Fleeting

Winter sunsets in the mountains are the best. Judge Howay, Robie Reid, and Meslilloet catch the last light of the day as seen from the First Peak of Mount Seymour.

It wasn’t our plan to be at the summit for sunset; we thought we would have time to make it back down to Brockton Point by then, but we were delayed by the traffic management on the road up to Mount Seymour. But once we realized that, we were quite happy to stay put and watch our first winter summit sunset in quite a few years. With the help of a first-quarter moon, and lights from the ski resort, we didn’t even need our headlamps to retrace our steps back to the car.

The best light lasts only about 20 minutes, and it’s hard to know where to direct your concentration. The most dramatic scenes are opposite the setting sun, the light changing from orange to red to pink before leaving the mountains to shine white against a pink sky. But there was still competition from the mist drifting across English Bay, the shadows of the downtown sky-scrapers cast onto the water of Coal Harbour, and the deep orange glow over Vancouver Island.

I had thought ahead to bring a tripod, just the Gorillapod this time, eager to try out the new ball-head and Arca Swiss quick-release plate on the top. Alas, I quickly realized that I should have brought the full-size tripod as the Gorillapod proved pretty useless; it was difficult to set to the right height, while the rounded feet skidded on the icy snow. Still, I managed to get a few decent photos and I’m especially pleased with the three above.

In order, the mountains on display are:

  1. Mount Judge Howay, a dramatic double-peaked mountain that can be seen from many local mountains;
  2. Mount Robie Reid, an imposing hulk of a mountain;
  3. Meslilloet Mountain, which harbours the closest glacier to Vancouver on its northern face.

The time between the first and third photo is only seven minutes – you really have to act fast at this time of day!

Catching this sunset has inspired me to repeat the experience. I have a few winter sunsets (and even sunrises, though that’s less likely) in mind that I’d like to catch. Some require hiking but one or two can be obtained at the roadside. I might try those first.

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Sights from the North Shore

Sights from the North Shore – a couple of hours well spent rambling through subalpine forest with occasional spectacular views of distant cities, mountains, and islands.

We had one of those rare events in Vancouver: a sunny weekend! Alas we had in-town commitments (naturally…) so we couldn’t get out for a whole day, but I was able to grab a couple of hours up exploring some trails on Dog Mountain while Maria was in Deep Cove.

  1. One of my favourite photos from the afternoon, I really like the little puddle in the foreground, the rugged rocks of the bluffs beyond, a bit of autumn colour, the shadows, and the distant view of Cathedral Mountain (and even Mount Garibaldi in Squamish). It all adds up to many layers and a natural path for the viewer’s eyes to follow from front to back.
  2. Vancouver far below, the bright afternoon sun reflecting off the Salish Sea and Burrard Inlet between Stanley Park and the west side of the city. In the distance, the mountains of Vancouver Island are visible – later as we drove home along the Upper Levels Highway, we had a stunning view of the orange sky behind the silhouette of Mount Arrowsmith, between Nanaimo and Port Alberni. Just glorious!
  3. Decaying skunk cabbage leaves, nicely arranged on the forest floor. It’s amazing to think that those giant, robust green leaves of summer soon wither and decay to paper-thin fragments.
  4. Reflections in a small tarn – the trail passed by several small tarns or ponds, all of which reflected the surrounding trees and bushes just beautifully. I really like the tufts of grass at the water’s edge in this view.
  5. A dab of colour – many of the bushes and shrubs change colour to gorgeous shades of orange, yellow, and red. It may not be the spectacular maple displays of the eastern deciduous forests, but the subalpine and alpine plants put on their own diminutive show. I just love the vivid primary colours on display: red, yellow, green, blue…
  6. Mushrooms! I was surprised that there weren’t more on display – I only really found this little group and another nice patch of fly agaric. I don’t know what they are so if anyone can identify them then please let me know.
  7. OK so this might actually be my favourite from the day. There’s just something about dead trees; they’re often so photogenic and full of character. I always think about how old these trees are, how many summers and winters they have lived through, watching people come and go.
  8. Last but not least is another favourite showing the terrain dropping away into bowl below the bluffs, and the distance mountains of Coliseum and Cathedral, Garibaldi barely showing up at the edge of the treed slope of Mount Seymour.

So there you have it, my attempt at showcasing the glorious sunny subalpine experience I had last Saturday.

All photos taken on a Pixel 2 phone, edited to taste in Google Photos.

Local mountains

I’m getting near the end of all my remaining unblogged Instagram photos for Throwback-Thursday and it’s getting harder to come up with themed posts. In the absence of any other connection, here’s a couple of winter-time photos of and/or from the North Shore mountains.

1. Crown Mountain in its winter coat.

Crown Mountain is always a stunning sight in the winter; it has that archetypal jagged mountain profile regardless of the angle of view. I think I’ve taken more photos of Crown Mountain than any other single peak, mostly because we can see it from our apartment. This day we were out for a walk in Stanley Park and the clouds hung low in the Capilano River valley. This worked in my favour as it reduced the amount of featureless greenery that would otherwise have made up some fraction of the photo. Instead, the photo is neatly divided into four: forest, cloud, mountain, and sky. It’s not as even a division as my eye would like but nature is rarely that accommodating.

2. Throwback-Thursday to one year ago today – a sunny hike up Mt Seymour with my friend Steve.

I have Steve to thank for founding Wanderung which more-or-less single-handedly made our settling-in period in Vancouver so much easier and enjoyable. We’ve met many of our friends through the hiking group, and have been to some incredible places in BC as a result. To my surprise, I’m now helping run the society and mailing list, and have been putting out a short newsletter every week for nearly 7 years. How time flies!

The first time I visited Mt Seymour was a snowshoeing trip (coincidentally, organized by Steve), way back in January 2005 and it’s one of my favourite winter destinations with its superb views in all directions. As an example, the mountain on the horizon in this photo is Mt Garibaldi some 50 km to the north. We didn’t need snowshoes on this day as the snow was well compacted, though hats were definitely a wise move – the summit post thought so too!

A sunny seawall stroll

Seymour seen on a sunny stroll along the city seawall

Something in my head told me today was Saturday and therefore it was time to post another Instagram photo. So I posted the photo above taken this afternoon along the False Creek seawall. I only just realized that it was still Friday and had to edit my original caption! Oops.

Initially I thought I would have preferred a longer lens for this shot but I still like the fact that I was able to get both the curve of the seawall on the right and the curved tower on the left of the frame. I could have cropped a bit more I suppose, to really emphasize Mt Seymour as the main point of focus, but overall I’m quite happy with it as it is even if it is a little busy. If nothing else, it’s a record of what we saw on our travels today, and it was a good day to be outside.

VanCity Views IV

1. Snowline. The North Shore mountains looking pretty this morning.

The morning after a chilly rainy night shows up the lovely snowline across the flanks of Crown and Grouse Mountains. I took this photo from the roof of the Mountain Equipment Coop building on Broadway. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I really like how the snowline angles upwards as it gets nearer to the water, perhaps the air stayed cooler in the Capilano valley?

2. Winter sunset

I love seeing this boundary between night and day: the sun has set on the city but the mountain tops are still bathed in lovely warm light. Such a contrast compared with the previous photo! I’d rather be up in the mountains in this light – watching the snow change colour is amazing – but I’ll settle for a view over the water and the city.

Here, along the foreshore just west of Kits Pool, is one of my favourite spots to catch the sunset in the winter with its unobstructed view across English Bay and the peaks of Crown and Grouse Mountains, Mt Fromme, and the ridgeline of Mt Seymour beyond.

3. Morning view on day 3 of my Walk To Work Week 🙂

At the time I took this photo I was working about 4.5 km from home. While it was an easy bike ride, I’m not a fan of riding in the winter, so I thought I’d try walking it. To my surprise I found myself really enjoying the walk (on dry days) and could make it door-to-door in about 45 minutes. There’s a tiny park along the way called Choklit Park – and yes, the name is associated with chocolate – with a nice view over towards the high-rises of Yaletown and the mountains beyond. Now if only I had the Photoshop skills to remove that straggly little branch in the top right corner…

4. I’m not a morning person but I love mornings – good morning from a frosty Kits Beach

I remember taking a photo of Kits Beach covered in frost way back in 2009 and wanted to repeat that shot. It took until early 2016 for that to happen! Things I like about this photo include the shape of the beach, which is close to a classic “S” curve, the strip of sand forming a pathway between the silvery-blue water and frost, and the mist behind the city high-rises. It’s a chillier-looking photo than my earlier attempt – I guess I must have sooner after sunrise than in 2009 which had some nice early-morning sunshine lighting up the frost.

So with that I think I’m caught up on my backlog of miscellaneous Vancouver shots for now. I wonder what next week’s Throwback Thursday has in store?

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….!

City sights on a sunny Sunday

City sights on a snowy sunny Sunday – mountains, birds, the sea, the city, snow, ice, and signs of spring. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that I live here.

Winter came to the city last night, and to everyone’s surprise, the clouds parted and we were treated to a gorgeous sunny day. Maria and I wandered out for some fresh air, heading down to the beach before grabbing a hot chocolate and walking home for lunch. And a lovely picturesque walk it was too!

1) The beach between Tatlow Park and Trafalgar Street has a nice tidal shelf with a few little raised rocks. This seagull was perfectly placed with the Vancouver skyline behind it, with the peaks of Mt Seymour and the Fannin Range forming the horizon.

2) I love this view of Kits Beach, especially when the tide is out a little like today. The ripples of the incoming waves add some lovely foreground interest – spot the seagull down on the beach too!

3) A couple of the streets offer a great view of Crown Mountain. I liked this one showing the street scene with the mountain as an imposing backdrop. The original version of this image (in a vertical 3:2 ratio) looks much better though. The square crop loses too much for my liking, and I wouldn’t post it alone in this format, but it works well enough for a multi-photo post.

4) I found some witch hazel still in bloom! Yay! This tree is the same one I photographed last year, and it’s a lovely hybrid tree with a mixture of yellow and red “petals”. Most are just one colour of the other, but this one blends the two into its own little spectrum.

5) I was hoping to find a scene like this: a dot of last night’s snow perched on top of some flowers. And with the blue sky behind, how could I resist?

6) Possibly the closest witch hazel tree to home, I hadn’t noticed this one before but it was a gorgeous pure yellow complete with a little icy hat!