Golden Autumn

 

Well, last year up here winter began with a snowfall that never left on Sept 30. But this year it’s a different story: it’s still sunny and quite warm some days, although at night the temperature goes down below zero. We still haven’t turned on all the heat yet – saving that for later in the year. (The winter electric bills up here are a killer!)

On Ty’s last set of days off we managed to get a nice hike in on Sandra’s brother’s property up in Rose Prairie. When we were there before it was the end of June and summer; now the colours and vegetation have changed and I almost did not recognise some of the places.

The walk goes past two small oil pumpjacks and along the ridge above the Beatton River. As you can see the grasses and trees are yellow and golden now. Really stunning!

Here Ty is pointing out the berry-filled bear poop on the trail. I am amazed that everyone up here can distinguish between bear, moose, deer, and dog poop. I was also a bit nervous to see that this particular pile was fresh. The others reassured me that, because there were so many berries this year, we did not need to worry about becoming this bear’s next snack …

After a warm walk downhill, we reached the riverside and its sandy banks.

It was a pretty warm day and we found a nice spot in the shade under the trees to have lunch. Luckily the mosquitoes have more or less left this vicinity; however, the wasps and ants were still actively sniffing around for food.

The way down was a pleasant stroll, while the way up again was a bit of a hot slog.

This beautiful golden season does not last long, this year about 4 weeks (last year it was 2 weeks). Now, two weeks after this walk, almost all the aspen trees are bare, stark skeletons against the bright blue sky.

For the last three months I worked on the set projections for the Alcan Craze of ’42 with Director Michael Armstrong of Nanaimo and local playwright and musician Deb Butler. The play is about the building of the Alaska Highway in 9 months in 1942, with thousands of American soldiers coming to the north, and the impact that event had on Fort St John and the surrounding area.

All that hard work paid off with wonderful reviews for the 25 videos I produced using historical images and movie clips. My clips were between 6 seconds and 6 minutes long and were used to flesh out the story, projected on the big wall behind the actors. Here are a few samples from the production.

Some of the images were stills, others are part of a moving montage.

  

And here is a video clip of the final scene of Act One, dealing with the drowning of 12 soldiers in the icy waters of Charlie Lake.

Drowning Scene.

Life at the gallery continues: September was a busy month with preparations for the Annual Art Auction which came to fruition on the last Saturday of September at the Pomeroy Hotel, with a buffet dinner, live music, live auction, silent auction, games (Heads or Tails below), bucket draws, and 50/50 draw. One hundred and twenty-five people came and we raised $25,000 for the gallery and visual arts programs in this community.

Featured artist this year was Karl Musgrove, a local rancher and artist who continues to paint every day even after having had a severe stroke that impedes his ability to talk and walk. Below Karl receives a standing ovation from the crowd.

I lasted until the last round of the Heads or Tails game and then was eliminated, leaving Miep (centre below) the happy winner of Cody Smith’s King of the Mountain painting.

Here’s a picture of auctioneer Brian Baldry in action; he’s very good at his job and was able to get some determined folks bidding against one another for the paintings on offer, resulting in very good prices for the work.

Gallery artists in residence continue throughout the Fall, with Judy Templeton wowing the crowds with collagraph printing on a tiny press.

And Laurie Yates painting.

On the day that Laurie was in residence, we had a visit from two Japanese cyclists who were heading through town on their way south, having begun their ride at the most northerly spot in Alaska. One, the gentleman on the left, is riding to the southern tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego, expecting to take two years to get there, and the other is going to Los Angeles.

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We’ve had two very successful events at the gallery in the last few weeks, the first a book launch, reading, and signing with local author Ronnie Roberts, who presented her post-apocalyptic novel set in the North Peace entitled Lost Sentinels. (There is a very active writers group here in FSJ, who meet every month at the library next door to the gallery).

As we pulled into the Cultural Centre parking lot for the event, the cloud formation overhead looked strange and almost apocalyptic.

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Along with Ronnie, local musical quartet Intermezzo serenaded the crowd with Baroque favourites.

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Ty serving wine and chatting up the crowd; he is the gallery’s defacto bartender for these evenings and does very well at it!

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Ronnie giving her signing hand a workout. We sold all but three of her books at the launch.

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And Fort St John’s two bassoonists meeting one another.

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The second event, just a few days ago, was the opening of Flora & Fauna: Block Prints by Catherine Ruddell and Driftwood Sculpture by Michelle Pringle, a beautiful show by two young local artists. It was a great success, attended by a big crowd, and received a very positive review by the local paper. (At the Cultural Centre there is an arts-based preschool, whose members came by the other day for a gallery visit as we were installing the Flora & Fauna show.)

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Here’s a short video I made of two of Michelle’s pieces arriving at the gallery.

Anderson & Libby arrive.

Intermezzo, in its trio version, played light jazz for the opening as the guests mingled and took in the art, including four life-size and over-life-size driftwood animals and an enormous quilt.

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The picture of the artists, below, was taken by Matt Prepost of the Alaska Highway News.

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Photo of Catherine’s block print quilt by Matt Prepost.

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There is also a very active photography club here in town, many of whose members head out nightly to capture the aurora borealis and daily to capture the changing seasons. The three photos below are by Vincent Bedier, whose handle is VinDronus.

I’m very happy to say that a couple of my films have had success recently. My experimental short An Accident of Being has been selected for this year’s Roma Cinema DOC in October 2017. Roma Cinema DOC is a monthly film festival based in Italy that features films, documentaries, and web series from around the world. Every month, Judges award the best films of each category. Every winner is given the distinction of an Official Finalist of the annual event in which Judges and Audience will award the best films of each category. The 2nd Roma Cinema DOC event will take place in October 2017.

And my short experimental film The Vanishing was selected as a semi-finalist for the 2017 Kaohsiung Film Festival International Short Film Competition in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. Held in October and November 2017, the Kaohsiung International Short Film Competition is dedicated to discover new filmmakers and to enhance cultural exchanges through short films.

And, finally, for this dispatch, Happy Thanksgiving to you all, wherever you may be! We had a wonderful meal at Eliza and Edward’s place, with tortiere, homemade soup and bread, and a very tasty dessert, especially appreciated by Ty who has been on a no-dessert diet for the last two months.

See more pictures here and here.

 

Gallery-Going and Walking in July

On a Monday day off, Sandra, Ty & I headed north to Rose Prairie for a visit to Beatton River and the countryside north of FSJ. The fields are lush and green with growing crops, including wheat and canola, the latter’s yellow plants just starting to flourish.

Although there are some large farms and ranches in this area, like the one pictured above, most of the farms are small family or hobby farms. We took a right turn somewhere out there and found ourselves on a narrow, deeply rutted dirt track through a farmer’s property leading down to the Beatton River south of where we had hiked the previous month.

All along the path were plants that I thought were Queen Anne’s Lace but turned out to be the related Cow Parsley. We parked at the top of the ridge and walked down towards the river under a canopy of aspen trees.

Sandra pointed out these cool large orange mushrooms growing at the side of the path.

A ways downhill is this very steep slope that some folks use to tobaggan down in the winter – yikes!

Wild pink roses are also plentiful in this part of the world.

Although the road was mostly clear of litter, Ty did stop to pick up some garbage on the way down to pack out.

You can see how deep the ruts are in the photo below, the result of trucks and heavier vehicles driving right down to the river.

In the background of the photo above is the ubiquitous burned-out derelict car in a field – I don’t get that. A closeup below.

Once down on the flats the woods opened up onto the river bank, dry and also scarred with narrow ruts. Apparently the “island in the stream” in the photos below never used to be here … the river and its banks are always changing according to the weather conditions.

We staked out a spot riverside to have lunch and enjoy the afternoon sun which came and went behind the clouds drifting by.

On the other side of this fast-flowing river, atop the bank, you can see where the ground is sloughing away beneath the stand of trees.

A while later we headed a bit north to the riverside property of one of Sandra’s brothers to enjoy a beer on his deck. Strangely he has some sort of odd electric golf cart stationed deckside which of course I had to try out, zipping around the property quite speedily.

This property is beautiful, many acres riverside and along the banks, with crop fields and gardens as well as untouched aspen forest. It would be fantastic for an artists’ residency in the summer …

As you know, I have been hired as the Peace Gallery North’s manager and my first order of business was to hang and open the Elizabeth Harris show. A few people were kind enough to volunteer to help in that process; below Linda is assisting in unpacking and getting the ceramics ready for display – she was also kind enough to touch up the rather battered plinths with black paint.

It took Elizabeth and I the whole day to unpack, place, and re-place the works, including painting, fabric art, ceramics, and photographs, for display.

A new project for Elizabeth, who is known for her lively and colourful animal paintings and ceramics, is the Canadiana apothecary bottle series below.

One of the guests exhibiting with Elizabeth is Catherine Nicholls, whose fabric piece detailed below I love.

Elizabeth grew up on a ranch outside Fort St John before going south to study and work and her family, who came out for the opening, still lives in the area.

It was great to see friends Sandra, Patrick, and Niki come out, on what turned out to be an incredibly stormy evening of torrential rain, thunder and lightning – a veritable summer monsoon.

Flying Colours friends Sandy, Miep, Linda, Mike and others also braved the rain to support Elizabeth’s show.

A fun part of the evening was the “Harris Singers”, Elizabeth’s family playing a round of Ian Tyson’s Canadian classic song “Four Strong Winds”, joined in by all the gallery-goers present.

Since the show was so bright and colourful, I wanted to wear something that would complement it, so out of the closet came the Turkish shalvar pants that I’d purchased in Gumusluk a few years back.

Good old Ty was recruited to play bartender, a role he does very well.

See more from the opening here.

A wonderful colour reduction woodcut workshop was held at Miep’s studio over one weekend mid-July; even though I was exhausted from working so much, I just had to take that in and got a second wind as I dove back in to the joys of printmaking. Below Sara Norquay, an artist from Edmonton, led us in cutting and printing four colour prints on Japanese Shina wood blocks.

The workshop was very well-attended, with 15 of us taking up all possible spots in the studio to create our pieces.

Although some of these folks have done lino before, I think only one or two had tried woodcuts, a slightly more difficult relief printing medium, in that the blocks are harder to carve and require sharper tools. I had unearthed my cutting tools from the depths of our garage storage unit, where they had not seen the light of day for years so of course they were dull, dull, dull. Sara was kind enough to allow us to use some of her sharp tools, so I took advantage of that.

This process involved cutting two blocks (or in this case, both sides of one block) printing them in two different colours, then cutting away more material from the same two blocks and printing another two (different) colours to complete the image.

I also cut two smaller blocks that I intended to print on parts of my image (below). I decided on the spur of the moment to do something abstract so this composition, which I entitled Energetic Radish Heart, somehow appeared at the end of my gouge.

Not too get to much into the details of this process, I will just say that it’s a bit tricky figuring out how much wood to cut away and where on each of the two blocks to get the optimum results.

Charlie decided to do a portrait piece; above you can see the image he’s working from at the bottom left and below the first block with its colours inked up, red for the eyes and blue for the top.

Mary opted for an image commemorating her RCMP daughter’s trip to Vimy Ridge this spring for the memorial: here you can see the preparatory drawing, one of the blocks, the tools, and the first two colours printed.

Below Sandy is working on a colourful bear piece, with a rainbow roll sky.

After the first day we drove out to Linda and Rick’s place at Charlie Lake for a BBQ on what turned out to be a blustery evening.

Their property is very interesting, with lots of stone structures built by Rick by hand, including rock walls, garden beds, and the combination greenhouse, alchemy lab/storage room, and guest house below.

Sculptures by Rick and Linda are dotted around the property.

They also have grape and kiwi vines growing along some of the wooden trellises that Rick has made.

Inside the greenhouse portion of the building, Linda has many different plants growing, including tropical varieties.

While we toured the property, the guys barbecued the dinner.

Our second workshop day was spent finishing up the printing of our editions of 10 colour prints; Charlie was very happy with his piece, called Zombie.

I printed my first block yellow and the second a brilliant magenta red, seen below.

Below you can see the first two colours, printed by hand on Japanese mulberry paper.

Here are some of the works in process drying.

My third colour was a lovely lilac-pink, below rolled out and inked up.

One of the smaller blocks was also inked up in a deep transparent pthalo blue.

Below are two inking variations, the one of the left with the first yellow colour and the one on the right without it.

Linda, a biologist by training, made a puffin for her first ever print.

Some of the people opted to experiment with varying their colours, as in the landscape example by Sherry below.

My fourth colour was a frosty, minty green which I printed on a couple of the pieces, since I was not yet sure that’s what I wanted.

Linda’s turtle is coming along nicely, printed in transparent shades of green and yellow.

Above is Bev’s hummingbird, below is Mary’s completed Vimy piece and Sandy’s bear.

See more from the workshop here.

I have instituted a Gallery Artist in Residence series; our first artist this past Saturday was Lindsay, who looks very happy to be ensconced in the Gallery and painting up a storm!

Playwright and musician Deb and her husband Mike dropped by and we had a few laughs with them. Deb and Mike have a country-flavoured band that gigs around town.

Lindsay, who loves Emily Carr, created this treescape, as well as worked on two other pieces during the time she was in the gallery. It was great having her there.

With Lindsay below is Ronnie Roberts, a local writer who has a new science fiction novel coming out in August.

Sandra and I did the Fort St John Horticultural Society’s Annual Garden Tour this past weekend. Each of the six homes was out in Charlie Lake area, three out the end of Old Hope Road and the other three on the eastern side of the lake itself (near where Sandra used to live when her kids were small).

I had just met the couple who own the first place we visited at the gallery opening the other night: this place is 161 acres, with a large main house, a 2500 square foot shop and studio,

a corral for horses, several dugouts and a pond complete with small island, and a view out to the mountains west of here. It’s also for sale, so if you’ve ever fancied the northern life, here is your chance!

In one of the rock terraces that surround the garden a cast of an Icthyosaurus, cast from one of the local museum’s fossil collections, is embedded – very cool!

And a replica Easter Island head, brought north from Vancouver Island, presides over the front lawn.

Helen is an architect, painter, and potter, and I loved her enormous studio space, two rooms of which are pictured below.

The studio is three and a half times the size of our condo. I continue to be amazed at the amount of property and “stuff” that people up here have; it really boggles the mind – a very different lifestyle that I’m used to.

The second home we visited, “only” ten acres, had a tent of watercolour cards and small paintings, as well as potted plants, for sale.

The roosters below are for Maggie.

The couple also have a lovely rabbit, found by a neighbour hopping through their yard and now provided with a large mesh hutch here in the back yard.

Just down the road was the final garden on this part of the tour, owned by someone who is a bit of a comedian, apparently:

I really enjoyed the metal-and-wrapped-fabric sculpture of a heron standing around in one garden bed.

The canola crops are just coming in here in the fields, their yellow carpet an amazing contrast with the blue sky.

About half way through the tour, the weather turned stormy and began to rain, too bad! The last two places we visited in what became a torrential monsoon downpour.

The final stop on the tour was set up for vendors and had tents for refreshments; unfortunately, when we were there it was too wet and cold to stay outside for long and we beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of the car.

And, the ever-present wrecked car, this time a VW Bug in the weeds.

See more pics here  and here.

 

Out and About in June

Summer in FSJ: Dust Advisory

About half an hour north of here is Rose Prairie, a small homesteaders’ community where some of the people that I’ve met here grew up. 15 human members and 3 doggos from the Sunday hiking group headed out there last weekend on a beautiful warm, sunny day to explore the area.

Sandra grew up out here and it was her family’s land, now belonging to her brother, that we hiked through. Here she is unloading one of the two dogs with one of her daughters and grandkids. There are lots of new animal babies around the place, including these small cattle.

Northeast BC is oil and gas country and most of these plots of land have small pumpjacks on them; these ones still have melt water around them.

Since we were walking through private land, there were lots of wire fences to make our way through.

At the bottom right in the picture above, and below, you see Gus, a 13 year old black Miniature Schnauzer who accompanied us, a lovely little dog who reminded me of Brubin.

After we left the road, the first part of our hike was bush-wacking through the trees and underbrush down the hill towards the Beatton River from the high ridge where we began, looking for a cave that Sandra remembered from her past.

The white flowers that you see here are Saskatoons, from which many Saskatoon berries will emerge at some point. I’m hoping that someone I know is a good baker and will make some berry cobbler!

The underbrush was quite thick and it was a bit tricky to navigate, especially as we came closer to the cliff edge and it was quite steep.

We stayed back a safe distance from the edge, noting that the ground had sloughed away in places from the heavy rains this past year.

After coming close to the edge of the cliff and not finding the trail down to the cave because it was too overgrown, we headed back up and over, through the aspen trees and deadfall back to the ridge along the top of the valley.

This trail was a beautiful open scenic walk with the river below.

At this point poor old Gus had disappeared from the group; he had gotten lost in the underbrush and his human, with several others, went back to find him. (Gus was found, exhausted but otherwise ok, and those folks headed back home). The rest of us carried on down to the river, accessed by a looonnnnng trail down through more aspen trees.

Once at the bottom the valley opened up and we walked along the river’s edge, with lots of freshly deposited soft gray sand, to a shady, sandy spot beneath the trees for lunch.

It is true what “they” say about the northern mosquitoes; they are everywhere and enormous (the size of small birds!), although quite slow-moving at this time of year. Industrial applications of Deep Woods was necessary to try to keep them at bay. I keep trying my selfie shots but the optimum picture continues to elude me – I look somewhat deranged here but this was the best of the lot.

Another day, another walk: Pro Tip: when deciding to go for a walk in Northern BC, do not go into the forest – ever – without massive doses of Deep Woods. I forgot that important point when Eliza and I went walking north of town the other day. My forearms were bare and bug-spray-less when we ventured in and by the time we quickly beat our escape out again I counted 18 mosquito bites on my forearms alone – yikes!! Eliza showed me the spruce tips that she was going to make jelly with.

Fish Creek is still running very high for this time of year.

We passed by the old truck graveyard, previously seen only in the snow. Now that I’ve been doing research into the Alaska Highway building of 1942, I recognise that these vehicles are that vintage and probably came up here with the highway. However, I still don’t know what exactly they are doing in the trees here.

Across the East Bypass Road at the edge of town, Eliza showed me the path to another part of Fish Creek that I had not seen before. Here the creek is even wider as a result of several beaver dams.

As we were walking Eliza pointed out a tiny frog on the path.

June is Arts Month in FSJ: below is a report on what’s happening from the local news source.

(An artist works on a sand sculpture at Sand Sensations B.C. in Taylor back in 2013. File photo energeticcity.ca.)

As part of the North Peace Cultural Centre’s 25th Anniversary Celebrations next week, Peter Vogelaar returns to Fort St. John to create a huge sand sculpture in the centre of town. This sculpture will be 16 feet long and 10 feet tall, and will be built during the week of June 3rd – June 9th in the corner of the NPCC parking lot. Fellow sand carver Denis Kline will be doing the finishing touches on Saturday, June 10 during the Big Print Day Art Market from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

On Wednesday, June 7, from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm the NPCC will be welcoming the public to come down and witness this masterpiece take shape. The event will also feature a demonstration by chainsaw carving artist Ryan Cook, who will be competing in the Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Competition the next day.

The sand sculpture is slated to be finished for the Bright Nights Gala Reception and Performance on Friday, June 9 at the NPCC.

The Big Print

In the studio folks are working on their big woodcuts for Jun 10. Here they contemplate Miep’s howling wolf.

This project has had a big learning curve for people; the scale, the logistics of carving an MDF plate, and the whole inking and printing process remains to be figured out. Below are some of the tools that Miep has been using, discovering that the large electric drill with diamond tips was better by far than the small hand woodcut tools. Since I’m sure you will be interested to see how it all turns out, I will report on these arts events in my next blog post.

Irene, Regula, and I headed south on a beautiful sunny Friday evening to Dawson Creek for the opening of the Peace-Liard Regional Arts Council’s 35th Annual Juried Show, held this year at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery. On the way, we made a quick side trip to the Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, a curved wooden trestle bridge built in 1942 that used to be part of the main Alaska Highway.

This show is open to artists who live in the Peace Liard Region – Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Fort St John, Hudson Hope, and Fort Nelson, and it travels to a different community every year. Possibly the weather helped, but the turnout was great for the opening; the event included a great spread of nibblies, live music, a welcome and drumming from Treaty 8 First Nations representatives, and awards and speeches by local sponsors.

180 or so works were included and the diversity was breathtaking. Many landscapes, as was to be expected, but also some very interesting conceptual pieces, including the one below by Mary M,

and “Something for Leonard”, below, by Barb Daley, a wonderful mixed media homage to Leonard Cohen. On a Chinese kimono base, the piece includes 8 layers of material, each of which can be lifted up to view. Each of the layers deals with a different aspect of Leonard’s life; the materials include all sorts of fabric, stitching, photography, paint, beeswax, and actual objects such as feathers and the like.

I really love everything about this piece. Other interesting works were the blue Picasso with aliens, below, and

this beautifully-done landscape oil painting by Peter Shaw,

and this very strange wizard with pipe and squirrel piece. The figure reminded me of Ty.

Now that he’s shaved off his beard, leaving only a goatee, the resemblance is not quite as striking but with the full beard – yes, definitely, Ty in a cape.

A number of awards were handed out, including major cash prizes, and I was very glad to see Barb’s work recognised as the Best Conceptual piece. In addition, a number of pieces were sold; the community really supports its artists in this part of the world.

This past sunny Sunday saw a small group of intrepid hikers and one dog make their way to Battleship Mountain, a climbing area between Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd. Leaving at 8:30 in the morning, we first went to the Bennett Dam to try and access the site, but the road over the dam was closed for repair. We then had to backtrack to Hudson’s Hope, then head for the Johnson’s Forest Service Road on the way to Chetwynd. This logging road is a 67 kilometer gravel treck from the highway into the bush, with loose rocks and lots of sand – sort of like driving through snow, especially on the corners. Luckily, we only saw three other vehicles while we were traversing it; each kicked up a huge plume of dust that blanketed everything from sight. Along the way we passed two burnt-out vehicles in a grassy clearing.

After an hour of bumping along, finally we saw the trailhead sign just past the Carbon Lake Recreational area and pulled over to park. We had left at 8:30 and it was now noon; the sign indicated that the 10 km roundtrip hike to the top would take 6 hours … I was thinking that we had started too late in the day for that. But anyway, after having loaded up our packs, we headed off into the bush for the steep climb upwards.

The route was pretty well marked but STEEP – I was worried and not sure that I could make it. But, having started, I just put one foot in front of the other and ascended, stopping every so often for a rest, my heart pounding and breathing laboured – the ol’ aerobic conditioning was not as good as it should have been for this route!

Luckily, there were few mosquitos and the trail led up through the forest so it was not too hot. Periodically, a nice stiff breeze cooled things down as well.

You can’t really get a sense of how steep the climb was from these pictures, because I could only take photos when we reached places where I was not scrambling up with my hands as well as my feet. The group was very kind to me, stopping and waiting while I recovered my breath.

After two hours of steady upward, we were rewarded with this great view of one arm of Williston Lake.

We paused here for a bit to rest and enjoy the view. I got somewhat nervous when the dog – aptly naked Bear – got too close to the edge.

Speaking of which, all of us had bear spray – I was terrified at the beginning of the route at heading into bear country wilderness but soon forgot about it – just too difficult to actually walk to think about getting eaten by bears!

From this viewpoint, I imagined that it would take not much time at all to get to the alpine lake from which the summit ascent began … wrong! First, after another quite long walk still upward through damp areas and snow, we came to what Sandra called “the swamp”, the first small body of water.

I was quite excited, thinking that our labours were at an end but it was not to be … off we trudged, again upward through water and snow, towards the unnamed lake which, since I was very tired, I began to think was an apparition, like those desert oasis mirages that ever recede into the distance.

But, after an additional hour, lo and behold – the lake!

The hill in the distance is the summit of Battleship and I was glad to hear that everyone thought we did not have enough time this day to attempt it. I would not have been able to do it.

We enjoyed our lunch of cheese, nuts, fruit, and protein bars lakeside.

Bear the dog looked pretty tired, too.

I am so glad to have met these folks and joined in on the hikes; I’m seeing a side of British Columbia that I never would have seen otherwise. And they are all really lovely people.

For more info on the Battleship Mountain hike, click here.

For more photos, click here and here.