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!
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!!
Resulting news coverage:
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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!