Sunday, May 26, 2013

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker
(click to view larger)

A loud chattering cry outside the washroom at our campground in Penticton made me search the trees for the caller. It turned out to be this bird. There were two of them but I only got photos of this male. I had a little trouble identifying it as a Northern Flicker (a type of woodpecker) because the photos in my guide (the iBird Pro app) were showing the eastern yellow-shafted form, and this was the western red-shafted. The call was their territorial one so perhaps they had a nest nearby.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Skaha, Snakes, and Skinks

Today was our last day climbing at Skaha Bluffs. As we hiked in, Shelley stopped in front of me and said she could hear something moving in the grass in front of her, maybe a bird. I couldn't see anything at first. Then a snake appeared, and then a second one. They weren't rattle snakes so we moved in for a closer look. I pulled out my camera, but they were hiding in the vegetation. Shelley tried to get them to come out but they were in "freeze" mode. She got a stick and started moving it towards them. Eventually they did move but, of course, not into the open. They disappeared into cracks in the rock. We waited and they reappeared and one of them cooperated enough to get a few shots. I think they were Western Yellow-bellied Racers.

Later in the day, I was belaying Shelley on a climb and I heard something moving in the grass at the base of the cliff. Again, at first I couldn't see anything. But I caught a slight movement and picked out a tail. I thought it was another snake, but when I looked closer (while still paying attention to belaying Shelley!) I saw it was a skink (a kind of lizard). I was a little surprised - up till now I hadn't seen any skinks at Skaha Bluffs. Once Shelley was off belay I ran down to our packs and got my camera. (When Shelley saw me running to get my camera, at first she thought I was getting it to take pictures of her, but she soon realized it must be some creature.) When I got back with the camera the skink was gone. But I figured it probably hadn't gone far. Sure enough, when I got closer I spotted it. But again, like the snakes, it was buried in the vegetation. I took a couple of shots but couldn't get a clear angle. I tried to use a stick to get it to move, but I was a little too successful - it shot out like a rocket and went straight under a rock. But I was patient and like the snakes eventually it emerged and I got a few good shots of it. I think it's a Western Skink which is a common species found all the way from BC to Baja (where I've also seen them).

I'm glad to be able to balance all the recent flower shots with something more interesting!

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Western Skink

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another Rainy Day

Another day of no climbing due to rain. If it doesn't improve soon, we'll bail. We visited a couple more wineries, a couple of coffee shops, and I managed to take a few photos between rain showers ...

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rain Day

It rained off and on all day today so we didn't try to climb and headed to the Nk'mip Desert Cultural Center instead. It's a fancy facility, along with the winery, golf course, resort, etc. but I think I liked the low key Osoyoos Desert Center better. The nature trail was nice though, and I got some good shots of the resident osprey. We also stopped at La Stella, the sister winery to Le Vieux Pin that we visited the other day.

The locals keep telling us it hardly ever rains in the Okanagan. Hopefully this will be more true in the next few days!

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Not looking good for climbing this morning!


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Laying Low for the Long Weekend

Shooting stars
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The May long weekend is crazy crowded at Skaha Bluffs and we were ready for a break anyway.

Friday afternoon we drove down to Osoyoos heading for the Nk'mip Desert Cultural Center but came across the Osoyoos Desert Center first. It's run by the Osoyoos Desert Society and much less commercial. There's not a lot to see - mostly sagebrush and antelope bush. But our friendly young lady tour guide gave us lots of information about all the things we couldn't see, like the snakes, mice, badgers, spadefoot toads, coyotes, etc. The most activity was in the little garden next to the visitor center. There were several kinds of hummingbirds at the feeders, a rabbit browsing, and a killdeer nesting.

On the way we stopped in Oliver at Medici's Gelateria for delicious gelato. If you're in the area it's a nice spot to for coffee or ice cream.

We ran out of time to go to the Nk'mip center, but we did find time to stop at another of Penny's winery suggestions - Le Vieux Pin near Oliver. It's a smaller winery that makes wine in French styles. We enjoyed our tasting there - great wine.

Our friend Ellen in Summerland generously offered us a place to stay for the weekend. Her house has a great view over the lake and we had some nice rainbows from the torrential rainstorm that evening.

On Saturday we went for a hike with a group of Ellen's friends up to Divide Lake in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. The day started out cloudy with slight drizzle, but it cleared up later. The hike went through the area that burned ten years ago and it was interesting to see the regeneration.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

More Skaha

Canada goose family
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We woke up this morning and looked out the tent door to find a family of Canada geese camped right in front of our tent. Unfortunately, we didn't have a camera in the tent. Predictably, when we got out they moved away, but I pulled on my pants and grabbed my camera and managed to get a few shots of them before they swam away.

Last night we had a great dinner at the Vanilla Pod restaurant at the Poplar Grove winery. We had been to Vanilla Pod a couple of times when they were in Summerland and really enjoyed it, but this was definitely a more scenic location looking down on Penticton and the lake. The sunset was lovely and we watched the colors develop and then fade. I didn't have my camera but Shelley took a few shots with her iPhone.

After two days of solid climbing we were a little stiff this morning. Nevertheless, we did some harder climbs that left our fingertips sore from the small edges. We climbed till noon and took the afternoon off to relax and visit a couple of wineries (Blue Mountain and Noble Ridge). Both were excellent. We decided to sit and enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese platter on Noble Ridge's deck with a wonderful view of the mountains and lake.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Near Death Experience

Thankfully not my death, and also thankfully in the end no one was hurt. Here's the story.

Shelley and I were climbing a route called Dryathlon, a trad route up a corner crack. A couple of girls asked if it was ok if they climbed the bolted sport route beside us. We said sure.

I reached the top and was belaying Shelley up. The girl reached the top and clipped into the anchors. She was young and fit and full of life. And also a bit distracted and in a bit of a hurry. I could hear someone down below yelling "off belay" (meaning they were no longer securing the rope). But the girl up at the top with me wasn't paying any attention so I assumed it must be another group. (There were about four groups climbing, all yelling to each other.)

She barely stopped to catch her breath and she began to back over the edge, expecting her partner to lower her. But it turned out it had been her partner yelling "off belay". She stepped back over the edge and dropped like a stone.

Her rope beside me flew through the anchors. She didn't make a sound. No last shriek from this girl.

For a fraction of a second I waited for the most sickening sound of my life, as her body hit the rocks a hundred feet below

And then the rope stopped. She'd fallen 30 or 40 feet, but luckily the cliff was vertical and relatively smooth and she hadn't hit anything. Shelley was shocked to see her plummet past her. And down below a guy in their group said "what the f*** just happened?"

After a few minutes her partner lowered her the rest of the way to the ground. Shelley finished our climb and we rapped off (carefully!)

When I got down she was belaying her partner on the same route. She was trying to act as if nothing had happened but she had to have been shaken. I asked her if she was ok. She said, "yes, thank you". I said "that was scary" and she answered simply "yes". Her earlier exuberance was definitely muted.

Honestly, we can't figure out how she survived. If her partner had really taken her off belay, she should have fallen all the way. And if she was still on belay, then she shouldn't have fallen at all. Maybe the rope snagged. Or maybe the rope was still through the belay device but hands off, and she managed to catch it, or it snagged. Whatever happened, she was extremely lucky.

It was a good reminder, to them, and to us, and to everyone, that climbing is a sport where you have to pay attention. Not because the teacher tells you so, but because if you don't, it can kill you. Every year there are fatal accidents just like this one.


Skaha Details

First day of climbing at Skaha Bluffs. We got to the bottom of the climbs and discovered Shelley forgot her climbing shoes in the car. That was partly my fault since I'd organized all the climbing gear, but I wasn't sure which of her shoes she wanted so I hadn't pulled out any. While Shelley jogged back to the car I pulled out my camera to take a few random shots in the morning light.

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Dandelion Seeds

We had a great day climbing. Climbed 9 routes, from 5.7 to 5.10a. It always takes a few climbs to get used to the rock again. The temperature didn't get that high - only about 18c - but the sun was plenty hot. It sprinkled a little rain later in the afternoon but it didn't amount to anything.

Had a good supper at the Sage and Vines Bistro. And through the wonders of Facebook, we had a quick visit with an old friend (Jesse) that we hadn't known was in Penticton.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Head for the Hills

It's hard to believe it's been two years since we've been to Banff. But the date on our park pass doesn't lie. In the old days it would have been unusual to go two months without a trip to the mountains. Of course, for several decades every single holiday we took was centered around climbing. Now, we've branched out a little. We haven't even been to the Banff Mountain Film Festival for the last couple of years because we've been off traveling in other directions.

We make our usual stops - Subway in Hanna for lunch. Starbucks in Airdrie. The houses and cars around Calgary continue to multiply. I take the old 1A highway from Cochrane to Canmore. It's slow and windy but seriously, do you come to the mountains to drive on the TransCanada freeway, or to see the scenery?

It's raining in the mountains, a change after the +28c heat on the drive. But it stops so we get the tent up without getting wet.

We get to Banff in time for Shelley to restock at the Banff Tea Company. Then we wander around for a bit to stretch our legs after the drive. Too bad the bookstore is gone, but we visit the Patagonia store that took over the same location. We finger all the expensive high tech gear, especially the new M10 goretex jackets at only 8 oz. But it's not like we need any more gear and we don't buy anything. Mountain Magic is gone after being around for so many years, but Monods is still here.

We have supper at the Bison, one of our favorites. For a change from wine we have a bottle of Sea Cider Pippins. We visited their tasting room on Vancouver Island last time we were out there.

The Evelyns by the theatre is gone, but we stop at their new location on Banff Avenue to read our books over a cup of tea.

In the tent for the night I finish the last few pages of my book before turning off my headlamp. The tall dark trees stand all around us like silent sentinels. I smile as I'm serenaded to sleep by chattering squirrels and croaking ravens.

We stop at Wild Flour for breakfast before hitting the road again. The clouds are gray and it's raining off and on, but there are breaks and rays of sun on snowy peaks. The low clouds swirl around the valleys. Like coffee and wine, the infinite subtleties of the mountains are an acquired taste.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Print of the Week

Leafy seadragon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Leafy seadragon
(click to view larger)

I figured it was time to print one of my underwater creature photos. I'd love to see these diving but this is at an aquarium. They're probably hard to spot though - amazing camouflage!

I could have used a little more depth of focus, but at least the head is reasonably sharp. And considering it's through a thick pane of glass, it came out pretty well.

I know prints usually come out too dark, so I deliberately lighten them up (and turn down my monitor brightness). But I think I made it slightly too light this time. I did do a couple of small test prints, but you don't get a totally accurate idea from a small print.

See also: other print posts

Thursday, May 02, 2013

An Evening Walk

Last night, after supper, for some reason I just didn't want to sit and stare at a screen, regardless of whether it was a Kindle or an iPad or a MacBook. So I took my camera and headed out for a walk. Typically, I set out thinking I probably wouldn't find anything to photograph, and ended up taking lots. I didn't see much wildlife. There were a few loons and western grebes on the river. I liked the evening light on the water rushing out of the storm drain. And a sunset shot through the grass turned out alright.

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