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Hiking to St Mark’s Summit

Hiking to St Mark’s Summit

The St Mark’s Summit hike is an 11km round trip, with 460m elevation and some challenging terrain. The views along the way are amazing but nothing can prepare you for the vistas over Howe Sound from the Summit itself.

The trail to the Summit can be accessed from the Cypress Mountain Downhill parking lot. Head North towards the chairlift and look for signs for the Howe Sound Crest Trail. St Mark’s Summit is 5.5km along the Howe Sound Crest Trail which runs 30km from Cypress Mountain to Porteau Cove.

The Trail begins as gravel but after some time will become a myriad of tree routes and steep switchbacks. Watch your feet carefully. As a novice hiker I found this trail quite challenging and took many short stops to rest. Happily, there are many places where it’s worth stopping to admire the view.

When you reach the first trail map board look for an opening in the forest to your right. You’ll see a magnificent view of the Lions.

There are several peek-a-boo views of the Sound along the way.

When you reach St Mark’s Summit you’ll see a marker pole on the trail itself. Turn to your left and scramble up the rocks. From the numerous viewpoints at the edge of the ridge you’ll get incredible vistas of Howe Sound. What makes the scenery even more spectacular are the sheer drop-offs, as the cliffs seem almost vertical, really emphasizing their height.

Along with the views you’re likely to see some wildlife. There was a family of ravens checking us out as we rested at the top.

Along with a couple of curious chipmunks.

After about an hour at the top we began to make our way back. About 2/3 of the way down we came across a tree trunk where previous hikers had marked their passing by stacking small rocks. We added a rock each to the pile to acknowledge the trail before continuing on our way.

By the time we arrived back at the carpark it was dusk and the temperature had dropped significantly. Although it was a really hot day and we wore T-shirts hiking, we were prepared for the weather to change. Given the mixed terrain and the mountain’s elevation, I’d recommend being fully prepared when tackling this hike. Take plenty of water, warm clothes, a first aid kit and bug spray.

This hike could take anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on fitness, speed and how long you stay at the top. Don’t rush it, it’s worth hanging out at the Summit awhile where you will literally feel on top of the world. I did this hike on my birthday and couldn’t think of a better place to be.

Quarry Rock in Deep Cove

Quarry Rock in Deep Cove

The Quarry Rock hike in Deep Cove, North Vancouver, is super popular with both locals and tourists. It’s a 3.8km round trip walk, takes between 1-2 hours, and has an elevation gain of 100m.

Start at Deep Cove and follow the signs for the Baden Powell Trail.  Once you enter the forest be prepared to begin the stair master as much of the elevation gain seems to occur in the first part of this hike. After several sets of stairs the trail becomes a bit more natural with a maze of tree roots to navigate and several ups and downs through the forest.

Stay on the trail until you reach a fork. Go right and you’ll have reached Quarry Rock. Climb up and enjoy the view! It’s cool to be able to look down on Deep Cove and see just how high you’ve climbed.

Before heading back, walk a few minutes further along the Baden Powell Trail towards the power pylon. Once you reach it, climb the rock and you’ll get another awesome view further down Indian Arm.

I found the challenge of this hike to be catching my breath going up – take lots of short stops if you need to, and also the pounding on my knees going back down – a stick would help. Having said that, there were young and old hiking at many different speeds and there were also a few runners so this trail is pretty good for anybody. It’s very dog-friendly as well.

Deep Cove is extremely popular and even on a weekday after the school holidays we found it difficult to get parking so I’d recommend going early in the day or taking transit. The trail was super busy as well, so it’s not a hike to do if you are looking for some quiet time. I’m not a fan of crowds or busy trails but the views at the top made it totally worthwhile.

 

 

 

Capilano Canyon from Cleveland Dam

Capilano Canyon from Cleveland Dam

This 2.6km hike in the Capilano Canyon is great if you want a nice walk, nothing too tricky and/or something that is dog-friendly. The trail begins at the Capilano dam and is a circuit so can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Bear in mind, both ways you’ll head downhill first which will mean some uphill on the way back. The elevation gain is only 100m and the trail is good so it’s not too challenging. There are also a few cross trails if you want something even shorter.

The Cleveland Dam, at the head of the Capilano River in North Vancouver, supplies much of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland’s drinking water. When the dam’s gates are open it’s super exciting to stand on the bridge above and see and hear the torrent of water rushing down the spillway into the river.

To do the hike anti-clockwise, cross the bridge and look for the Upper Shinglebolt Trail. Follow it until you reach a fork in the trail and then turn left. From that point, follow the trail a short way to the Pipe bridge and head across. This part of the trail follows the river so you’ll be treated to some great views no matter what the weather.

On the East side of the river, look for the Coho Loop Trail to the left. Follow it until you reach the salmon hatchery interpretive centre. There are some really cool displays at the center where you can see and learn about the life cycle of salmon. Check out the fish ladders where, depending on the season, you may even see salmon jumping as they head upstream to spawn.

After you leave the hatchery, look for the Palisades Trail to the left. Follow it back up until you hit the service road and then continue up the road until you find yourself back at the dam.

The round trip takes between 1 and 2 hours depending on your speed and how long you spend at the hatchery. I could watch fish jump for hours so I would allow extra time for that. There is a parking lot by the reservoir and the park can also be reached by transit. I highly recommended the Cleveland Dam-hatchery loop as a good starter hike or a regular walk. It’s locally popular so can be quite busy but the people you meet are friendly.

Check out a trail map here.

 

Perseid Meteors and Olympus Live Composite

Perseid Meteors and Olympus Live Composite

The Perseid Meteor Shower happens every year from mid-July as the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. This year the meteor shower was visible between August 7-12 with peak viewing on the night of August 11. We decided to head up Burnaby Mountain to check it out. So did half of Vancouver and it was really crowded when we arrived at about 12:30am. Luckily many people were already packing up to leave and within 45 mins it had emptied out considerably.

It was bit cloudy for perfect meteor viewing so instead of trying to capture meteors I decided to try out the live composite function on my Olympus O-MD E-M5II and capture star trails. Live Composite is very very cool. Essentially in this mode the camera takes a series of photos and stacks them in camera to create one image. With each successive shot, only new light is added to the original image which prevents overexposure in the brightest part of the picture. You can see the image developing on the LCD screen as it happens which means you can stop the process when the image reaches a point that you are happy with it.

The image below took about 15 minutes to make and is a stack of about 80 or so images.

Stacked images to create star trails
Stacked images to create star trails – Olympus O-MD E-M5II

The orange glow on the left and right are clouds. The totems were lit by the headlights of cars as they circled around to leave the mountain. Ordinarily, any kind of random uncontrolled light is not desirable in this kind of image but in this case, I was happy with the side light painting the totems as it gave them colour and texture and gave the image depth. This was my second attempt at this shot. My first effort is below and is an example of what can go wrong.

Shot ruined by flashlight
Shot ruined by flashlight

Remember I said each shot added new light to the image? When the man in red stood in my shot and waved his flashlight around his light was added to the photo. It was dark and he was just trying to find his way back to his car, but it was a little frustrating as the shot was already over 10 minutes into creation. A really cool feature of the Olympus Live Composite mode is that I could see this as soon as it happened, abandon the shot and start over. For my second try, I recomposed a little higher to avoid people wandering through and kept my fingers on the cable release just in case. The result was a shot I am pretty happy with.

The following night we went to Porteau Cove to try again. While we did see a few meteors I decided to have another go with Live Composite. This time, I did not compose with a foreground element in the image, opting instead for the horizon line. Porteau Cove is extremely dark and has really good star visibility which resulted in a much denser set of trails. This shot is about 150 images stacked together and took about 25 minutes to create. Look closely and you can see a couple of meteors as they streak in a different direction to the star trails.

Star Trails over the horizon at Porteau Cove
Star Trails over the horizon at Porteau Cove

Due to the extreme darkness, it was impossible to use autofocus so I manually set the focus to infinity. I shot all of these images on the Olympus O-MD E-M5II with the Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens. This lens has focus markers which make it easier to set to a certain focus distance.  If you have a lens without distance markers or without a hard stop at infinity you could find infinity focus during the daytime and add a piece of tape or use a permanent marker to mark the exact spot on the barrel of your lens.

Stacking photos for star trails can be done manually in Photoshop or by using software such as StarStax, but what I absolutely love about the Olympus Live Composite mode is, well, it’s live. It saves time, does a great job and also creates an ORF, an Olympus raw file, which means you can edit for colour, contrast etc afterwards. This feature is nothing short of awesome and is just one of many reasons I love my micro four thirds camera.

To use Live Composite mode for star trails you will need a stable tripod. I’d also recommend a cable release so you don’t nudge the camera when starting or stopping the shot. You’ll need a wide angle lens with a wide aperture of at least 2.8. The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm 1.8 is awesome but I would also like to try out the 12mm f2 or a fisheye. I set my exposure for each shot to 10 seconds which kept the stars sharp, but this will vary depending on how dark it is and what you are trying to achieve. Try a few single exposures first to get your settings. Then, get creative and watch your image as it appears!

 

Happy Pride!

Happy Pride!

The last time I went to the Vancouver Pride parade was at least 7 or 8 years ago. I remember that it was a super hot day, just like this year. I remember Jack Layton camping it up in the NDP float – that was cool because he had been a longtime LGBTQ supporter.

I loved celebrating Pride but what I did not enjoy was that there were many other political entities, financial institutions and corporate groups in that Parade that didn’t have much of a history with the LGBTQ community. I remember thinking that the gay vote and the gay dollar must have become important to attract so many of them.

Fast forward to this year.

With both Susannah and I having the day off (this is rare on a long weekend) we decided to head down to English Bay to check out this year’s Parade. Wow! It had grown. Not only in the number of spectators but the number of participants as well. And diverse! It was extremely cool to see such a huge variety of people involved in support groups and organisations to gather and unite members of the community. There were LGBTQ sports groups, school support groups, cultural groups, even a church group (I’m not religious but way to go, Anglicans!).

Yes there were political parties and banks, but they had ‘out’ people marching with them and their message of acceptance and support just seemed so much more genuine. Justin Trudeau marching with his family received huge cheers from the crowd and by being there sent an enormous statement to the world.

#BetterTogether rang true.

I’ll admit I had tears in my eyes at times as I found some of the groups marching to be evidence of real social change in the last 10 years. It was also extremely moving to see the #WeAreOrlando tag and to see photos of the Orlando victims attached to pride flags carried throughout the Parade.

Kudos to the organisers and Grand Marshalls Morgane Oger, Danny Ramadan and Alex Sangha for bringing the Vancouver Pride Parade back to it’s roots of celebration and support.

Here are some of my personal highlights. A full photo gallery can be found here.

Dykes on Bikes! A great way to start the Parade.

Dykes on Bikes is aways a fav to start the Parade

Musqueam Indian Band were the the first of many First Nations groups marching.

Musqueam First Nations leading the marchers

Even for the participants it can be an emotional experience. There was tremendous support for Two Spirited people at Pride.

PFLAG is one of my favourite organisations as they help kids and parents.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue services were there with water guns.

As were some very friendly members of the Vancouver Police Department.

LGBTQ Seniors Have More Fun!

There were some um, great displays….

…fabulous costumes

and some interesting groups.

Click here to view the full gallery of Pride Photos.

For me, LGBTQ rights and equality is about being seen without fear. It’s about being yourself. Pride is a positive day where we celebrate and support one another. It brings people together and helps people find other people that are just like them. To know that you are not alone is extremely important and can be a lifesaver. On Sunday I was very proud to live in Canada and to feel supported by so many people in Vancouver.

Have you ever been to a Pride Parade? How was your experience?

Travelling Smithers to Prince Rupert by Train

Travelling Smithers to Prince Rupert by Train

In June we were lucky enough to spend a few days touring part of Northern BC. Our plan was to fly into Smithers, spend a few days catching up with Susie’s awesome sister Liz and her husband Bill, then take a train to Prince Rupert, enjoy some activities there and fly back to Vancouver.  In this post I’ll talk about the middle part of our trip –  from Smithers to Prince Rupert on the ‘Skeena’ train.

The Skeena Train
The Skeena

The train runs from Jasper to Prince Rupert and back 3 times a week, stopping overnight in Prince George. From Smithers it’s a scenic 6 hour ride to Prince Rupert. The route runs alongside the Skeena river through glacier capped Coast Mountains and it is very picturesque. We opted for a “touring class” tickets which enabled us to sit in the Panorama car where we had sweeping views on both sides. We could also sit in the Park Car which is raised up higher and has a glass domed roof for even more expansive views.

Panorama windows in our car
Panorama windows the Park Car
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View over top of the train from the Park Car with it’s Panorama Dome

As part of the touring class ticket we were served a complimentary meal. We chose the salmon and the halibut. The salmon was a bit dry so the halibut was the winner with the tomato sauce to keep it moist. Neither meal would be considered high end, but compared to most airplane meals I’ve had they were ok.

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Salmon Dinner
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Halibut Dinner

Dinner also came with a glass of wine which made everything ok 😉 Cheers.

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Our two very funny and knowledgeable guides/servers kept most of the passengers well-informed and entertained. They showed us points of local interest which we may otherwise have missed like this miniature town at the side of the tracks.

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And this petroglyph on the cliff face.

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We sat on the left side of the train to get access to the riverside views but the train was not very full so we were easily able to move around and check out both sides. There are windows between the cars that can be opened right up. We leaned out for a few unique shots but I’d recommend being very careful doing it. It got pretty windy as well.

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There were some long tunnels along the way.

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Trains are fun and a bit of a different perspective than you’ll get from a car. You can see from the next photo how much higher up than the road we were. This was great for taking photos along the way to capture some of the views.

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As we were moving through the Coastal Mountains towards the Ocean the weather was quite changeable, making the skies and light quite varied and interesting.

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As we finally drew into Prince Rupert we were welcomed by an amazing sunset to end our long day of travel. So pretty!

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Overall I’d say the price of the touring class ticket is a bit steep for many people, but if you were only going to do the trip once, it’s a very comfortable way to travel and the bonus is most definitely the panoramic windows and the spectacular BC scenery which is not to be missed.

Save the Vaquita!

Save the Vaquita!

What is a Vaquita and why do we need to save it?

The Vaquita is the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Found exclusively in the Gulf of California, Mexico, these small porpoises are on the brink of extinction with only about 60 remaining. That’s 60 animals in total and the number is declining fast.

Depiction of 60 remaining Vaquita
Depiction of 60 remaining Vaquita

July 9, 2016 was International Save the Vaquita Day. Approximately 30 venues across the globe held events to help raise awareness of the plight of the Vaquita.  At the Vancouver Aquarium,  renowned porpoise expert,  Dr Anna Hall gave some short talks about the Vaquita. Dr Hall is also President of the Porpoise Conservation Society which is based right here in Vancouver. The society’s mission is to bring awareness to all 7 species of porpoise.

Dr Anna Hall presenting at the Vancouver Aquarium
Dr Anna Hall presenting at the Vancouver Aquarium

We filmed the talks for the Porpoise Conservation Society and I’ll pop in a link here as soon as it’s online. Dr Hall spoke about gill net fishing and how these nets are the main cause of the Vaquita population decline as the small porpoises become entangled in the nets and drown.  Mexico has introduced a 2 year ban on gill net fishing in an effort to save the Vaquita but it is difficult to enforce.

It is not yet too late. You can use your buying power to help. Choose sustainable seafood that has been caught in a way that does not produce by-catch. This will help not only the Vaquita, but other porpoises, dolphins, turtles and marine life. The Oceanwise website is a great place to start.

Explaining the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program
Explaining the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program

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Learn more about the “panda of the sea” at VivaVaquita and help save the Vaquita!

Loving clouds

Loving clouds

Susannah and I both love clouds.

Anyone who knows us well should know this. You know that saying “stop and smell the roses”? Well we would say “look up and watch the clouds”. From contemplating life to just checking out the weather patterns, cloud watching is a great activity.

From our patio we often see nice movement as the ocean breeze pushes the clouds towards us. Last night was looking good so we set up a GoPro and did a timelapse.

Take a look. Then go outside and look up 😉