Light on Brunswick

Light on Brunswick – the view from the sunny summit of Black Mountain.

We’d spent a good while basking in the sunshine on the rocks at Eagle Bluffs and on our return opted for the quick detour up and over the south summit of Black Mountain. To our amazement, the summit was silent. I was expecting at least one group of people to be there, but it was vacant. Not even a whisky jack or raven to be seen. The view towards the Lions and other nearby peaks isn’t that great from here (the view from the north summit is better) but it was good enough and we had some superb dappled light hitting Brunswick and the East Lion. Having just posted a whole series of photos of the Lions, I figured today should be about Brunswick Mountain!

I grabbed a couple of shots, ensuring I didn’t blow out the highlights (thinking back to Sean Tucker’s excellent recent video called Protect your highlights) which is still quite easy to do on the little Sony RX100II. This meant that the shadows fell really dark, but I felt that was the point of a photo like this one. With the dramatic dark cloud behind the peaks, my idea was to produce something “moody”, maybe a little ominous, in contrast with my photo of the Lions from Hollyburn a couple of weeks ago which had a more ethereal feel to it. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded with the processing I went with – perhaps I should have increased the contrast even more, especially in the mid-tones. I may re-edit the photo for the Flickr version.

Still, I like the way the clouds rise up over the summit of Brunswick, keeping their distance as if giving it some respect, and the gleaming white snow does look good against the dark background. And every time I look at Brunswick, I’m transported to the wonderful day we had up there.

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An ice waterfall

This was going to be a waterfall-Wednesday post but I didn’t get round to it so it’s a frozen-Friday photo instead πŸ™‚ This is the uppermost part of the falls on Joffre Creek between the middle and upper lakes, where not much water is flowing but some lovely ice formations have been created. Earlier in the day I watched a dipper hop its way up the terraces of waterfall, eventually disappearing over the top to the creek above.

On my way up to the top lake, I paused to admire the waterfall although it was lit too strongly by the sun to make an interesting photograph. A blur of movement caught my eye and I spotted a dipper as it landed on one of the lower terraces of the waterfall. I watched it for minute or two as it hopped from terrace to terrace before disappearing out of sight at the top of the falls.

As I neared the waterfall on my return, I looked upstream as the trail switched back down the slope and noticed some striking blue ice formations that I hadn’t noticed earlier. I picked my way through the snow (I had to be careful as I was on a steep slope) to get this angle on the falls and framed up my photo. While I composed with the native 3:2 aspect ratio of the camera, I could see that the majority of the scene was contained within a region that would probably work for a square crop on Instagram. Thankfully I was right.

I just love the colour and shape of the ice and I’m very happy that I was able to capture and reproduce that colour and texture. Definitely another of my favourite photos from the day.

Still winter

The view up to Mount Matier and its namesake glacier from lower Joffre Lake – still very much frozen, very much snowy. It’s late in the day for Trip-Plan Tuesday but after reading a few posts and seeing the number of unprepared hikers at Joffre Lakes I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The view up to Mount Matier and its namesake glacier from lower Joffre Lake – still very much frozen, very much snowy. It's late in the day for #TripPlanTuesday but after reading a few posts and seeing the number of unprepared hikers at Joffre Lakes I feel compelled to add my two cents. With a warm weekend in the city it's perhaps not surprising that people want to get out and enjoy the outdoors. But don't you think that driving past 5-foot snowbanks at the side of the road would be a bit of a clue as to how snowy the hiking trails might be? Don't you think that heading into the mountains wearing your casual street clothes might not be the best idea? Did you bring a hat? Gloves? Has your phone battery just died due to the cold? My concern is that those who made it up to upper Joffre Lake and back without incident will have learned nothing from their trip. They slipped and slid their way up, and avoided sliding off the trail into the trees or creek below on the way down. They made it back to the car with freezing cold hands, a little hungry and thirsty. It was all good fun (as it should be!) and maybe they managed to squeeze a photo or two out of their phone before the battery gave up. Maybe that photo made it onto Instagram and shows what a great time they had. But I would like to think that something registered in their mind that maybe next time they should wear more suitable footwear, maybe buy some microspikes, and make sure their phone is fully charged when they leave the car. Maybe find out more about the trail conditions beforehand, and bring some warmer clothes. So as a relatively experienced hiker I feel I have to spread the word and encourage anyone and everyone heading out into the backcountry to do some trip research and planning before you go, especially now as we head into shoulder season. Check the AdventureSmart website, and check local hiking websites, forums, and Facebook groups. We hikers are an amiable bunch and we love telling others about our hikes! #joffrelakes #joffrelakesprovincialpark #hiking #snowshoeing #bcparks #mybcparks #standupforparks #explorebc #beautifulbc #tenessentials #beautifulbritishcolumbia #adventuresmart #ifttt

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With a warm weekend in the city it’s perhaps not surprising that people want to get out and enjoy the outdoors. But don’t you think that driving past 5-foot snowbanks at the side of the road would be a bit of a clue as to how snowy the hiking trails might be? Don’t you think that heading into the mountains wearing your casual street clothes might not be the best idea? Did you bring a hat? Gloves? Has your phone battery just died due to the cold?

My concern is that those who made it up to upper Joffre Lake and back without incident will have learned nothing from their trip. They slipped and slid their way up, and avoided sliding off the trail into the trees or creek below on the way down. They made it back to the car with freezing cold hands, a little hungry and thirsty. It was all good fun (as it should be!) and maybe they managed to squeeze a photo or two out of their phone before the battery gave up. Maybe that photo made it onto Instagram and shows what a great time they had.

But I would like to think that something registered in their mind that maybe next time they should wear more suitable footwear, maybe buy some microspikes, and make sure their phone is fully charged when they leave the car. Maybe find out more about the trail conditions beforehand, and bring some warmer clothes.

So as a relatively experienced hiker I feel I should spread the word and encourage anyone and everyone heading out into the backcountry to do some trip research and planning before you go, especially now as we head into shoulder season. Check the AdventureSmart website, and check local hiking websites, forums, and Facebook groups. We hikers are an amiable bunch and we love telling others about our hikes!

Postscript: I’ve been wanting to make some of these points for a while now but had not taken the time to write them out in a coherent manner. I still need to let my ideas gel a bit more before writing a more thoughtful and better-reasoned article, but the essence of what I want to get across is the fact that getting away with being unprepared likely means that nothing is learned from the situation. As a result, the same mistakes are repeated until something goes wrong.

And I believe that’s my first Instagram “blog” post πŸ™‚

Centre stage

The imposing bulk of Slalok Mountain and the Stonecrop glacier take centre stage in the winter.

I had a free afternoon on a sunny Saturday and I was already in Whistler – where else do I go but Joffre Lakes? With a low-moderate avalanche risk I decided that I’d be happy to head up the trail and take in the views. I wasn’t disappointed: it was absolutely stunning up there, and I was delighted to find a few angles with untouched snow in the foreground to lend that extra air of untouched wilderness. Never mind that a few feet to the left of these animal tracks was a two-boot-wide path in the snow stomped flat by a succession of skiers and snowshoers.

While most of my photos tend to fall in the category of “snapshot”, I did actually take my time with this composition, seeking just the right angle to keep the tracks while including or excluding various trees and shadows at the edge of the field of view. And I must admit it’s probably my favourite photo from the afternoon. I don’t often feel that my photos are good enough to show, but I cautiously think that this is one of them. I love the whole feel of it, and it’s immensely satisfying to see a scene, visualize it as a photograph, take that photograph, process it and have it come out exactly as you’d hoped. A keeper.

The full-height photo can be seen on Flickr, and to my mind is much more effective with a greater sense of being led into the frame by the animal tracks:
Joffre Lakes, 10 Mar 2018

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 πŸ” 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 πŸ™‚

    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….!

Chasing spring

We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.

Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.

Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.

My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.

Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.

Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…

The king of views

Can’t believe it was 10 years ago that we were admiring this view. Still one of my favourite backpacking trips and I think about returning every time I see yet another Instagram post from this area…

Our first backpacking trip to the Rockies; indeed our first hiking experience in the Rockies (though not our first sight of them – we rode the Rocky Mountaineer train from Calgary to Vancouver when we first immigrated to Canada). And what a way to start, with one of the highest-rated trips from the book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” (one of my favourite guide books ever written).

We were fortunate with the weather for our first couple of days with clear blue skies (if chilly nights) which meant we had the rare treat of seeing the summit of Mt Robson (also sometimes referred to as the King of the Rockies) free of cloud. This photo was taken on our second day on a short hike up past Toboggan Falls to visit the cave. Just an incredible view. We sat and admired it for quite some time before heading back down to the Hargreaves Shelter for dinner.

For the full photographic experience, check out the full set on Flickr.

I really can’t believe it’s been a whole decade since we hiked this trail. Like so many of the beautiful places we’ve visited, I want to return to this area and explore it some more. There’s always next year…