Expansive peace

A few throwback-Thursday favourites from our Heather Trail backpacking trip last September. A great hike to soak up some wide open alpine space and big skies…

Our decision to hike the Heather Trail on the Labour Day weekend was made as we approached Hope along Highway 1. Do we take the turnoff and continue into the Fraser Canyon towards the Stein Valley, or head for the alpine of the Heather Trail? In the end the weather looked good enough for a few days of alpine enjoyment, and so we continued on to Highway 3 and into Manning Park.

It turned out to be an inspired move. We set off under cool, cloudy skies and began our 12 km hike in to Kicking Horse campground. Late afternoon sunshine caught up with us near the final pass, bathing the meadows in warm light (photos 1 and 2) for some wonderful scenes. These two photos are among my favourites from the entire trip.

We found a suitable spot for our tent and enjoyed as quiet a night as we’ve ever experienced in the backcountry with not even the slightest breeze to ripple the fly sheet. I remember lying in my sleeping bag, probably around 1 or 2 am, holding my breath and enjoying the sheer weight of the silence.

The next day we hauled ourselves off in the direction of Nicomen Lake for a day’s hiking. We passed through more expansive meadows below azure skies, meeting barely a handful people along the way. (At least, until the ridge above Nicomen Lake itself.) We enjoyed lunch on a peak high above the lake (photo 3) before retracing our steps.

The light was perfect on our return, though we could see the beginnings of some dramatic clouds over the summit of Third Brother (fourth photo), portents of the weather to come that night and the following morning. The square format of this photo doesn’t really do justice to the size of the meadows we were passing through.

As we neared the campground we opted to pick our way carefully across country to the windy summit of Fourth Brother (photo 5) to enjoy a view we hadn’t experienced before. Then back to the tent, a rainy night followed by a snowy morning, and a steady hike back to the car.

It was only three days but it was some of the most enjoyable hiking and camping we’ve had, adding to some of the best hiking and camping we’d already savoured over the summer. Gambling on the Heather Trail was definitely the right decision.

A Medley of Moptops

A medley of moptops for wildflower Wednesday, definitely one of the most distinctive alpine flowers – I just love the way they catch the light. They only flower for a brief time as soon as the snow melts, leaving their fluffy seed heads to decorate the meadows for the rest of the short alpine growing season.

Moptop, tow-headed baby, hippy on a stick, muppets of the mountains… The seed-heads of the western anemone have multiple nicknames. Many people liken them to characters from Dr Seuss books; to me they’re just moptops. I didn’t have much exposure to the Dr Seuss characters when I was a kid but what little I had I didn’t think much of; I have a vague recollection of thinking that it was kinda silly and unrealistic, even at a young age. So, forgive me if I shrug or even grit my teeth if one more person exclaims about how Dr Seuss-like they are!

It’s remarkable to see how tall they grow and how they dominate some meadows when they start off so small. But the best thing about them is the way they catch the light, be it afternoon, evening, or morning. And I can’t stop taking their picture when that happens!

Lenticular

A line of lenticular-like clouds forms over the summit of Third Brother, a sign of high winds and a likely change in the weather. Later that night it poured with rain, heavy enough on the tent to wake me up, and in the morning turned to snow for a couple of hours. After that the clouds drifted away and the sun came out again. All the weather you could wish for! One of the joys of backpacking and something you always need to be prepared for 🙂

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A line of lenticular-like clouds forms over the summit of Third Brother, a sign of high winds and a likely change in the weather. Later that night it poured with rain, heavy enough on the tent to wake me up, and in the morning turned to snow for a couple of hours. After that the clouds drifted away and the sun came out again. All the weather you could wish for! One of the joys of backpacking and something you always need to be prepared for 🙂 #tripplanning #tripplantuesday #manningpark #ecmanningprovincialpark #ecmanningpark #manningparkresort #heathertrail #thirdbrother #backpackingbc #backpacking #hiking #bchiking #hikebc #bcparks #yourbcparks #bcadventuresmart #explorebc #beautifulbc #beautifulbritishcolumbia #ifttt

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I love clouds in all their forms. Lenticular clouds are less common, but not exactly rare in mountainous areas; we’ve seen them before in the notoriously-windy Coquihalla area before, which lies only 50 km or so north of our camping spot, and several had formed just east of that same area earlier today. What I hadn’t seen before was a line, especially such a clearly wave-like line, of lenticular clouds. I hoped they would persist until sunset; seeing those clouds lit up by golden evening light would have made a spectacular photo. Alas, they drifted off, and the sunset was mostly cloudy anyway with just a few brief patches of colour.

It was sometime after about 2 am that the rain started; the moon rose around midnight and lit up the tent for a while before the rain clouds rolled in. I tried not to think about the physiological effect that falling water would have on me in the middle of the night. Thankfully I lasted until the morning, and we had enough of a gap in the weather to convince us to get moving. At which point it snowed.

Phone Friday VII

Another selection of photos for phone Friday or forest Friday or fungus Friday or even frosty Friday (since many of these were taken on our Canada Day hike to Frosty Mountain). Check out the tree you can ride like a fairground carousel pony! I was surprised to see the coral fungus growing already… I couldn’t resist photographing the garbage gobbler at the Hunter Creek rest area 🙂 The last photo is the pall of smoke from the Topanga Cafe fire 😦 a 116-year old building gone.

And that was my week in photos!

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Another selection of photos for #phonefriday or #forestfriday or #fungusfriday or even #frostyfriday (since many of these were taken on our Canada Day hike to Frosty Mountain). Check out the tree you can ride like a fairground carousel pony! I was surprised to see the coral fungus growing already… I couldn't resist photographing the garbage gobbler at the Hunter Creek rest area 🙂 The last photo is the pall of smoke from the Topanga Cafe fire 😦 a 116-year old building gone. And that was my week in photos! #frostymountain #manningpark #ecmanningprovincialpark #camping #hiking #bchiking #hikebc #beautifulbritishcolumbia #beautifulbc #explorebc #yourbcparks #garbagegobbler #coralfungus #teampixel #pixel2 #happycanadaday #staircaseofdoom

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  1. Happy Canada Day from the summit of Frosty Mountain! Notice how the flag is totally horizontal? Yeah, it was blowing a frigid gale up there! Thankfully, there’s a low stone wall to shelter behind so we were able to enjoy our lunch in comfort.
  2. Fresh larch needles – I still remember the first time I touched larch needles and how surprised I was that they weren’t like needles at all but were soft and pliant, almost rubbery. I often run a hand over the branches, leaves, or bark of trees but none are like the larch. Even in the autumn as they turn yellow and fall from the tree, they remain so much softer than typical conifer needles.
  3. Sit-upon tree – it just invites being sat on, doesn’t it? And we have 🙂
  4. The tree-clearing crews had recently finished their work and we could smell fresh sawdust as we passed every place fallen trees had been cut. This winter seemed to bring down a lot of trees, but this one caught my eye with its striking asymmetry. Often trees like this are the result of two trunks that have merged, but I’m having a hard time see that in this case. I wonder what caused it to grow in this way? Was it really so much sunnier on the one side?
  5. On the climb up towards Frosty the first view is of the valley containing the Lightning Lakes chain, with Mt Hozameen at the far end. Today the north summit was in the clouds so all that could be seen was the snow field on below. The Skyline I trail (that we hiked last June) is the ridgeline just out of the frame on the right-hand side of the photo. It’s not a spectacular photo but it’s a nice view, and it feels like a just reward for the last hour of forest views.
  6. Car camping – our little backpacking tent sits in the middle of a large gravel pitch at the Mule Deer campground in Manning Park. Such a contrast with many of the setups that occupy so many sites which are often festooned with tarps, or shelters covering the picnic table. Sometimes the space is taken by a large RV, caravan, or trailer, but I prefer our tidier, more compact arrangement. If it rains, we sit in the car to eat 🙂
  7. Staircase of doom – this doesn’t look so doom-like as you descend but after a long uphill slog from Buckhorn Camp on the Heather Trail, this staircase is a bit demoralizing. I saw it nicknamed the “staircase of doom” by some hikers a few years back and the name has stuck with me. In any case its curving path makes for a lovely photo.
  8. Coral fungus – I normally associate these fungi with autumn hiking so I was really surprised to see them pushing up through the soil already. The photo doesn’t really do them justice: it was neat to see how they’d emerged from the ground, and like the larch needles, they looked so fresh. I don’t know if they’re edible but I’m happy to leave them where they grow.
  9. Garbage gobbler – a bear-proof bin painted with a hungry mouth. This is the modern incarnation of the painted bins from the 1950s or 1960s that the BC Ministry of Transportation installed at rest stops and pullouts across the province. I saw an Instagram post from the Ministry that mentioned them again, so I was pleased to find this one at this rest stop. OK it’s not really much of a photo, just one of those interesting things we find on our travels.
  10. Where there’s smoke… Last Friday morning we awoke to the sound of a helicopter buzzing overhead and the smell of smoke in the apartment. We looked outside and saw the pall of smoke from this fire on 4th Avenue. A quick search of Twitter revealed that the building housing the Topanga cafe was on fire. It took most of the day to put it out, after which the building had to be destroyed. I’m sad to see yet another historical building disappear from Vancouver streets. No doubt it’ll be replaced by something faceless in a year or two. Naturally, with it being a restaurant on fire, the first thought is that it started in the kitchen somehow. Sadly, the CBC reported today that it may have been started by something as simple as a discarded cigarette butt. I wish that smokers were more careful in their disposal of cigarette ends but I’ve seen far too many just flick it away, a total failure of imagination and misplaced belief that nothing will come of their actions.

Flower season

If you don’t like wildflowers, keep scrolling! It’s wildflower Wednesday and the alpine flowers are beginning to bloom. Glacier lilies, spring beauty, western anemone, paintbrush, sulphur buckwheat, Sitka valerian, Columbia lilies, and white bog orchids can all be found in Manning Park right now along with many others I neglected to photograph!

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If you don't like wildflowers, keep scrolling! It's #wildflowerwednesday and the alpine flowers are beginning to bloom. Glacier lilies, spring beauty, western anemone, paintbrush, sulphur buckwheat, Sitka valerian, Columbia lilies, and white bog orchids can all be found in Manning Park right now along with many others I neglected to photograph! #wildflowers #flowerstagram #manningpark #ecmanningpark #ecmanningprovincialpark #glacierlily #springbeauty #westernanemone #paintbrush #sitkavalerian #sulphurbuckwheat #columbialily #whitebogorchid #bogorchid #bcparks #mybcparks #yourbcparks #explorebc #frostymountain #heathertrail #paintbrushtrail #beaverpond #hiking #bchiking #hikebc #beautifulbc #beautifulbritishcolumbia

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I maxed out my allocation for this multi-photo post – I would have included more if Instagram allowed….

  1. A glacier lily backlit by afternoon sunshine – the perfect glacier lily photo! This photo was taken on our descent from Frosty Mountain and we arrived at this pocket meadow in the forest at just the right time for the sun to find a gap in the trees and light up the flowers. Beautiful!
  2. Of course, one is never enough but I like this one because it shows the under-appreciated (and hard to photograph) spring beauty, a gorgeous diminutive little flower that blooms alongside the glacier lily and anemone.
  3. Spring beauty in full bloom – see how pretty it is? It’s well named! We first encountered spring beauty when we lived in Maryland, though it was common in low-lying woodland rather than in the alpine (of which there wasn’t any really!).
  4. The glacier lilies may be my favourite, but the stars of the show up at Blackwall Peak were the western anemones which were blooming everywhere, and often right along the edge of the trail. That made getting photos very convenient!
  5. I couldn’t decide whether I liked the shot from the side or from above, so I posted both.
  6. I can never resist a photo of paintbrush either, especially when it’s still in bud like this. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much detail my phone camera captured, down to all the fine hairs on the reddening bracts.
  7. This was a nice surprise: sulphur buckwheat in bud. I like how the flower head is divided up into sub-flowers, each with their own collection of florets.
  8. Sitka valerian – the name conjures up the smell of autumn in the mountains as they have quite a pungent scent when they begin to fade. It was the shape of this one that caught my eye, and it was only later I realized I’d caught just a single flower blooming.
  9. This Columbia lily was blooming right next to our camp site, and taking its picture was the first thing I did when I got out of the car 🙂 We saw many at the roadside as we drove into and through Manning Park; I’d love to have stopped and taken a few photos but that’s just not a particularly safe thing to do on such a busy highway.
  10. Lastly, a tall white bog orchid. As with the Columbia lilies, we saw some really good displays of these by the side of Highway 3. But I was happy with this one at the edge of the marsh by the beaver pond. I love the contrast of the green and white on these flowers.

As I alluded to in the caption above, there were many flowers that I either didn’t photograph or couldn’t feature in this little collection, although a good many of those were taken with our “real” cameras which aren’t as easy to post to Instagram. This is definitely my favourite time of the year now, where I’m torn between seeking mountain summits and spending hours photographing flower meadows…

Chasing spring

We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.

Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.

Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.

My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.

Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.

Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…

Columbia lilies

Columbia lilies in an open meadow for wildflower Wednesday – many of the orange blobs in this photo are Columbia lilies. Unfortunately my attempts to capture the extent of their bloom didn’t work out: I have a picture of orange dots in a field of mostly green. I’ve never seen so many in one place before, and it seemed like most of them had multiple flowers per stem, with as many as 5 on one.

I think this is my first Columbia lily photo on Instagram. I don’t have many photos of them because we simply don’t encounter that many on our hikes. I can think of a few places I’ve seen them, but they’re not as widespread as other flowers, and they don’t usually grow in abundance. Even where they do – such as the meadow in the photo above – trying to capture the sense of their number is really difficult as they’re tall and gangly flowers and they tend to be fairly spaced out. So I was happy to see that many of the stems had multiple flower heads, allowing me to get some more interesting photos, rather than simply a single flower atop a tall stalk.

One thing I noticed in taking pictures of these flowers with the Sony RX100II was that the red channel clipped very easily. As a result I have quite a few photos where the flowers are much yellower than in reality, and even processing from raw can’t bring the full detail back, so they remain kinda washed-out looking. I’ve got used to being a little cavalier with my exposure thanks to the dynamic range of the SLRs, and I guess this is one case where I well and truly hit the limits of what the smaller sensor can do. Darn. But now I know.