Following the old nose wherever it would lead

I was busy on Wednesday morning but the day just kept getting more beautiful – without a cloud in the sky – which forced me to take a drive. I had no idea where I was going to go. My nose led me.

I found myself driving east through Nugent’s Corner, Deming, the welcoming town of Welcome, Kendall, Maple Falls, Warnick, and finally Glacier. By this time I knew that I was heading towards Mount Baker, but had no idea whether I would end up on the mountain itself, or just in a spot with great views of it.

Mount Baker is the third highest mountain in Washington State, and can be seen from across the border in Canuckistan (including from Vancouver Island) and as far south as Seattle. Interestingly enough, Baker is an active glaciated stratovolcano, and has the second-most thermally active crater in the Cascade Range after Mount Saint Helens. It is also one of the snowiest places in the world. In 1999, Mount Baker Ski Area, located 14 km (8.7 mi) to the northeast, set the world record for recorded snowfall in a single season – 1,140 inches (2,900 cm).

But on Wednesday, as I climbed the twisting pass out of the town of Glacier I didn’t see too much snow. Ice, on the other sand, had me sliding dangerously across the road a few times. Eventually I got to the Mount Baker Ski area, although the road to Artist Point, which would have got me closer to a view of Mount Baker itself, was snowed in. I did shoot Mount Shuksan from Picture Lake, apparently an iconic Instagram shot.

After the few near misses on the way up, I didn’t want to hang around too long for the road to freeze over even more, and headed gingerly back down the Mount Baker Highway in the dying light.

The final place that I stopped was the Nooksack Falls on the North Fork Nooksack River, which runs next to the highway.

It got dark quickly after that, and I drove home via Sumas because my GPS still doesn’t work, and it was the only name I recognised at the first roundabout.

I was busy in Canuckistan on Thursday morning but went in search of wider views of the mountain as soon as I drove back into Washington State in the afternoon. It was a bit more hazy than Wednesday’s weather, but still good for a drive. I found myself on a road that doesn’t exist on any GPS (even broken ones) on the Lummi Reservation and shot the mountain, and across Lummi Bay as the sun set. Enjoy!

P.S. I’m proud to say that all photos are handheld because I (stupidly) didn’t bring a tripod on this trip to North America…

About dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, sheep and a lone alpaca

Last month saw me on a farm in far northern Alberta, learning about harvesting and how to hunt geese. Yesterday, I found myself on a farm in the North Okanagan region of Canuckistan.

A misty, chilly morning greeted us as we made our way to the barns to feed the chickens, dogs, barn cats and the sheep, and then to take some of the sheep out to pasture. The farm borders the Shuswap River, which meant the mist hung around until at least 11am. But I wasn’t complaining – it made for some pretty moody photos!

You will notice one sheep that doesn’t look like a sheep. That’s the guard alpaca that helps herd them and protects them from small predators like dogs and foxes.

You learn something new every day!

The time I forgot where I was meant to be going but got there anyway

So, yesterday I was talking about my trip from Edmonton (in Alberta) to Quesnel (in British Columbia) and how Jasper National Park had waylaid me. But I got back on track as soon as I left the park, and sped into B.C. on a mission to get home.

Have you ever met one of those people who gets distracted by every little thing? They will be engrossed in a weighty conversation and then be like, “oooh, look, a kitten,” and walk off to play with it, as if the discussion had been a trivial, irrelevant waste of time.

Well, that was me: focussed on my destination for all of half an hour and the first beautiful mountain that came along had me turning off the main road and down a gravel road to see if I could get a better angle from which to photograph its dashing ruggedness in the mid-day sunlight.

My “kitten” was Mount Robson, at the gateway to the Rockies.

At the end of the road I discovered a chock-full parking lot, and a trail heading towards the mountain. Forgetting that I had a destination to reach, and that said destination was still 400km away, I decided to hike up the trail to see if I could get an even better view of the mountain.

Funnily enough, on reaching Kinney Lake’s southern shore, 4.5km up the trail, I discovered that Mount Robson was nowhere to be seen, hidden in the clouds and behind a minor hillock. One does get to enjoy Whitehorn Mountain at the far end of the lake; reflected splendidly in Kinney’s glacier-fed iridescent blue-green waters.

Hoping to get a better view of the mountain I had come to see, I kept walking to the campsite on the north shore of the lake – a further 2.5km. But alas, the clouds had rolled in lower and Mount Robson was completely obscured.

Finally remembering that I was meant to be driving somewhere, I took a few photos of the lake, turned and hurried back down the trail to my car. In total, the 14km roundtrip took me about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I had the wrong shoes, no trail mix or water, but the detour to stretch my legs was all most worth it! And, of course, I had nothing to worry about. I still made it to my final destination before dark, with thirty minutes to spare…

A wee roadtrip to see a waterfall or two

So, the whole Simpson clan and I were sitting around the dining room table for supper, when one of them suggested that I visit the impressive Alexandra and Louise Falls.

“Sounds good,” said I. “I like waterfalls. How far are they?”

“Oh, not far,” he replied. “Just across the border in the Northwest Territories.

I’d never been further north than their dining room table, let alone to Northwest Territories. It sounded like a perfect adventure.

“While you are there you need to pop over to see the new bridge across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence,” added pa Simpson helpfully.

“Sounds cool,” said I. “How much further than the falls is that?”

“Oh, not far,” he replied.

“And then, seeing as you will be up there already, you really should go to Hay River, a cute little town on Great Slave Lake. It’s got fishing boats and beautiful beaches,” chimed in the youngest son.

“And I assume it’s not far either,” I asked cynically?

Once I started actually researching the trip I discovered that Alexandra and Louise Falls were approximately 350km north from the Simpson dining room table; 75km into Northwest Territories from Alberta but only 2km apart from each other. Hay River is 50km from the falls, and Fort Providence is a further 180km from there. The family was going to be busy harvesting, teaching horse riding and running regular errands the following day, and so I decided to embark on the trip despite how long it would take – but without the Fort Providence detour. After all, a bridge is a bridge is a bridge, except if you catch it in just the right light.

The following morning ma Simpson packed me a travel lunch, including a bag of “Zoute Drop” salted dutch liquorice and a flask of rooibos tea, for what turned out to be my 860km, 11-odd-hour round trip.

Rather than bore you with all the conversations I had with myself as I whizzed past endless kilometres of trees, I’ll leave you with a few photos. After all, as Terry Pratchett was quoted as saying, “Of course I’m sane. When trees start talking to me, I don’t talk back.”

A friend from Edmonton asked me once I was halfway through why I had bothered going because the waterfalls didn’t seem to warrant the effort.

My answer was simple: “Because I can.”

Perhaps Terry Pratchett said it better and simpler than I could though: “… all this travelling and seeing things is fine but there’s also a lot of fun to be had in having been. You know, sticking all your pictures in a book and remembering things … Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

“Bear with me,” she said. “I’m sure we will see one soon.”

The farming Simpsons tried to help me to see as many cool things as possible while with them for 4 nights last week. One evening ma Simpson offered to take me out to Prairie Point, a joint wildlife / farming area across the Peace River from their place. I was told they had seen something like 9 bears in the same oats field while farming it a few years before. The area was just teeming with wildlife and the perfect spot for me to photograph beasts I’d never managed to shoot before.

We went out at 6pm, nattering about the past and the present and how to live and how to drive on dirt roads and how Steven, one of her sons, rolled a pick-up on the gravel driveway leading in to the point.

As we were admiring the red and yellow Autumn colours lining the road, “pop” went something under the hood, followed by a loud wacka-wacka-wacka-wacka thud. Not knowing whether the engine was going to leap out from under the hood or whether a rock had just punctured the exhaust, we stopped immediately, investigated, were none the wiser and so turned around and headed for the nearest farmstead. From there we called one of her sons to come and pick us up. Of course ma Simpson knew the farm’s family; she drank tea and visited, while I jumped in the rescue truck with her boy and his wife when they arrived.

I thought we would just hook up the crippled pick-up and tow it home but off we bulleted down the road in a cloud of dust – direction Prairie Point.

“Where are we going?” I asked obtusely.

“Well, we aren’t going to let a broken down vehicle stop you from seeing bears and such,” I was told emphatically.

On we drove in the gathering dusk. We did see a blurry moose in the road some way ahead of us, and an even more blurry black dot of a juvenile bear as we came around the corner of a field of oats. But that was it.

We drove back to the stricken vehicle in the dark, collected ma Simpson and towed the pick-up home.

“Don’t worry,” consoled the wife, “we’ll come back tomorrow evening. We are sure to see more bears then!”

And we did. Return the following evening. What we didn’t, was see any bears. In fact, one measly squirrel was it. We saw plenty of tracks and we could clearly see where the bears had rolled in the oats field to enjoy a snack. But the bears themselves were as scarce as vegans at a goose hunt.

Sure, I may have seen no wildlife, but nature put on a wild Autumn show for us. That and the company were well worth the drive out to Prairie Point.

Simply stupendous, northern Alberta

Read part one here if you missed it.

I arrived on the farm just outside Fort Vermilion in northern Alberta late in the afternoon. The last few kilometres was down gravel roads south of town, with a non-functioning GPS, but I found the farm with less trouble than I had anticipated. The large wooden sign, “Simpson Family Farm,” right off the road I found myself on sure helped.

My only expectation of my time with the Simpsons was to go goose hunting. Soon after we arrived, the youngest of the boys and I went to build scarecrows in one of their pea fields and to scout for a hunt the next morning. But more about that in tomorrow’s post.

Supper was on the agenda when we got back to their large, rambling, lived-in home. Harvest is in full swing, which means that the meals are loud, full, family affairs – with all the kids minus one there to help. The food, cobbled together by matriarch Ena, with many ingredients gathered from the family garden, is hearty and copious. Unpasteurised milk flows liberally and the cherry on top was a huge, home-baked pie and farm-fresh cream.

“Have you seen the Northern Lights,” one of them asked at some point during the meal.

“Mmmmmmm, not really,” I replied. “A few years ago I shot some while in Edmonton, but they weren’t particularly bright.”

“Well, hopefully they will come out to play while you are here,” she replied.

I sure hoped so.

After supper the youngest went out to check on the grain dryer.

“Come outside now!” he called excitedly when he returned half an hour later.

And there, stretching from one side of the sky to the other, I was greeted with a green dancing band of aurora borealis.

After freezing on the back porch after exactly 5.3 seconds of watching the lights in my shorts and Birkenstocks, I retreated inside and got dressed in the warmest clothes I could find. From there I traipsed to the fields out back, where I had to prop my camera up on little logs, or against an electricity pole to get it steady enough to shoot. (Stupidly, I hadn’t brought my tripod to Canada on this trip.)

After that, Ena suggested that I drive down to the old ferry landing on the river for more shots. The road was pretty good most of the way, but right at the end I found myself sliding towards the water on the trail of clay. I could see myself stuck there for the night in the sub-zero temperatures, but decided to take photos and figure out my extraction plan afterwards.

Fortunately I have some experience driving on bad roads in Africa, so I eventually managed to slip and slide my way up the hill back home after shooting the dancing lights. Most of the lights I saw were green but you can get many different colours.

The family admitted that they tend to take the aurora for granted, because they see them so often. Apparently I helped them to appreciate the amazing light show they get when harvesting fields, or simply driving home from after work late at night.

The following night there were more northern lights, the following night more, and even more on my final night in the district. I can’t think of another time I was more spoilt by God and his created elements!

Three lakes & a waterfall on one hike? Bonus!

I left home at 5am, the earliest I’ve been up in quite some time, and drove from Langley, east of Vancouver, towards Whistler where I picked up two youngsters I know from Edmonton. This was the view that greeted me as I approached the town with the exotic name, Squamish.

We were bound for Joffre Lakes, a bit further down the road, west of Pemberton on the 99. Someone was having an uninspired, dull day when they named the three lakes in the park – lower, middle and upper Joffre Lakes. The lower is minutes from the trailhead; next comes the middle one (and most Instagrammed of the three) after around 2.5km of steep climbing.

A good thing too that it is so photogenic, because I needed the breather. Often one has queues of people waiting to be photographed on the log floating in the lake. Fortunately we were there early and there weren’t many tourists around yet. The boys took off their shoes and marched right in, as deep as the log would keep them afloat.

From there we headed towards the upper lake, passing a beautiful waterfall along the way. After a quick snack on the north-west bank, we made our way down the narrow, rock-strewn, root-entrailed path to the campsite on the southern shore, Matier Glacier towering overhead. Obviously we climbed the ridge part-way up towards the glacier to get a good view across the lake. My lungs wouldn’t allow me to go all the way, although the brothers were game.

You may think the water colour was photoshopped. It wasn’t.

In total, with all the stops, it took us 2.5 hours to get to our highest point, a 400m elevation gain. Going down, I followed the much-fitter-than-I teenagers at a trot. That took 1.5 hours, as we passed a steady stream of weekend hikers, including some wearing sandals. (What were they thinking?!?) I was just pleased I didn’t bring the six-year-old with me on this one!

A hike to a hillock in the haze

At the start of the day, I was not expecting to load four young ladies into my car in search of a beautiful hike close to home. But when I got the call to help “babysit” a 6-year-old and 10-year-old who had been stuck at work with their mother all morning, I was more than willing to help. After all, I’m never one to shy away from a challenge!

The other two along for the ride were a photographer (who suggested we go to Minnekhada Regional Park, with a high knoll overlooking the Pitt River) and her sister. In fact, it was great that the photographer was there because I just stood off to one side while she got the others to pose, and shot them from a different angle.

Sadly, the air was still very smoky from the BC wildfires, but the hike was fun and adequately challenging for the youngest of the group, who declared that she had never done anything as difficult.

Some of my readers have complained that my blogposts are becoming monotonous – with so many about hiking and waterfalls and lakes (and the like). But I’m afraid that is my life for now, so that’s what you get!

One lesson we learnt, after everyone except me forgot to take water, was “take water” even if you think you aren’t going far. But on the way home we stopped at 7-Eleven for Cream Soda and Pepsi Slurpees, and all was okay with the world again…

Searching out natural curiosities in a familiar neck of the woods

I hate shooting the same things twice. And when you live in a smallish community, it really does become difficult finding new subjects, and is challenging shooting old subjects in a fresh way.

Recently, though I headed south out of town towards Australian Creek with a friend. 25 minutes down highway 97 we pulled off left and off-loaded his “side by side” All Terrain Vehicle. Our first stop was a clump of rocks we had heard about earlier in the week. The rocks really are weird – dumped in a strip with nothing like them anywhere else in the region. What caused them? How did they come to be there? Maybe someone cleverer than I could answer that…

We walked a bit further and found a little waterfall (which I didn’t shoot because I was too lazy to walk down to its base) and then returned to the side by side. Because it was still light and we had found the rocks quickly, we then drove out to “Little Blue Lake,” explored an old hunting cabin filled with rat and bat droppings and a photogenic blue chair.

From there we drove out to Wineglass Falls, in the direction of French Road. I would never find them again but my companion knows the place like the back of his hand, and drove straight there down the old logging roads. What a special set of falls too! They plunge over a layer of hard rock, and down to what was probably once the sandstone river bed. As a result, the water has eaten out a shallow cave/bank that one can walk along. In the one end there is even an abandoned mine shaft (safely locked behind a rusty gate.)

The falls were beautiful enough in the summer, but I’m told that winter is when one really needs to see them – completely frozen in the shape of a wineglass, with a trickle of water often running down the centre.

At that we drove back along the power lines to our vehicle, loaded up the side by side and made it home in time for supper. New place to explore? Priceless.

In search of dragon boats on Dragon Lake

I had been asked to take photos yesterday evening of a group of Dragon Boaters, the Dragon Lake Paddlers (named after the lake at which they train.) I wolfed down my supper and rushed off to their boat launch at Pioneer Park on the south-western shore of Dragon Lake.

The group, which was formed in 2008, currently has two dragon boats but when I arrived at their headquarters everything was locked up tight and the only people on the dock were a middle-aged couple walking their two dogs. They told me training had been cancelled because of the bad air.

British Columbia finds itself in a state of emergency because of hundreds of wildfires burning out of control. Quesnel (where I live) and Williams Lake just south of here are at the epicentre of some of the worst fires, and currently also boast the worst air quality because of all the smoke and ash.

“Dragon Boating is pretty strenuous,” the woman told me, “and so we had to cancel. Most of the club members aren’t spring chickens anymore, and we need every bit of oxygen we can get when paddling!”

Off they went, but I stayed to enjoy the peace and pastel colours. And then some geese flew over. Not one to waste a gift of a photo opportunity, I shot them and the landscape.


“Cool” found photos

I know we’ve still got some way to go until snow and winter but these images have a little story behind them …

My friend Tim’s father arrived at the house a few weeks back with a camera SD card in hand. He had found it in the grass at his favourite park, where, he tells me, he goes for a walk every day. No one seemed to be around and so he brought the card to me to see if I could discover the owner’s identity.

Sadly, there was no relevant information in the EXIF info – all I could tell was that it was shot on a Canon Rebel of some sort, and that the photos dated back to 2011 (although that isn’t necessarily the correct date, if the owner hadn’t set it correctly.)

How cool are these though?


To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first, and call whatever you hit the target

Sometimes I go out with a clear vision of what I want to shoot. Sometimes I just shoot what I see. Yesterday I went to visit a very curious couple on their smallholding outside of town. And as soon as I sat down, cider in hand, and saw the hummingbird feeder above my head, with the least shy hummingbirds I’ve ever encountered zooming above our heads like crazy little helicopters, I knew I would spend most of the day trying to shoot them.

I sat on a chair, lay on the floor, stood on a stool, perched right next to the feeder and drove all my companions insane. But I don’t care. I got to shoot hummingbirds, people!

(Click on images to see bigger versions.)

By the way, the title to this post is a quote by a guy called Ashleigh Brilliant. True story.

About adventures with an incredible eye

I don’t know what it is, but this trip has involved more waterfalls than any of my previous visits put together. The day after arriving in Canuckistan we saw the Bridal Veil Falls close to Chilliwack and then the other day I went for an afternoon outing to the Gold Creek Falls in the Golden Ears Provincial Park. I had the perfect companions too – all of whom had a day off work, or had just started their summer break from school.

The whole aim of the outing was to take photos, as one of our party loves photography, has an amazing eye but doesn’t get to play with it (her photography, not her eye) enough. And the other three were just good sports – directed hither and thither by us to pose on logs, jump off rocks or hide in chiselled out tree stumps …

We walked and talked, picked wild berries along the trail, ventured under the rawboned, verdant canopy to soak in the rich furry hues (and make mossy moustaches), hid in the lee of a huge tree as rain pelted down, and then splashed in the puddles, faces upturned to lick the last drops from the afternoon thunder showers. The falls are nothing spectacular, but you know how some days turn out just perfectly?

This was one of those!