Snow joke

31 03 2013

Yesterday, my son joined me for another trip up The Snow Shoe Grind, up Grouse mountain. This is actually a hike up to the top of Dam Mountain, and despite having achieved the summit all but one of the 8 or so times I tried (I was on a timetable the first time I attempted it), I’d never seen the supposedly amazing views from the top. Despite the many adverts and photos, I’d also never seen “The Eye of the Wind” turbine up Grouse, except from a long distance, like driving over the Lions’ Gate Bridge.

But yesterday was a lovely day. Mid to high teens easily. We walked in T-shirts. The snow was terrible – like a snow cone mostly, and even like slushy porridge near the chalet where it was less protected from the sun. I think this will be the last snowshoe trip of the season. It was just too hard going in the slush. Even at the top, where arguably it should be coldest.

The view, however was amazing. We could see all the way to White Rock. We could see Washington State’s Mount Baker. And we could see the wind turbine!

A lovely day out “bonding” with the boy too. Topped off with the traditional London Fog tea latte, and a fruit scone when we got back to the chalet. (He had chicken strips and chips). In places the snow was down to the tarmac, and the timing post for the SSG was poking out a good metre, rather than being buried under the snow like in previous times earlier in the season.

But you know what this means? The regular Grouse Grind is hovering just over the horizon!

The view from Dam Mountain... with labels

The view from Dam Mountain… with labels

Of Yetis, Sienna Miller and Snowshoeing

9 02 2013

So my father-in-law just got a new car, in the UK. A Škoda Yeti. Here’s a great Top Gear piece showing how good they are if you feel the need to land a helicopter on the roof of your car, open a mobile (off-roading, no less) tattoo parlour… or casually pop Sienna Miller into your glove compartment.

Top Gear – Skoda Yeti road test – BBC – YouTube.

Seems like Jeremy Clarkson approves, so it can’t be bad at all. He’s from Doncaster, I believe. God’s Own County. Despite that… he’s still a bit of a plonker. Must be the water in Chipping Norton where Wikipedia tells me he now lives. There had to be a good reason…

While this car acquisition news was making its way through the internet, I was off doing the Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run, with Mrs E. I’d like to say it was “bright and early”, but as Rick Cluff on the CBC’s Early Edition says, it was actually “Dark and Early”! I was up (at least corporeally) at 5am. The upside was that the roads were nearly empty and I got a prime location in the Grouse Mountain car-park only an hour after setting out from White Rock. I can’t remember the last time I’d managed to park so close to the SkyRide.

Checking in was painless, and Mrs E and I signed away all our rights to everything including our first born and any superfluous kidneys we may be in possession of. In return we were given shiny racing bibs with some neat RFID strips on the back. I smiled, as I knew my own time could be just as easily tracked with an hour-glass or a sun-dial (the latter admittedly being less reliable at this time of year in The Lower Mainland).

We then joined a throng of far too energetic youngsters on their way to learn how to be Canada’s future Olympic Team. They had Nancy Greene Ski League bibs on and looked like they knew how to make a pair of skis fly. The SkyRide gondola was packed, which made it swing more robustly than usual as it went past the two pylons on its way to the Chalet. Let’s just say Mrs E didn’t enjoy it quite as much as most…

Source – Grouse Mountain: SkyRide Gondola

Now technically, as one might infer from the title of Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run, it’s a race you’re supposed to run. Well me and technicalities don’t always see eye to eye. Or even eye to navel. I had registered just to say I’d been there. That I’d taken part. We were up at the Chalet in plenty of time, and sat comfortably as the other competitors started to gather. (Forgive the blurry crappy BB photo.)
North Vancouver-20130209-00099

I thought it was the first time the race had been organised, but it turned out to be the third time. It was only my own fourth ascent to the race’s high point at Dam Mountain. On my last ascent (last weekend) I’d seen one of the competitors… twice! Plainly real training is necessary if you are serious about the numbers you leave to history on the Race Results Page. At the time, I’d just thought he was bereft of a social life. (It’s easy to be critical of people when you’re out and about… alone; bereft of a social life. :))

As Start Time approached, everyone made their way outside and donned their weapons of choice.

North Vancouver-20130209-00100

I was surprised at the variety. Some of the hard core had proper running snowshoes. Essentially these were a pair of trainers with snowshoes bolted directly to the soles. There were no bindings except the laces used to tie on the running shoes. They looked very lightweight.

The route, according to this Grouse Mountain map, is 5.5km in length (much of it shared in both directions,) and has a height gain of 800′.

SnowshowGrind Mountain Run 2013 route

Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run 2013 route

Now 800′ doesn’t sound like a lot… until you’re looking up at it! Actually, the two or three steep bits were way worse coming down. The Dam Mountain loop at the top was new to me, and not a part of the usual Snowshoe Grind route. It was a sensible addition though, as it avoided congestion at the rather sharp and small peak at Dam Mountain. People could flow off the peak and around the loop, rejoining the up-coming traffic at a much broader part of the trail.

There was one small downside though. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the “high heels” on my new snowshoes are awesome at aiding you climb steeper sections. There was something cathartic about reaching the peak and ceremoniously flipping them back down flat. “It’s all downhill from here!” Except now I was into this new-to-me route in the Dam Mountain loop. It wasn’t a particularly steep descent off the backside of the peak… but it had lots of fresh loose powder. For a little while, I forgot I was in a race, and waited patiently behind an older lady as she gingerly picked her way down. Then I remembered, exclaimed “sorry”, and took off past her in a flurry of powder and sweat. Not 20m later, I was skidding on my arse through virgin snow as my reward. Oh well – it helped cool me off a bit. Then came the downside… this Dam Mountain Loop has ascent in it! As it comes back to rejoin the main trail, it has some elevation to reclaim. Having mentally checked out of “the up bits”, this was a bit of a demoralising realisation. No matter though. We were in the guts of a low cloud, and I put my head down and dug in.

The event is well organised and there were probably a dozen or so marshalls at strategic points whooping and encouraging you on, as well as pointing you in the right direction. As is common in BC’s ski resorts, they mostly had Australian or UK accents. Students or world-travellers enjoying what BC has to offer and getting a little pin money while they’re at it. Almost at the peak, one particularly enthusiastic supporter had been cheering on the older lady and assuring her she was nearly there. When I got to her, I put on my best straight face and calmly asked if this was the bus-stop for the return shuttle.

There were only 69 entrants in all, which looking at previous years’ results seems par for the course. There were prizes for each age group, and extra prizes for “best dressed”. This guy won one of the two prizes … for being best undressed! The other (bending over) didn’t quite go so far, and wore a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a particularly dodgy red vest. As well as being best (un)dressed, the guy in tights was also fastest in his age group.

North Vancouver-20130209-00101

I managed to put in a bit of running on the return leg, despite the hiking boots, and so in spite of the addition of the Dam Mountain Loop section, I actually managed a time that was easily 5 minutes faster than my previous best SSG time. Despite telling myself I was there for the experience not to race per se… I couldn’t help a sprint finish and burning off 3 other competitors with the finish line well in sight. So  I wasn’t last either! 🙂

The best prize – available to everyone – was the full cooked breakfast in the comfy Altitudes Restaurant after the race. There was plenty of scrambled eggs and crispy bacon, as well as some quite zingy ginger and carrot juice concoction. I quaffed a litre of Whistler Water (one of the sponsors), and managed to studiously avoid the pancakes and rather delicious-looking potato chunks. There were some random prizes for entrants, based on your bib number, and Mrs E (who was very leery of even entering the race) managed to snag a pretty cool Molsons Canadian ’67 T-shirt (they were also a sponsor).

As we left, I realised I’d not had a hot drink, and managed to acquire two Earl Grey “Mighty Leaf” tea-bags on my way out. This brand is definitely better than average… though still not sufficiently so to justify the high prices charged for tea in such places. I suppose it might be considered stealing, since I had no intention of making tea right then. However, I figured after my busy morning, and given that the breakfast was fundamentally free… I’d bloody well earned them!

Would I do it again? Hell yes!

A grand day out

3 02 2013

No, I wasn’t accompanied by Wallace and Gromit, more’s the pity.

Today, I had a lazy start, and finding myself alone in the house, I walked the devil-dog and prepared for a trip up Grouse Mountain. My son had gone camping in Whistler with the Venturers in support of the Cub Pack’s trip there. All well and good – I’m glad he’s volunteering his time to help others – but he’d taken half my gear with him! Instead of my lazy pull-on snow boots, I had to wear my leather Zamberlan fell-walking boots. No problem, it gave me an excuse to try out my new gaiters from MEC. (One of many presents I bought myself at Christmas… well SOMEONE has to, right?!)

It was raining steadily as I arrived at the base of the Skyride, but as we broke through, up into the cloud, it turned to gentle snow. Nothing major, but nice and refreshing. I put on my snowshoes (yes – also a Christmas self-present) and set off. It was quite heavy going with wet, soggy snow underfoot. Apparently there’d been no real fresh snow for over a day. As planned, I made 3 brief stops to take a breath and a sip of water, and was quite pleased to reach the summit of the walk in 46 minutes by my watch.

Made it! Now, do it all again in reverse.

Made it! Now, do it all again in reverse.

I was a bit disappointed by the lack of view due to the low cloud, and had a chewy seed bar (like the sweepings from a parrot’s cage mixed with honey) to replenish my corpulence. One other hiker caught me up while I was at the top and we briefly chatted about the “high heels” feature on our snowshoes, since he had the same ones: MSR Evo Tour. They make a surprisingly big difference to the steeper uphill parts. They’re a pig to drop back down though, despite the rubber tab for the purpose.

MSR: Evo Tour

MSR: Evo Tour

In the MSR product photo you can see the steel bar at the back. You flip this up and it gives your heel something to push against when the snowshoes are at an inclined angle. So much more positive grip than just using your toes. Glad I paid the extra and got this model.

Well, I packed up my litter and headed back down. Part way back, I bumped into an older Asian couple who were deciding whether to turn back or not. The lady had dropped her hiking pole but was busy helping her (apparently perfectly capable) husband sort himself out. Men can be “needy” at the best of times, but I’ve noticed that some societies seem to accept it more than others. She seemed genuinely grateful when I picked up her pole and handed it to her, saving her having to bend down on the steep slope to retrieve it herself.

A snow bank, carved by the consummate artist: nature

A snow bank, carved by the consummate artist: nature

Slightly further on, there was a particularly steep section, and a bloke was stood to the side weighing up the best line to take. I took one glance, exclaimed “Bugger THAT” and took off into the virgin snow down the side. Obviously I had come UP that slope (aided by my high heels), but going down seemed likely to end only in one very fast arse slide…

I made good time down and within sight of the bear den the SnowShoe Grind (SSG) suddenly veers off the main track and takes a very steep 10m descent. Confident of my new snowshoes, I barely broke pace as I swung 90 degrees and set off down the slope. Remember that wet, soggy snow I mentioned earlier? Well… under the (too much) weight of an over-confident bloke it doesn’t matter how good your snow shoes are… it gives way.

I took my first arse slide since using my new snowshoes… right at the end. It was actually quite fun, once you remember to keep your feet up so the snowshoes don’t snag. Of course, I got snow up my back, but that was OK… I was pretty hot anyway.

Back at the lodge I finally (it was my third attempt at the SSG – second completed) found the electronic timing post for those wanting to be officially timed, and have their ascents added to their Grouse Grind totals. Typical – found it when it was too late.

The Electronic Timing post.

The Electronic Timing post.

Snowshoes off, back in their handy dandy carrying pouch, and off for a large chai tea latte and a wholemeal scone.

Back home for tea with a nice warm “got outside and did something” feeling in my legs. Luxurious bath filled the bathroom with my own personal steam cloud, and all is well with the world.

Turns out there’s a race up the SSG next weekend. I’m tempted. Not to seriously compete in the race obviously (I think you need to have completed it more than twice to be a contender, really!), but potentially just to say I was there, I took part, I finished.

What do you think? Want to join me? It’s in the morning though… too early to have a beer afterwards. Not for tea and scones though!

H2O – solid and liquid

12 01 2013

Busy day.

Began early (for a weekend at least) with a trip up one of the local “North Shore Mountains” – Seymour. Mrs E and a colleague joined me for a return visit to Dog Mountain via snow shoes. It’s a route I’d travelled a couple of weeks ago, but the intervening time had delivered quite a bit more snow, and the pretty sharp ups and downs were now much less daunting, requiring no hands in cold snow to steady my course. It was a lovely day, and despite hovering around -4 Celsius, the exercise kept things very pleasant. Almost at Dog Mountain we bumped into another colleague who had just left there with his girlfriend – the trails were busy with many people enjoying the pleasant day and spectacular views of Grouse and the city.

Later, Number 2 offspring joined me for a walk to White rock pier to catch the sunset and fool around with long exposures down by the beach. Here’s a few of the more choice results. I really enjoyed the “classic” trick of smoothing out the sea’s ripples into a milky smooth average over several seconds. Dusk was the perfect time to allow long exposures without losing colour.

2 for 2 – a weekend outside

9 12 2012

Well, I had a mighty fine weekend thank-you. Oh – you weren’t asking? Well I did anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Just go with it, OK?

Still here? Good! Where was I? Oh yes…

I became aware of an opportunity to go snow-shoeing on Saturday, so I added my name to what I felt would be a long list of hyper-fit 20-something year olds and awaited developments. In the end it was just myself and one Rover Scout. We opted for “Dog Mountain“, just off of Seymour Mountain, one of Vancouver’s “North Shore” ski resorts. In the end it was a great day, with around 3 hours on the hill. We were in low cloud, so the usual spectacular views of Vancouver and Stanley Park eluded us. However, we were treated to the cheeky Whiskey-jacks (see their January escapades on the same mountains here) once we reached the peak.

Today I had to go into town to pick up a Craigslist purchase – some Ilford Multigrade filters for my recently acquired B&W enlarger, and took the opportunity to check out the recent snow fall on Grouse Mountain – the middle of the three North Shore Mountains – with another snow shoe trip. During summer, the Grouse has “The Grouse Grind“, and they’ve tried to keep people coming by introducing a winter snow shoeing trail – “The Snow Show Grind”. I didn’t get to the top as I had to get back home for a promised trip to the REI outfitters in Bellingham. Coming down was – how shall I say? – interesting! It was fast and undignified. Let’s leave it at that.

So – I might not have been running of late, but I did get out and about and hiked around 2 of the 3 local peaks. I feel glad for that – we have such lovely scenery here in BC, and it really is a joy to be out there sharing it. You really do feel you’re in excellent company – there are like minded folks around, you’re breathing fresh air, and sharing very special moments in space and time.

There may well be no “meaning to life” beyond propagating our Selfish Genes, but hey – if I get to share those moments on the hills: “Frankly my dear… I don’t give a damn!”

These boots are made for walking

31 12 2011

It’s taken me a couple of days to put this posting together, and for that I apologise. Back on the 28th, three of us pachyderms went snow-shoeing up Cypress on the North shore mountains. We have a bit of a tradition of going on Boxing day, but it’s been particularly mild this winter (read: wet and rainy up top), and we were waiting for more favourable conditions. In the end, we decided to just “go for it” and made the journey on the off-chance. As we got closer, we could see the cloud just sat on the top of the mountain, which is not generally considered a good sign. Middle child made some facetious remark about Voldemort being at home, and we steadily drove up towards the murk, not encountering snow until almost at the turn for the Nordic area. There’s a viewing point half way up Cypress, and it gives amazing views over the city of Vancouver. This was below the cloud base and the views were stunning. We didn’t stop though, and headed up to the Nordic area for the snow shoeing.

I may be gone some time...

I may be gone some time…

I'm stumped

I’m stumped

We had an excellent hour or so’s hike despite the murk, taking the long way around to Hollyburn Lodge where we stopped to consume some of the hot tea (hot chocolate for offspring) I’d been lugging around, and some procured muffins.

Who's been wearing MY snow shoes?

Who’s been wearing MY snow shoes?

Hollyburn Lodge, Cypress Mountain

Hollyburn Lodge, Cypress Mountain

Unfortunately while we were there, the weather turned a bit more deliberate, and we left Hollyburn to a steady rain, the temperature hovering just above zero. Still lots of snow under-foot (reasonable but not great base of over a metre.) We decided the prudent course of action was to take a more direct route back to the base area, so unfortunately we didn’t get the full 2-3 hours walk we’d originally anticipated.

Thankfully, being now from BC, we’d dressed more for the wet than the cold, and on signing off the hill (safety check – they send folk out looking if you don’t sign back in), we were complimented on our “proper gear”. We had fun, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Sure it would have been nice to confirm you really could see Nanaimo from “Strait Lookout”… but they do wisely append “on a clear day” to the description. If you’re in the Vancouver area it’s well worth a visit, and snow shoes can be hired if you don’t have your own.


Cypress: Snowshoe Trails

Cypress: Snowshoe Trails

Cypress: Snowshoe Trails

 Snowshoe Trail Map (pdf)