Vantage Point

We drove through the snow to get to the desert.

Our destination was south of the 49th parallel, to the home of some of Washington state’s finest rock climbing, Vantage. The drive east from Seattle is a compressed lesson in geography. Leaving behind the moist, cloud catching city on the Pacific coast, the road quickly rises to thread the barrier of the Cascade mountain range. Snow drifts, and white peaks signal the temperature drop as our altitude increases. Descending on the eastern side of the range, the snow vanishes as quickly as it appeared, replaced by a dry, rocky expanse, shielded from the moisture to the west by its lofty neighbours.

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Landscape surrounding Vantage

We were a party of climbers from the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club (UBC VOC), with a plan to escape the inclement weather in Vancouver for a weekend. Having only decided to go the day before, approaching the US border, I had images of paperwork problems,  and forcing my Canadian co-passengers to turn around and drop me at the nearest bus route back to Vancouver. In reality, the crossing was seamless; the benefit of an Irish passport. With the 450km drive complete, including a supply stop at the vast wilderness that is the American supermarket, we arrived just before midnight on Friday. Tents up. Bags down. Bed.

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Morning walk in to the climbs on Sunshine Wall.

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Restricted access

The climbing in Vantage is predominately located on the basalt columns that make up the cliff faces, giving a huge selection of arête and crack routes, with some good rock faces in between. On Saturday, we focused our efforts on Sunshine Wall, ticking off a few of the classic single pitch routes, and one very enjoyable multi pitch route with an amazing view.

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Victor belaying on the first route of the day

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Leading the first pitch (photograph by Victor Gan)
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Sunshine Wall lives up to its name

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Time out to take in the surroundings (photograph by Victor Gan)

Climbing, like many things, had been put on the back burner while I was getting ready to move to Canada, and this was my first day on the rock since last summer. I am far from a good climber, but climbing can reward all equally. Once the underlying nerves and fear can be controlled, climbing gifts you with the opportunity to focus solely on the action at hand, remove distractions, and to reset from the loops that your mind can get stuck in during day to day life. And when all the swearing and scraping is done, it feels pretty epic to get to the top too.

The day ended like all good camping days should, with a big feed, a social fire, and a warm sleeping bag.

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Stars emerge
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Harmony in camp

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Saturday night was not without incident, the stillness punctuated with occasional distant but powerful booms, which we learned later were from artillery testing  taking place in the region. We had our own pyrotechnics closer to hand, with what appeared to be a very sizeable gas canister  explosion in another group’s camp. After a pause, the sound of hysterical drunken laughter drifting through the smoke assured us that all was well.

Sunday morning started as Saturday finished, with beautiful sunshine. Stocking up on vitamin D, and with a plan to hit the road at noon, we headed out early to a rock section overlooking our camp, known as the Feathers. In the more laid back atmosphere of a Sunday morning, we worked our way through three or four short but technical routes, and soaked up as much of the desert ambience as we could before we had to load up, and head out.

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Climbing in the morning sun
Last move on the last route

This trip was my first to  the United States (apart from flight stopovers). A combination of striking surroundings, friendly locals, and some exciting climbing, made it memorable, and left me with a positive impression, despite the reminders coming from the sounds in the distance. More importantly, it achieved the goal I hope for the most when I travel. I felt like I was somewhere completely different.

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Approaching the Columbia river crossing on the way out

Canada: My Introduction

Twenty four hours. From my front door in Sligo, on Ireland’s Atlantic west coast, to Vancouver, in the Pacific forests of Canada. A relatively long time to be travelling, but a remarkably short period to find yourself transplanted into a new life.

I’ve come to Vancouver to take up a research position at the University of British Columbia, looking at the relationships between the atmosphere and the planet’s snow and ice cover. I’ve decided to start a blog to keep family and friends updated on life here, and to give  some information on the work I’m involved in, for those who may be interested. This opening post is just to get the ball rolling, and give a brief synopsis of the story so far.

In reality, my first two months in Canada have mostly involved all the excitement of endless application forms, house hunting, university registration, bank and phone account set ups, navigating cryptic public transport maps, getting lost in supermarkets, getting lost in translation, and incidents of general isolated wandering. This is combined with getting to grips with new courses, teaching, and getting a research project off the ground. So instead of having to read about that, here are some pictures of my initial weekend adventures!

My first trip outside of Vancouver was a hike to Lake Garibaldi, a large, currently frozen alpine lake, surrounded by glaciated mountains. The drive to the lake is almost as spectacular as the hike itself, taking the scenic ‘Sea-to-Sky’ highway from Vancouver to Squamish, which winds along the coast between lush, brooding temperate rainforest of Douglas fir, and the snowcapped Coast range.

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On the move on the Sea-to-Sky highway
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Approaching Lake Garibaldi
Lengthening shadows on Lake Garibaldi
Lengthening shadows on Lake Garibaldi

 

The city of Vancouver is incredibly diverse, with over half of the population having a first language other than English (very excited about trying as many different foods as possible). There is a thriving Chinese community, accounting for  at least 20% of its population. The end of January saw the arrival of the year of the horse, and I was fortunate enough to take part in some of the Chinese New Year festivities.

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Launching lanterns during the Chinese New Year festival,
Vancouver
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Lighting up the wishes for the year
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Trying the chicken feet at Chinese New Year breakfast

 

For my next wander, I did as the Canadians do, and strapped on a pair of snowshoes in search of Elfin lakes. The location lived up to its name, with stunning scenery, and enchanted animals (see image).

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Snowshoeing to Elfin Lakes
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Some friendly locals on route
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Heading west on the return from Elfin Lakes

 

Following the unusual occurrence of snowfall in urban Vancouver, I found myself bricklaying, like many Irish migrants before me. Granted these were bricks of snow, as a Chinese man, a Kenyan man, a Malaysian woman, and an Irish man attempted to build an igloo; insert own punch line here. The world is a small place.

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United Nations Igloo building

 

The world is a small place. British Columbia is enormous. Canada is incomprehensible. Being so tied up with getting started in a new country and position, I’ve only just made the lightest of scratches on its surface. I am eager and excited to see as much as this country has to offer. I expect that you could be born and raised here, and still not see a fraction of it. But I’m willing to give it a go.

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Downhill skiing above Vancouver
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Backcountry skiing in Red Heather (I’m assuming it’s a summer name)
Backcountry in bear country

Glaciology, Climate, Travel, Mountaineering, Photography