Monday, June 29, 2015

Flying Around

We ended up paragliding at four different sites around BC - the two near Vernon, Mt. MacKenzie at Revelstoke (thanks to Brad at Revelstoke Paragliding), and Mt. 7 at Golden (thanks to Scott at Altitude Adventures).

getting ready to launch in beautiful scenery

The launch at Revelstoke is from the top of the ski hill, which has the highest vertical in North America - 1,713m (5,620 ft). So even a "sled ride" without thermals is a 25 minute flight! If you're considering a tandem flight, this is a great location to get a long flight. (most places can only guarantee 10 to 15 minutes). My first flight here was about 40 minutes, my second, a little later in the day with better thermals, was 80 minutes, and I probably could have stayed up longer if I'd wanted. And on top of the the great flying, the scenery is fantastic with snow covered peaks and the big valley with the river running through it.


Mt. 7 at Golden is well known for paragliding. Many long, record breaking flights have been made from here. We flew early in the day so there were no thermals and we just got 15 minute glides down, but it was good to get to know the site. Launch was a little trickier. Not over a cliff, but a steep slope that would not have been pleasant to fall down.

If there's wind you can do reverse launches where you can pull up the wing facing it, and make sure it's good before turning and taking off. But we had no wind which meant forward launches, where you have to run to pull up the glider and you can't (easily) pause to see if it's ok. After I set up my glider, Scott, who was showing us the site, asked if I wanted to move my glider further back from the edge. I said no, I was fine. In retrospect, if someone experienced asks that kind of thing, it should probably be taken as a suggestion, not a question! Where I set up, I had about 3 steps before the edge. Enough room if everything went well, but not really enough room to abort if it didn't. Thankfully my wing came up straight and didn't overshoot, and I flew off cleanly.

Shelley coming in to land

Shelley coming in to land. The Mt. 7 launch is the left hand peak on the skyline.

We started this trip with only a single 15 minute flight under our belts. We now have 12 flights and I have almost 7 hours in the air. We're still beginners but at least we're getting a little experience and getting to know some of the flying sites.

See all 8 photos as a slideshow or overview

See also my earlier post - Learning to Climb

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


After three days of climbing we were ready for a break so we took a day off to tour around. We had breakfast at The Bench, one of our regular coffee stops in Pentiction.


I had fun trying to take photos of the sparrows flitting around the patio.


Then we headed south with our first stop at Vaseux Lake Bird Sanctuary. There were more mosquitos than birds, but I did manage a few shots of an osprey. (Although it was too far away so they're not as sharp as I'd like.)

osprey launch

No tripod, so I was doing my best to brace the long lens. (I handed my other camera to Shelley to hold and she took advantage of the opportunity to get a photo of me taking photos :-)

photographing the osprey

Next we stopped at the Osoyoos Desert Center. We missed the tour, but we'd been on it before so we just walked around the boardwalk on our own. Most of the animals are nocturnal but it's nice to see the plants and the scenery. We surprised a tiny spotted fawn that was hiding under the boardwalk. Unfortunately it ran into the bushes and I couldn't get a photo. The staff told us there were twin fawns and that the mother would have left them to go and feed.

The information in the center helped me identify these flowers (that we'd also seen at Skaha Bluffs) as Sagebrush Mariposa Lilies. Pretty flowers.

Sagebrush mariposa lily

Last time we were here there was a Kildeer nesting right close to the center. This time we saw one by the water.


We went to the nearby Miradoro restaurant at Tinhorn Creek Winery for lunch. It has fantastic views (not to mention great food).

Tinhorn Creek Miradoro restaurant

view from Tinhorn Creek winery

Shelley at Tinhorn Creek

We also visited Le Vieux Pin, one of our winery favorites. And we finished up with afternoon coffee and gelato at Medicis Gelateria in Oliver (in a former church).

To finish the day, a friend took us to the new Bad Tattoo Brewing Company, for great pizza and beer.

See all 24 photos as a slideshow or overview

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Learning to Climb

In a paraglider that is, not as in rock climbing.

launching from Baldy, another glider already climbing

We recently spent three days paragliding near Vernon, BC. It's been a while since our course in Santa Barbara and we've had limited air time so we figured it would be good to get a little more instruction. We went out with Glenn Derouin of Paraglide Canada.

We got in eight flights over the three days. Mostly from a site called Baldy, with one flight (our longest) from Coopers.

Despite having practiced our ground handling at home, launches were still inconsistent. One launch took me five tries to get off. By that point you're getting so frustrated you're ready to quit. Other launches were smoothly off and away first try, which makes the failures even more annoying! On the positive side our launch failures were pretty harmless, except for one that gave Shelley a few more scrapes and bruises to show off. (The rip in her favourite pants was probably a bigger annoyance!)

One of the main things we wanted to learn was thermalling - finding rising hot air and circling in it to gain altitude. The one mountain flight that the wind had allowed in Santa Barbara didn't have any thermals so we had no experience in this critical skill. Thermals are the key to longer flights and to going cross country.

The first flights of the morning off Baldy didn't have much for thermals. It was usually a 10 to 15 minute glide, with a little lift off the ridge if you were lucky. But the second flights, later in the morning were better, and we managed to stay up 20 or 25 minutes. Late afternoon was often good and I managed a 50 min flight one day. (And probably could have stayed up longer but I started feeling queasy from the 360's)

It takes a little getting used to the turbulence. We probably haven't encountered anything significant, but even small stuff is disconcerting, a bit like some giant puppeteer yanking on your lines, bouncing you and your wing around. But in a way it becomes a positive thing because it often means a thermal is close by.

On our longest flight from Coopers there were half a dozen other paragliders in the air with us and some hang gliders as well. The normal strategy is to watch the other gliders and if any of them find a thermal to head over to join them. But it still makes me a little nervous flying too close to others. So I preferred to go looking for my own lift. But when I found the strongest thermal of the flight they all came to join me! Luckily I had a head start and managed to find the core of strongest lift and out climb them. Our launch was just over 1000m (3300 ft) and in that thermal I rapidly (for me) climbed up to 2100m (almost 7000ft). It's misleading because you only feel the acceleration when you enter the thermal. Once you're rising steadily, and the air is rising with you, you don't really feel like you're moving. But the rapidly changing numbers on your altimeter tell a different story.

We had great views from up high - the Silver Star ski resort, snowy mountains in the distance, farms and the town of Lumby below us.

After climbing in my first thermal I headed down the ridge to the south looking for another. I didn't find any more lift so I headed back. As I sank lower I was afraid I was going to be out of it. I arrived back at the start just about level with launch. Luckily (and with some direction from Glenn) I found a thermal and climbed back up. This time I headed north but again didn't find another thermal and headed back, being careful to keep a little more altitude. The last thermal was the best of the flight. I managed to find the core and turn tight (for me) 360's to stay in it. The conditions hadn't looked that good when we started so we weren't expecting long flights and I didn't bother putting on a jacket since it was hot at launch. But at 2100m it was definitely chilly and I shivered a bit until I eventually dropped lower where it was warmer.

With lots of altitude to play with Glenn suggested I head out across the valley to the mountain on the far side and fly a triangle course to get back to launch. My triangle was more oval than triangular but I wasn't too worried. I was just happy to have flown around the valley - almost 40km in total. I probably could have found another thermal and stayed up even longer but Shelley was already down and I was getting stiff from sitting in the harness for 80 minutes so I headed down. I had a brief moment of concern at one point when I couldn't spot the landing field. From high up one field looks much like another! But thankfully I located it again. I did a few gentle loops over the field to lose height.

Annoyingly, I undershot slightly and landed 10 feet into a farmers crop instead of on the grassy landing area. The farmer came by to chew me out for landing in his field but when I apologized profusely and explained I was a beginner he warmed up and chatted with us about paragliding.

You can see the track and stats of this flight (and the others)

coming in to land from Coopers

All in all it was a great three days. As I said on Facebook, it's hard to beat floating around with the birds and the clouds! We still only have about four hours of flying time, and our launches could be more consistent, but at least we have a little better idea of how to find and use thermals, and what it's like to stay up for a while.

* thanks to Shelley for the photos

Friday, June 19, 2015


I've been too preoccupied with paragliding to take any photos, but now that we're rock climbing at Skaha I've got the camera out again.


Anybody know what kind of flower this is? (It doesn't belong to the pine needles, it was just growing up through them.)


time to climb

The quail chicks are well camouflaged.

spot the quail chicks

Had a great first day on the rock. Warmed up on easier stuff but ended the day on something decent (for us). The heat made it a little tougher, but justified the ice cream afterwards :-)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Print of the Week

I know, it hasn't been a week since the last Print of the Week post. But this print is actually from a couple of weeks ago, I just hadn't got around to posting it.

This is one from the Santa Barbara zoo, although it could be from any zoo. I love the texture of the wrinkled skin, especially as a large print. It's a dark image, which fits the melancholy mood that I associate with it. I have very mixed feelings about zoos. I love to see the animals, and I hope it gives people a better connection with them, but I also hate that the animals are in captivity, no matter how "natural" their cages are. I have no idea if this elephant is happy or sad, but in my mind the picture portrays an animal that would rather be in the wild.

click to view larger

This is a black and white conversion with a slight warm tint. The original didn't have a lot of color to start with so it seemed like an obvious choice, especially with the contrasty image.

PS. I posted the image from the last Print of the Week on my 500px account and it was surprisingly popular, as good as any that I've posted there. Considering the volume and quality of images on 500px, that's pretty good. Not that I do photography to be popular, but it never hurts if other people like the photos too.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Print of the Week

Another one from our Kanchenjunga trek in Nepal. This was a beautiful sunset with the clouds swirling around and the sun breaking through and warm evening colors. This was from one of our higher elevation nights and it was definitely chilly standing around outside taking photos!

fire in the sky

Despite the low light and hand holding (no tripod) it's actually reasonably sharp, even as a large print. (I think I had a wall or fence to brace against, and this was the sharpest of several.)

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Brighten your day

A few shots from our garden, first something bold:


and then something a little more gentle:



Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Small frog in a little pond

A few years ago I raised a batch of northern leopard frogs from eggs and I released some of them in the pond at Innovation Place. They seemed to thrive over the summer, but the next spring there was no sign of them. I assume the pond is too shallow and they froze. Since then I haven't seen any frogs there - until today. I was looking for fishing spiders and a wood frog jumped right in front of me. As they have a tendency to, it dove underwater into the weeds and I lost it. I took the chance to pull out my camera and then I waited patiently for it to come up for air. Moving slowly I managed to get a few shots. It dove and resurfaced a couple of times but luckily still within reach.

Wood frog

Wood frog

Wood frogs are perhaps a better match for the shallow pond since, amazingly, they can be mostly frozen and still survive. I'm not sure where it would have come from (unless someone else has been surreptitiously stocking the pond!) The nearest water is a long way away, although in the spring the ditches full of water might provide routes.

Wood frog

Love those long legs and webbed feet!

I'm happy to see the new resident at the pond. I hope it hangs around and multiplies! A few garter snakes would be next on my list :-) The pond seems to be surprisingly healthy with lots of insects. I'm hoping that means they're not using too many pesticide on the gardens.

PS. I did also spot some fishing spiders, like this one with a nice spot in the sun to wait for unsuspecting prey.

fishing spider

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Window Seat

My home office window looks out onto the trees in the back yard. They're a bit stark in the winter when they're bare, but in the summer they make a nice green backdrop. I looked out this afternoon to see a bunch of birds on the branches. They turned out to be Cedar waxwings. (I'd also seen some yesterday at Innovation Place.)

I grabbed my camera and got a few shots although they were hidden in the leaves. I really needed my big lens but didn't have time to get it. So not great photos, but recognizable - you can see the crested head, black mask, red tip on its wing, and (just barely) the yellow stripe across it's tail. Quite pretty birds in my opinion.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

A group of waxwings is known as a "museum" or an "ear-full". I can see where "ear-full" comes from since a large group of them can be quite noisy.

After the birds had left, I went to clear some cobwebs from the window, and a spider came running out. I had the macro lens on the K3 so I grabbed it and took some photos. It kept running around making it difficult to photograph. I though maybe I had scared it, but then it ran out onto the web and proceeded to gobble down a fly that had been snared.

dinner! said the spider


Monday, June 01, 2015

Fishing Spiders

Managed a few shots of my friends the six-spotted fishing spiders.

They are still small, but you can tell they're growing because you find their cast-off skins. (One of the clues that they're around.) These were a bit over a centimeter (1/2 inch) in body size (not counting the long legs). It can take a bit of looking to spot them, but once you start to see them there are quite a few around.

six-spotted fishing spider

six-spotted fishing spider

And their beautiful home, which I'm lucky enough to share as my surroundings at Innovation Place. (And first thing in the morning you don't have to deal with the wedding and graduation photo parties!)

Innovation Place gardens

Innovation Place gardens

These were taken with the little RX100m2. The focus is a bit hit or miss with getting so close on the macro shots, but given a cooperative subject (which these guys are, as long as you move slowly) you can take a bunch and usually get one that's sharp.