Centre stage

The imposing bulk of Slalok Mountain and the Stonecrop glacier take centre stage in the winter.

I had a free afternoon on a sunny Saturday and I was already in Whistler – where else do I go but Joffre Lakes? With a low-moderate avalanche risk I decided that I’d be happy to head up the trail and take in the views. I wasn’t disappointed: it was absolutely stunning up there, and I was delighted to find a few angles with untouched snow in the foreground to lend that extra air of untouched wilderness. Never mind that a few feet to the left of these animal tracks was a two-boot-wide path in the snow stomped flat by a succession of skiers and snowshoers.

While most of my photos tend to fall in the category of “snapshot”, I did actually take my time with this composition, seeking just the right angle to keep the tracks while including or excluding various trees and shadows at the edge of the field of view. And I must admit it’s probably my favourite photo from the afternoon. I don’t often feel that my photos are good enough to show, but I cautiously think that this is one of them. I love the whole feel of it, and it’s immensely satisfying to see a scene, visualize it as a photograph, take that photograph, process it and have it come out exactly as you’d hoped. A keeper.

The full-height photo can be seen on Flickr, and to my mind is much more effective with a greater sense of being led into the frame by the animal tracks:
Joffre Lakes, 10 Mar 2018


Lions Week

A brief encounter of the nebulous and mountainous kind last Saturday inspired a week’s worth of photos of the Lions, a distinctive pair of peaks visible from downtown Vancouver and many places around. Originally named the Twin Sisters by local First Nations people, westerners re-named them the Lions, because – and even Chief Joe Capilano admitted – they looked like the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

Getting to them requires a tough hike in from a couple of directions – both of which we’ve tried now, first in 2005 at the end of our first real summer of hiking in BC. Attaining the summit of the West Lion is possible, though requires a head for heights and scrambling experience; the East Lion is in the Capilano watershed and officially off limits to the public.

However the best view is from other nearby peaks instead, or from further afield. Here I give 7 examples of the various views of the Lions from different vantage points on the North Shore and beyond that I hope capture some of the essence of these iconic mountains.

  1. A fleeting glimpse of the West Lion through the clouds to the north, Harvey and Brunswick barely visible if you know where to look. Behind us lay blue sky and sunshine but this was the view that held our attention.

    The photo that got me thinking; we’d just plodded our way up to the top of Hollyburn in glorious sunshine but could see the thick grey clouds to the north. I thought that we’d have no view at all so I was really pleased to see that the Lions were playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. Our camera/lens played up for some of the photos where the peaks were more clearly visible, but at least this one turned out well. The very tip of the East Lion is barely visible through the clouds.

  2. After posting yesterday’s photo I found myself browsing our collection of Lions photos. I enjoyed rediscovering them so much that I decided to make this week an impromptu Lions week 🏔 Here’s the view from the Cleveland dam taken a few winters ago. From this angle it’s easy to see how they were given their original name of the Twin Sisters.

    After I wrote the caption for this photo, I also realized that it’s easy to understand why early western visitors saw them as lions, particularly for the West Lion with its back and haunches pointing to the left in this view. The story of how they were originally called the Twin Sisters is described in Pauline Johnson’s book, “Legends of Vancouver” which is well worth reading by all residents on the area. Also worth reading are some of the early expeditions to climb the peaks. One such article from the 1920s (I think) describes a multi-day trip to those peaks, following Capilano River and then Sisters Creek. Hard to believe what an effort it once was to reach such nearby mountains!

  3. After yesterday’s classic view of the Lions from Vancouver, I thought it’d be fun to see the view from a totally different angle. This photo was taken near Seed Peak in Pinecone-Burke provincial park, about 33 km northwest of the Lions, the distinctive twin summits clearly recognizable, despite Mt Harvey’s attempts to confuse matters!

    This view was a complete surprise: we were on our way up (or down – can’t remember now) Seed Peak at the northern end of Pinecone-Burke provincial park when, as I often do, I scanned the mountain vista in search of familiar peaks. The twin peaks caught my eye like a pair of distant bunny ears. At first the similar-looking peak to the right puzzled me, but then I realized it was Mt Harvey, which does look a bit like one of the Lions from this – and the opposite – angle.

  4. Mt Seymour is a great hike/snowshoe and gives a unique side-on view of the Lions – they’re almost unrecognizable from this angle and it takes a moment or two of looking to realize what you’re seeing.

    It’s easy to miss the Lions completely from the Mt Seymour trail as they are seen almost side-on and appear as a just another peak along the ridgeline of the Howe Sound peaks. At least in winter there is some contrast between the snow and the rock; in summer the peaks tend to merge with their surroundings. It took a fairly long telephoto lens to get this shot, I think equivalent to about 300 mm in 35-mm terms.

  5. Today’s view of the Lions (well, only the West Lion) comes from a New Year’s Eve snowshoe trip to Mt Strachan back in 2010. We reached the summit only a few minutes before sunset after a hard slog up Christmas gully. We’re glad we made it in time because the light was just beautiful. One of my all-time favourite mountain sunsets!

    Oh what a trip this was! We set off under bluebird skies just after lunch and slogged our way up the gully barely in time to catch sunset. And what a sunset it was: the snow around us turned from white to cream, to yellow, then orange, and finally pink before returning to white as the sun dropped below the horizon. It was a stunning sunset, and over all too soon. All the while we admired the surrounding peaks, though none more so than the Lions. Our descent in the twilight and then darkness was a lot of fun and a good exercise in navigation and reading the terrain.

  6. If you’ve been following my series on the Lions then today’s photo probably won’t come as a surprise. Continuing working my way around the Lions, this view is from the top of Brunswick Mountain looking south towards those well-known twin outlines, Vancouver lost in the haze beyond. But what a great day to be in that little floatplane!

    Out of the frame to the left in the previous photo is Brunswick Mountain, the tallest mountain in the immediate vicinity of Vancouver, approaching 1800 m in height. It’s a favourite of many hikers owing to its superlative summit experience involving some fun scrambling and exceptional views. The downside is the unending slog to get there.

    But those views… And this view of the Lions is particularly good, though the light is rarely good enough to get a decent photo. That would take camping out at or near the summit, which is something to bear in mind for a future trip. As we were enjoying the scene, we heard a floatplane and looked round to see one flying a couple of hundred metres below us, cruising the western slopes of the Howe Sound peaks. I immediately knew where it would most likely head next and trained the camera on the Lions. Sure enough, the plane flew right by them. That’s a flight I’ll have to take one of these days.

  7. Drawing my Lions week to a close is the view seen by many tourists in Vancouver from the seawall near Canada Place and the convention centre. And yes, I did wait until that floatplane flew into the frame 🙂

    Finally I come back to the city. Last Friday morning I was downtown for a conference and decided to take advantage of the gorgeous morning to walk around the convention centre. It’s been a while since I’ve walked there and was pleasantly surprised to see the subjects of this week’s series of photos staring me in the face, gleaming white against the blue morning sky.

    Naturally I felt compelled to capture them, though given their distance, how little of them is visible, and the fact that I had only a modest zoom on my camera meant I felt my initial photos were lacking. However, as I watched a floatplane take off and bank left past the Lions I realized how I could add a little more interest to my photo. The next plane lined up to take off and I waited for it to turn towards the west and fly past the Lions. Alas it flew much higher than the previous plane, but an obliging bird decided to fly past about mid-way between the aircraft and the Lions. It wasn’t quite the shot I had in mind, but it was definitely good enough for me.

And so concludes a week of photos of the Lions. It’s been fun for me to look back through some of our older photos to find these views, and it’s re-planted the idea back in my head of putting in a little more effort to capture them again. Given the number of photos we’ve amassed over the past decade and more, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a few more mountains that could be turned into a themed week of posts. Watch this space….!

Near and far

Near and far – Mt Baker peeks over the ridge of De Pencier bluffs.

While the weather this weekend was good enough to take this photo, this was actually taken a week ago. Yesterday’s good weather caught us off-guard and we had made other plans for the middle of the day…

I noticed this alignment of the bluffs and Mt Baker on our way up to the First Peak of Mt Seymour and thought I’d leave it until the descent when the light on Mt Baker would be a little warmer in order to emphasize the distance between the subjects. I was quite pleased to see that I was right and, with a little help from the polarizer to deepen the blue sky, I got pretty exactly the shot I was after. Ideally I would have preferred to have the longer lens to really compress the scene and isolate the two but I’m stuck with the reach of the 18-55 mm for now until I upgrade.

I really like how the nearby bluffs are crystal clear with the snow retaining a slight blue cast while Mt Baker is distinctly yellower and softer. I did adjust the colour of the deep shadow of the bluffs, warming it up slightly to render it more neutral and make it less distracting; winter shadows in the snow tend to be very blue and I didn’t want that to compete with the rest of the photo.

What surprised me most of all is that I have walked this route a couple of dozen times and don’t remember ever seeing that particular view before. Now I have to go back and look through all my Mt Seymour photos to check!

Back in the mountains again

Good to be back in the mountains again! The Tantalus Range and a fine mountain hemlock looking good against that sky of unusual colour.

We set off from Vancouver in thick fog. Driving over the Lions Gate bridge, the tops of the uprights were hidden, the green arrows marking our lanes barely visible until we were underneath the gantry, blindly trusting our forward motion into the wall of grey ahead of us. The fog greeted us again on our return in the evening, our drive around a deserted Stanley Park proving quite eery with our headlights shining straight back into our eyes. But in between we had nothing but bright sunshine and a sky of a colour we barely recognized after the last two weeks of rain.

By coincidence, two-and-a-half months after our last hike (our jaunt up to Mt Parke on Mayne didn’t really qualify as such), we found ourselves at the same trailhead as that very same hike, this time with snow. We pulled on our snowshoes and made our way up through the snow to the same bluff with this incredible view. I was delighted to find this tree surrounded by untouched snow and I tried to take a leaf out of a landscape photographer’s book by actually finding something resembling a composition. Mountains on one side, big tree on the third-line, and lines in rain-washed snow against an azure backdrop. Unoriginal perhaps, but fine with me.

Stormy (mountain) Monday Blues

Stormy (mountain) Monday blues – Crown Mountain reflected in the mudflats at the blue hour.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago on Christmas Day as we walked along the sand on Locarno Beach. I was really pleased to get the top of Crown reflected in the still water ponded on the mudflats, something I’ve tried many times before without much success. It wasn’t until afterwards that I really noticed the low cloud hanging in the Capilano River valley, spilling out across the flanks of the enclosing mountains, and adding to the atmosphere of the scene. I had to work around the dust on the sensor of our RX100II, but I had a square crop in mind from the beginning so that was easy.

I came up with the title based on the weather forecast for the beginning of this week, which should surprise no Vancouverite: rain, rain, rain. And today is “Mountain Monday” on Instagram. The title is actually the name of an old blues tune, “Stormy Monday Blues”, of which we have a wonderful recording from 1948. The first couple of lines of the song are:

They call it Stormy Monday
But Tuesday's just as bad

which seemed fitting (given the weather forecast). Of course, with the photo being taken at the start of the so-called “blue hour”, the song naturally popped into my head.

As it happened, today wasn’t as wet as I expected, tomorrow’s forecast has improved, and I even got to see a barred owl chasing crows on the UBC campus. Not bad for a Monday.

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.

Happy day

Happy International Mountain Day! Mountains make me happy, and I suppose these mountains are international if you don’t live in Canada, so yeah – enjoy the day! I know that I certainly enjoyed this view of the Tantalus Range from Al’s Habrich Ridge trail 🏔🗻🌋

It always takes seeing other people’s photos on Instagram to remind me of International Mountain Day. It’s kinda hard to remember as there are so many international or nationals “days” dedicated to one thing or another. But I’ll happily celebrate this one as I’ve come to love the mountains for their aesthetics and wildness, and their ability to bring me perspective and peace.

This view of the Tantalus Range (from the south-east rather than the more common and visually stunning north-east angle) caught me by surprise as we walked back out of the trees onto the large granite bluffs along Al’s Habrich Ridge trail, the tree branch and the water-carved granite framing the peaks nicely against the perfect blue autumn sky. It was nice to have that as I find many photos of mountains tend to lose some of the grandeur without any surrounding context. To the eye, the mountains look stunning; yet once captured through a lens, that larger picture and sense of place is often lost.

I’ve learned this the hard way over many years of hiking and photographing the local mountains. I still take many a context-free mountain photo, but some peaks are too photogenic not to keep trying!