Exploration

Exploration: Hiking 50-40 Peak near Port Alberni

Last weekend my partner and I decided to change things up and leave the forests and head to the mountains instead. Joining a couple good friends, we settled on climbing 50-40 Peak (elevation: 5039 ft / 1536 m) about 45 minutes beyond Port Alberni on southern Vancouver Island. It turned out to be a incredibly beautiful and wild place to explore, with stunning views of the nearby mountains like Triple Peak, Cats Ear, and Pogo Mountain. On day 1, with temps in the mid 30’s, we hiked the steep trail from the logging road up through young forest and into old-growth, before reaching the stunning Cobalt Lake after about 1.5hrs. There’s no better sight to see than those cool, crystal blue waters after a hot climb like that! We swam, cooked dinner, swatted mosquitoes, watched the sunset, and camped over night alongside the lake. The following morning we woke up early to see a beautiful sunrise washing the spires of Triple Peak in a pinkish-red colour while clouds flowed through the valley below. After asking a big black bear to please head the other direction as it wandered down the valley towards our camp, we ate breakfast and hiked the last 1.5 hours to the summit. The views from here were some of the most breathtaking panoramas I’ve ever seen on the island! If you’re looking for a highly rewarding day hike or over overnight camp, I’d definitely recommend this trail. Though it doesn't take too long, it does get quite steep in sections so hiking experience and a good level of fitness is recommended. A 4x4 vehicle with good clearance is also necessary to access the trailhead to Cobal Lake. For more detailed info on the the trails see: http://www.summitpost.org/50-40-peak/558245 Below are some photos from our journey!


My First Cougar Sighting in the Walbran Valley

Well, the moment that I've been waiting half my life for finally happened. I saw a cougar. Not just one cougar though, TWO cougars!! After spending over a decade exploring Vancouver Island's old-growth forests (home to the highest concentration of cougars on earth) and driving thousands of kilometers of remote backroads, I was starting to wonder if it would ever happen. Did these giants cats truly even exist? They're so elusive you start to eventually wonder.

On the drive home though from the Walbran Valley Convergence, a celebration organized by the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran of the 1991 environmental protests in the valley, a large female cat bounded directly in front of my van from a small side road. The distance she coverage with casual effort was incredible. After quickly stopping in disbelief, I looked up the side road to see a second smaller cougar slowly sauntering off. After fumbling for my phone and shutting off the vehicle, I managed to capture a short clip of the animal walking away. We then reversed down the road to give them some space while I frantically asked friends in the back seat to pass me my camera bag which, of course, was buried within all of our camping gear. As I scrambled to unpack and assemble my camera and zoom lens as fast as humanly possible, the large female cougar walked back out across the road to follow the juvenile, presumably her cub. I had just enough time to snap a single photo of her through the front window as she looked directly at use before she too was gone.

Though I wish I'd managed to get a clearer shot, I'm so incredibly thankful to have had such an up close and intimate view of these almost mythical creatures. Instead of just catching a brief glimpse of a tail disappearing into the forest at night, we were treated to a nearly minutes-long experience - enough time to make eye contact with one of the most beautiful and powerful creatures to call the island home. It's a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life!!

Carmanah Valley Research Climb 2016

Over the July 16-17 weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to join a team of professional tree climbers and a UBC research student in the Carmanah Valley and photograph their endeavors.

The aim of the tree climbing project was to assist UBC Forest and Conservation Sciences Student, Vincent Hanlon in his somatic mutation research of Sitka spruce tre DNA. The climbing team, consisting of Jamz Luce, Matthew Beatty, and Ryan Murphy, used low-impact rope techniques to access and sample the highest possible new growth points in each tree, record specific sample location data, and to measure both the sample height and ultimate tree height. Over the course of 7 days they ascended 23 trees that averaged heights of 75 meters or 250ft, with the tallest (and largest by volume) measuring in at 84 meters tall. Their skills among the tree tops and dedication to helping further conservation and research efforts is something to behold. Trees were also accurately measure for submission to the BC Big Tree Registry.

The feeling of beginning on the forest floor, slowly ascending up the towering trunk of a centuries-old tree, before reaching the upper canopy at over 250ft in the air with panoramic views of a fully intact valley is an experience that truly defies words. It's humbling and beautiful beyond imagination. I can only hope that the photos captured here do it some justice. 

Thank you again to Vincent Hanlon, Jon Degner and Sally Aitkin at UBC Forestry for this rare and extraordinary opportunity and to the climbers for once again making access to this rarely-seen world possible.

Exploration: Cheewhat Lake & Carmanah Valley 2016

Over the May 14/15 weekend, three friends and I packed the van and made the dusty four-hour drive out to the Cheewhat Lake/Carmanah Valley region to pay visit to many of the country's largest trees. Around Cheewhat Lake grows Canada's largest tree, the Cheewhat Giant, along with the 3rd, 4th, and probably more of the largest western redcedars known. Thankfully, these are protected within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. I had never visited the giant cedar at the north end of Cheewhat Lake before. It was bit of mission to get there as well as the road along Doobah Lake was quite grown in and the trailhead was nearly invisible but in the end we found it and boy was it worth it!! Such an immense tree!! The GPS coordinates for Canada's 3rd largest redcedar at the north end of Cheewhat Lake are: 48.70070, -124.75124 The trailhead is: 48.70175, -124.75104. The trail begins in second-growth before entering incredible old-growth that includes some unique culturally modified trees and ends at the lake. Near the Cheewhat Giant (GPS: 48.69395, -124.74459) we also found the remains of a half finished canoe in the forest. This forest, and the many giants it harbours, must be my favourite place on Vancouver Island.

The trip also included a visit to the breathtaking Sitka spruce groves found in the Carmanah Valley. Such a timeless place. Not far from the parking lot we also spotted an new giant cedar that was almost 40ft around! Sometimes the big trees are hiding in plain sight just waiting for people to find them. Felt great to get some bushwhacking in as well and rekindle the drive to start looking for new record size trees that may still reside in the dense rainforest landscapes of Vancouver Island! Now that the BC Big Tree Registry is online, it's also easier than ever to nominate new discoveries. See: http://bcbigtree.ca/

I'm forever grateful for the legacy left by the late Randy Stoltmann and amazed by the many big tree discoveries he made. Tragically, he passed away in an avalanche in the early 90's at age 31 - the same age as me. I can't help but wonder what it would it would be like if he were alive today. What questions one might ask him. What new discoveries he might have made in the last 20 years. He left behind such beautiful tales of explorations and is and true inspiration to all lovers of wilderness. We can still visit and enjoy the Carmanah Valley today in large part because of him, and for that and more I extend my greatest thanks.

Avatar Grove in Winter

Winter is one of the most beautiful and dramatic times of the year to explore ancient forests. During a visit to the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew last week, an enchanting layer of fog and glowing light was softly sifting through the forest. It's hard to capture that truly magic feeling one experiences in person. So find time if you can and head out into the woods to lose yourself in winter wonder.

Exploration: Limestone Canyon in the Walbran Valley

The dense, old-growth rainforests of Vancouver Island harbour unimaginable secrets. But even if you spent every moment of your life exploring them, you'd never unearth them all. That ceaseless mystery of what might lie around the next corner, over the next ridge, or up the next river, consumes my thoughts night and day. So with some time to spare this past Sunday, myself and a friend made the 3.5 hour journey out to visit the Walbran Valley. Arriving late in the day, we took off quickly down river to see a new grove of big trees and an immense log jam that were recently found by others just within the park boundaries. The log jam - which almost defies comprehension - is found in what you'd normally expect to be a small forest creek. This 'creek' however shows clear evidence that it turns into a raging torrent of flood water during intense winter rains. From there, we rock-hopped our way further upstream, and what we stumbled upon here was like nothing I have seen before. As the creek narrowed, the walls rose into a solid limestone canyon, sculpted into fascinating shapes by years of erosion and polished white by the flow of water and logs. Waterfalls gently cascaded into crystal clear pools while logs perched on ledges 20 feet high in the air stood as a subtle reminder of the hidden power of the creek. Visiting this remote area during a giant storm would be an experience to behold. But as the light began to fade we were forced to return home before venturing much further up the valley, leaving the mystery of what lies beyond to the imagination until the next opportunity to explore arises.

Flashback: Gordon River Valley 2009

In today's digital age there's rarely a shortage of new content to share, but that being said, there's always 100 fold more tucked away in giant hard drives, likely never to see the light of day again. So, as a fun and interesting way to share forgotten photos, stories, and moments from years past, I'll be posting 'Flashbacks' from my archives each Friday.

This set of images here is from late 2009 when I'd bought my first 4wd vehicle, a Subaru Loyale wagon, for $1,500 and began exploring the south island's backroads in my spare time looking for big trees and big stumps. These shots are from up high on logging roads in the Gordon River Valley near Port Renfrew. I was definitely pushing it back in those days with the tiny tires on sharp rocks but curiosity will often take you much further than logic and reason. Watch for more photos and snippets from the past each week.

Looking down the Gordon River Valley towards Port Renfrew from the Bugaboo Main region. The valley bottom old-growth forest - where Big Lonely Doug now stands alone in a clearcut - is still visibly intact in the distant center of this photo. I can't help but think how incredible it would have been to have found it back then...

10 Favourite Photos from 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, I've taken a look back and picked 10 of my favourite images from the past year. Never an easy task when you have thousands to choose from, but for one reason or another, these ones stand out for me personally. 2015 was the year of the plane and with many incredible aerial trips made across the island, it was hard to not choose only images taken from above. But the time spent on the ground and in the woods proved to be spectacular and beautiful as well. In 2016 I look forward to exploring more uncharted terrain, flying over new locations, and taking on some fresh personal projects as well. Here's to a great New Year and a happier and healthier planet for all!

This turquoise-blue lagoon, found on the remote Brooks Peninsula on northwestern Vancouver Island, is thankfully protected within a park. It appears more like scene from the Caribbean then the west coast of Canada but flights over this region have revealed a level of beauty that I may never have otherwise imagined in our country. Goal for 2016: camp on that perfect sandy beach.

A second shot from the north side of the Brooks Peninsula. I'm captivated by the ruggedly beautiful and wild coast found here. A land so perfectly sculpted by the intense wind and waves that have washed over its hills and shores for millennia. This photo, my favourite of the year, was taken during a helicopter flight over the region which allowed us to get a much lower and intimate view of this hard-to-access landscape. Just this winter, hurricane-force winds reaching speeds of 147 kph were recorded in this very region.

This image was captured on my first flight with Nick Temos of the Pacific Northwest Collective in early 2015. Here, the shadow of our plane is encircled within a rainbow high above the towering forests around Cheewhat Lake, home to Canada's largest tree. We took this special sight as a good omen for times to come. Nick has since generously volunteered much of his time flying us over Vancouver Island to document ancient forests and the impacts of logging from above. A good friend with a great heart, I thank Nick for the unforgettable experiences we've had already and those still unwritten.

I am forever grateful for the spiritual experiences I've had in the woods. Nothing quite compares to the peace and tranquility one can find wandering alone through the ancient forests of Vancouver Island. On this particular trip, I came across this giant redcedar tree high in a remote gully beyond Port Renfrew just as the fog was rolling through. It was like stepping back in time to another world where for a moment you could imagine that modern civilization didn't even exist at all. In 2016 I'm resolving to do more of these personal trips as they often lead to the most unique and exciting discoveries.

A forecast of rain and clouds isn't always a bad thing in photography. In fact, fall, winter, and spring are often the best times to be out shooting in a coastal rainforest when the weather provides more gentle lighting, enriches colours, and often results in fog. It's this wet weather that also gives life to these ancient landscapes, produces their giant trees, and imbues them with their unique spirit. Above is a view I never tire of - gazing up the trunk of a towering tree that's been standing in that very spot half a millennia while the only sounds around you are those of raindrops gently patting the forest floor.

Every now and then, all the quintessential elements that define a landscape or ecosystem finally come together into one scene, like this section of coastal temperate rainforest in the Gordon River Valley near Port Renfrew. It showcases, in a beautiful way, the diversity that makes old-growth forests unique, such as; various-aged trees ranging from young to very old, large woody debris and nurse logs, and a luxuriant plant understory. Second-growth tree plantations, logged again ever 30-80 years on the coast, aren't allowed enough time to regain the unique characteristics of the old-growth ecosystem that was lost. We must protect these rare and endangered ancient forests before it's too late.

Even though old-growth forests are home much wildlife, we often don't see the creatures living their as they're gone or hiding by the time we're nearby. I had a vision though of capturing an image with a large, charismatic animal alongside a giant old-growth tree. After recalling a massive cedar I had seen in the Gordon River Valley that had claw marks leading up to a hole in the trunk, I set up a motion-sensitive trail camera on a nearby tree and waited a few months to come back. Upon later checking the camera, I was thrilled to find this photo of a black bear climbing the tree among many others revealing the life that goes on in the forest while we're not around. I hope to assemble a higher quality trail camera setup in 2016 and capture more unique shots like this one.

The roots of my photography really began with experimental and abstract images before shifting to forests and landscapes today, so while on a road trip away from work this summer it was fun to play around and blend those two worlds together. Here, ripples in the fabric of space and time appear to spread out through the sky after tossing a pebble into the clear waters of a lake and flipping the image upside down.

This past spring was the first time I'd visited Uplands Park in Oak Bay, where some of the last original Garry Oak meadow ecosystem remains and where camas flowers bloom in the thousands. This year I also purchased the new Canon 24-70 f4L IS lens, which beyond proving itself to be a very useful all-around landscape lens, also has an additional macro setting which I put to use here. It was a truly sublime afternoon carefully moving through the purple and green meadows while photographing and smelling the beautiful flowers along the way.

2015 featured a spectacular supermoon eclipse as well. The last time the earth, moon, and sun aligned like this was 1982 and the next time will be 2033! I had almost forgotten to catch it that evening but the red moon caught my eye while driving in the dark countryside and I quickly zipped down to the nearest beach. There, I framed the moon among the tall beach grass (which I lit with the light from my phone) and captured this shot just as the eclipse began to recede. Mother nature will forever be a source of wonder, awe, and inspiration and for that we should show her our greatest respect, admiration, and care.