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!
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:
- Mount Judge Howay, a dramatic double-peaked mountain that can be seen from many local mountains;
- Mount Robie Reid, an imposing hulk of a mountain;
- 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.
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!
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I call this tiny snow-laden tree a snow mole as its pointed tip looks just like the sharp snout of a mole.
- 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.
- 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 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.
Mountains, mountains, and yet more mountains! This might be the most amazing view I’ve seen in the Lower Mainland: Sky Pilot, Mt Habrich, Mt Garibaldi, the Tantalus Range, and so many more. Absolutely incredible! And a bit of autumn colour to finish off. Definitely one of my favourite hikes of the year, though not for beginners…! Finished the day at Backcountry Brewing for good beer and pizza.
I don’t know where to begin in trying to describe how it felt to be greeted by the stunning view of Sky Pilot and Mount Habrich when we reached the top of the ridge. It was utterly breathtaking. We had worked hard for those views and it was worth every step; we were running short on time and had we been a bit more conservative we might not have seen them at all! But we took a chance and it paid off, big time! We still made it back down to the gondola in plenty of time too, so we could have explored a bit further. That’ll have to wait until next time.
- Sky Pilot – the craggy multiple peaks of the Sky Pilot group, so captivating no matter what angle they’re viewed at. But up close they are simply stunning, and even better from here than on the neighbouring Skyline Ridge.
- Mount Habrich – a gorgeous imposing cone of a peak, with slabs of sheer granite on all sides, it’s definitely a climber’s summit. Mount Baker can be seen on the horizon to the right of Habrich; Meslilloet to the left (the nearest glacier to Vancouver).
- Mount Garibaldi – a regular sight on this hike, with many opportunities to stop and admire our nearest volcano. Each of those viewpoints would have made a good-enough turnaround point, but we’re so glad we pushed on higher. All the snow coating Garibaldi’s lower flanks two weeks previously (seen on our trip to Watersprite Lake) had melted. I’m sure it’ll get some new snow this week.
- Tantalus Range – I really like this angle on the Tantalus Range, and that tree in the middle of the granite bluff is just so photogenic.
- Autumn colour – there wasn’t much in the way of colourful shrubbery, but these two bushes were glowing beautifully in the late afternoon sunshine.
- A maple avenue – walking back to the car between the gondola and Shannon Falls, we passed through a tunnel of vine and big-leaf maples whose leaves had turned a lovely golden colour. Many leaves had fallen, creating a bright, cheery carpet for us to walk on in the deepening pre-sunset shadow.
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.