A quick trudge up the BCMC trail

Nothing exciting this week – just a quick trudge up the BCMC trail as a training hike for our upcoming backpacking trip(s). Not much to look at either except trail markers, rocks and roots, and other hikers’ miserable faces (seriously, most of the people we encountered looked like they’d far rather be somewhere else). Nothing puts me more into cheery greetings mode than fed-up-looking hikers 🙂 More seriously, some were struggling with the heat, while others had problems with the grade (which seemed to be exacerbated by poor footwear). The only people who looked like they were enjoying the day had good footwear… Coincidence?

Nothing exciting this week – just a quick trudge up the BCMC trail as a training hike for our upcoming backpacking trip(s). Not much to look at either except trail markers, rocks and roots, and other hikers' miserable faces (seriously, most of the people we encountered looked like they'd far rather be somewhere else). Nothing puts me more into cheery greetings mode than fed-up-looking hikers 🙂 More seriously, some were struggling with the heat, while others had problems with the grade (which seemed to be exacerbated by poor footwear). The only people who looked like they were enjoying the day had good footwear… Coincidence? #bcmctrail #grousemountain #grousemountainregionalpark #hiking #bchiking #hikebc #northvancouver #northshoremountains #explorebc

A post shared by Andy Gibb (@_andy_gibb_) on

This is kind of a photo-journal of the BCMC trail, all taken with my phone (I didn’t touch the “real” camera once).

  1. The trail peels away from the Grouse Grind almost immediately soon and begins fairly innocuously, at least by North Shore standards. It’s following the Baden-Powell trail, and is wide with nice steps where needed.
  2. A clearly-marked junction points us up the slope for the BCMC trail, which soon turns to a sea of rubble. Seriously, without careful attention it’s almost impossible to detect a trail here. The saving grace for this trail is the suite of well-placed trail markers, orange diamonds nailed to the trees. You can’t go wrong if you follow these.
  3. Higher up it gets worse, deteriorating into a mess of roots and indistinct steps. In many areas, bypass trails have been formed by people either avoiding the roots or simply not appreciating that’s where the trail actually goes!
  4. Like historical artefacts, there are occasional signs that there was once a proper trail here. This nice little section of almost-buried steps still visible.
  5. Up to now, the forest has been largely barren, desolate second-growth. Thankfully the forest gradually begins to change with elevation and signs of pleasant greenery and younger growth start to show, especially on a nice sunny day.
  6. Higher still, we reach areas that were perhaps only gently logged and as such still have some original understory, such as these Queen’s cup flowers in a patch of sunlight.
  7. Here and there fallen trees have been cleared by chainsaw-wielding crews who seem to have a liking for carving faces in the the cut sections. (The best example of this was the Brothers Creek trail back in 2016.)
  8. Nearly there: the trail joins the line of a trio of pipelines, presumably carrying waste water down the slope to be treated. This is about the first section of trail that feels flat!
  9. First stop at the top is to buy download passes (now a pricey $15 per person). Second is the washroom; third is the cafe for refreshment. Then it’s time to join the line of tourists to enjoy the 10-minute descent back to the parking lot.

It’s not a great hike by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a good enough workout to make it worth squeezing in to a day where you don’t have the time to go further. Mind you, we reached the top and still felt fresh enough to continue. I think it’s about time we revisited Goat and/or Crown Mountain!

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Forest flowers

Think forest hikes have nothing to see? I beg to differ, at least at this time of year! Here’s a selection of flowers seen along the trail to Norvan Falls from a couple of weeks ago: columbine, clasping twistedstalk, bunchberry, wild ginger, false lily-of-the-valley, and the bloom of the tulip poplar (which isn’t native to BC but it’s still one of my favourite trees).

Last Wednesday’s post was about Norvan Falls itself. This week, it’s about the many flowers we saw along the way – a surprising number to be honest.

  1. Plenty of western (red) columbine, also known as the rainflower – seeing so many of these was the first surprise of the hike.
  2. Clasping twistedstalk – the second surprise was finding so many of these flowers, well-hidden below their leaves. I hadn’t really looked closely at them before so it was lovely to discover the delicate little bells and to see the kinked stalk that gives the flower its name.
  3. Bunchberry – so we’ve seen plenty of this by now, but I can’t resist continuing my search for the perfect bunchberry flower to photograph!
  4. Wild ginger – this was the third surprise, finding wild ginger which I’d never seen along this trail before.
  5. False lily of the valley – lots of these in bloom, the hard part was knowing which patch to photograph. I decided on this one with a kilometre marker post as a background. We saw another photographer sizing up a big patch on our way back – I was almost tempted to wait and get the same patch as they were nicely lit, but maybe I’ll save that for another day.
  6. Tulip poplar – OK so this wasn’t seen on the hike but near the community centre a few blocks from our apartment. We fell in love with tulip poplars when we lived in Maryland. Our first autumn there we drove out to Shenandoah National Park to see the colourful foliage and were struck by the tunnels of bright yellow created by these trees. And then the following spring we saw the first of their tulip-like flowers and we were hooked. It’s a nice reminder of our time on the east coast.

Lynn Peak

Nice day to hike up to Lynn Peak. Busier than expected, trail is still as awful as ever, but the forest flowers are beginning to bloom and looked great in the sunshine.

Lynn Peak was Plan B: we wanted a hike with some elevation gain, but didn’t feel like driving very far or getting sunburn in the snow. Our original idea was to hike up to Norvan Falls but that felt like it would take too much time (being about 15 km in length). However, Lynn Peak is always longer than I remember so in the end I think we took a very similar amount of time…!

  1. The view from the Lynn Peak lookout isn’t the best on the North Shore, but it’s nice enough on a sunny day. Downtown Vancouver is mostly hidden so it’s a good thing that Mt Baker was shining brightly to the south-east to give us something pretty to admire. The cliff bands break up the monotonous green on the long flanks of Mt Seymour to lend some interest to an otherwise dull foreground.
  2. The trail up to Lynn Peak is mostly like this: rubble. It’s not fun hiking, which is why I’m so surprised we saw as many people as we did. Thinking about how most people find out about their hikes these days, I should be less surprised as I doubt many of the people we met had read a trail description or hiked it before… Still, I know the trail well enough these days that I can tune out the worst of it and enjoy the sections through the remaining delightful old-growth forest.
  3. Horned tree stump. In a previous photo I called this a “viking tree” but I’ve since learned that vikings didn’t have horned helmets. I’ve renamed it the metal tree \m/. RIP Ronnie James.
  4. Even on crummy trails there’s usually something of interest along the way. This patch of mushrooms caught my eye as we walked back down, nestled in the hollow of a decaying tree. It was great to see them looking so fresh as we’d seen a different patch earlier that were more dried out.
  5. I drove Maria nuts taking photos of coralroot last year so I had to let her continue hiking while I stopped to try and capture them today 🙂 They’re definitely tricky to photograph, though I was pleased to capture this one in the sunshine moments before the sun moved round to the next patch. I expect they’ll start flowering proper this week.
  6. I just couldn’t resist another bunchberry photo, especially as the florets were just starting to develop. It’s been fun watching the various dogwoods flower this year.
  7. The trickster on the search for handouts at the lookout. I waited for the raven to tilt its head before I took the photo to try and catch the sunlight glinting in its eye and I was delighted to capture it at the right time as it tilted its head again a second later. Someone was feeding it bits of a Nanaimo bar, and I can do no more than just shake my head. Of all the foods to offer wildlife, highly processed sugary food is the very worst. I’d disapprove if they were handing out nuts; to feed it a sweet dessert is just asinine. Alas, in a crowd of indifferent onlookers it’s difficult to speak up. I think I did make a partial point though as they left when the feeder was congratulating himself on making a “connection” with the raven. I joked that if he had food then he had a connection. He laughed it off but I think it made the point. Will they do different next time? I doubt it.
  8. Just as we reached the trailhead again I spotted the tall green stems of rein orchids among the giant leaves of skunk cabbage in a marshy area. To my surprise the camera on the phone focused beautifully on the flowers of the orchid, and I’m really pleased with this photo. It was a delight to see these flowers again, and to be able to photograph them without being set upon my countless mosquitoes…!

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of hiking.

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!

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!

Aurora

The aurora came to visit last night. Not as intense as I’d hoped but always a treat to see it. If nothing else, spending an hour on the beach on a calm, peaceful night was very relaxing, though not conducive to a productive day of work….

This photo so nearly didn’t happen. I knew there was a chance of seeing the Northern Lights last night, but when the time came to think about going somewhere to get photos, I was seriously considering just crawling into bed instead. But these chances don’t come around that often so off we went down to the beach again, to the same spot where we watched them back in May. The water was just as calm again, allowing for great reflections.

But ultimately I’m disappointed in the photos. The lights from the city were just too bright and show up so strongly in the photos, the brightest of them resulting in halos or showing up internal reflections in the lens. Plus I feel like I shot too wide – the aurora just looks like a little green line near the bottom of the frame. And I’m not convinced I’ve got my processing right either. However, I’ve since explored more processing options and found a way to make the photo more pleasing to my eye – that version is on Flickr as Instagram doesn’t support replacements (and I’m not going to simply repost a different version of the same image).

Aurora, 28 Sep 2017

So here’s to the next time we get chance to see the aurora in Vancouver, and perhaps I’ll be in a position to drive out of town to admire it!