Petgill Lake

22 02 2015

Busy day yesterday.

First born was at the tail end of her reading week from Waterloo and seemed to be reasonably recovered from her first outing up The Chief last weekend. In celebration she and our youngest joined Mr & Mrs E on a trip to Petgill Lake.

The trailhead is near Murrin Provincial Park – just north of Britannia Beach on the Sea to Sky highway. The various hike websites all agree it’s about 5.5km each way and takes about 5hours or so round trip.

However, they all make light of the fact that the trailhead is on the opposite side of one of the most dangerous stretches of the most dangerous highway in BC! By the time all four of us had safely made it to the eastern side of the highway, I was pretty much ready to go home. We’d learn later though that it was actually comparatively quiet on the highway. It was much worse crossing it on the way back.

The trailhead itself is an unassuming little track heading into the undergrowth and I can see how several people had reported it as easy to miss. Though I’d taken the precaution of placing a waypoint in my Garmin to be on the safe side, we actually had no problem finding it. The pile of empty beer cans helped.

The trail starts off reasonably steeply, but still quite definitely a track, narrow though it is. Within a few metres though, you are into full on scrambling, and I have to say it was not a particularly pleasant start. It’s not overly difficult or anything, but slimy moss on oozing granite rock is not a particularly pleasant proposition. After a reasonably steep climb though you’re back onto normal woodland trails, and are rewarded for the effort with a rock outcrop serving as a viewpoint out over Howe Sound.

View over Howe Sound

View over Howe Sound

Whilst we were having a short breather, a group of four 30-somethings came down the trail. Initially I was impressed and a little surprised. It was only about 10:30am by this time and for them to be almost back to the car-park must have meant an early start since they didn’t seem to have camping gear. One of the guys seemed a little under-dressed too in only trainers and T-shirt/shorts. The two ladies seemed to be of the antipodean persuasion and much better prepared to be out on the hills. Mr T-shirt asked if we had walked the trail before, and I replied in the negative. I was a little taken aback when he said that there was a  logging road and they’d turned back because it seemed to be active. The trail is closed Monday to Friday to avoid conflicts between the logging operation and the general public. A lone hiker is no match for a fully loaded logging truck. I asked him to clarify though, and it was their choice to return, they hadn’t actually been turned back by logging staff.

Though we hadn’t walked this trail before, we had researched it and I was aware that there was a stretch of a couple of kilometres of logging road we needed to follow. The fact that these guys were spooked when they came across it seemed to indicate that they were far from well prepared. Probably safer they turned back when they did, and thankfully they didn’t ask if they could tag along with us. We met two other parties during the day. One young couple up near the lake itself and an older couple walking their terrier like it was just a stroll in the park. They too seemed to be ill prepared and under-dressed for the conditions, but at least seemed to know where they were going.

This is one of those “uphill – both ways” kinds of hikes. It’s about 5.5km each way, as I mentioned and it’s a steady climb all the way. In practice there’s a bit of contouring around a few hills, but because this happens in heavily wooded terrain, you’re not really aware of it.

After a while we came to a rock outcrop that offered a view northwards towards Squamish.

Howe Sound

Howe Sound towards Squamish

The steepest part (after the initial scramble) is on the logging road itself, so it’s just a slog up the muddy track. As we came through the woods to the road, there’s a definite change in the aura of the place. You move from the usual tranquil woodland vibe to this sense of despair and destruction. Logging is a prime resource for BC, but the up-close consequences of the industry are quite heart-breaking. The trail is closed Monday to Friday because of the trucks and other traffic on the logging road, but despite the old signage and assurances that the logging isn’t current, there was still the unmistakeable sound of a lone chainsaw somewhere not too distant, interspersed with the harrowing thud of another IKEA table in the making. I suspect this chainsaw is what had scared off the others, rather than any actual indication of traffic on the road. Anyway, as we descended to the road, we kept a leery eye open for any unexpected trucks. Thankfully there was none.

Descent to the logging road

Descent to the logging road

The logging road was a stark reminder of the brute strength mankind can bring to bear on issues of commerce. There were various items of heavy machinery parked up for the weekend, and the ever present buzz/whomp as the unseen feller systematically moved trees from the vertical to the horizontal. Some sections of the road were quite steep and it was amazing to imagine fully loaded log trucks climbing their way up the unmade track. We spotted a series of whimsical signs that appeared to be there to help the trucks figure out where they were in the relatively monotonous roadway. The first we saw was called “Bark and Bite” with a face of a cartoon bulldog. Out of context as it was at that point, we thought it may be a warning of guard dogs. This annoyed me as we were on a public right of way. I felt a little silly when we passed “Old Boot Hill” in the same style.

We missed the trail leaving the logging road by a hundred metres or so, but thankfully the GPS helped us find the rather discreet trail back into the woods. Tranquillity immediately re-descended and the calming effect of being swaddled in nature was palpable.

The lake itself was small and very pretty. It was overseen by a huge peak, which a trail called Goat Ridge. Looking at maps, this seems to be a range which leads East to SkyPilot. As we bundled up against the suddenly chill air, a young guy appeared from the forest with a bundle of wood under his arm. It seems he’d left his girlfriend further back on the trail while he came ahead to cook sausages on the firepit by the lake. After we’d finished our own lunch and headed back, it was still a good while before we met her on the trail. I hope the bangers weren’t burnt!

Petgill Lake

Petgill Lake

As we headed back to the logging road we met the older couple with their terrier. They were lightly dressed in training shoes and no heavy clothing. Despite the glorious sunshine it was still quite chilly by the lake, but they seemed to know where they were going, at least.

The hike back seemed to have an unexpected number of “up” bits, considering it had appeared to be up all the way to the lake. Now familiar with the route though, the time passed quickly and we were scrambling back down the rocks to the road before we knew it. Crossing the highway was not pleasant, and the increase in traffic volume was quite marked. As was the increase in average speed!

Did I enjoy it? Yes – the lake is a lovely spot in an idyllic setting. Would I go again… probably not. The logging enterprise was quite heartbreaking in its ferocity, and the couple of km on the logging road left a bit of a bad taste.

Google Earth: Murrin to Petgill Lake

Google Earth: Murrin to Petgill Lake

A Grand Day Out

9 02 2015

Feeling a bit stiff today. No – not like that, unfortunately.

The lack of snow hereabouts has been a real downer for the local ski and boarding enthusiasts. The North Shore mountains are positively verdant. I don’t partake in either sport, but I do enjoy a spot of snowshoeing. So much so that I invested in some decent MSR snowshoes a couple of years ago. I deeply resent not being able to use them.

The temperature yesterday was a balmy 11-12°C by afternoon in the Lower Mainland. Anyway, for once I’d planned ahead. I was so determined to get my snowshoes wet this season that I was willing to travel if necessary. A little research on uncle Google determined that Manning Park was actually reasonably well endowed with the white stuff. This was to be our target for Sunday.

Manning Park is about two and a half hours east of White Rock, but significantly higher up, on Highway 3. Number three offspring had elected to sleep over at a mate’s house on Saturday, so Mrs E and I were free to get up bright and early and managed to leave the house by 7am. We had a brief pit-stop in Aldergrove for the ridiculously cheap petrol (still less than a dollar a litre despite it being $1.11 here in White Rock), and a caffeine injection at Timmie’s. As we hacked off down Highway 1 heading for Hope (yes people really do live in Hope their whole lives. Also, yes there are people who are beyond Hope) we suddenly encountered a few bands of low cloud over the road which when mixed with the bright early sunshine made driving a little… exciting!

Low cloud over the farms of the Fraser Valley

Low cloud over the farms of the Fraser Valley

Once through Hope the highway splits and we took Hwy 3 towards Manning. As we climbed steadily we were grateful of the light traffic and the long weekend. This road, even without the usual seasonal ice/snow can be really uncomfortable with the heavy trucks plying their wares across the province. The cloud was still patchy and made some lovely veils across the mountains. You can see from these photos that the previous day’s rain had – as predicted by Environment Canada’s met. office – moved on and would not be messing with our day.

Low cloud as we climbed Hwy 3

Low cloud as we climbed Hwy 3

The temperature had started out at about 6°C as we’d left White Rock early in the morning. As we climbed Hwy 3 the temperature had steadily dropped and hovered around 0°C as we descended past the Rovent weekend camp at Cambie Creek and into the Lodge car-park at Manning. I’d read up on the various snowshoeing trails in Manning and was pretty sure that we’d be able to do something, no matter what conditions met us when we arrived. There was avalanche risk in the area, but this was primarily to the North towards one of my favourite hikes to Three Brothers (documented elsewhere in these pages). Most of the snowshoeing trails are relatively flat and snake westward towards the alpine ski runs, or around Lightning Lake. The one I’d got my eye on though was to Windy Joe, with a summit at about 1800m or so. This peak is interesting because it has an old forest fire lookout station, built in the 1940s. If you’re that way inclined you can stay overnight there, but we were aiming for a round trip in the day.

As is always prudent, I checked in with the staff at the Nordic Lodge to make sure the trail was open and that conditions were safe. Though I was pretty sure from my pre-reading, I also checked the expected travel time. It’s around 2.5hrs up during summer, so I reckoned on about 3 or so on snowshoes. It’s inevitably quicker coming back down, but a ballpark of 6 hours round trip meant we’d be back before dusk. We were prepared with additional layers, waterproofs, first aid, space blankets and the like as well as Petzl headlamps just in case darkness did overtake us. It was a pretty straightforward route with about a third on the flat by the Similkameen river, and then a series of switchbacks up the old fire road (not as easy as it sounds when you add in snow and a long series of fallen trees). Worst case, I reckoned we’d definitely be back on the flat before dusk could catch us, and the risk there was very low. Though woods can be disorienting in the dark, the nearby highway gave a constant orientation check as it runs west-east, to the north of the trail and lodge.

The following image from Google Earth has been rotated to show the Windy Joe peak in a better perspective. North is to the left of the image.

Google Earth: The path we trod

Google Earth: The path we trod

I’m always interested in documenting the trails I’ve walked, so I made sure my GPS had fresh batteries and we set off on the 16km round trip. Snowshoeing is currently free in Manning Park, but they do ask you to stay clear of the groomed cross country ski trails. As you can see in the above image, finding the start of the trail was a little harder than anticipated and we started a little more to the east than was strictly correct. We soon found a trail heading west along the north side of the Similkameen river, and once we crossed the road bridge, the trail back east on the south side was easy to spot. As I mentioned, this part of the trail is pretty flat, and though it meanders a lot through the woods, it was pretty fast going. There were a few pools and tributaries of the river and the silence added to the beauty.

Tranquil Beauty

Tranquil Beauty

Eventually the trail meets up with the old fire road, and the sign reminds us that Manning is actually the start of the Pacific Crest Trail, recently made famous by the film of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild. The US border is very close here – though it is more easily crossed south to north than north to south. If one is caught crossing south, you may become part of America’s terrible statistic for having the most people behind bars. The penalty is a year in jail plus $5,000 fine. There is no legal way to hike the PCT north to south!

We stopped for a snack and met a group of four hikers on their way down. We later learnt that they’d overnighted at the fire lookout. From here on in, it’s up followed by more up. A steady 5km or so. As we gained height the snow quality changes quite noticeably and it morphs from crispy ice-covered snow to more soft powdery snow. The previous day’s valley rain had probably fallen as powder here. The bright sun was hidden by the dense trees thankfully, so it was actually a near perfect day for hiking. We had glimpses of perfect blue sky, but also the constant drip of melting snow from overhead branches.

Drippety drip

Drippety drip


Occasionally there were heavier clumps of falling snow and ice and it was easy to see how on a more exposed slope these conditions could lead to avalanche. Indeed, near the top there were trails of 10m or so where snow falls from trees had caused balls to form and roll down the slopes until they’d run out of energy.

One of many switch-backs

One of many switch-backs

Around the 1550m mark, the path to Windy Joe departs from the Pacific Crest Trail. This, along with the Frosty Mountain Trail head off due south at one of the many switchbacks this trail has. In summer, I’m sure this trail is very easy to identify as it was originally a supply road for the forest fire lookout. However, without the previous snowshoers packing down the trail through the forest there are definitely a few places where one could easily go astray. It was all the more weird then to suddenly come across this very formal waymark, with nothing between this and the previous marker at the intersection with the Similkameen Trail.

Pacific Coast Trail parts ways

Pacific Crest Trail parts ways

From here, we “just” (never trust a sentence with just in it) had 3 more switchbacks. It was still 250m of ascent though, over about 2.4km. The air was suddenly pungent with the familiar aroma of BC bud, but we never caught up with the couple who were expelling the fumes. Finally we were getting high enough for the trees to start thinning out, and at the next switchback we were rewarded with amazing views to the west. There are so many peaks in this wonderful place that many remain nameless.

Your beauty shall remain nameless

Your beauty shall remain nameless

We were conscious of the time now. We’d set a nominal “turn-around” time of 1pm, to give us three hours to get back comfortably before dusk, and it was now five past. The weather was still glorious and the steepness of the this last few kilometres left us confident that we needed significantly less time for the descent. It was noticeably cooler at this elevation, but neither of us was wearing even all the layers we’d begun with, let alone the backup layers we were carrying. The risks seemed low, and only 30 minutes later we passed the sign for the toilet outhouse and turned the corner to be suddenly greeted with the lookout itself. Here we met the two cool dudes who we’d smelt earlier as they were just about to head back down. They informed us that the lookout was full of “over-nighters” and there was no room to get in the lookout.

Windy Joe lookout

Windy Joe lookout

We could see the evidence of the residents and they seemed to be fully in possession. Though one of their number came to greet us, there was really no chance to take a look around inside. He mentioned that there were four of them and that there had been eight the night before – presumably the younger crowd we’d passed down at the start of the climb.
The lookout – despite its age – was in excellent condition. It is the same basic style as the one we’d seen on Mount Revelstoke. Presumably a kit of parts, the walls are actually wired together for strength against high winds, and then anchored out like a tent for extra stability. Built to provide warning of forest fires, the building itself tried to avoid being the cause by having a lightning rod in order to earth any stray sparks from the heavens. As the only structure on an exposed peak, it must surely attract the very lightning that can start wildfires. I’ll bet being inside when it was struck would literally make one’s hair stand on end!

Commanding the view

Commanding the view

Conscious of the time, we had a quick lunch, and let our outer layers dehumidify before heading back down.

Drying out in the sun

Drying out in the sun

Mrs E felt her snowshoes were not actually necessary for the descent, and I finally got to use the 5m of parachute cord I’ve always taken with me on hikes in order to attach her snowshoes to her backpack. The descent was substantially quicker as expected, and we still had good light as we headed over the bridge and back towards the lodge. From this direction, it was a lot easier to see the flagging tape marking the correct trail and so we crossed the road slightly further west than on the way up.

16km in all. Almost exactly 6 hours including late lunch at the top. A great day’s hike. The snowshoes probably weren’t strictly necessary, but they did make for easier going up the slope, for sure. I sank up to my calf in a few places even with them on, so I’m sure those could have been much more interesting (read – potentially dangerous) without them. I shall definitely return in summer to see it in a different light.

We were all packed up and in the car by 5pm, and heading back home as the light failed. As we dropped back into the Fraser Valley, the temperature rose again, and it was 12°C. So glad it wasn’t that warm up on the hill!

A Furple

25 01 2015

Libraries are wonderful institutions. If you aren’t a member of your local library, or you are but don’t use it… why?! As well as everything else… it’s free!

As a kid I earnt my “librarian” badge in cubs. I remember part of it involved covering a book to make a dust jacket (a skill that came into great effect when I had to cover umpteen text books at grammar school). I covered my dad’s book on fishing. Rather wittily, I thought, I used wrapping paper depicting various floats and lures. Smart-arsed little 8 year old, wasn’t I?! It was called “The Compleat Angler” and I was puzzled by the apparent misspelling, even then (which is why I remember it more than 40 years later). Turns out it was first published in 1653… so I’ll let them off, since it was before Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary.

Anyway, I became a frequent visitor to the local library in the village where I grew up, and was encouraged by Mrs Spencer, the local librarian. Over the years she even let me borrow several “for reference only” books to help with my homework. There weren’t a lot of takers for A-level organic chemistry books in our little corner of Yorkshire.

The highlight was being allowed into the hallowed “stacks” where books are kept that are not actually on the shelves. Here I found the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology. I was allowed to serially take home each of its weighty 20 tomes and yes – I did read them all! It was a seminal moment.

I learnt two key things about myself as a teenager at that time:

(i) I loved science and technology

(ii) I was a complete nerd (see i)

(iii) Maths wasn’t my strongest subject ;)

So anyway, last weekend I visited the local library here in South Surrey and borrowed a few things. Shakespeare, Backpacker magazine, Canadian History magazine, a book on colour correction. You know – the usual stuff. (Eclectic? Moi?) The latter reminded me to update my copy of GIMP, a totally free image manipulation tool that provides many of the features of PhotoShop. Of course, I haven’t opened the book yet, but I couldn’t wait to reacquaint myself with GIMP. I took a few random images to play with. One included an orange. And then I though. Why is an orange called an orange? Well, obviously it’s because it’s orange!

This then must be a furple, because it’s flippin’ purple, innit?!

A Furple

A Furple

OK – That’s it!

17 01 2015

I’ve been gnashing at the bit ever since I was a kid, to go to Iceland. There and Canada. Since I now live in BC, I’ve got the latter one reasonable well covered… though it is one humongous country, and I’ve barely scratched its surface! Last year was the nearest I’ve come to Iceland – I even priced up hotels, but in the end I enjoyed the Grand Canyon/Antelope Canyon/Arches National Park. They were amazing places, and I’m glad I went, but definitely not the same.

I just read an article on Bored Panda though. Julien Ratel lives there and has himself only just visited the Ice Caves in the south-east, under the giant Vatnajökull glacier. As well as obviously an accomplished photographer, it seems he’s a guide and travel agent too. What an amazing place to be a travel agent!

Julien Ratel

I Finally Visited The Ice Caves In Iceland | Bored Panda.

Amazing photos. Click on the image above for others.

So that’s it. This year I’m definitely going.



Light & Motion – Motion Exposure by Stephen Orlando

3 12 2014

Stephen Orlando is fascinated with capturing motion through time and space into a single photograph. He uses LED lights and long exposure photography to get some amazing images. No Photoshop trickery – just the beauty of human motion over an extended period.

Check out more of his work at his website: Kayak – Motion Exposure. There’s beautiful work there from kayaking, canoeing, tennis… many graceful creations.

Kayak - Motion Exposure

On the nature of humans…

30 11 2013

Are you quick to judge?

Prone to speak before you’ve checked the facts?

No? Must be just me then…

Of course, it’s not something I’m proud of, or that I choose to do – I do tend to look before I leap… but there are times, I confess.

We all seem to have assumptions and pre-conceptions. They range from “flames tend to be hot – best not to test this specific one with my finger” through to “it’s best not to trust politicians  – at least while they’re alive”.

Yesterday my colleague told me that he’d heard something on the illustrious CBC Radio 1. There’d been a piece about how the Canadian government had engaged a consultant to teach Canadian businessmen how to speak with “British accents” to help their negotiations run more smoothly. Naturally this spun off into a self-fuelled rant as we fed off each other, and we agreed that it was ridiculous (first clue), and that any North American trying to “put a cockney at ease” by speaking in their own accent would likely turn out at least as bad as Dick van Dyke‘s “Bert” in Mary Poppins. Worse – they’d likely be knifed or otherwise assaulted at some point in the proceedings.

I of course, being all superior and pious, had additional issues with the mere phrase “British accent”. I kept bleating on about there being four countries in Great Britain – not including the various islands (Yes – the UK is the “mainland”… ;) ) – and that each of them had more accents per square mile than Canada had voters. Or possibly even trees for that matter. This was all easy self-reinforcing bias, and supported the pre-existing assumptions that (i) governments in general were keen to spend our tax money on silly things, (ii) teaching anyone an accent was inherently going to fail – Meryl Streep‘s excellent rendition of Maggie notwithstanding – and most importantly (iii) Dick van Dyke may not be able to act, but he makes a great penguin.

Not a proud moment in QE’s life. Nor, I’m further ashamed to say, an uncommon one.

Fast forward to today when a friend posted on Facebook the following story:

Town in Montana changes its name to Banff Alberta Canada

CBC: According to Mr. Landers, Banff Alberta Canada, Montana is not near the mountains but it does have a great local theatre company for tourists to enjoy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ridiculous, right? (Déjà vu!)

But wait –  let’s not forget about Leavenworth, WA

Wikipedia: Leavenworth’s main street reflects its modelling on a Bavarian village

Reinventing the entire town as a Bavarian village just to increase tourism is completely batty, right?! Insisting that industry giants like Subway, Starbucks, etc. use signage “in keeping” with the theme (carved wooden hanging signs as in the above photo) is ludicrous, yes? Can’t be true… but it is.

So renaming a ghost-town in Montana to “Banff Alberta Canada” to lure unwary tourists isn’t really any less believable is it? And there of course enters “the bias”. The assumption that well, without putting too fine a point on it, it’s just the sort of thing “the Americans” would do, isn’t it? :)

It took all of a few minutes for someone to point out “You do know it’s a satirical program, right?” (I’ll forgive them the omission of the “me” at the end of programme, under the circumstances).

Ah! Burn…

I felt ashamed more than embarrassed. I was so totally ready to believe that this little town would rename itself. And based on what? Prejudice. Assumption that we wouldn’t do that, but they would. Us and them – the core of prejudice. I hadn’t even bothered to listen to the whole piece, and though the photos of the presenters looked a bit glib, I didn’t check further into their programme.

Then a thought…

Yup – sure enough, the CBC 1 programme to which my earnest colleague had referred earlier was the same one responsible for Banff Alberta Canada!

Canadian industry delegates learn to speak with British accent to improve trade relations

CBC: According to Mr. Theodore, the Canadian accent is perceived as unintellegent in the United Kingdom. (iStockPhoto)

Well – don’t I feel silly?!

Of course – the spirit of a good laugh is for it to be believable enough that the punchline is unexpected and funny. Because my colleague had himself believed it to be “straight”, and it played to all the accepted stereotypes, I too fell hook, line and sinker to his retelling. But now I know this programme is actually a satirical one… I’m actually pretty underwhelmed. If you were listening to it, knowing it was a satirical show, it’s a pretty blunt instrument! Or is that my prejudice speaking again?

But these deeply flawed aspects of human nature (at least as far as they are represented in my own case) are only part of the picture. Thankfully!

This morning I took the devil dog for a walk around the local duck ponds. Winter is well on its way, and the deciduous trees are all but bare now. But not quite…

Bigger berry Bauble Christmas cheer

Some local wit had placed about a dozen Christmas-tree baubles on various otherwise sparse trees around the ponds. Nothing too outlandish. No tinsel, for example. No garish lights as the municipality chooses to use elsewhere. Just one bauble per chosen tree, evenly spaced around the park. Yet somehow, these cheap dollar-store ornaments were uplifting as I trudged around in the rain. Someone had thought to do it. Do something unexpected. Worthy of note (at least by me). A bit like when soon-to-be-obsolete pennies appeared on the park benches.

What're you looking' at?

What’re you lookin’ at?

I met a couple of other locals on their morning constitution. One (who I have a sneaky suspicion may have had some involvement) agreed with me that they were a jolly addition to the park, and added a festive air. Another – a middle-aged lady with incongruous headphones disappearing into her pocketed iPod, and a keen and adept hand with mobile phone photography – asked me if I’d noticed the curious additions to the treescape. She too had been photographing them. Perhaps she has her own blog… We chatted briefly and went on our separate ways, smiling and happy at this brief most human of connections.

And as I walked home still grinning, I realised that perhaps this Christmas, if I really tried, I could perhaps be less cynical. These cheap plastic baubles had already caused me to have two friendly conversations with strangers. Even better – somewhere near me lived a kindred spirit. Someone who did weird stuff just for the hell of it. I wondered if it was the same person who had put the pennies out last year. I was in a good mood… and there hadn’t even been chocolate involved!

It would seem that despite my previous assumptions and prejudice, there really can be such a thing as Christmas cheer. A non-commercial, non-marketed, simple, pure, goodwill to others.

Humans can after all still do little things that bring pleasure and happiness to others. It could be an unexpected bauble in a tree (I’m willing to overlook the fact that it’s technically littering), or it could be a few dollars in a Sally Army fund-raising kettle.

But it’s not even December yet. Bah – humbug… :D

No more fog

28 10 2013

The fog has left us… with amazing sunsets

Flaming Sky

Flaming Sky


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