A warm throwback to earlier this summer

My home for a large chunk of my time here in Canuckistan has been a travel trailer – otherwise known as an RV, a camper or a tin can. But over the August long weekend I was evicted by its owners, who took it and themselves to a lake not far from here.

Said lake holds many memories for me. I decided to join them for the day to add to those.

But as I lie here in my mobile home perched on concrete blocks now, with temperatures dropping to the low negatives every night, I realize that I never blogged any photos from the lake. And this seems like the perfect time to rectify that – remembering the warmth of both the weather and the people.

One little lass took a particular shine to me. I suppose it’s because I noticed that she existed, and took a few photos of her riding her bicycle. I would be sitting at the water’s edge, just enjoying the peace, when out of the blue a tiny voice would be at my left shoulder regaling me with stories of when she went horse riding, and how she could also ride an inflatable seahorse and that she was more proficient (although she didn’t use that word exactly) on her bicycle than any of the horses.

And I would answer, “uh huh,” and “really?” and “well I never!” and then she would take off on new adventures, only to return just as I was getting lost in my thoughts to ask if I had noticed her beating the boys at rock throwing and sand castle building.

Another time I found her sobbing profoundly at the water’s edge because one of the brash bully boys had tipped her head-first off the water-horse or unicorn. But once I had assured her all would be okay, I propped her back on the water beast. Just like when the sun breaks out after a thunderstorm – the air fresh, the sky shimmering and the sun glowing and smiling with the most brilliant of beams – so was her face …

Often in life I have tried to hold on to relationships and people that were always going to be transient. Now I’m learning to let them go but to hold onto the memories – both the happy and the sad.

‘Tis often more about the company than the view …

… although a good view doesn’t hurt.

In keeping with my posts about hikes, waterfalls, and beautiful views, today I’m featuring my most recent hike with three friends. With the last of the four children leaving for university on Monday, we decided to memorialize the moment with a walk up the “Stawamus Chief,” south of Squamish (between Vancouver and Whistler), on Sunday.

Known to locals simply as “The Chief,” the massive granite rock rises over 500m straight up from Howe Sound. We hiked to the first of three peaks, which is only a 4km round-trip but as I said, one does gain 500 metres in altitude on a trail that includes some freakishly steep stairs, a few ladders and chains. One of our party ran up every flight of stairs. Oh, how I resented her light feet and mountain-goat like gait. I would have said something scathing but I had diverted all available oxygen to my leg muscles and by halfway had transformed into a blithering idiot, completely unintelligible even to myself.

The hike did nothing for my self-image either, as I was overtaken by a 91-year-old great-granny and several dogs, including one wiry-haired one, which we named “the rat.” While I was wheezing my way up the path, it sashayed from rock to rock cheerily, and when tired, would wait for one of its young 2-legged bond-servants to carry it further, until adequately rested. If “the rat” had thumbs it would have thumbed its nose at me. Of that I’m sure.

Speaking of which, the 14-year-old who normally only gets up at 2pm joined us despite our early 10am start, and was most perplexed at how the dogs had managed to scale both the ladders and the chains. (Not to spoil the punchline, but they were carried, obviously.)  I replied that I too was at a loss to explain it, what with their lack of opposable thumbs.

The other member of the party, who happens to be studying to be a veterinarian, explained that they were probably using disposable thumbs, developed for just this purpose. For the rest of the hike we asked every person walking with a mutt whether they had invested in disposable thumbs to help their pooches climb. As with most inane jokes we thought it was hilarious every time, while they regarded us with mild, bewildered irritation.

But really, hikes like The Chief are all about the snacks one gets to enjoy guilt-free at the summit. And we had the best of the best – mangoes, but no knife to peel them (what a glorious mess that was) and biltong, a South African dried meat delicacy. The vet-in-training convinced the 14-year-old that it was made from bull’s tongue but that didn’t faze her, and she polished off most of the bag on her own.

We laughed on the way up, we laughed on the summit and we laughed going down. And in-between all the laughter I took a few photos too.

(You do know to click on the images to view them slightly larger, right?)


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!

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.

Faux fur on a counterfeit child

Apparently, from some of the feedback I’ve received, the subjects of my previous blogpost – the hillbilly couple outside of town – were either way too real or not real enough.

So, today’s subject, I can guarantee, is not real at all. She is a complete figment of my camera and imagination. After all, what child enjoys riding her bicycle more than being plonked in front of a TV screen, iPad or computer game?

We have appalling, smokey air around here at the moment – with close to 500 forest fires burning throughout British Columbia at time of writing. But one thing the ash-filled air does make for is spectacular skies at sunset.

A few nights ago, the imaginary 7-year-old child told me to follow her around the block because “the light would be different along the way.” Up the hill we went, into a neighbour’s yard to see the bright red sun, and then back home – straight into the golden dappled-light of a fiery sun diving into the horizon behind the trees.

The faux child, fittingly, started with a faux fur headdress, which was ditched almost immediately and replaced with a real, sweet-smelling flower. She waited patiently for me to catch up whenever I, with wheezing lungs, lagged behind. It’s not a big block but, as she rightly suggested, the varied light as we went made for some striking photos.

Not the rodeo I’ve grown to love

Five years ago I attended my first rodeo here in Quesnel, British Columbia. I had no idea what to expect and absolutely loved it – especially as the sun went down across the arena, blanketing the riders in a golden glow. A couple of years ago I went back and had a blast playing with different shooting techniques with only a 105mm macro lens. Although the results were a bit different to the norm, I was still very happy.

When I heard I’d be in town at the same time as this year’s rodeo I immediately pencilled it into my mental calendar. But this year was weird. It was a dull, overcast day, which seemed to affect both riders and animals and a lethargy hung heavy over the event. Several of the bulls or broncos simply refused to exit the stalls, and new rides had to be organised. There also didn’t seem to be as many competitors as normal, which meant several rode twice. I know of a handful who would normally have competed but didn’t.

Maybe another reason I just wasn’t as into it was that I was there alone, so couldn’t turn to anyone and say, “wow did you see those roping skills” or “how awesome was that ride?” And strangers never seem to appreciate my unforeseen cheery banter.

But hey, I was there, so I shot away as I always do. And there are a few classic moments captured. Enjoy!


Just cruising Cariboo’s back-trails

Yesterday I started telling the story about our trip along the Yank’s Peak trail, and how I was wondering who the “yank,” after whom the peak was named, was.

Let’s continue from where I left off.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot next to the Cariboo River, just downriver from the Lower Cariboo Falls. A few of the guys tried fishing but didn’t catch anything of significance.

After lunch we took a different route back to where our vehicles were parked – up past Little Snowshoe Creek, one of the myriad of creeks that course through the Cariboo back country. It was these gold-carrying streams that drew many fortune-seekers to the area in the 1860s. One of those was William “The Live Yank” Luce, who was originally from either Maine or Massachusetts (depending on which history book you read) but had participated in the California gold rush.

There are two versions as to how Luce got his nickname. The first is that he got it from his first claim in the Cariboo, “The Live Yank” at Harvey Creek. The second is that he was given the nickname by a reporter from Barkerville’s Cariboo Sentinel, who visited him several times to write about his mining and hunting exploits.

In 1866 the reporter wrote, “The Live Yankee has every faith in his old quartz lead on Snowshoe and intends to resume work on it as soon as he makes a little money.”

Over the years Luce staked several claims in the area, including one on Little Snowshoe Creek, where he built himself a cabin. With so many people travelling through the area on their way to and from the Cariboo goldfields, Luce eventually turned his cabin into a makeshift hotel. It seems as if Luce made most of his money from this “hotel”.

One of the funnier stories attributed to the Live Yank’s Hotel was louse racing. The story goes that the hotel’s patrons would place lice or bedbugs (which were plentiful) on plates and bet on which would be the first to cross from one side of the plate to the other. Sometimes the plates would be heated to encourage the little critters to run faster, allowing more “races” to be run each evening.

Despite the fact that gold mining in the area started tailing off by the 1870s, Luce remained at Snowshoe Creek. In May 1881 The Live Yank died of heart failure at the ripe young age of 60. There is both a creek and a peak named after him, and we even discovered the cemetery where he was buried – a few hundred metres up from a random cabin, Tom Kinvig’s cabin.

Tom Kinvig’s cabin was the site of a gold-rush era general dealer, Borland’s Store (I believe it was called). I read somewhere that Tom’s daughter mined from her father’s cabin for many years. But we didn’t stay long enough to find out who was staying there now, what with laundry hanging on a makeshift line, and a mosquito coil burning in the corner. It had been a long day and we were anxious to get back to our vehicles.

It was a long, 10-hour day in the saddle (in a manner of speaking) and well worth it!

Quesnel’s Bridges

Quesnel, the Cariboo town of around 12,000 inhabitants, lies at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel rivers. It also lies on the main route to northern British Columbia and the Yukon, with Highway 97 running right through town.

Originally the commercial centre of the Cariboo Gold Rush, Quesnel now owes its existence mainly to the forest industry, including several mills. As a result, the rail yard is a hive of activity for the distribution of plywood, MDF, pulp products and lumber.

Obviously this means that the town boasts several bridges – three road, two rail and one walking – over both the Fraser and Quesnel rivers. Sadly, most of them are not very pretty bridges, with the exception of the walking bridge – but I decided to document them anyway.

All the photos were shot handheld.

The Quesnel River Bridge (part of Highway 97) in the foreground, with the rail bridge behind it. Shot from Red Bluff.

This rail bridge links Cariboo Pulp and Paper with the rail yard.

The rail bridge from upriver.
A nice sloooooow shutter speed at dusk, shot from the south shore of the Quesnel River.

Next, we have Highway 97’s Quesnel River Bridge.

This was shot late at night. The golden colour is purely as a result of the bridge’s lights.
Quesnel River Bridge and a passing truck.

Downriver from the Quesnel River Bridge is the Johnston Bridge, which links the city to Johnston Sub(division). It is without doubt the most unappealing of them all. The first (wooden) bridge in this spot was built in the 1800s, with the current bridge, built with steel beams and open deck grating, being completed in 1974.

All I got was a sunset photo across the Johnston bridge towards town.

A few hundred metres downriver is the CN Railway Bridge, the main rail route out of the city.

The CN Railway Bridge at dusk.
The bridge served as the perfect backdrop for wedding photos last year.

Next across, and on the Fraser this time, is Moffat Bridge, which links Quesnel to West Quesnel. It opened to traffic in 1971. Again, not really one of the more photographed bridges in town, but fortunately the evening I went to photograph it, a light fog drifted in, making for some nice moody shots.

Moffat Bridge shot from the Fraser River’s east bank.

Next I got a nice little wide-angle of both Moffat Bridge and the Old Fraser River Bridge. At 831 feet (253m) long, the wooden bridge is apparently the longest wooden-truss walking bridge in the world. It was officially opened in March 1929, with traffic limited to pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, cattle and the occasional motor vehicle. As the lumber industry grew though, the bridge became inadequate for the increased traffic and large logging trucks, eventually leading to Moffat Bridge being built. Finally, in 2010, the walking bridge was restored and a programmable lighting array was installed.

Moffat Bridge on the left, and the wooden walking bridge on the right.
The wooden-truss bridge shot from the east bank.

Et voila! There you have them – Quesnel’s six bridges in vivid colour.

Another one checked off my bucket list

Speaking of coffee, the weirdest thing happened to me the other day: a friend, Mr T, texted to ask if I had time to run a quick errand for him.

“Sure,” said I, not sure what the errand entailed. It turns out that he needed me to run some spare parts for a hydraulic dumper up to Burns Lake, a town 375km north-west of here. It was 1pm, and I was about to embark on a 750km, 9-hour round-trip.

His directions went something like this: Get a coffee from Timmy’s (Tim Hortons) and then head up to Prince George (P.G.) to pick up a new pump from the Hydraulic Place, which is right next to a new little Timmy’s. Buy yourself another coffee. Drive to Burns Lake. On the right before driving down the final hill into the incredible, awesome town of Burns you will see a sign on the left to the repair place. That doesn’t make sense. I need a coffee. Take the exit. Drop the parts with Matt, or on the front mat if he’s gone home already. Come home. Oh, the last Timmy’s before Burns is in Vanderhoof. You may want to grab another coffee there.

I was starting to notice a common thread there. And it wasn’t the spare parts. If I didn’t know better I would have guessed Mr T was getting a commission from Tim Hortons … 

The roadworks between here and P.G. and then P.G. and Vanderhoof were just interminable, adding at least an hour to my driving time. My aircon wasn’t working either, but at least I was on a coffee high for most of the trip.

Believe it or not, I didn’t stop once to take photos on the way up, but on the way back I most definitely did. More than once. I never actually saw the town of Burns Lake, but left the repair place at 6.30pm, just before the onset of “golden hour.” Fortunately the road workers had packed up by then, but the drive home took the same amount of time as the drive up – because of my stops to take photos.

I was home by 11pm.

Of course, the most memorable thing about the trip wasn’t the beautiful views. Rather, it was the number of Timmy’s I got to frequent. Definitely one checked off my bucket list!

(Please click on images to see bigger versions.)



At the end of the day …

Canada Day weekend was cold and rainy, but with tiny cracks of sunshine and clear skies thrown in to keep our spirits up. We were away on a church camp at a lake north of the city, and there was just enough good weather to keep everyone happy. For the rest of the time, we had plenty of coffee and board games to keep ourselves entertained.

One evening I borrowed a kayak and went out looking for eagles to shoot. Serendipitously, I came across two river otters, one of which posed perfectly for me, before screaming at me to leave them in peace to enjoy their supper of freshly-caught fish.

What with winter being so long, snowy and cold, Cariboo natives really do make the most of their summers. To my friends in South Africa, I’m sorry to have to do this to you. 😆

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!

All about Canuckistan’s national bird

Believe it or not, Canuckistan does not have a national bird.

The debate about what it should be has been raging for years, more fiercely in fact than most debates rage in this country of begging-your-pardon pacifists. Suggestions have ranged from the common loon to the snowy owl, the anonymous grey jay to the Canada goose. If it were possible for people to come to blows on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook arguing for or against their favourite fowl, they would have. In fact, in the last few months, the bickering has become almost as vitriolic as the regional lilliputian co-ed mud wrestling fixture held annually in Kickamidge, B.C.

“The cry of the loon is the stuff of children’s nightmares,” sniped one pugilist on Facebook, which was quickly countered with an almost-as-violent riposte, “but the gray jay is drab and not terribly photogenic!” I stopped reading when one commenter, in reference to another’s manners and grammar, called him “a messy, ill-tempered brute, just like the Canada goose.”

That’s just not cricket, or very fair on the goose!

In order to bring some sense of peace and sanity to the dispute I would, however, like to throw my hat in the ring with clearly the most obvious suggestion yet: the Canucki mosquito.

Wow, these things are like giant, tenacious blood-sucking raptors. With the warm, lingering summer evenings we are enjoying, the mosquitoes are absolutely thriving. And do they voraciously delight in my sweet gluten-free blood?

That was not rhetorical.

Everything I’ve experienced since arriving in Canuckistan late last month has involved these pesky soon-to-be national birds. A nice little walk through the forest with a friend became an absurd, frantic, wheezing dash back to the safety of the car, where we smooshed the blood-bloated bugs against the dashboard and inside of the windshield. Playing ultimate frisbee, swimming in the lake, hiking to a waterfall or simply sitting down to dinner all involve whacking, scratching, crying and gnashing of teeth because of the little buggers.

And after a particularly wet winter and spring, it seems as if the legions of bloodsuckers are just getting started, readying themselves for as many kamikaze attacks on my exposed bald head and chicken legs as possible.

Obviously voting them the Canucki national bird won’t make my visit here any less itchy. But really, for their ever-presence, sheer size and weight in numbers, they do deserve your vote. Don’t you think?

A day in the life of two cracodile hunters

Do you remember the two brothers that I shot quarrying for veneer? And the one brother with whom I did a ridiculously cool photoshoot last year? Well, they are back, and in today’s post you get to experience a typical day in their summer vacation. Both are studying – one to be a vet and the other a chiropractor – but they work during the summer in order to help pay for their studies.

This year, they are both on a crew hunting out road cracks to fill – probably one of the most mind-numbing jobs imaginable. At least they get to alternate between driving the truck, filling the cracks and measuring the length of cracks filled. Imagine!

Then, twice a week both join friends on the local school’s sports’ fields for a wild game of ultimate frisbee, before heading to the Fraser River to cool off. On this particular day people came around for dinner, after which we retired to the sitting room to make some fine tunes together.

It was quite a day, which started before 6am and ended well after midnight, when the final family members plopped into bed. These Canucki cracodile hunters are something else, I tell ya!

Exploring Canuckistan with jet lag (and two young lasses) as company

The very day after arriving in Canuckistan one of the young ladies I was staying with suggested we visit some waterfalls in the area, before going out to supper to friends. So, after taking care of a bit of admin, off we set on the warm, humid summer’s afternoon: our good-humoured guide, an adopted lodger, myself and my jet lag.

Our first stop, just off Highway 1 outside Chilliwack, was the Bridal Veil Falls, which we clambered up to, and under which we soaked ourselves in the spray.  The girls scrambled off to explore and we took the mandatory photos, but by the time we got back to the car we still had a few hours to kill before supper.

“Let’s go to the Othello Tunnels outside Hope,” our sunny tour-guide suggested. So off we went. These are a series of tunnels originally built as part of the Kettle Valley Railway through the Coquihalla Canyon in the early 1900s. The rough-hewn tunnels were constructed by blasting through granite, and are joined by wooden trestle bridges over the churning Coquihalla River below.

By the time we were done exploring the tunnels and the history of the place we were in serious need of a snack and a swim. We took care of the snack at Triple O’s Diner in Hope, which serves the most phenomenal milkshakes and sweet potato fries (which our all-knowing tour guide told us were, in fact, yams). From there we wove our way up to a little lake by the name of Hicks above Harrison Hot Springs. I’m sure it must be fed by hot springs too, because it was the perfect temperature – not like most of the glacial lakes in the area.

After seven hours exploring we finally made it to our dinner appointment – the perfect end to a most enjoyable day. And the best part about it – I forgot that jet lag had come with us on the trip.