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 🏔 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 🙂

    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….!


VanCity Views I

I looked through my remaining un-blogged Instagram photos and found that I have enough to create a whole series of Vancouver-based posts. So for the next four or five weeks, the Throwback Thursday theme will be VanCity Views.

1. An evening seaside stroll, Vancouver lit by the last light of the day

Normally I like my photos to look realistic, which usually means a slightly lower contrast than what the majority of digital cameras produce by default. If I’d taken this photo with the SLR I would have lightened the beach and reduced the brightness of the city to stop it clipping the highlights so much. With the phone I had neither of those options, and yet I really like how the city shines out so clearly. For once, the dark foreground doesn’t distract and in fact only serves to highlight the bright reflection from the highrises. The logs on the beach add structure so that it’s not just a blank area. Evening colour helps keep things nice and warm, while the sea reflects the silvery sky above.

2. The scenic route on this morning’s commute

Riding the False Creek seawall is a great way to get to work in the morning. Throw in blue skies and reflections in the calm water and it’s an instant classic Vancouver postcard.

3. It’s bike-to-work week here in #Vancouver! A grey Monday with a colourful ending 🙂

I was cycling home along the 10th Ave corridor and noticed that the clouds had cleared, the late afternoon sun lighting up the buildings near Vancouver General Hospital. I crossed to the other side of the street and paused long enough to snap this view.

4. A new view of #Vancouver, at least for me. Day 2 of bike-to-work week.

I seem to get bored of cycle routes quite quickly. If it’s not dealing with other cyclists or pedestrians, it’s having to worry about inattentive or aggressive car drivers. Or it’s a hill that catches me out and makes me work harder than I want to. Or it’s simply the irritation of having to stop at an intersection every block or two. Vancouver really needs bike routes without those kinds of interruptions, which is why the seawall is popular, which brings me back to my first point…

But I digress. I chose a different route home this night and stumbled upon a view over False Creek from up on Lameys Mill Road. For some reason I’d never even seen this little overlook before, and stopped to admire this new angle, even though it was barely 30 m from the usual seawall route. I liked the red trees in the foreground (echoed by the same type of tree across the water on Granville Island), and once again there was enough warm evening light and calm water to render the scene peaceful.

5. A splash of colour

The weather returned to normal later in the week, and I was tempted to just take a shot of the greyish highrises above greyish water against a grey sky. But then this little Aquabus puttered into the frame and added a lovely intense burst of colour. Perfect for such a dull day!

That’s it for this week – there’ll be another set of VanCity views next week!

Rainbow rising

A double rainbow from this morning to take your mind off politics for a while

Today is election day in the US – time to see who Americans think will be their best president for the next four years. I don’t want to think about how this might turn out, so I’m going to look on the bright side and just enjoy this superb double rainbow that greeted me this morning. I love how there’s a shadow cutting off the bottom section of the bow, and the golden light on the flanks of Black Mountain highlighting all the texture in the landscape.

After that I went looking for (and found!) salmon spawning the city creeks. Not a bad start to the day!


Peek-a-boo Crown Mountain – a great ending to a wet day in Vancouver.

There’s nothing like seeing the mountains re-appear from the clouds after a day of grey and rain. It’s even better in the winter, though, when the summits get a fresh coat of snow. Those days will be here soon enough, so I’m not going to wish them on us yet!

Firey Friday

It’s Friday, must be time for another pretty Vancouver sunset

It takes a good sunset to inspire me to wield the camera these days, but the weekend of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is usually graced with at least one. It’s Friday, and we have some lovely rays lighting up some mid-level cloud. Vancouver summer at its best.

Giant trio

Admiring a trio of western red cedars in Stanley Park

I thought we’d seen the best of the big trees that Stanley Park has to offer, but we ventured up a quiet trail and encountered these. Close up, it looks like a single giant tree but it’s actually three that have merged near their respective bases. Just another reason why I love Stanley Park.

Vancouver sunset

Just another Vancouver sunset, eh? 🙂

I don’t normally post twice in one day but THAT SUNSET! When we first moved into our apartment some years back I spent a lot of time taking sunset photos. I think I’ve covered just about every possible sunset variation, and I’ve pretty much given up on sunset photos for now – it’s quite relaxing to be content with just admiring the view with your own eyes. But every now and then there’s a sunset that catches my eye anew….