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.
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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.

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!

Lunar pilots

The first-quarter moon hangs between Sky Pilot and Copilot at the end of a balmy autumn day.

Well who can resist such a sight? The moon floating in the sky between two of the most photogenic mountain peaks in the area. The biggest challenge was holding the camera steady, since I was down at 1/30 sec thanks to the polarizer (which helped enhance the colours). But the railing on the patio up at the Sea to Sky gondola makes a pretty good makeshift tripod.

Alas we were too late to have a post-hike celebratory beer, so we had to be content with taking the gondola back down and finding beer elsewhere.

Another Skyline

Superb in-your-face views of the Copilot and Sky Pilot along the Skyline Ridge trail, some of the nicest subalpine rambling I’ve done in ages, especially now with the berry bushes changing colour.

As I mentioned in a recent post, Skyline Ridge was a wonderful hike. The highlight was definitely getting great views of Sky Pilot and Copilot. The lighting wasn’t the best for photography, having flattened as some high cloud moved in, but it was good enough to lend some warmth to this view of the mountains. I took many versions of this view as the hike progressed, and it was hard to pick a favourite, but I went with this one as I think it works better on Instagram where it might be viewed on a small screen. Such photos need simple lines or colour to stand out as you scroll – anything that’s too busy or too complex just won’t catch anyone’s eye. Oops – looks like I admitted that I’m just in it for the likes 🙂