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….!

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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!

Floral assortment

An assortment of flowers near Mystery Lake for wildflower-Wednesday: bunchberry, paintbrush, and fireweed. I was surprised to find bunchberry still blooming, and this was the first time I’ve seen paintbrush on the North Shore. The fireweed photo is actually from Callaghan Valley (though there was plenty blooming next to the Mt Seymour parking lot), against a backdrop of thick smoke from the BC wildfires.

Guess who just found out how to post a slideshow on Instagram? Yay 🙂 I’ll try not to overuse it, but sometimes it’s nice to include a few photos in a single post to tell a wider story. The only downside is that it looks like the photos are forced to be square and I hadn’t prepared these photos with a square crop on mind, so I don’t feel they’re displayed to their best advantage.

Judging by the freshness of the bunchberry flowers, I’d say the North Shore (or at least that part of Mt Seymour) is about 3 weeks behind its usual bloom. We also saw quite a few fresh Queen’s cup, which was another lovely surprise. But the biggest surprise was the paintbrush: my eye was caught by the orangey-red colour on one of the ski runs, and then I found more along the edge of the open slopes just before we entered the forest. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never seen paintbrush on any of the North Shore mountains, though I have nagging memory of maybe seeing it once before somewhere else on Mt Seymour. I’ll need to scan our (ridiculously large) photo collection to be sure!

The fireweed photo is a bit of a cheat as it was taken the day before but I really wanted to show the smoky atmosphere in the background that couldn’t be seen in the fireweed photos I took in the parking lot. It was bad enough to put us off our original hiking plans…

Sastrugi

Seymour sastrugi for today’s winter-wonderland Wednesday.

I didn’t have any waterfall, wildflower, or wildlife shots in mind for this week, so I came up with a new Wednesday tag – only to find that it’s been used at least 300 times before. Ah well, so much for originality.

Anyhow, this is yet another photo from my trip up Mt Seymour from a couple of weeks ago. It’s always windy up there in the winter, and with the lack of trees on the summit, the snow is sculpted into a fantastic array of shapes (i.e., sastrugi). I must have taken a dozen or more shots of various curves and lines – always tricky to make them look good with white-on-white details, but this arrangement was placed just right with distant mountains and the dip in the bluffs.

When I first looked at this shot, though, I wasn’t happy with it – the sastrugi was not a big enough feature. I wasn’t even thinking of Instagram when I cropped it, but found that the square crop really allowed me to highlight the snow in a way I was happy with. Definitely one of my favourite photos from the day.

From sky to sea

Vancouver in view – admiring our fair city from the North Shore mountains.

Another shot from a recent hike up Mt Seymour. At the time, the photo was really just a record of the view, but when I processed it I figured that a square crop would work quite nicely with the foreground snow, then the line of cliffs at Suicide Bluffs, the city coastline and beyond to the chain of mountains on Vancouver Island all leading the eye through the picture. Some of those things may even be on third lines, but that wasn’t the case when I actually took the photo! 🙂

Seymour shadow selfie

A selfie of sorts – my shadow at the top of Pump Peak (First Peak) on Mt Seymour, looking over to Tim Jones Peak, Third Peak, and beyond to Garibaldi.

Another beautiful day in the mountains, and a mid-week chance to have the summit of Mt Seymour’s First Peak to myself – or so it appears, at least! But perhaps my favourite photos of the day were of patterns in the wind-scoured snow. Maybe I’ll post one or two of those later…

Cloud waves

Waves of clouds lapping at the forest. A throwback-Thursday sunset from 5 years ago, when Venus was sparkling in the evening sky as it is right now. We often seem to get the timing wrong for our first snowshoe of the season, inevitably starting out too late and arriving just after sunset 🙂

And so yet again we reached our destination just after sunset. At least with Dog Mountain we hadn’t had to slog up a steep slope to get there! I’ve seen many sunsets in the mountains, but this still ranks as one of my favourites. It had been a cold, dank day down in the city and we were hoping to find a bit of warm sunshine above the inversion layer blanketing Vancouver. Except with one thing and another, we were delayed getting under way and, with the route to Dog Mountain being in the trees, we didn’t get to see the sun itself in the end.

But what a consolation prize! Above the cloud deck, which extended across the Salish Sea to the mountains of Vancouver Island, the south-western sky was tinged a glorious yellowy-orange, Venus dazzling in the blue. Below us, the clouds appeared to ebb and flow in the tree tops, giving us the appearance of waves lapping at the shore. We lingered until the sky turned from pink to dark blue, and the orange band on the horizon began to fade before hoofing it back to the car and back into town for some hot food!