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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West is best

Having recently visited Vancouver Island I thought it would be fun to feature a couple more shots in my Throwback Thursday series.

1. Sunset over Vancouver Island.

A typical summer view when taking a Friday evening ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Who can resist a glorious colourful sunset? The journey is not as scenic as the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route, so it lends itself well to “big sky” and abstract photos.

You can’t get much simpler a composition that this: sun in the centre, horizon dividing the scene in two, contrasting textures (if not colour) in each half. Looking back at this photo, the vapour trail from the airliner annoys me, but I’m not (yet) into removing features I don’t like from images so it’ll have to stay put for now.

2. Carmanah lighthouse on the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island.

Now this was a treat. Through a friend we managed to wrangle a stay at the lighthouse for a night which meant we had about 24 hours to enjoy the beaches of the west coast of the Island. And I distinctly remember stopping in my tracks when we emerged from the forest onto the driftwood logs and were confronted by a beautiful idyllic scene of a blue ocean lapping at a sandy beach. I had forgotten just about gorgeous the west-coast beaches were, and it definitely inspired us to spend more time way-out west. The icing on the proverbial cake was seeing a number of grey whales and finding some whale fossils.

That particular view of the beach is on Flickr:
West Coast Trail, 22 Aug 2015

But it’s not just that section of the West Coast Trail (WCT); many parts of the coast of Vancouver Island have sandy beaches. While we have still yet to tackle the WCT, we did manage to spend a few days at the northern tip of the Island in 2016. Much of our time on the Cape Scott Trail was spent lounging around or otherwise admiring the beautiful sandy beaches. Don’t believe me?

Nels Bight, 6 Aug 2016

And then there’s the Nootka Trail, where your first night is spent on this beach:
Nootka Trail, 25 Aug 2006
I even swam in the sea here!

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that we jumped at the opportunity to ring in the New Year on the sandy beaches of Tofino, and I’m already looking forward to our next visit.

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!

Whoa, that's a bit of a drop! #cheddargorge #cliff #sheerdrop #sweatypalms

A post shared by Andy Gibb (@_andy_gibb_) on

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…

On Ptarmigan (Ridge)

Yet another one of those hikes that had been on our radar for some time. The day we hiked in was thick, heavy mist with almost zero visibility. This, combined with exceedingly vague directions, meant that we walked right past the “official” camping area along the way, and we found ourselves on a flat part of the trail with cleared tent-sized patches, snow fields or glaciers either side of us. It turned out that we camped on an area that usually remains snow-covered, but with the low-snow winter before and the warm summer, that snow had melted out, leaving behind a tempting (if mucky) camping area.

As dusk approached, the clouds broke and the sun shone through, lighting up our surroundings for a few brief moments with the most surreal light before fading into the evening. The clouds drifted away overnight and we were greeted by a cloudless sunrise that allowed us to see our location for the first time. And what a location! We explored the trail to its end with stupendous views of Mt Baker and its many glaciers, before packing up and walking back past the daytime crowds to the car.

1. Camping on Mars? No, just Ptarmigan Ridge in the mist and drizzle with a little help from the setting sun.

The light was unreal as the setting sun lit up the mist and clouds around us; it really felt like we could have been camping on Mars. We had been in heavy grey mist all day up to this point and we got the first inkling that the clouds might just clear for us on the following day. Unfortunately, we pitched our tent facing the wrong direction and had to build a wall at one end to prevent the drizzle soaking through the mesh at the foot of our sleeping compartment. Then we placed our seat pads between our sleeping bags and the mesh. It worked: our sleeping bags were still dry in the morning, but a lesson learned!

2. The morning after the night before – the mist has cleared, the sun has risen and yesterday’s gloom has been forgotten.

And so we could now see where we were – spectacular! While Mt Baker is considerably foreshortened here, and diminished photographically, this is nevertheless a stunning place to wake up in, and I couldn’t resist a tent shot, especially with extent of the glacier behind us. The trail goes up to the left out of the frame, up steep slopes and over rocky sections to a viewpoint with sheer drops down to the glaciers on Mt Baker, and thankfully avoids the ice altogether. Well worth doing!

3. Clouds at the feet of Mt Shuksan.

In the other direction lay Mt Shuksan, the clouds beginning to bubble up in the valleys. I really like the effect of the clouds here, as they just fill the valleys to the height of the ridges. I’d woken up before sunrise to watch the sky lighten and change colour, the sun eventually peeking over the shoulder of Shuksan and turning Mt Baker various shades of pink, orange, and yellow before becoming dazzling white. Later in the day, those valley clouds would rise up and engulf us again on our walk back to the trailhead.

4. Mount Baker. ‘Nuff said.

Walking back to the trailhead, we had to keep checking behind us at the view we didn’t have on our hike in the day before. Mt Baker looms large for most of the way. In this shot, I like how the diagonal line of the ridge mimics the slope of Mt Baker itself. Eventually, though, the trail turns a corner and Mt Baker remains hidden for the last section until we return to the parking lot, where we turn for one last view before driving home.

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!

At the edge of the Stein

A throwback-Thursday look at our big backpacking trip of 2015, a 5-day expedition to the Lizzie-Stein divide. I already posted (most of) these photos on my hiking blog with a brief overview of the hike and the beginnings of my more in-depth daily diary, but I can’t resist posting them again as it was such a fun trip and great to look back on. I’d love to return and explore some more, especially now the first day wouldn’t be spent fighting alders.

Day 1: Lizzie Lake, a welcome sight after slogging through 10 km of overgrown logging road.

Day 2: Crystal clear Arrowhead Lake, on the Lizzie-Stein divide with Tabletop Mountain.

Day 3: Tundra Lake. Yes, it really is that blue.

Day 4: Tabletop and Anemone Mountains on the way back to Lizzie Cabin.

Day 5: Yes, this is the trail. And it was wet.

Happy International Mountain Day 🙂 Caltha Peak above its namesake lake on the Lizzie-Stein divide. Next time we’ll scramble to the summit.

Last light

Last light – details on Mt Robson illuminated by the setting sun. Our last glimpse of sunshine for a while as the next day we’d have snow!

After a glorious day of hiking and exploring, we were treated to some lovely evening light highlighting some of the features on the northern side of Mt Robson. Taken in mid-September, summer sunsets would light up more of this face of the mountain, but I really like the diagonal lines that are catching the light. Camping at the eastern end of Berg Lake put us quite far from the mountain (and we were too lazy to walk the kilometre or so back to the western end to get a better view) so I needed the long zoom on the camera, in this case our old Canon S3IS. Much as I didn’t like that camera overall, there were still times it could turn out a decent image.