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.

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Heliotrope sunset

Sunset light on the summit of Mount Baker, a view through a gap in the trees along the road – no hiking needed!

After a hike to Heliotrope Ridge that yielded stunning views of the Coleman Glacier carving its way down the north-western slopes of Mount Baker, I had no expectations of seeing something as photo-worthy. And yet as we drove away from the parking lot, a gap in the trees opened up to reveal an uninterrupted view straight up to the summit, illuminated from the side by the last warm light of the afternoon.

We dashed off a handful of photos using the telephoto lens, alternating between ISO 400 and 800 to ensure reasonable shutter speeds to work around the iffy image stabilization (I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to get a sharp noisy image than a blurry clean one). It’s rare, but sometimes I do pre-visualize a particular crop when I size up a scene. In this case, I felt an Instagram-friendly square crop would easily work with the shape of the summit, the amount of light and shadow, and the wall of snow-specked rock angling down and sweeping to the left.

That’s not to say that the original aspect ratio was not a pleasing photo: the (nearly) full image is up on our Flickr account:
Heliotrope Ridge, 11 Nov 2018
Sometimes multiple images can be had from a single photo and I’ve had a few instances where I can’t decide which crop or processing settings I prefer. One way of approaching the decision is to to decide which story I want the picture to tell. As one of the photographers I follow on YouTube says, make the picture about something, rather than of something.

But it’s fine (and indeed probably desirable) to create all those different images and let them gel for a while to see which one has lasting appeal. In some cases the answer is all of them, and in others it’s none!

For this photo, I don’t yet know. I still like them both.

El Capitan

Watching Free Solo last night had me in awe of Alex Honnold’s achievement and reminded me of just how impressive and beautiful the Yosemite Valley is to see in person. We’ve visited just once, way back in May 2003 and this photo was taken from one of the many pullouts on the road. If you enjoy spending time in the mountains, I highly recommend checking out the film on the big screen while you can!

The movie Free Solo is about Alex Honnold’s unroped climb of El Capitan. I’m not a climber and I spent most of the film wiping my palms, wishing I had a climber’s chalk bag myself. But I love the mountains, and Yosemite is a wonderful place, and I’m fascinated enough by climbing and mountaineering to want to watch this film. And I’m glad I did.

We took the photo above with our first digital camera on our one and (so far) only visit to Yosemite. It was a real treat to marvel at the famous rock formations of El Capitan and Half Dome with our own eyes, and to spend a couple of days exploring the park, even in the rain. On the plus side, the waterfalls – Yosemite, Vernal, and Nevada – were spectacular.

Memories of summer

On a soggy day at the beginning of November it’s nice to be able to look back at those sunnier days on summer trips. Our backpacking trip to the Southern Chilcotins was the highlight of our summer, especially this day up on Harris Ridge – even though we got chased off by a thunderstorm that chucked hail pellets and snow at us for an hour!

It’s been pretty wet over the past few days; it feels like autumn has finally caught up with us as the first hints of snow are decorating the tips of the North Shore mountains. Summer seemed to come and go quickly this year but we did get out on some memorable trips, not least of all our week in the Southern Chilcotins.

While we enjoyed travelling through the landscape, it’s our two days of day-hiking that stand out as our favourites, and especially the second of those days on which we hiked up and along Harris Ridge.

After a bit of hard work we ended up on the broad expanse of the ridge, walked to its end, and sat down for an early lunch with the view above. The sun came and went, and we waited as long as we dared to get this shot as the storm clouds rolled in our direction.

This view was one of our favourites as we looked down into the meadow where we’d camped for two nights – the same meadow we watched a grizzly bear patrol while we cleaned up after breakfast – and up to Windy Pass with its endless views to the west. It’s possible to gain the ridge from those meadows although it looks quite steep from down there.

We tried to outrun the weather but it caught up with us as we began our descent back to the tent, pelting us with hail that turned the landscape white for a time. As I said, a memorable trip…!

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.

Hankering

Hankering after views like this, especially when I couldn’t be bothered to get outside at the weekend for anything more than a walk on the beach.

It’s Mountain Monday once again, and I found myself paging through hiking photos from the weekend where people had ventured in the mountains despite the rain. For a few moments my mood turned grumpy as the FOMO kicked in. Why hadn’t I got outside, I asked myself? We had planned to get out (and had a couple of simple hikes in mind) but when the time came we favoured staying dry indoors over a day of damp fresh air.

To get me out of this self-absorbed mood, I found the need to find a photo I liked from the summer’s hiking to contribute to the endless firehose of photographs that is Instagram. I settled on the one above from our backpacking trip to Phelix Creek, and I remember sizing up this shot at the time. The symmetry and neat dividing lines of the scene caught my eye, as did the contrasting colours: the red/brown of the rocks where I was standing, the blue-green water, the grey rock beyond, and the blue sky above. I tried to divide it evenly, but couldn’t quite get it to work: I have a little too much foreground. Perhaps I should have cropped a little tighter, but I wanted to give Mount Aragorn space.

Despite that, this is definitely one of my favourite photos from that trip, if nothing else because it immediately takes me back to that warm day lounging around on the smooth rocks, oh-so happy to be free of the marauding mosquitoes from the valley….

Ridges

Ridges for miles… Throwback Thursday to a great weekend in the mountains at the beginning of August. Those hot buggy days already seem a distant memory…

It’s a bit of a slog up to Gott Peak but once up there it’s possible to walk for some distance right along the ridge top. One side slopes away steeply but smoothly over boulders and then meadows, while the other drops precipitously in a cascade of broken rock, dirt, and snow. The ridge is not just an endless line stretching out before you to infinity either, instead undulating up and down, gaining and losing 50-100 m of elevation each time. Of course, that soon adds up, turning a simple climb into a more challenging adventure.

Thankfully getting to Gott Peak only involves going over one such bump (indeed, our first visit to this area we only ventured to this sub-peak), and it makes for a wonderful photo-op on the return journey, especially when lit by the warm afternoon sunshine. We continued beyond this peak to cross other, lower bumps further along the ridge, eventually dropping down very steeply into the valley to rejoin the trail back to the pass. A fun day of ridge exploration!