Expansive peace

A few throwback-Thursday favourites from our Heather Trail backpacking trip last September. A great hike to soak up some wide open alpine space and big skies…

Our decision to hike the Heather Trail on the Labour Day weekend was made as we approached Hope along Highway 1. Do we take the turnoff and continue into the Fraser Canyon towards the Stein Valley, or head for the alpine of the Heather Trail? In the end the weather looked good enough for a few days of alpine enjoyment, and so we continued on to Highway 3 and into Manning Park.

It turned out to be an inspired move. We set off under cool, cloudy skies and began our 12 km hike in to Kicking Horse campground. Late afternoon sunshine caught up with us near the final pass, bathing the meadows in warm light (photos 1 and 2) for some wonderful scenes. These two photos are among my favourites from the entire trip.

We found a suitable spot for our tent and enjoyed as quiet a night as we’ve ever experienced in the backcountry with not even the slightest breeze to ripple the fly sheet. I remember lying in my sleeping bag, probably around 1 or 2 am, holding my breath and enjoying the sheer weight of the silence.

The next day we hauled ourselves off in the direction of Nicomen Lake for a day’s hiking. We passed through more expansive meadows below azure skies, meeting barely a handful people along the way. (At least, until the ridge above Nicomen Lake itself.) We enjoyed lunch on a peak high above the lake (photo 3) before retracing our steps.

The light was perfect on our return, though we could see the beginnings of some dramatic clouds over the summit of Third Brother (fourth photo), portents of the weather to come that night and the following morning. The square format of this photo doesn’t really do justice to the size of the meadows we were passing through.

As we neared the campground we opted to pick our way carefully across country to the windy summit of Fourth Brother (photo 5) to enjoy a view we hadn’t experienced before. Then back to the tent, a rainy night followed by a snowy morning, and a steady hike back to the car.

It was only three days but it was some of the most enjoyable hiking and camping we’ve had, adding to some of the best hiking and camping we’d already savoured over the summer. Gambling on the Heather Trail was definitely the right decision.

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The view from our tent

Throwback Thursday to the view from our tent this past summer. It seems that if we weren’t counting mosquitoes, we were listening to raindrops. There’s a tree shadow as an interlude, a photo I took one morning to remind me of the same silhouette cast by the moon during the night. Brings back some great memories of peaceful nights, including perhaps the quietest night I’ve ever experienced when we were far from any creeks and there wasn’t even a breath of wind…

Some people seem to manage to set up their tent and get those Insta-famous shots of a gorgeous landscape as seen through the open doorway of the tent. We’ve camped in many beautiful places, but on only a few occasions have we felt that we could get a great photo just from looking out of the tent. In practice, we’ve found it difficult to get those kinds of shots; mostly it’s just not possible to set up your tent with such a good aspect.

A more typical tent view is that shown in the photos above (click through to see the selection). The first photo reveals that we’re not habitual early risers, instead often waiting until the sun has risen over a nearby ridge at which point the tent becomes an unbearable greenhouse in minutes. The play of light and shadow on the roof of the tent (complete with mosquitoes, of course), along with the intersection of the support poles were pleasing elements that caught my eye. When we do get a nice mountain view, as in the second, the light is rarely great, where, on this occasion, we were again besieged by insects after our blood.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a great fan of symmetry in photos. The third photo is a simple straightforward example, the tent neatly bisected by the centre ridge pole with a difference in light on either side. It’s not perfectly symmetric though; there are two more mosquitoes on the left than on the right…

The fourth photo is the alluded-to interlude. I remember opening my eyes around 1 am that night and noticing the lovely shadow cast on the tent by a tree lit up by the rising moon. For a moment I was tempted to try a long-exposure photo to capture it, but I’m not sure Maria would have appreciated it, and so I treasured the moment and closed my eyes again. To my delight I noticed that the morning sun cast the same shadow on the tent, making it easy for me to capture it, and preserve the memory from the night before.

By the beginning of September the mosquitoes had died off, and so, in order to continue my series of tent-view photos, I resorted to recording the rain drops beading on the fly. While the previous night had been probably the quietest ever night I’ve experienced, this particular night it had rained for many hours, tapering off at times before returning, sometimes as rain, but also sometimes as sleet or snow. I half expected to wake up and find snow all around, but that didn’t happen until I started preparing breakfast!

Of course, snow did settle around us a month later on our final backpacking trip of the year, and for once we had an almost photogenic view from our tent pad. We packed away our gear inside the tent, only making a hot drink when our bags were more or less ready, at which point we sat nursing our morning tea and coffee peering out at the misty, snowy view beyond. That done, all we had left to do was take down, shake out, and stuff away our sopping wet tent. It took two days to dry out at home…

Here’s to a year of tent views! Can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us 🙂

A bear at breakfast

Throwback to that time a grizzly bear dropped by for breakfast. Thankfully it took no notice of us, which is good because our bear spray was in the tent, 100 m away! Lesson learned: keep bear spray with you at all times.

The beginning of our third day saw us sat at the edge of the trees sipping away at our respective caffeine delivery systems, gazing out over the meadows and up to the peaks and ridge-lines to the west lit up by the morning sunshine. We were packing away our food when some movement caught my eye; a bear in the far meadow.

Not just any old bear either but an adult grizzly, snout down and browsing the meadow in search of food. We froze. This was our first grizzly sighting in the backcountry, and we were just two people. Looking wide-eyed at each other, we discussed what we should do. Our assessment of the situation had us thinking that we shouldn’t alert the bear to our presence and we were relieved to notice that it wandered off into the forest along the trail leading to the horse cabin below Spruce Peak.

That should have been our cue to go and get the bear spray but for some reason we didn’t. We used this time to stow our food, hoping that our knots wouldn’t be tested by a hungry grizzly. Five minutes later the bear reappeared, continuing its path along the edge of the trees and – more concerning – closer to our tent, although still the other side of Eldorado Creek.

The bear still hadn’t sensed us so we opted to remain quiet and hidden by the trees. After briefly going out of sight it reappeared, now heading back the way it came, much to our relief. Over the next few and exceedingly long minutes, it retraced its steps through the meadow, until it heard a sound which stopped it in its tracks and began to look around, ears pricked up.

That sound was a mountain biker descending from Windy Pass (our intended destination for the day), whooping and/or hollering loud enough for his voice to echo off the sides of the valley. For a moment the bear paused before beginning to run. We looked at each other and voiced our thoughts, “where is it running to?”. At first we thought it was going towards the source of the sound but we were relieved to note that the bear was actually just heading for the nearest tree cover. We followed its path across the meadow until it disappeared among the trees – the very trees that we would have to walk through to get to Windy Pass no less!

With the bear gone from sight we felt we could relax a little and continue getting ourselves ready for our day’s hiking. We never saw the bear again though we did find where it had dug up the ground in the meadow right next to the trail. Paw prints and claw marks were clearly visible in the disturbed earth. We were fine with that and had no desire to encounter the bear at any closer range.

After that morning, the bear spray came with us to breakfast. Always.

Deep in Middle Earth

How long do you have to wait for a Thursday to be a throwback? Is two weeks good enough? If so then here’s a reflection of Mt Aragorn in a lake from a couple of weeks ago.

We’ve wanted to get into the Phelix Creek valley for so many years and we were delighted to make it at last, albeit at the expense of the paintwork on the car thanks to the plentiful alder and others bushes growing over the road. Although we didn’t scale any of the peaks (with the exception of the unofficially-named Frodo), we enjoyed exploring the area, especially the basin between Gandalf, Aragorn, and Shadowfax with its corresponding trio of lakes. When the breeze dropped, the surrounding peaks were reflected perfectly in the water, the squared-off profile of Aragorn looking especially majestic. (After all, he is the king!) In some ways it all reminded me of the Sierra Nevada mountains with the granite cliffs and lakes. All it needs is a few ponderosa pines to complete the picture.

And that is my 500th post on Instagram! I’ve been using it for 3 years now, and I must admit I’ve enjoyed it way more than I expected when I first started. It did take a while to build up my network of people I follow and follow me in return, but it’s been great fun.

Alpine views

I think this might be the very last of these Throwback Thursday posts. Coming up with a theme for these posts has been fun, and sometimes a little challenging. Today’s link had me scratching my head for a few moments until I realized the connection: both photos were taken in one of my favourite places, the alpine.

1. TBT to a beautiful Thursday in September 2012 on the Skyline trail in Jasper, the view south over Curator Lake from the Notch

First up is this stunning view from the Notch, the highest point along the 44-km Skyline Trail. What can’t be seen is the howling gale that greeted us as we came over the rise. We were oh-so glad of the sunshine after the previous day’s miserable cold rain, and the view was as breathtaking as the wind, but the downside to the alpine is the lack of shelter, and we were certainly feeling that as we huddled down in a group to eat our lunch.

The wind was a constant companion for the next hour or so but it was worth it for the never-ending views along the ridgeline of Amber Mountain. Definitely an awesome hike, and one I would love to repeat.

2. Some colour for a grey day – my favourite flower, a glacier lily, taken a couple of years ago on the trail to Zoa Peak.

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Some colour for a grey day – my favourite flower, a glacier lily, taken a couple of years ago on the trail to Zoa Peak. For #LeaveNoTraceTuesday I'll add that getting these kinds of flower photos often means going off-trail, a practice that requires a lot of care. It's also a time when even leaving footprints is not appropriate in case in invites the less careful – I've witnessed many a hiker simply not looking where they're putting their feet. On busy trails I'll simply not bother and just be content to admire the view from afar or use a long zoom lens 🙂 #zoapeak #coquihalla #alpine #wildflowers #glacierlily #erythroniumgrandiflorum #lnt #leavenotrace #beautifulbritishcolumbia #hiking #mec #mecnation #rei1440project

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The second photo is of a subject that entices me up into the alpine as soon as the snow has melted: the humble glacier lily. Every year I like to go in search of them just as they poke up through the snow, and this year will probably be no different. The trick is to find somewhere new each time, and I’ll need to start thinking about that soon as we’re already in May!

This photo was originally posted on a “Leave No Trace Tuesday”, so I’ll include the comment I made at the time. Getting these kinds of flower photos often means going off-trail, a practice that requires a lot of care. It’s also a time when even leaving footprints is not appropriate in case in invites the less careful – I’ve witnessed many a hiker simply not looking where they’re putting their feet. On busy trails I’ll simply not bother and just be content to admire the view from afar or use a long zoom lens.

I’m always wary of stepping off the trail in popular areas in case someone sees me and interprets that as a green light to wander wherever they please. What they don’t see is the extreme care I take to step through the flowers, sticking to rocks where I can and bare dirt otherwise as much as possible. If I can’t identify a way through then I just don’t go and I’ll find an alternative flower to photograph.

Local mountains

I’m getting near the end of all my remaining unblogged Instagram photos for Throwback-Thursday and it’s getting harder to come up with themed posts. In the absence of any other connection, here’s a couple of winter-time photos of and/or from the North Shore mountains.

1. Crown Mountain in its winter coat.

Crown Mountain is always a stunning sight in the winter; it has that archetypal jagged mountain profile regardless of the angle of view. I think I’ve taken more photos of Crown Mountain than any other single peak, mostly because we can see it from our apartment. This day we were out for a walk in Stanley Park and the clouds hung low in the Capilano River valley. This worked in my favour as it reduced the amount of featureless greenery that would otherwise have made up some fraction of the photo. Instead, the photo is neatly divided into four: forest, cloud, mountain, and sky. It’s not as even a division as my eye would like but nature is rarely that accommodating.

2. Throwback-Thursday to one year ago today – a sunny hike up Mt Seymour with my friend Steve.

I have Steve to thank for founding Wanderung which more-or-less single-handedly made our settling-in period in Vancouver so much easier and enjoyable. We’ve met many of our friends through the hiking group, and have been to some incredible places in BC as a result. To my surprise, I’m now helping run the society and mailing list, and have been putting out a short newsletter every week for nearly 7 years. How time flies!

The first time I visited Mt Seymour was a snowshoeing trip (coincidentally, organized by Steve), way back in January 2005 and it’s one of my favourite winter destinations with its superb views in all directions. As an example, the mountain on the horizon in this photo is Mt Garibaldi some 50 km to the north. We didn’t need snowshoes on this day as the snow was well compacted, though hats were definitely a wise move – the summit post thought so too!

Today’s sunset

Today’s sunset from a decade ago.

Trawling through the archives in search of more throwback Thursday shots, I found this nice sunset from April 27th, 2007: exactly 10 years ago today 🙂 I took a big panorama of the same sunset, which I combined with Autostitch, and was mostly happy with it. Fast forward ten years, and I had another go at processing the images (in DxO this time), and then combined them with Hugin. Now, that didn’t work quite so well – Hugin is definitely a more discerning program when it comes to combining photographs to create a panorama. Since this panorama was taken with our old compact camera (Canon A80), I had little control over things like the focus, and I think Hugin interprets such data at face value, so it’s not surprising that it didn’t work quite as well. I’ve since learned to focus the camera once and then turn off autofocus for any panoramas.

However, you have to look pretty closely to see the errors. Sure, if I were printing this larger, then I’d want to ensure the photos were matched up as closely as possible, but for showing on the Internet, a few pixels here and there aren’t going to show. Despite that, I think it’s still a nice picture.

Vancouver sunset, 27 Apr 2007