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

It’s OK – you can be jealous

14 02 2015

I’ve been in need of a new waterproof for a while, and today’s sojourn to the States took me to REI in Washington State.

Arc’teryx is a Vancouver brand, but this coat is $520 here in BC… and was for sale for $250 in the US. Even with the weak Canadian dollar right now, this was not a deal I could pass up! I never expected to own an item of Arc’teryx gear unless I won the lottery, but this little lovely came home with me today. Even better, REI give you some percentage of your annual purchases back each year as a gift card, if you’re a member.

The border was busy and the Canadian guard didn’t seem to mind when I honestly ‘fessed up to a total of $400 of US purchases. Having been over the line for less than 24 hours one isn’t technically allowed any tax-free purchases, but they only really seem to care about alcohol and tobacco – neither of which I ever buy down there (indeed, I never buy the latter anywhere!).

It’s light as a feather compared with my first Gore-tex purchase 25 years ago: a vintage Berghaus… almost the same colour, by coincidence. It also packs down into next to nothing – a bonus for backpacking. All I need is some dampness to test it out. Being in BC, I don’t expect to wait too long. Perhaps a swift trip to The Chief tomorrow might provide the right circumstance. First born is back from Waterloo for Reading Week, so she can help me test (and pay for the tea afterwards :o) ).

Beta LT Jacket / Men’s / Arc’teryx / Arc’teryx / Arc’teryx.

Arc'teryx: Beta LT Jacket "Sodalite"

Arc’teryx: Beta LT Jacket “Sodalite”

Liquid Sculptures: Pierre Carreau

4 05 2013

Sometimes I wonder why I even try to take photographs! These are just stunning captures of water (and light) in motion.

Liquid Sculptures: Powerful Waves Photographed by Pierre Carreau Seem Frozen in Time | Colossal.

I’m just reading a book at the moment from an old work colleague. (Read about it yourself here). One of the things I’ve taken on board is that you can take a negative experience and make it a positive one. I know, I know – a bit obvious, given that I work in marketing. Just look at the way Loblaws  is handling the Bangladesh factory collapse. I’d say a +40% delta in profits is “a disaster well managed”, wouldn’t you?

Anyway – I choose to remain in awe of the skill of M. Carreau, happily accept that I am unlikely to ever match it, but still be inspired to try. Not to replicate his work, but to know it is possible, and therefore that I should never stop trying to attain better than what I can do today.

Talking of doing more of what we’re capable of – I made my first ascent of The Stawamus Chief for the year today. First time up First Peak too. That’s all three peaks now “in the bag”. Lots of firsts. It was a lovely warm day. I think I even caught a bit of sun. Lululemon were doing their usual endless parade, sponsored by the young ladies of Greater Vancouver, and distracting all the old blokes like me who refuse to know better. I am supposed to be doing the Grouse tomorrow too, but it’s forecast to be 30 degrees! That’s 86 degrees Fahrenheit in “old money”. I know a lot of it is in and out of tree shade, but I don’t know… I might need some serious persuasion for that. And not all of it in Lululemon!


Unaccustomed as I am…

2 10 2012

So I first got into this blogging lark at the tail end of 2011. I was in Belo Horizonte, Brazil at the time on business, and feeling a bit “meh”. A colleague suggested I start a blog to exorcise my demons, or maybe it was to exercise my deviance, I forget now. So here I am, almost a year later looking at things a little differently.

The planet’s spun itself around about 300 times since then. The music hasn’t stopped yet, thankfully. To my knowledge nobody’s been reported as having been thrown off or floated away, despite the fact that if they lived at the equator, they’ve been for a roundabout ride at roughly 1,600km/h! The third rock itself has almost done a complete lap of our little sun, travelling at around 107,300 km/h. Quite astonishing really… and we take it all for granted.

Lots of water has flowed under the bridge in that time. I’ve changed jobs, travelled to Europe, visited Salt Lake City and Phoenix, drunk an immeasurable quantity of Russian Caravan tea, experienced some incredible friendship, hiked both the Grouse and the Stawamus Chief every way imaginable, been eaten alive (by mosquitoes… what were you thinking?), discovered some new World Music, learned an awful lot about myself – some of it pretty uncomfortable, some of it surprising.

Where was I before I got distracted? Oh yes – Brazil. So anyway, as well as having travelled untold miles/kilometres* (*delete as applicable in your locale) going nowhere in galactic terms, I have also typed in and posted 490 blog entries, and had a few hundred comments on them in return. Feeling quite smug with myself really – despite still having just as many demons and deviances as before. At least they’re all neatly alphabetised and cross-indexed now. Well – the ones I’ve found so far.

So today I got a comment telling me I was now the recipient of a blogging award! Not had one of those for a while. Was a little taken aback really. Always nice to feel noticed, especially when you’re not particularly expecting it. Unless you’re a bank robber I suppose.

Anyway, sheriji over on Just Sayin’ offered me The Reader Appreciation Award. Aw shucks – thanks!! If you’ve not visited her blog yet, you’d best be working on a good excuse! She was kind enough to describe these humble pages as “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but all about life and our reactions to it. Plus I always want to know, quieter than what?” The answer to that of course is quite irrelevant. (Please don’t make me explain…)

Inevitably there’s some “rules” (self-imposed. Aren’t they always?) to follow.

1.  When I pass it on, I provide a link to the giver’s post, and thank the blogger who nominated me.

So thank-you sheriji – really. I’m glad you found a few crumbs of entertainment here.

2.  Answer 10 questions within my own blog.

My favourite colour

Hm… when I was a kid, it used to be red. I remember being over the moon when I was 8 and being in “red team” on sports day, and getting to wear a red sash for the egg and spoon race. Then as I got older this became associated in my mind with politics, so I decided I should like blue. These days, it depends what mood I’m in. I like ambiguity. Except when I crave certainty. Greenish-bluish makes me smile. Especially when it’s really grey with attitude, but nobody dare argue.

My favourite animal to include in a story?

Though I have yet to write the story, it’d have to be the echidna. Not an echidna, THE echidna. I did once write a story about a goldfish. But it wasn’t my favourite.

My favourite non-alcoholic drink while writing?

While doing anything: tea! Writing, talking, philosophising, or just floating in the moment.

Printed books or e-books?

Printed. I’m old-school with words. I write with an ink pen (which I refill every Friday to make sure I don’t run out of ink at a crucial moment). I love the texture of a well-made book – even if I can’t read its words. I also like the musty smell of old browning paperbacks. Weird? Who? Me?! I did win a Kobo eReader last Christmas, and I have used it. But, it’s just NOT the same… Like a text-message conversation is not the same as looking into the eyes of the person you’re sharing ideas with. It’s more than a means of representing the words. It’s part of the experience.

My favourite writer(s) now?

Terry Pratchett is always “up there” – he has such wit and breadth. I am sad for his failing health with Alzheimer’s – I liked the old him, and business and books being what they are, I’ll never know the new him.

I like Giles Milton too, for non-fiction.

As I turn to look at my bookcase for anyone else I might especially like, I am struck by the wide diversity of what I see there!

Jasper Fforde I guess should be there. The Eyre Affair was such a great concept.

My favourite writer(s) ten years ago?

Well Pratchett was still churning them out faster than I could read them back then, so he’s still on the list.

Philip K Dick. He couldn’t write for toffee, but boy did he have some great story ideas!

I read a lot of Ranulph Fiennes back then. What a life that guy has lived!

John Wyndham. What Dick could have been. Each book a great central idea, but much more well delivered with richer characters and human depth.

My favourite poet – Classic & Current?

I’m not really that well read in poetry.

I remember having to read a poem by e e cummings with my class when I was in Primary School, and being awestruck that he dared to break the rules of English, even when I barely knew them myself. Of course, now I’m more cynical and think his typewriter was just broken. I believe it was “hist whist“, if you’re interested. Yup – that’s right: I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember what poem I had to read in front of assembled parents 40 years ago!

I think of songs as poetry (some listen to the tune, I like the words). I love Fiona Apple‘s imagery, but John Lennon will always be the master for me, with Roger Waters a close second.

My favourite time of day to write?

When I have something to say! I think we make time to do the things that matter to us. We take risks and break rules to do what we think is “right” or “important”… whatever those words mean to us at any given moment. We justify not doing things by claiming there was no time or some rule prevented us. Really it was because we didn’t think it was important enough right there, right then.

What is your passion when it comes to your writing?

Passion is a strong word!

I like to be entertaining. Witty if possible. Educational possibly. Sometimes sneaky or wriggly.

[That’s only 9!! It’s the engineer in me… I notice things like that. Or maybe I’m just anally retentive.]

LATE EDIT: I traced the daisy chain back and found where the 10th question went. I was asked to offer a substitution, so here it is…

Which of the five senses do you value the most?

I think they’re all important obviously. We’ve evolved them as a “necessary and sufficient” set. However, we’re really good with this brain thing too, so we can adapt. I think I’d have the toughest time losing my sight. If I’d never seen at all, it might be different, but now, I think I’d struggle to not have those glimpses of other people living their lives. The changes of the colours in the trees. Glint of sun on water. I think the other senses would heighten, but I’d always mourn the loss of seeing a child smile when they see their parent. A lover’s glance over a dinner table. A raised eyebrow in signalled mischief.

3.  Nominate other blogs that I find a joy to read. (Ten is recommended)

I don’t think I regularly read that many, but let’s see how we do…

Photo . Lord Content – a daily photo competition that has some unbelievable images posted

Misfits’ Miscellany – Fostering poetry and writing that others might not. A good virtual friend to-boot. And believe me, if we ever meet, I’ll boot him!

Breathtaking Portraits – Wha’? It’s art… honest!

Scout Magazine – For what’s happening in Vancouver, my adopted home.

Howtodateboys – An insight into how women think. (I’m none the wiser, but it’s heart-felt and honest)

illustration & calligraphy – You’re joking right? What do you THINK it’s about?!

4.  Provide links to these nominated blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been nominated.

Photo . Lord Content

Misfits’ Miscellany

Breathtaking Portraits

Scout Magazine


illustration & calligraphy

5.  Include the award logo within your own blog post.

I can do that… thanks again sheriji!

What have you got to Grouse about?

3 08 2012

So regulars will know I live near Vancouver, BC. We have pretty much every option for outdoor entertainment and adventure within easyish reach. The North Shore Mountains (Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour) are very popular ski destinations in season. You can pop there after work and get in a few hours of floodlit skiing or boarding pretty regularly. Much more convenient, if admittedly less spectacular than Whistler/Blackcomb.

I’m no ski/boarding fan. To this day I remember a primary school teacher calling me Barbapapa because I couldn’t walk the length of an upturned gym bench without falling off. Funny what sticks in your mind from when you’re about 8, eh? I don’t have what you’d call a highly developed sense of balance. Of course, I have also been explicitly called unbalanced, but that’s something different for another posting. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – North Shore Mountains. So anyway, Grouse has done a particularly fine job of making its non-ski persona nearly as profitable as its ski self. There’s a bear sanctuary, wolves, a modern windmill (“Eye of the wind”) with a viewing deck, a year round lodge to allow you to buy over-priced tea and coffee. Coconut milk. The usual. The mountain itself is liberally adorned with trails allowing the resolute or foolish to walk to the top. The main route has become very well established as a common local cardio exercise, and The Grouse Grind has gradually turned from an annual race into a daily challenge for many city workers. There’s electronic timing stations top and bottom, and for $100 or so you can get an annual pass that will allow you to time your ascent each trip, and give you free passage down on the Swiss-made Skyride gondola.

Wikipedia: Grouse Mountain Skyride

Not long after we moved to Canada we did the Grind as a family, replete with granddad – then already well into his 60s – and last born who at the time was about 4 years old. Like the Grand Old Duke of York, we marched right up to the top of the hill, had a cup of tea and an ice cream, and marched right down again. At the 1/4 mark (3/4 of the way down), we pulled to one side to let the after office hours crowd have their turn. I was amused, as we stood there all cool and collected at the stage whispers and loud tuts of “fancy bringing a kid up HERE”. One particularly sweaty gentleman grinned at first born and said encouragingly “keep it up son – you’re already 1/4 of the way there!” I hadn’t the heart to tell him we’d already been up and most of the way down.

But that was over ten years ago. In the interim, probably many thousands of boots and trainers have pummeled the poor hillside. The path of the Grind has now apparently been “improved” – a euphemism for covered in hardcore and steps. I haven’t seen it myself. As a proponent of Leave No Trace, I am willing to sacrifice a small percentage of the natural beauty underneath such “improvements” if it avoids the steady broadening of the path, and destruction of the woodland as more and more feet try to find purchase in mud and other less favourable walking conditions (it rains a lot in BC). The Grind is now extremely popular with the Lululemon and “look at my abs of steel” crowd, and even early risers, I am told (I would never have personal experience, after all!), can find the path crowded.

So these days, it’s one-way. Up only! The fact it’s $10 to come down on the Skyride, and Grouse has a living to make is neither hear nor there. So back to the hiking…

Regulars will recall my tales of The Stawamus Chief up in Squamish. Well, after the 10 year absence, I decided a few weeks ago to try Grouse again. But I just couldn’t face the madding crowd (and the quite distracting Lululemoned bottoms, it has to be said.) Instead I took the path less travelled – The Flint and Feather trail. Named after a collection of poems by Mohawk/English Canadian Emily Pauline Johnson, it starts and ends at the same place (read “bottom” and “top”) as the Grind, but runs off a little to the East. Not for the faint of heart, it includes a little scrambling and rock climbing. Much more peaceful though. The way nature should be experienced. Without being intrusive. Next time up – a couple of weeks ago – I took the BCMC trail. Positively genteel by comparison. But longer. Roughly a two hour ascent.

Last night, I went with a few guys from work, and Mrs E asked to tag along too (I don’t think she believes I actually go up!). Again we did the Flint and Feather… but not the one I did the first time! Started the same. Ended the same. The bit in the middle? Not so much…

At the end of the day though, if you keep heading up and stay on a path, you can’t go much wrong. Unless a bear gets you. Or you fall. Or get lost. Or it goes dark…

I took a couple of snaps with my BlackBerry from the rock outcrop. Wonderful views all around. You get a sense of the steepness of the hill from the pictures, I think.

So, if you’re in the area either with or without Lululemon, why not find something to Grouse about?

A view of Vancouver from Grouse Mountain

Mrs E and a work colleague about 2/3 of the way up Flint and Feather trail, Grouse

A bubble in time.

24 06 2012

If you’re anything like me (and I realise that is statistically quite unlikely), you are occasionally apt to exclaim things like “Oh! I didn’t realise you could do THAT!”

Such a moment occurred yesterday on my trip to Stawamus Chief. It turns out that my “little” camera (Canon PowerShot A590 IS) has this quite fully featured macro and manual focus capability. I have hitherto treated this particular camera as basically a point and shoot “toy++” for when I’m out and about and don’t want to lug my DSLR. I have reserved proper photographs for my “big camera”. Having looked at some of the results of yesterdays shots “on the big screen”, I have continued to muck about with it this morning to much entertainment.

Despite investing well over $1000 in lenses for my “big camera” (Canon T1i), I do not yet own a macro lens for it. I can see it coming now though. Macro photography is one of those things that you can do indoors on a wet weekend in White Rock, and opens up all manner of creative ideas. Especially if I can overcome my fear of flash, reflectors and lighting in general.

Big Chief Wobbly-knees

19 05 2012

So on balance I’d say today was a good day. We took a pleasant drive up the Sea to Sky highway – myself, Mrs E. and 2nd born. I got some exercise hiking up the Stawamus Chief near Squamish (2nd Peak, if you’re familiar with it). It was a gorgeous sunny day, which made for some very exciting views – some of them being the landscape.

“The Chief” is a local landmark, quite unmistakeable as you drive towards Whistler, and popular with both hikers and climbers. Supposedly it’s the 2nd largest granite monolith on the planet, but all I can say is it’s pretty steep, and a bit hurty on the elbows when the two are introduced suddenly.

It’s a long weekend in BC. We’re celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, who being born very close to my humble self in the calendar tends to put a long weekend pretty conveniently close to my own day of celebration. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to hike the Chief ever since we drove past it the first month we came to Canada. It really is a jaw-dropping piece of scenery. We gambled with the weather and the crowds and figured today MIGHT be slightly quieter. That may yet prove correct in relative terms, but by no means was the Chief quiet today. By the time we drove there from White Rock, it was just after noon, and we had to park on the access road close to the highway. All the car-parks and most of the access road was already full of cars. After a packed lunch, we set off, and passed a not quite as full cycle rack.

It was pretty obvious, as we joined the madding crowd heading skyward, that I was significantly older than most of the people making the ascent. A good 80 percent were late 20s/early 30s I’d say. A couple of families with small children (some being carried in backpack-like contraptions), a scattering of exhausted looking dogs, and the odd endurance runner (we saw one guy do two laps!) Odd being the operative word in my view. Attire was usually pretty lightweight – shorts, trainers, T-shirts. A few people were more prepared for unexpected events and were wearing more sturdy hiking boots and carrying rucksacks. Most of the women though were sporting various colours of lycra, typically of the local Lululemon brand, and might as well have been carrying giant banners with “stare at this” pinned to their arses. Plainly this was a cool place to be seen by the hip and trendy of Greater Vancouver.

As we neared the top, the long stretches of steps – both wooden and of rock – gave way to minor climbing, assisted with chains screwed into the rock slab. This caused a few issues, as it’s basically a single direction flow kind of mechanism. Oddly though, once people had got to the top, they seemd to want to then come down again. One such area of traffic conflict was a narrow gully between two huge slabs of granite, and some very intimate shuffling was required. I went “3D”, and chimneyed up to remove myself as an obstacle. This had the side benefit of me being able to say that today I had several skimpily clad, sweaty young ladies between my legs. Oh, and one bloke, but he didn’t leave his name. There was even a tubular steel ladder at one point, to ascend one of the last pitches before the final gentle slope to the top.

I’d read in one of my personalised newsfeeds about chipmunks at the top, and sure enough there were a few very over-fed rodents there to help anyone struggling to finish their packed lunches. Having eaten my sarnies before we set off, I offered a nibble of my banana dessert to one of the cheeky little critters, but they were too fussy and I was rejected.

On the way down we once more heard a strange sound we’d encountered on the way up. Like someone blowing over the top of a milk bottle, and making a long , deep note. I’m pretty sure this was a Hoary marmot. They also whistle, and are common in them there parts. The Whistler mountain/resort was renamed after the little fellows to make the area more appealing to investers. Prior to that, Whistler had been “London mountain” because of all the rain and fog. True story. Probably.

Apart from one particular father, who spent many kilojoules of energy yelling at his errant kids to stop and wait (one passing wit said it was his weight rather than their speed that was the issue – very un-Canadian I thought!) the worst part of the hike was all the bloody steps. Not literally (though on the way down someone had donated their lunch as a colourful decoration). The Chief is a pretty steep climb, and the path has been groomed in many places with rock or wooden stairs. Unfortunately though, the builder of said enhancements was an 8′ giant. Must have been. I’m 6’2″, and I could barely climb the steps, the lift was so high and steep on them. A ladder would have been easier! Talking of impolite people  – I overheard two young lads (shirts off to display their washboard stomachs to the Lululemon customers) remarking that the locals must be able to tell they were American because they weren’t saying “sorry” enough when they passed people on the narrow steps. It gives me a warm glow to have chosen to be a citizen of a country that is known to be polite.

Having managed to descend all the steps on increasingly unstable legs (by the time I got to the bottom they were like Rowntrees jelly in need of custard!) we went for tea.

By tea I mean dinner. English with a twist of class and regional separation is such a complex beast. Anyway, we went into Squamish, and had fish and chips at “Wigan Pier“. Now this is particularly amusing to me, having been to Wigan Pier… in Wigan. It’s in Lancashire, but I’d had my inoculations. Wigan Pier isn’t actually anywhere near the sea. It’s a loading dock on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, originally for loading coal into barges. The connection with fish and chips is lost to me.

The trip home was largely uneventful except when we stopped at some lights just leaving Squamish, and a half inch ball bearing was thrown/shot at the car. Thankfully it didn’t break any windows and/or hurt anyone, but it did roll annoyingly back and forth across the bottom of the windscreen for a couple of miles.

Having driven through Vancouver and New Westminster on the way back across the Fraser, we stopped off at good ol’ Tim Hortons and I indulged in my first Iced Capp of the season. A perfect end to the day – brain freeze!