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

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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…

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Still winter

In the winter, it’s the mountains that take centre stage at Joffre Lakes. Slalok looks mighty impressive here, as did the enormous pile of avalanche debris that had travelled part way across the lake.

So peaceful, so still. That was how we felt when we broke through the trees onto the snow-covered Upper Joffre Lake. We found a spot to sit and enjoyed lunch with this view before wandering across the lake towards the campground. I love how the snow smooths out all the terrain features, covering all the boulders and rocks. I’ve viewed many photos of such scenes from backcountry skiers but I have to admit it was something else to see it with my own eyes, and that had me contemplating ways to get out in the winter backcountry some more. It all looked so inviting, especially the route up towards Tszil and Taylor. Deceptively benign-looking on a warm spring day, though the massive chunks of avalanche debris told a different story.

Now I must digress onto a rant. Please, please, please, PLEASE stop feeding the whisky jacks (or any other cute critter that comes looking for food). They have become a real nuisance and will take food from your hand whether you want them to or not. Within seconds of us getting out our lunch yesterday, we were dive-bombed by two birds that snatched a portion of what we were holding from our grasp. Birds carry some really unpleasant diseases (bird flu anyone?), so I really don’t want to eat anything that they’ve touched. Any food they did come into contact with, goes into my garbage so it’s a lose-lose and both of us go hungry.

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 🙂

Leaf no trace

It’s leaf no trace Tuesday! 🙂 The rhododendron bushes added a great splash of colour to the forest at Joffre Lakes, and made the lakes look even more spectacular. I was puzzled by a few things along the trail that were packed in but not packed out: a broken Thermos flask just left on a rock, gas canister for a camping stove, the inevitable plastic water bottle (half full), and most bizarrely, a trio of hardback books propped up on a rock as if on sale. Seeing the books (which were not there on the hike in) reminded me of the time when we found a copy of Gideon’s bible perched on a rock. That rock was on the trail to – you guessed it – Joffre Lakes. I don’t get it. Is there something about this trail that compels people to leave stuff behind?

It's leaf no trace Tuesday! 🙂 The rhododendron bushes added a great splash of colour to the forest at Joffre Lakes, and made the lakes look even more spectacular. I was puzzled by a few things along the trail that were packed in but not packed out: a broken Thermos flask just left on a rock, gas canister for a camping stove, the inevitable plastic water bottle (half full), and most bizarrely, a trio of hardback books propped up on a rock as if on sale. Seeing the books (which were not there on the hike in) reminded me of the time when we found a copy of Gideon's bible perched on a rock. That rock was on the trail to – you guessed it – Joffre Lakes. I don't get it. Is there something about this trail that compels people to leave stuff behind? #leavenotracetuesday #lnt #LeaveNoTrace #joffrelakes #joffrelakesprovincialpark #hiking #explorebc #beautifulbritishcolumbia #fall #autumn #bcparks

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A lovely cool overcast day to hike up to Joffre Lakes. Our friend Jen hadn’t seen them before and we figured that now was a good time to visit as the summer insanity had subsided. That’s not to say it was deserted – we encountered many people along the trail (a sizeable fraction of whom were committing the cardinal backcountry sin of wearing jeans) – but it was still a mostly peaceful day.

I’ve only visited the lakes in summer too, so it made a nice change to visit them in the autumn as the berry bushes changed colour. Lots of yellows, golds, and reds today which made for a wonderful contrast against the colours of the lakes. It was a good reminder of precisely why this hike is so popular.

Behind you!

Don’t forget to look around when in the parking lot for Joffre Lakes – early morning sun on Saxifrage Mountain, July 2008

Joffre Lakes is a very popular destination on account of its three beautiful lakes and a stunning glacier above the uppermost lake. A group of us decided to do a backpacking trip through Wanderung, but in order to be sure of getting spots for our tents, everyone except me went up on the Friday. I had to work… so I ended up leaving the apartment at about 3 am Saturday morning. After a brief stop at a sobriety check-point on the Lions Gate Bridge, I was on my way. I stopped again to admire the full-ish moon setting over the Tantalus Range and then pushed on through a rain shower near Whistler up to Pemberton and onto the Duffey Lake road.

The clouds cleared as I reached the parking lot and I pulled on my boots and backpack. By 6:15 am I was on the oh-so-peaceful trail. But before I got underway, I looked around and noticed the morning sunshine striking the snow fields and glaciers on Saxifrage Mountain. Of course I snapped the photo and got on my way. When the time came to put up a set of photos on Flickr, we decided against including this one and it was only looking back at the original set of photos recently that I rediscovered this one. With my Instagram cap on I realized that it would make a pretty decent square crop – not something we used to do back in 2008 – and so with a bit of tweaking to give it a little more “oomph” I added it to my Instagram feed.

Made me glad to be a digital pack-rat, at least for a moment!