Earning the view

Earning the patio view at the Sea to Sky Gondola by counting the trail markers. A great way to spend a sunny afternoon – this hike has grown on me in recent years, despite the terrible condition of the trail. I would love to see the Sea to Sky Gondola folks put some money and effort into upgrading the trail. The km markers are a welcome addition but that doesn’t stop inexperienced hikers from underestimating what’s involved.

Well I thought I was behind before, but now I am a whole season behind! After hiking this trail with friends the previous month in somewhat variable weather, it felt good to take advantage of a sunnier day for a return visit.

The patio at the lodge has a great view in several directions, including this view over towards the still-snowy Tantalus Range. I liked how the cable follows the same angle as the land, kind of hiding it. Then there’s the gondola car itself, whose occupants may be enjoying exactly the same view as the photographer, perhaps allowing the viewer to imagine riding the gondola themself, and taking in that scene.

The kilometre-markers are a relatively recent addition, and I think they’re invaluable for gauging progress. I’d also like to see them labelled with the elevation too so hikers can get a sense of how high they’re climbing. Marking the quarter- and half-way marks is simultaneously useful and demoralizing as it always feels that you’ve made more progress than that! The directional signage has also improved drastically since we first hiked this trail back in 2014. If only the trail itself had seen some maintenance during that time…

Howe Sound on a sunny day is irresistible, still looking blue at this time of year before the main snowmelt gets underway when the silt in the Squamish River turns the sound a milky green. I’ve always liked the wiggle in the road from this vantage point too.

Upper Shannon Falls may not be as impressive as the lower counterpart, but they’re still pretty impressive. The smooth rocks by the creek make for a good resting spot, though they must be treated with care as they can be slick.

The bluffs just beyond the half-way point are a great spot for lunch or at least a snack with views of the Chief to the north. Just watch out for the chipmunks and Steller’s and Canada jays as they are all too quick to scrounge for food. Alas too many people have fed them over the years, which has made them all far too bold for their own good.

Of course, on a clear day, the crowds flocked to the suspension bridge for photo-ops, so who could resist making a photo-op of those photo-ops? You have to admit, it’s quite the view…

Misty Mountain Monday

Misty mountain Monday – views of the Stawamus Chief, showers in the Squamish Valley, and a suggestion of snowy peaks hidden in the clouds across Howe Sound.

Sometimes you have to get out hiking whatever the weather, and on this day we had plenty of weather! Winter wasn’t done with us yet, and we ended the day walking in wet snow. Still, swirly clouds make for interesting views along the way.

The first photo is overlooking the gap between the first and second peaks of the Chief, where we can see the Squamish Valley beyond and the way up towards Whistler. I snapped it from the gondola on our descent, and I like how the view is sandwiched between the clouds.

The second photo shows a similar view, though just looking down into the valley: I like how the light was catching the two parallel roads pointing northwards up the valley, and how the view becomes obscured by the rain showers.

The third photo was taken from the patio at the upper gondola station and at first glance might not appear to be very striking. But I really like the subtlety of the snowy mountain barely visible through the clouds. I tried to make it noticeable but not too obvious in the processing and I’m not sure it entirely worked. However, I still like it because it reminds me of the day and how there wasn’t even this much of a view when we first reached the top!

A moment in the sun

Sky Pilot attracts all the attention up at the Sea to Sky gondola, but the Copilot is a pretty fine mountain in its own right.

One of the reasons I opted to buy a new camera was that I had lost patience with the lenses and performance of our SLRs. On one of our earlier trips up to the Sea to Sky gondola, I tried to capture the beautiful light on both Sky Pilot and the Copilot (including a composition very similar to the one above) and I was dismayed to find that every single shot was out of focus. Not blurry, but straight up unfocussed, as in complete failure to focus. (Now admittedly, buying an entire new camera system may seem an overreaction when a new lens would probably do the trick, but that’s another discussion.)

So I was looking forward to trying out our new camera, and bringing home some nice, sharp, detailed photographs. Even better, the late afternoon light on the mountains was glorious. Thankfully, the camera seemed to do exactly as I had hoped (indeed, as it should!) and we have some photos of the Sky Pilot group that we really like.

When it came to posting on Instagram, I returned to this view of the Copilot, drawn by the parallel ridges lit up by the sunshine (especially the left-hand one with the line of trees). By comparison, the photos of Sky Pilot itself were a bit flat, a bit too face-on without any real paths to lead a viewer’s eye. Truth be told I was hoping for warmer light but I actually quite like the starkness of it, which I think helps isolate the snow from the sky, as well as highlight all the texture in the land. Finally, it works really well as a square crop, ideal for Instagram!

Phone Friday VIII

It’s been a while since I did a Phone Friday post, so here’s a selection of photos I liked from the past week, including some from our hike last Saturday, a walk down to Tower Beach (including a fogbow!), Monday’s moonrise, and some nice afternoon light through the leaves.

  1. The Chief and the Tantalus Range above the Squamish River valley – the more I look at this photo, the more I like it. It’s such an incredible view to be so high above the Chief, itself such an imposing mountain from the valley floor, and I find my eye is naturally drawn across to the pointy summits of the Tantalus Range.
  2. Bendy trees – we had just levelled off beneath this cliff face when Maria called to me to look up. I’m glad I did as these Douglas firs are amazing! I love the way they curve out over the cliff before turning upwards. And the four together look like they started growing at about the same time.
  3. Half-and-half tree – this tree is a lodgepole pine on the open bluffs and I was struck by the fact that one half is completely dead while the other is doing just fine with a well-established crown of pine needles. Not only that but the symmetry of the branches is also evident. It’s hard to say what may have caused one side to die off, but perhaps a lightning strike?
  4. Mushrooms galore – I was really pleased to find a few tree stumps festooned with these little mushrooms. I haven’t taken many fungus photos this autumn, it feels like there haven’t been as many on the trails. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty on Instagram so they are definitely out there…
  5. Dew on redwood sorrel – a group of us at work decided to walk down to Tower Beach while the weather was fine. Along the way I noticed this patch of redwood sorrel (note: must come back next year when it’s in flower), a few of the leaves still covered in droplets of either dew or water from the university’s irrigation system. Either way they looked really striking.
  6. Snowberries – I still think of my photo-a-day project when I see snowberries. I tried many times to get a good photo of them and failed every time. Thanks to the wide aperture and computing power behind the phone camera, all I needed to do was to get the camera to focus on the desired spot and then just tap the button. Just like that, I have a better photo than any of those I took with our SLR back in 2011-2012!
  7. Fogbow – this is only the second fogbow I’ve ever seen! I wasn’t thinking about how misty it might be down by the water, but as soon as I saw the mist I wondered if we’d see one. Sure enough – it’s only a partial bow, but it’s good enough for me. Awesome!
  8. Moonrise – my phone camera’s view of last Monday’s moonrise. Such a beautifully calm evening…
  9. Afternoon light – Friday afternoon on the UBC campus and the setting sun lit up a couple of trees just outside our building. I ran downstairs to take a few pictures before the light disappeared. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with any of the shots I got, as it didn’t feel like they captured the light or scene as I could see it, but this one’s not bad.

Mamquam Framed

Mamquam Mountain framed.

The minute I saw Mamquam Mountain over to the east of our lunch spot on an open rocky bluff I knew I had to find a way to capture it. And it didn’t take long. I noticed the tree on the upper right with its arching canopy and decided to make that the top of a frame to give the mountain some context. After all, it’s a long way off (20 km) and while distant mountains are nice to look at, they don’t always make interesting photos.

All that I had to do to complete my framing was to gain a little more height so I could get an unobstructed view the icefield on the mountain. Thankfully it didn’t take much, and I was able to do it safely without venturing anywhere near the steep drop-off. The trees have the added benefit of obscuring some of the logging roads and clearcuts on the intervening slopes.

Back home I knew a square crop would work. Apart from that, the only other change I made was to apply a warming filter to the shady part of the rock to take out some of the blue in the shadows. Very simple, and I’m really happy with the result.

The Best View

Mountains, mountains, and yet more mountains! This might be the most amazing view I’ve seen in the Lower Mainland: Sky Pilot, Mt Habrich, Mt Garibaldi, the Tantalus Range, and so many more. Absolutely incredible! And a bit of autumn colour to finish off. Definitely one of my favourite hikes of the year, though not for beginners…! Finished the day at Backcountry Brewing for good beer and pizza.

I don’t know where to begin in trying to describe how it felt to be greeted by the stunning view of Sky Pilot and Mount Habrich when we reached the top of the ridge. It was utterly breathtaking. We had worked hard for those views and it was worth every step; we were running short on time and had we been a bit more conservative we might not have seen them at all! But we took a chance and it paid off, big time! We still made it back down to the gondola in plenty of time too, so we could have explored a bit further. That’ll have to wait until next time.

  1. Sky Pilot – the craggy multiple peaks of the Sky Pilot group, so captivating no matter what angle they’re viewed at. But up close they are simply stunning, and even better from here than on the neighbouring Skyline Ridge.
  2. Mount Habrich – a gorgeous imposing cone of a peak, with slabs of sheer granite on all sides, it’s definitely a climber’s summit. Mount Baker can be seen on the horizon to the right of Habrich; Meslilloet to the left (the nearest glacier to Vancouver).
  3. Mount Garibaldi – a regular sight on this hike, with many opportunities to stop and admire our nearest volcano. Each of those viewpoints would have made a good-enough turnaround point, but we’re so glad we pushed on higher. All the snow coating Garibaldi’s lower flanks two weeks previously (seen on our trip to Watersprite Lake) had melted. I’m sure it’ll get some new snow this week.
  4. Tantalus Range – I really like this angle on the Tantalus Range, and that tree in the middle of the granite bluff is just so photogenic.
  5. Autumn colour – there wasn’t much in the way of colourful shrubbery, but these two bushes were glowing beautifully in the late afternoon sunshine.
  6. A maple avenue – walking back to the car between the gondola and Shannon Falls, we passed through a tunnel of vine and big-leaf maples whose leaves had turned a lovely golden colour. Many leaves had fallen, creating a bright, cheery carpet for us to walk on in the deepening pre-sunset shadow.

Waterfall Season

Waterfall season is well and truly here! Hiked up the Sea to Summit trail on Saturday and to Crooked Falls the next day to enjoy the cool refreshing spray of these spectacular waterfalls. We could feel the thundering water with our feet… Crooked Falls has certainly become a very popular place!

We hadn’t planned on doing two waterfall hikes back-to-back, but as we headed up the beginning of the trail to both the Chief and Sea to Summit trail, we soon realized that the vast majority of people had the Chief as their destination. The decision to opt for the quieter Sea to Summit trail was a no-brainer, and it turned out to be an inspired choice. Not only was the trail peaceful and quiet, but the water in Shannon Creek was roaring over the many sets of falls, cascades, and rapids. Even before we reached the falls, we could sense the deep rumbling of the water, and felt invigorated by the cool oxygenated air. Coupled with the first signs of a multitude of forest flowers, it was the perfect hike for an overcast day, and made our summit beer all the more enjoyable despite the briefest of views of the Sky Pilot peaks.

Sunday’s plan was always Crooked Falls though we almost changed our minds. In the end we were very glad we stuck with our original idea and enjoyed another lovely forest walk, again dotted with a variety of flowers and dominated by a thundering, soaking waterfall in full flow. The biggest surprise was the number of people: it seems that the Instagram effect has reached Sigurd Creek, and I was even moved to ask a few groups how they’d found out about the hike. Remarkably, only one mentioned Instagram.

Anyway, onto the photos.

  1. The first is a general view of what we believe to be Upper Shannon Falls. It’s hard to say exactly which one is the upper falls as there are several along a short stretch of the creek. At first I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a clear shot, but the green of the forest is so beautiful and the zig-zag of the creek still clearly visible that I actually ended up really liking this photo. As usual, the full effect is lacking on account of the square crop but the essence is there.
  2. These falls might be the true upper falls, and are the ones most easily visible from the trail, being blessed with two good vantage points. I took so long taking photos and video that a queue of photographers had formed behind me (of course I couldn’t hear anything as the water was too loud). Apparently one even made a joke about pushing me in to get me out of the way…
  3. Shannon Falls looking as magnificent as ever. While I’ve seen greater flow, I must admit this was still impressive today and I had to take advantage of the lack of crowds to get a clear photo of the falls.
  4. A face-on view of Crooked Falls, I endured a complete drenching to get this photo. Thank goodness for quick-dry clothing! It was definitely a good test of the water-resistance of my Pixel 2, as well as a good test of the non-water-resistance of our RX100II. Both survived, and I could barely see through my glasses by the time I was done. Needless to say, there weren’t many people lining up behind me to get such a clear view of the falls today…
  5. I believe Crooked Falls is named for the way it zigs and zags. Despite the intimidating view, it feels quite safe to get this view looking downstream over the cliff. On my previous visit, I had an ultrawide lens on our SLR and was able to capture this view and most of the falls in a single photo. On that particular day (back in 2014), I don’t think we saw more than half-a-dozen hikers in total.
  6. There’s a third vantage point of Crooked Falls, and I can’t decide whether it feels safe or not. Getting down into the “crook” (if you will) of the falls here requires descending a steep, slippery path, and I’m always aware that a mis-step could propel me over the edge into the waterfall. But many people make it here quite safely, and it is worth it for this unique angle. This photo shows off the capability of the Pixel 2 camera to simultaneously capture deep shadows and bright highlights: the sky is blue and the clouds have structure! I have to admit, I’m still enjoying using the camera on this phone.

Picture perfect

Instagram-ready view of Sky Pilot and the suspension bridge from my comfy chair and not so well earned beer.

Perspective has two meanings and, if I can, I like to express both in my photography. The first, artistic or architectural, definition highlights leading lines or vanishing points to add drama and a sense of movement or to draw the viewer into the scene. The other, more colloquial, use is simply that of a point of view. Windows especially offer the latter and I like using such a ready-made frame to isolate and highlight an element in a scene, especially if there’s not much else of interest. One of my first photos on Instagram was of Mt Garibaldi seen through the square window of the Brew hut, a photo which would have otherwise been featureless, low-contrast, and really not very interesting, especially as it was taken with my old phone.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself sitting in a comfortable chair in the lodge at the Sea to Sky Gondola, savouring a good pint, and looking out through a (square!) window at the jaw-dropping Sky Pilot group, complete with its namesake suspension bridge in the foreground. I posted a picture of Sky Pilot only last week so, at first, I wasn’t entirely sold on posting another so soon. However, in some respects I actually prefer this photo because the clouds are much more interesting, even though the strong reflections of the windows behind me and the aluminium railing undoubtedly reduce its “technical” merit. In my opinion, those imperfections add character, and make the photo more fun; a genuine capture of a moment in time rather than a staged postcard or calendar landscape shot.

Photography should be fun.

In terms of processing, I used DxO’s wonderful perspective (there’s that word again) correction tools to render the window square. (Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to put yourself in just the right place to take a perfect window shot; I was happy to get close enough and let DxO do the rest.) With so many pixels to play with, such corrections are easily made with modern software.

Yet another photo…

YASPP: yet another Sky Pilot photo. But who can resist?

What better way to finish off a long weekend than a sunny day trip up to the Sea to Sky gondola? The conditions were perfect, with warm sun welcoming us in the open and cool air keeping us moving in the shade. The views were spectacular as always, Sky Pilot looking like a fairytale mountain against a pure blue sky. After a quick stroll around the Panorama and Spirit Trails we relaxed at the lodge, and I couldn’t resist sitting back with a totally unearned beer to admire this view. Later the clouds rolled in which actually added some more interest to the scene (the blue sky looks nice, but it’s a bit bland), but I waited too long to go outside and take that picture so this will just have to do.

If anyone’s thinking of hiking the Sea to Summit trail, there’s still plenty of snow above about 600 m. Recent weather systems have left a dusting as low as 400 m. The snow was also not very supportive, especially in areas warmed by the sun, which means snowshoes would probably be a good idea, but microspikes would be fine where the snow is packed hard. Now that I’ve renewed my pass, I’ll definitely be using the hike up as a conditioner for the summer again.

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.