The Perks of a Window Seat

Our flight back from the UK (back in May…) left us speechless at some of the views we had from the aircraft, so much so I decided to opt for a series of daily photos for a Window-Seat Week.

Perks of a Window Seat I: mountains and glaciers on the eastern coast of Greenland. After a couple of hours ignoring the sea of clouds outside, our attention was caught by the sudden appearance of blue ocean moments before flying over the Greenland coast. The incredible sight of the coastal sea ice, jagged mountains, and enormous calving glaciers flowing off the ice sheet had us glued to the window. Gradually the peaks were swallowed up by the vast expanse of snow and ice and we returned to our books.

Perks of a Window Seat II: flying over the Rockies in Banff National Park reminds me that it’s been too long since we last visited. This view shows the Icefields Parkway near Mistaya Lake and the Waterfowl Lakes to the north, the Saskatchewan Crossing area near the top left corner. I always enjoy seeing places I’ve been from the air!

Perks of a Window Seat III: flying back to Vancouver last week, our view was hazy from forest fires in Alberta but we could still make out the mountains and it made the puffy cumulus clouds really stand out.

Perks of a Window Seat IV: descending into YVR was the most fun part of our flight, with the opportunity for close-up views of some very familiar mountains. First up was Mt Judge Howay, a well-known, distinctive double-peaked mountain visible from many places in the Lower Mainland. Beautiful in its own right but the layer of clouds clinging to the northwest ridge of Mt Kranrod add extra gorgeousness.

Perks of a Window Seat V: it was hazy as we approached YVR but we could still make out some of the jagged peaks of the Coast Mountains. The Five Fingers group is most prominent with Mount Garibaldi showing up ever so faintly in the distance.

Perks of a Window Seat VI: perhaps my favourite photo of this series, partly because it’s such a familiar peak but also because I’ve stood on its summit. It is, of course, Golden Ears peak itself, along with the jagged Edge Peak and Blanchard Needle (Alouette Mountain is right at the bottom).

And thus concludes my Window-Seat Week 🙂

Earning the view

Earning the patio view at the Sea to Sky Gondola by counting the trail markers. A great way to spend a sunny afternoon – this hike has grown on me in recent years, despite the terrible condition of the trail. I would love to see the Sea to Sky Gondola folks put some money and effort into upgrading the trail. The km markers are a welcome addition but that doesn’t stop inexperienced hikers from underestimating what’s involved.

Well I thought I was behind before, but now I am a whole season behind! After hiking this trail with friends the previous month in somewhat variable weather, it felt good to take advantage of a sunnier day for a return visit.

The patio at the lodge has a great view in several directions, including this view over towards the still-snowy Tantalus Range. I liked how the cable follows the same angle as the land, kind of hiding it. Then there’s the gondola car itself, whose occupants may be enjoying exactly the same view as the photographer, perhaps allowing the viewer to imagine riding the gondola themself, and taking in that scene.

The kilometre-markers are a relatively recent addition, and I think they’re invaluable for gauging progress. I’d also like to see them labelled with the elevation too so hikers can get a sense of how high they’re climbing. Marking the quarter- and half-way marks is simultaneously useful and demoralizing as it always feels that you’ve made more progress than that! The directional signage has also improved drastically since we first hiked this trail back in 2014. If only the trail itself had seen some maintenance during that time…

Howe Sound on a sunny day is irresistible, still looking blue at this time of year before the main snowmelt gets underway when the silt in the Squamish River turns the sound a milky green. I’ve always liked the wiggle in the road from this vantage point too.

Upper Shannon Falls may not be as impressive as the lower counterpart, but they’re still pretty impressive. The smooth rocks by the creek make for a good resting spot, though they must be treated with care as they can be slick.

The bluffs just beyond the half-way point are a great spot for lunch or at least a snack with views of the Chief to the north. Just watch out for the chipmunks and Steller’s and Canada jays as they are all too quick to scrounge for food. Alas too many people have fed them over the years, which has made them all far too bold for their own good.

Of course, on a clear day, the crowds flocked to the suspension bridge for photo-ops, so who could resist making a photo-op of those photo-ops? You have to admit, it’s quite the view…

Misty Mountain Monday

Misty mountain Monday – views of the Stawamus Chief, showers in the Squamish Valley, and a suggestion of snowy peaks hidden in the clouds across Howe Sound.

Sometimes you have to get out hiking whatever the weather, and on this day we had plenty of weather! Winter wasn’t done with us yet, and we ended the day walking in wet snow. Still, swirly clouds make for interesting views along the way.

The first photo is overlooking the gap between the first and second peaks of the Chief, where we can see the Squamish Valley beyond and the way up towards Whistler. I snapped it from the gondola on our descent, and I like how the view is sandwiched between the clouds.

The second photo shows a similar view, though just looking down into the valley: I like how the light was catching the two parallel roads pointing northwards up the valley, and how the view becomes obscured by the rain showers.

The third photo was taken from the patio at the upper gondola station and at first glance might not appear to be very striking. But I really like the subtlety of the snowy mountain barely visible through the clouds. I tried to make it noticeable but not too obvious in the processing and I’m not sure it entirely worked. However, I still like it because it reminds me of the day and how there wasn’t even this much of a view when we first reached the top!

Fleeting

Winter sunsets in the mountains are the best. Judge Howay, Robie Reid, and Meslilloet catch the last light of the day as seen from the First Peak of Mount Seymour.

It wasn’t our plan to be at the summit for sunset; we thought we would have time to make it back down to Brockton Point by then, but we were delayed by the traffic management on the road up to Mount Seymour. But once we realized that, we were quite happy to stay put and watch our first winter summit sunset in quite a few years. With the help of a first-quarter moon, and lights from the ski resort, we didn’t even need our headlamps to retrace our steps back to the car.

The best light lasts only about 20 minutes, and it’s hard to know where to direct your concentration. The most dramatic scenes are opposite the setting sun, the light changing from orange to red to pink before leaving the mountains to shine white against a pink sky. But there was still competition from the mist drifting across English Bay, the shadows of the downtown sky-scrapers cast onto the water of Coal Harbour, and the deep orange glow over Vancouver Island.

I had thought ahead to bring a tripod, just the Gorillapod this time, eager to try out the new ball-head and Arca Swiss quick-release plate on the top. Alas, I quickly realized that I should have brought the full-size tripod as the Gorillapod proved pretty useless; it was difficult to set to the right height, while the rounded feet skidded on the icy snow. Still, I managed to get a few decent photos and I’m especially pleased with the three above.

In order, the mountains on display are:

  1. Mount Judge Howay, a dramatic double-peaked mountain that can be seen from many local mountains;
  2. Mount Robie Reid, an imposing hulk of a mountain;
  3. Meslilloet Mountain, which harbours the closest glacier to Vancouver on its northern face.

The time between the first and third photo is only seven minutes – you really have to act fast at this time of day!

Catching this sunset has inspired me to repeat the experience. I have a few winter sunsets (and even sunrises, though that’s less likely) in mind that I’d like to catch. Some require hiking but one or two can be obtained at the roadside. I might try those first.

A moment in the sun

Sky Pilot attracts all the attention up at the Sea to Sky gondola, but the Copilot is a pretty fine mountain in its own right.

One of the reasons I opted to buy a new camera was that I had lost patience with the lenses and performance of our SLRs. On one of our earlier trips up to the Sea to Sky gondola, I tried to capture the beautiful light on both Sky Pilot and the Copilot (including a composition very similar to the one above) and I was dismayed to find that every single shot was out of focus. Not blurry, but straight up unfocussed, as in complete failure to focus. (Now admittedly, buying an entire new camera system may seem an overreaction when a new lens would probably do the trick, but that’s another discussion.)

So I was looking forward to trying out our new camera, and bringing home some nice, sharp, detailed photographs. Even better, the late afternoon light on the mountains was glorious. Thankfully, the camera seemed to do exactly as I had hoped (indeed, as it should!) and we have some photos of the Sky Pilot group that we really like.

When it came to posting on Instagram, I returned to this view of the Copilot, drawn by the parallel ridges lit up by the sunshine (especially the left-hand one with the line of trees). By comparison, the photos of Sky Pilot itself were a bit flat, a bit too face-on without any real paths to lead a viewer’s eye. Truth be told I was hoping for warmer light but I actually quite like the starkness of it, which I think helps isolate the snow from the sky, as well as highlight all the texture in the land. Finally, it works really well as a square crop, ideal for Instagram!

Scenes from a hike II

The light was never in our favour but the views were still wonderful. We broke trail up Christmas Gully which I don’t recommend unless you know the route and the avalanche risk is low. The tracks of a snowshoe hare kept us company as we followed the trail uphill, getting showered with cold snow as we pushed through the trees. The reward was a view of the Lions and Brunswick lit up in the afternoon sun, layers of cloud drifting across the islands in Howe Sound. Feeling lazy we careened down the empty ski runs, taking only 30 minutes to descend!

View this post on Instagram

The light was never in our favour but the views were still wonderful. We broke trail up Christmas Gully which I don't recommend unless you know the route and the avalanche risk is low. The tracks of a snowshoe hare kept us company as we followed the trail uphill, getting showered with cold snow as we pushed through the trees. The reward was a view of the Lions and Brunswick lit up in the afternoon sun, layers of cloud drifting across the islands in Howe Sound. Feeling lazy we careened down the empty ski runs, taking only 30 minutes to descend! #cypressprovincialpark #northshoremountains #snow #live4snow #hiking #bchiking #westcoastmountains #explorebc #yourbcparks #bcparks #beautifulbc #beautifulbritishcolumbia

A post shared by Andy Gibb (@_andy_gibb_) on

In the absence of great light I found it hard to come up with a series of photos that really captured the feel of the hike. It wasn’t a day of photogenic grand vistas, though they were undoubtedly nice to look at, so I concentrated on shapes, forms, and contrast instead. And I think I’m pretty happy with the results.

  1. This might be my favourite image from the day: the small trees coated in fresh snow, a group that could be having a conversation about, well, anything really, but I suspect the weather. In the distance the sun shone brightly on Brunswick Mountain and the Lions.
  2. This view back down Christmas Gully doesn’t look too steep but it’s deceiving. Compare the heights of the trees nearby and further down the slope… It had taken us nearly an hour to get to this point as we plodded up through fresh snow, and it was worth every step.
  3. Keeping us company on the trail (despite heading in the opposite direction), the tracks of a snowshoe hare were a welcome sight. I always like seeing animal tracks in the winter, a reminder that it’s not an entirely desolate place, that animals still call this their home and they can somehow survive.
  4. I call this tiny snow-laden tree a snow mole as its pointed tip looks just like the sharp snout of a mole.
  5. The best view was not of the Lions (which is what I expected) but instead this view across Howe Sound towards the Tetrahedron Range, the perfectly still water a lovely shade of blue. What really caught my eye was the pair of sentinel trees part way down the slope – through the lens I adjusted my framing until they roughly lined up on the third lines. Beyond that I used a little perspective correction in DxO PhotoLab to straighten them to bring them back to what my eye saw, rather than the camera.
  6. Looking west over Bowen Island and towards Vancouver Island, with the warm afternoon light reflecting off Howe Sound and the snow on the northern slope of Mount Strachan. A lovely view, albeit a chilly one that had us beating a hasty retreat to warm up our numb fingers! It took most of the way back down the ski slope to warm them up again, and it reminded us of what gear we should have had on us to keep our hands warm.

A note about this hike. In winter this route should not be attempted without paying careful attention to the avalanche rating. The route crosses a couple of steep avalanche paths while the climb up the gully involves negotiating steep slopes with multiple terrain traps should you or the snow slide. Also, the route is not marked in the winter and taking the wrong descent path off the south summit of Mount Strachan could lead you into dangerous terrain. Equally, descending Christmas Gully means knowing where to join the Howe Sound Crest Trail – do not continue descending as the drainage leads to Montizambert Creek where multiple rescues have taken place over the years.

Always carry a map and compass, and/or backup electronic navigation such as a GPS. We picked this day to do it because we knew the route, having hiked it in summer several times before, and the snow depth was not enough to create significant avalanche risk. That was our call; you should make your own call based on the conditions at the time. Always check before you go. Stay safe – safety should be the top priority!

Mamquam Framed

Mamquam Mountain framed.

The minute I saw Mamquam Mountain over to the east of our lunch spot on an open rocky bluff I knew I had to find a way to capture it. And it didn’t take long. I noticed the tree on the upper right with its arching canopy and decided to make that the top of a frame to give the mountain some context. After all, it’s a long way off (20 km) and while distant mountains are nice to look at, they don’t always make interesting photos.

All that I had to do to complete my framing was to gain a little more height so I could get an unobstructed view the icefield on the mountain. Thankfully it didn’t take much, and I was able to do it safely without venturing anywhere near the steep drop-off. The trees have the added benefit of obscuring some of the logging roads and clearcuts on the intervening slopes.

Back home I knew a square crop would work. Apart from that, the only other change I made was to apply a warming filter to the shady part of the rock to take out some of the blue in the shadows. Very simple, and I’m really happy with the result.