially 4-wheel drive for the final section (though there is a lower trailhead for vehicles that can’t make it up the last hill). I was happy to make it to the upper parking lot on a stifling hot day.

I remember the drive home after that trip, coming back through Squamish and being unable to see the Chief from the highway due to the thick smoke from forest fires in the neighbouring Elaho valley. We could see the red glow from those fires – very eery.

Iceberg Lake

Gorgeous Iceberg Lake at last, surprisingly difficult to photograph with a standard wide-angle lens. But the view in the opposite direction makes up for that. A big thank-you to ACC-Whistler for a wonderful trail.

As mentioned in my previous post, we hiked up to Iceberg Lake near Whistler last weekend. In its own way the lake is like a miniature version of Wedgemount Lake (or at least the meltwater tarn at the toe of the Wedge glacier), the peaks surrounding which can be seen in the opposite direction. There’s a small permanent snowfield or even remnant glacier that calves into a lake coloured teal-green by rock flour.

The trail is superb, passing through old-growth forest for much of the ascent, and hugging Nineteen Mile Creek (see link above) with its picturesque waterfalls for the upper section before exiting the trees into beautiful subalpine meadows for an awe-inspiring view of the headwall of Rainbow Mountain. The view of the Rainbow glacier is fore-shortened as you get closer to Iceberg Lake (as at upper Joffre Lake), so the best view is from the meadows.

Photographic notes. This place needs an ultra-wide angle lens, at least for views looking towards Rainbow Mountain; the standard 28-mm equivalent simply does not go wide enough to capture the scale. Here, I was glad to be able to make use of a couple of hikers for scale, otherwise there’s simply no way to make it look impressive. Also, since the headwall faces more-or-less due east, morning light is essential. This is less of an issue in the summer when the sun is higher in the sky, though the shadows might be even darker than today (I had to play with the processing to bring up the deep shadows in the original version of this image).

Still, despite photographic challenges, it is definitely a beautiful spot to visit, and deservedly popular. Plus there are two more hikes in this area for next year’s list…

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…