It’s about the journey

9 03 2015

They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. Very philosophical and all, but it’s still a bugger when you set out on a hike and don’t get to where you’re aiming.

Sunday was a lovely day here in BC. Despite losing an hour’s sleep to daylight saving, breakfast was had, the dog was fed, watered and walked, and we were all ready for the offsky pretty well on schedule.

We’ve been reasonably good at getting a hike in most weekends, and this time it was up to Mrs E. to pick the route. We have several books of local hikes and scrambles, and she picked one pretty much at random from Dawn Hanna’s “Best Hikes and Walks of Southwestern British Columbia”. Best Hikes & Walks of SW BC

Today’s adventure was to be in the environs of Grouse Mountain, a favourite haunt where many pleasant hours have been previously spent. Mosquito Creek Cascades promised to be a reasonably leisurely hike – 8km in total with most of the ascent in the last 1km before the turnaround.

Mosquito Creek route

Mosquito Creek route

Things didn’t start very well with me missing the turning for Burnaby along the highway, and therefore forcing us to go right through the middle of Vancouver. Davie Street offered its usual collection of interest, and we were at the Lion’s Gate bridge before too long. Here I got a little worried because it seemed the entire North Shore was under a low lying blanket of cloud. Thankfully this turned out to be a narrow band over the water itself, and we were soon through to the North side and glorious views of the mountains.

The car-park at Grouse was quite empty, but it didn’t stop some bloke in a Tesla taking my parking spot, despite me clearly indicating my intent. Times must be hard with the lack of snow, because there was actually some chap checking parking tickets on the assembled vehicles. I’d never seen them doing that before.

The recent good weather has made the various routes up the Grouse (including the still officially closed Grind) appealing once more, and some previous community spirited individual had thoughtfully inserted a stick into the self-locking gate so it couldn’t. Self lock, I mean. The gate’s a complete joke, of course. It’s nominally there to prevent people attempting the Grind when it’s dangerous to do so, like after dark, or when there’s snow on the rocky trail. The cynic in me would also point out that it would encourage more people to pay to ride the SkyRide and ski/board at the top. The total lack of snow there though makes the continued closure of the Grind laughable. More to the point, there are many more trails starting here than just the boring though popular Grouse Grind.

Anyway, we started our adventure as per the book, by heading East along the BP trail. This vaguely contours the lower reaches of Grouse with a gentle ascent as it heads further East. As we continued, we passed over two tributaries of MacKay Creek, the second of which looked almost man-made. In a way, I guess it was, since the clear cuts of the past had removed much of the soil stability, so when the heavy rains of 1996 came, the soil was swept away right down to the bedrock, leaving an ugly scar allegedly visible from Vancouver.

A little later we met a few people coming from the opposite direction, and one pair of ladies had a huge panting Bernese Mountain Dog. Despite the women taking a lower trail, the dog approached us on the higher rail, huffing and puffing. The owner apologised for this mountain (of a) dog crowding our path, and the dog quite definitely and distinctly gave me an ice-hockey style shoulder check as it passed!

Pretty soon we came to a gravel path and needed to check the GPS as there were paths converging from all sides. We followed the BP trail down a bit of an old path, past a very West Coast house with an orange steel roof, and down to the creek. There is a substantial bridge over now, but apparently its predecessor was swept away in the 1996 floods. There’s a couple of large green water towers and we headed up the actual climb towards the cascades. We opted for the Cascade Trail, which is slightly to the East of The Old Grouse Mountain Highway. This was a pleasant steady climb, and is joined from the left by the “highway”. Only a couple of hundred metres further, the well marked and wide trail suddenly disappeared. Literally. The hillside looked like it had suffered some major slides. The path to here was following an old iron pipeline, and here it was suspended in the air, as the supporting ground had been washed away.

An alternate path had been marked by some intrepid predecessor with pink surveyor’s tape, and we gamely angled down towards Mosquito Creek itself. After about 100m though, it was pure bushwacking. We still had more than half a kilometre to go, but no clear route to follow. We opted to stop and eat by the creek and call it a day. It was a peaceful little spot, and we soaked in the silence. Right up to the point when we heard a family and dog crashing through the brush on the west bank of the creek. The trail there is supposedly closed now, but I guess it was less closed than the supposedly open trail we’d chosen!

Mosquito Creek

Mosquito Creek

After a pleasant break, we tried to retrace our steps to the maintained path, and noticed that in this direction someone had carved markers into the various fallen logs to try and permanently mark the path. Back up on the main path, we opted to take The Old Grouse Mountain Highway back down to the water towers.

Springboard hole

Springboard hole

This was definitely the steeper route of the two, and there were a couple of huge trees fallen across the path to make life even more interesting. Industrial archaeologists would be interested in the old water pipe exposed in places on the trail. It was used up until storm damage in the 1980s damaged the intake.

After we’d crossed back over the bridge we opted to take the powerline trail back to the Grouse car-park which is a very pleasant easy amble back.

Google Earth: Mosquito Creek from Grouse Car-park

Google Earth: Mosquito Creek from Grouse Car-park

In our own back garden

4 03 2015

Believe it or not, I began to write this post way back on Monday. That though was the day I decided to return my shiny new laptop to Best Buy because the battery wasn’t charging properly. The reason I’d bought the laptop was because this desktop PC runs like the proverbial 3-legged dog.

Anyway, we’re all here now, so let’s get on with wasting a few minutes of your life…

Way back in 1992 there was a leap year. That coincided with the sense that my fiancée and I shared that it was about time we started thinking about improving our tax position and getting married. Though it wasn’t exactly planned, we weren’t averse to the fact that the next free Saturday wedding slot at the local registry office happened to be the 29th of February. As if the 29th of February itself wasn’t memorable enough, in Europe dates are written day/month/year or in this case 29.2.92. What can I say? Seemed like a good idea at the time!

So here we are, 23 years and only 5 real anniversaries later. We figured we’d go away to mark the occasion, but couldn’t decide where to go. In the end we opted to stay in down-town Vancouver and be tourists in our own back garden. We’d had occasion to stay at Le Soleil on Hornby a few years ago, and really enjoyed the little boutique hotel. It has a sort of Napoleonic French vibe going, with gold and yellow stripes, sun motifs and bees everywhere. A few obelisks are reminiscent of Napoleon’s Egyptian adventures too.

Luxurious bees on the chairs

Luxurious bees on the chairs

So anyway, we got down-town on the Friday evening, the 27th, got settled in and then headed out for some dinner and a bevvie. I used to work down-town and felt oddly disjointed to be there “for pleasure”. In the end we walked towards the harbour, and settled on the Lions pub. Nothing special, but one of several wannabe English style pubs in Vancouver. Though the significance was lost on me at the time, my eye fell on the Welsh Rarebit in amongst other yummy familiar items on the pub’s menu. This proved to be foreshadowing of the most weird nature.

On the way back, we ambled through Canada Place and bought tickets for “Fly over Canada“.

The tickets are not timestamped and you can use them any time. We figured we’d try and get to see the show reasonably early on Saturday, and this would avoid queueing. Experience has taught us that Vancouverites rarely rise before about 11am, so if you want to avoid a queue get up early and you’re done before the crowds even materialise.

Canada Place - after hours

Canada Place – after hours

Saturday, I woke up bright and early and went to check out the hotel gym. It was pretty small, but the worst thing was that the extra foot of elevation the elliptical machine gave was sufficient to embed my head in the ceiling tiles. I was getting sunburnt from the pot lights and gave up well before my usual routine would dictate. After showering we headed off for breakfast and opted for a new Tim Hortons on Pender. It turned out that Vancouver had sprouted at least two new Timmie locations since I was last in these parts. The two young ladies in there seemed ill prepared for the steady stream of customers and we had to wait quite a while for the English muffins with mmmmmm bacon. Fully energised we headed off to Canada Place and joined the short queue for the first showing of Fly over Canada.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and there was a very Chinese New Year vibe going on. We were eventually ushered into a staging area whilst the queue was carefully counted off. We were then led to an inner sanctum where we were placed on individual circles on the floor. Jokes about Twister and Star Trek were in abundance. Eventually we were taken to the actual viewing area. This is a two tier balcony with rows of seats similar to aeroplane seats. In front of the chairs was a barrier. Still not quite knowing what to expect, it struck me that the barrier seemed highly engineered and I surmised that it likely moved in some way.

After much bleating about safety, strapping in and lots of other things which didn’t really seem to go with the situation, the lights went down and all became much much clearer! Basically the theatre is a large curved screen. Not quite IMAX quality, but definitely large enough to encompass your peripheral vision. The seats are in rows of about 5 or 6, and each row independently slides forward. As suspected, the barrier had folded out towards the screen, allowing the seats to move out over the chasm. As well as moving in and out towards the screen, each row could independently tilt left and right. Coupled with the surround-view showing wide vistas this led to a quite convincing sensory illusion of hang-gliding. The warm up film was a flight over China to celebrate the lunar New Year, but the main feature was some stunning cinematography of our great country. Taken from helicopters, the film led you to believe you were sweeping up and down over jaw-dropping scenery, with the seats swinging in synch with the visuals, and an occasional misting insinuating that you were really climbing in and out of clouds or plunging low into the sea spray. I felt a bit like a supermarket lettuce by the end of the show.

It was pricey at $20, but it was certainly an experience. I turned down a fortune cookie on the way out. This turned out to be bad fortune, as the fortune slip included a 30% discount for someone to visit again.

The primary order of the day was to find a nice place to have dinner, but before that we needed to acquire a bottle of fizzy wine. We opted for a bottle from the See Ya Later ranch near Skaha Lake, Kelowna. Then we were off to explore Vancouver like tourists do. We walked all the way South on Hornby to the Aquabus, and headed over to Granville Island.

Aquabus stop

Aquabus stop

The real reason for dropping in to Granville Island was for me to photograph the cement silos. Regular readers will recall my excitement at the giant art project a few months ago. First though… lunch! Memory’s a funny thing. We’d remembered “a great little pie place” in the marketplace, and found it easily enough. It was at the peak of lunchtime though and we were forced to decamp to the outside benches in order to sit and eat them. I had mushroom pie, and the crust was just as rich and flaky as I’d remembered. The innards though? Basically just mushroom soup with a few chunks of tomato – yes tomato – to make it a bit more lumpy. Pink mushroom pie. Nearly as offensive as the dodgy ukulele singer trying to entertain the seagulls.

We ambled around to find tea, and settled for the Granville Island Tea Company. They were selling bricks of compressed tea for $20, in the style of the ones traditionally traded over the Steppes on the Silk Road for centuries. I was tempted, but each brick represents an awful lot of tea if you decide you don’t like it. Suitably sated with a single cup of non-bricked tea, we headed off so I could photograph the silos. It was a lovely sunny day, but the Ocean company had inconveniently parked their trucks to obscure a clear view of the silos.

The silos were painted by Brazilian street artists “Os Gemeos”, twins from Sao Paulo. Quite the project!

Giants by Os Gemeos

Giants by Os Gemeos

While trying to get a better angle (there wasn’t really one) I was half listening to the patter from a young magician entertaining a knot of onlookers. He was just about to begin a trick and offered to pull up his sleeves to show there was nothing hiding. He then corrected himself and said, actually he was just showing off his tattoo. Baring his unadorned forearms he then declared that the tattoo was of a chameleon. I chuckled, but plainly nobody else got the joke. Quick as a flash he added “let’s join hands – perhaps we can raise the living”. In support of his acerbic wit I stage whispered “well I thought it was funny” as I passed between the still perplexed onlookers. I commented to Mrs E about his almost British humour, and she remarked that he’d said earlier that he was from Hong Kong. I wish him well. I didn’t stay to watch his tricks, but his wit should serve him well in his chosen career.

Having to satisfy myself with obscured views of The Giants, we headed back to the ferry which is a particularly colourful little number built low and flat to more easily accommodate bikes and pushchairs.

It's OK, we'll take the next unicorn

It’s OK, we’ll take the next unicorn

We ambled along the seawall enjoying the urban version of what we normally experience walking the promenade in White Rock. At one point we were horrified to see a pair of youngsters being encouraged by their guardian to pick the grass slope clean of all the lovely crocuses that were blooming there. Each child had their fists full of the purple and white blooms. The kids were too young to know any better, but it was shocking to see such encouragement from their adult.

World’s cutest hooligan

Dinner was arranged at The Fish House and we had time to walk back to the hotel to freshen up before returning for the sunset and a great slice of Haida Gwaii halibut. Having already amply sampled the bubbly before dinner, the G&Ts during dinner and a lovely little port after dinner, the walk back to the hotel is a bit vague I’m afraid.

Sunday breakfast was nice. We ate at a lovely Parisian pastry shop I must have passed several times without noticing. It’s squeezed in between Bellaggio’s and Artigiano’s on Hornby, by the VAG. Goes by the name Faubourg. The proprietor was indeed French and I was surprised to see the tea he served was also Gallic! I never knew they had it in them. ;o)

Seems there’s actually three locations around Vancouver with others in Kerrisdale and Park Royal. I can recommend the pistachio croissant. ‘Nuff said.

As we ambled down the seawall to do one more lap of the West End (22km of walking on Saturday. Slightly less on Sunday), I noticed someone had tied a leek and a couple of daffodils to a park bench. Of course… it was 1st of March! St. David’s day. Though I didn’t go and check, I strongly suspect the bench was in memory of someone with a surname of Jones. Or Edwards. Or Davies. Whoever they were, they were missed, and their Welsh heritage was being celebrated on the appropriate day.

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 Day of Firsts

15 02 2015

Well, as intimated in yesterday’s post, I did in fact take a trip up the Stawamus Chief today. Though supposedly attempting to tempt the rain gods into testing my newly acquired Arc’teryx waterproof, the weather was in fact perfect for hiking. It was clear, bright and sunny, but not too hot. The only downside was the weather brought out all the dog-walkers who think it perfectly acceptable to let their dogs crap all over the place and not clean up after them. Surprisingly, it’s also allowed for the dogs to not be leashed, leading to some awkward confrontations in the more narrow spots. There was even a dubiously large dose of the Lululemon Brigade who obviously weren’t aware that I had put in an order for a heavy rainfall. They were lucky my plans were thwarted as not one of them had any additional clothing, waterproofs or even water in one or two cases.

Despite the unexpected crowds, we had a pleasant hour or so’s ascent to the top of First Peak, it being our first ascent of The Chief in 2015. After the island of Gibraltar, this is the second largest granite outcrop on the planet, with First Peak reaching an elevation of 610m. The main car-park was busy so we had to start at the lower overflow car-park by the highway. It’s not that much over sea level, so you’re pretty much ascending the entire elevation.

The GPS track on the map doesn’t really do justice to the steepness. Unless you’re good at envisioning contours, it’s hard to imagine.


Garmin MapSource: Trail to First Peak

Garmin MapSource: Trail to First Peak

If you overlay the track on Google Earth you get a much better sense of the majesty of The Chief. I twisted North to be off to the left, just to help get a better perspective of the outcrop.

Google Earth: Track to First Peak

Google Earth: Track to First Peak

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

Oh Canada… you ARE silly.

24 01 2015

So I live in Surrey, BC.

It’s just an address, but hereabouts people like to be more specific and say SOUTH Surrey to differentiate it from NORMAL Surrey. The reputation of drugs and associated crime being a little too ungenteel for some. Compared to the UK, even deepest, darkest Newton (area of Surrey) is as safe as houses, but all things are relative and it is comparatively bad by BC standards. White Rock is a separate little city, just a few blocks big, carved out of the very south of South Surrey… and they therefore get the best bit of the beach. If they’d been born separately and merged together over the space of a millennium or so, White Rock and South Surrey would be called a conurbation. But this is North America and the paint is still drying on even the oldest “heritage homes”, so they’re not.

White Rock itself has changed quite dramatically in the 14 years we’ve lived here. Lots of development – some of it vertical (the city limit of 4 storeys – intended to protect the ocean views for all – seems to be negotiable if you are a developer with deep enough pockets… or an interesting photo collection, I suppose). When we first arrived, it was like Little England. Every other person was either an elderly war bride or a recent UK immigrant. Far from the case now, but that genteel aspiration lives on, and by and large White Rock/South Surrey is  a twee seaside town. I was frankly a little disappointed all those years ago. We’d emigrated to the other side of the world and accidentally arrived back in England. The largest difference was realising that we’d also travelled back in time to the late 70s! BC has a disproportionately powerful union culture, but it’s also very polite and friendly.

Recently though there have been a couple of troublesome events. Not least the attempted abduction of a 9 year old girl from the local school playground (not during school session, but even so…).

The latest though? A bank robbery. Yup – a real life bank robbery. At the HSBC (though I currently have little sympathy for that particular brand). Best part though? The disguise was a ludicrously obvious false beard. Did I mention that this occurred about 4 blocks from the RCMP police station? a 750m, 8 minute walk according to Google. Oh dear…

Bank robber with fake beard sought by RCMP in White Rock, B.C. – British Columbia – CBC News.

CBC: White Rock robbery

Google Map’s suggestion of the 8 minute walk the police might have taken…

Google Maps: 750 from bank to RCMP station.

Google Maps: 750m from bank to RCMP station.

EDIT: It seems the police now have some suspects.


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