Late season backpacking

Spring is getting nearer and our thoughts turn to backpacking options for the summer. But first, a quick throwback to a couple of trips from September 2015…

1. All set for the night – camping in the Barkley Valley

We’d heard many good things about this area and we were not disappointed. Well, except that our plan was to camp up in the alpine by the gorgeous lakes and not down here in the valley. However, we inadvertently made the right choice: it was so cold up at the lakes that we were much better off here!

See those slopes? They’re covered with wildflowers in the summer, which means that I have no choice but to return another day to see them in bloom.

2. Gorgeous green, lower Twin Lake

The colour of this lake completely took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting such a gorgeous glacial green lake as no previous photo I’d seen showed that colour. Given that the lake wasn’t this colour on our return last year, I’m guessing that it was due to the melting snow washing lots of fine particles into the water.

Snow? What snow? According to the hunters who stayed in the cabin next to our tent, a weekday snowstorm had dropped about 50-60 cm of snow in the valley! In our planning for this trip we hadn’t reckoned on that, so it was a good thing that it all melted before we arrived. And it contributed to the beauty of this lake, especially in contrast against the red rocks shown in the photo below.

The upper lake is just beyond the pass at the top of this photo. There’s a sporadic trail that leads up through a lovely meadow, across the aptly-named Crystal Creek which tumbles down the waterfall seen across the lake, and over some boulders to a more spacious bowl. A little less dramatic than this, perhaps, but I liked it because it really reminded me of the Lake District in the UK.

3. Steep slopes around lower Twin Lake. Glad I rediscovered this photo as it doesn’t work as a square.

When I joined Instagram in mid-2015, it was limited to square photos, a feature I actually liked because it forced me to think differently about framing and cropping. Square photos can be exceptionally effective and are ideal for scenes with symmetry or strong geometry. Of course, most of the photos Maria and I take don’t work for Instagram as we try and fill the frame with our compositions. However, it was only a few months into my Instagram experiment that they started allowing alternative aspect ratios, which led me to re-examine a few photos. I was really pleased to find that I could squeeze this one onto the new format as it was no good as a square crop. It still loses a little of its presence, but retains enough, in my mind, to be quite effective.

Ideally I would have taken the scene from a greater distance to permit a square crop, but that’s really hard to do when you’ve just arrived at a new location. Furthermore, the scale of this area overwhelmed me: none of the photos I’d seen before had come anywhere near capturing the scale of the lakes. It’s really quite spectacular, and I posted a few photos from our revisit back in September 2017.

For more photos from 2015, take a look at our set on Flickr, or read some more about that trip on my hiking blog.

4. End of the day in Illal Meadows, Jim Kelly and Coquihalla Mountain in silhouette

As ever, a still photograph conveys nothing of what it was actually like to be in spot it was taken. What can’t be shown is the freezing cold, howling wind that caused us to rethink our attempt on Jim Kelly Peak. We were so very grateful for the shelter of the trees.

Despite being taken with my phone, I’m quite happy with the appearance of the shadows which I had to lift quite a bit. The colours on the side of Jim Kelly are a bit garish and the shadows are a bit blue, but overall it works to my eye. What I like most about this photo is the curve of the creek, which stands out clearly reflecting the blue sky.

Funnily enough, I didn’t take this scene with either of our SLRs as we were filtering water at the time, but my phone was in my pocket and as ever it’s the camera that’s on you that counts. However, I did take it the following morning. Alas the light was not as good… A lesson to learn there!



When you camp in a marmot’s garden, you have to expect a visit from the landlord… Payment was made in the form of half-a-dozen chunks from the grips of my hiking poles.

We knew there were loads of marmots here, and friends had mentioned how “friendly” they were. On our first night we confidently hung out food bags from a steeply-sloped rock face thinking that they were safe from marmots there. After all, marmots don’t climb rock faces, do they?

Well, the following morning we were relieved to find that our food bags were untouched, but we soon got a lesson in just how well marmots can climb as this guy scampered effortlessly up the very rock face we’d thought was unclimbable. Huh. After that the marmot explored where we were having breakfast and then had a good nose around our friends’ tent – where I managed to capture it for the photo above.

Having earned no food, the marmot wandered off into the rocks and that was the last we saw of it that day. I didn’t take my hiking poles out on the hike and it was only the next morning that I found the grips had quite a few marmot-bite-sized chunks taken out of the foam. All I could think of was how gross it was to have to now use those poles, all covered in marmot spit… Yuck!

Sunset eye candy

A sea of mountains at sunset. Mt Matier, Joffre Peak, and Mt Rohr sure make for a pretty skyline.

One of the things I love about hiking in the mountains north and east of Pemberton is the wonderful “sea of mountains” effect as ridge after ridge of peaks fades into the distance. On our second night at Twin Lakes, a cloudless day turned into a subtly golden sunset with the snow fields on Mt Matier catching the last of the light.

When I took this shot, I exposed for the brighter portions of the image to keep the shutter speed manageable for a hand-held shot in the darkening dusk (the lower half of the photo looked almost completely black). Adjusting the shadows in DxO afterwards revealed a surprising amount of colour detail had still been captured despite being underexposed by at least one stop. Not bad for a camera from 2009! Now obviously, looking closely at the image shows that it’s smeary and lacking detail (plus the blacks still look crushed flat), but for posting on Instagram and Flickr, it has turned out well enough for me to let other people see it.

It’s photos like this that justify carrying the weight and bulk of a digital SLR, and they ensure I will always have a camera of this class, though whether it’s an SLR or mirrorless remains to be seen. I wonder what Nikon has in store for us…

Shaky selfie

Turns out that standing still for 30 seconds isn’t as easy as you might think… I have a new-found appreciation for those portraits from the early days of photography!

While I was taking photos of moonlit meadows I suddenly had the idea of taking a moonlit self-portrait, just for fun. I sat down on a rock and set going a 30-second exposure. Looking at the result I laughed at how I’d moved my head several times enough to blur out my face.

Thinking I could do better, I opted for a standing photo for my next attempt, and wondered if holding my breath would keep me still. So I pressed the button on the remote shutter release and held my breath. I made it to about a count of 26 before I had to let go, but I thought I’d held still. Alas when I checked the photo I found out that I wobble when standing.

OK one last attempt – I sat down again, and held my breath again. With my lungs bursting after 25 seconds I gradually let the air out and breathed in again. This time I’d held still enough that I wasn’t smeared out – yay! But I was too close to the camera, and the lens was focussed at infinity, so I was still blurry…

Moonlit meadows

Meadows by moonlight – the view from lower Twin Lake on a balmy evening. It certainly was a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht.

When out backpacking, I like to take a night-time photo that includes our tent lit up from within. On this trip, the moon was so bright that it lit up the surrounding landscape, giving me even more options than usual. In particular, I loved the way a 30-second exposure revealed the meadows and the stars, and I couldn’t resist trying out a few shots to get a composition I liked. I was happy with my tent and lake shots, but it was the meadows and stars that I really liked.

But what a palaver…. I’m going off my Gorillapod as it often sags during a long exposure (one or more of the joints is much looser than the others), and it’s simply not that stable when using the telephoto lens. Plus having to crawl around on my front to peer through the viewfinder is getting old. Could be time to invest in a decent hiking tripod.

I also had fun taking a few long-exposure selfies but that’s a topic for another post (for a preview of the results, check out my profile pic on Instagram or Twitter).