Virgin Falls, located north of Tofino on Vancouver Island has always eluded me mostly because of time and because anyone that knows of it’s existence has warned me about the logging roads to get to it. I’m certainly not one to be swayed by road conditions and this past weekend I decided to make time. The logging roads were shall we say far from optimal and it took me nearly two hours to get to the trail head that lead to the falls. I’m sure the axles and ball joints of my vehicle enjoyed the journey and so did the paint job but I made it just fine. Along the way a large Black Bear ran along the road in front of me and yes they can run faster than you! (I’ve never seen an animal run so fast from a stationary position.) There was bear scat all along the 51 km’s of road which reminded me without a doubt that I was in prime Black Bear and Cougar country. I was able to find a suitable location just south of the trail head and I set up camp, making sure my air horn, machete and Bear spray was always close by.
One thing that does need to be mentioned is the importance of keeping a clean camp, not only for environmental purposes but of course to keep any potential predators away. I’m certainly glad that I continue to stay true to this practice. Upon waking I noticed fresh Bear scat not far from my camp. The Bear likely did his or her business before continuing on and deciding my camp wasn’t anything of interest without any food sources.
Virgin Falls are not only challenging to get to but are difficult to compose when creating images. The setting is tight and you don’t have a lot of room to work with and due to the surrounding mountains the lighting creates a lot of shadows. I was pleasantly surprised by these 2 images. If not for the sake of photography, the setting itself and adventure in getting there certainly was thrilling and a true testament to the rugged and beautiful landscapes that Vancouver Island and Clayoquot Sound offer. Do go, but be prepared to be completely self sufficient and have an extra tire to two as well.
It’s hard to believe that the hunting of Grizzly Bears and Black Bears is still allowed.
Go to www.bearsforever.ca and if you can, make a donation or at least sign the petition. Bears Forever will send you a complimentary bumper sticker or fridge magnet for signing the petition.
I’m almost done reading Comox Valley and award winning author Paula Wilds “The Cougar – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous.” I’ve had the distinct pleasure of becoming acquainted with Paula and look forward to following the work that she does.
I highly recommend, in fact I consider this book essential reading for anyone that spends time in what’s known as “Cougar Country.” It’s incredibly informative and it will completely change your perspective about sharing the back country or in some cases urban settings with these animals. Cougars can dash at a speed of 72 km/hr, can jump vertically 5.5 meters (18 feet) from a complete stand still and can leap forward horizontally 18.5 meters (45 feet.) If you think your safe when one is up in a tree, think again. They’ve been observed “hopping down” from a height of 60 feet. They are the ultimate predator and as the title suggests, beautiful, wild and ultimately dangerous.
Vancouver Island is said to have the highest population and most aggressive Cougars in all of North America. I’ve spent considerable time in some of the most remote areas on the island and though I have not yet seen one of these magnificent creatures I have “felt it” as some others can attest to. The first time I experienced this and only after thinking afterwards that something felt “a little off” was while I was hiking alone through a secluded trail near Bamfield in 2009. More recently and even more notable was while I was camping and hiking and again alone near Cape Scott in late December of 2012. It’s not recommended to be alone in the back country but that is my preference and among other reasons including this book I plan to acquire certification and possession of a firearm for future endeavors as a means of protection.
Hiking alone on the Cape Scott Trail – December 2012. Several times as I walked along the trail to San Josef Bay, I had “this feeling” as if I was being watched or that something was near. I was equipped with Bear spray which can be a deterrent to Cougars and I also had a large fixed bladed knife. I sounded my air horn multiple times as an added level of protection. Awareness with the environment around you is key, sudden changes in sounds or wildlife activity (birds and Ravens) can be indicators that a predator or a Cougar is near. At my campsite, I would shine lights into the surrounding forest hoping to illuminate any peering eyes and I would wake every couple of hours to sound the air horn. The photography wasn’t without risk but nonetheless it was incredibly rewarding to be in such a remote area at that time of the year and I definitely plan to re visit.
San Josef Bay – December 2012
Additional reading about Cougars on Vancouver Island can be found here: http://www.geog.uvic.ca/viwilds/iw-cougar.html
Guiding and Tracking
In September or October I’m planning to hire a local guide with hounds in order to track and photograph this elusive animal. Right now younger males are busy trying to find or establish their territory and females are tending to their “kittens” so I need not disturb them while doing so. I think I will be in for quite an experience come the fall and I’m looking forward to coming face to face with one of natures most formidable creations.
I haven’t spent much time in the interior of British Columbia but I was pleasantly reminded of the beautiful and various landscapes that our province has to offer. It truly is unsurpassed and there’s something for everyone. I spent two nights camping at the Brookside Campground just outside of Cache Creek and a full day exploring Deadman Vidette Rd. In between Cache Creek and Savona, travelling east on Highway 1 Deadman Vidette Rd. heads north for approximately 70 km’s.
The scenery and the area is as majestic as it is peculiar and eerie. First Nations have held the area sacred for thousands of years and more recently in 1980 high ranking Tibetan Monks claim an area near Vidette Lake to be the center of the universe.
Deadman falls is located not far from Vidette Lake and the center of the universe. Viewing the falls is not for the faint at heart or for those that don’t like heights. The falls plunge far below some 150-200 feet into a deep canyon. A wrong step would be your last. The ground surrounding the outer edges is undermined making it very deceiving. I didn’t stay long knowing that challenging myself to find a good vantage point for photography could be fatal. Typically I don’t let this notion deter me but for reasons unknown I was fearful. Perhaps the forces at the center of the universe were with me on this day.
All along the Deadman Vidette Rd. remnants of times past can be seen. I’m a nature photographer but I appreciate the juxtaposition between nature and humanity from time to time and I certainly wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to photograph old trucks long forgotten about in a field. It was an opportunity also to further explore daytime long exposure photography with my B+W 10 stop ND filters. The images below were taken between 15-30 seconds at high noon.
Deadman Vidette Rd. is not without wildlife. There’s deer everywhere, coyotes, prairie dogs and black bears. After spending an hour or more photographing the old trucks much to my surprise a female black bear ran out in front of me while I was driving along. I watched her climb up into a wooded area before losing sight of her. I immediately pulled over, put my telephoto lens on and quietly walked up into the woods where she had went. It was at this point that I realized that she was in fact female when I startled her and the three cubs that she was protecting. She bluff charged a few meters towards me, huffing and puffing. I backed off and she proceeded to climb up the tree where her three cubs were. It was a humbling experience to say the least but rewarding as well. I didn’t stay long so as not to disturb her or the cubs.
Click on the links below for more great blogs, pictures and reading about Deadman Vidette Rd.
For anyone that has paddled a kayak deep into the wilderness only you can truly appreciate the sense of perspective and solitude that it allows. If anything I only wish that I discovered this earlier but it will be something that I will pursue for the rest of my life. The opportunities for nature photography are without limit and often one will witness those special moments, whether it be a sunset on a remote beach, the sounds of Humpback Whales coming up for air as you sleep or Pacific White sided Dolphins escorting you and your kayak to safe haven. The area surrounding Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia is said to offer some of the best sea kayaking in the World and I plan to explore as much of it as I can. Tonight I successfully completed lesson 1 of 3 towards my Paddle Canada certification and though very basic training I learned a lot about self and assisted rescues. Much thanks to the staff at Comox Valley Kayaks as always for their knowledge and expertise.
Self rescue using a paddle float. I didn’t know that these paddle floats existed prior to my lesson tonight. I’ll definitely be purchasing one at Comox Valley Kayaks.
My first attempt at a surf launch, with the training I will be receiving this is what I will be hoping to avoid. Tofino – July 2013
Okay, so I’m a nature photographer right? Yes! So what am I doing talking about video? Well, video does have it’s place. I really wish I had it when that Humpback Whale breached not 10 meters in front of my kayak when I was making the open water crossing between Bamfield and the Deer Group Islands in September of 2012. What an experience that was! Not wanting to miss out on another experience like that I started doing some more research in regards to GoPro because of course I saw all the exciting and basically marketing videos that we all love posted on YouTube and had heard all the hype. I purchased the Hero 3 and several complimentary accessories in early 2013. Once I got through all the packaging I was overwhelmed by all the finicky parts and contraptions. After grasping all of this, I was faced with a basic software package which much to my disappointment would really only offer exciting results if I were to purchase expensive software upgrades. Last but not least, the distorted fish eye lens and poor sensor would leave me with no choice but to purchase the expensive software. I quickly placed the Hero 3 and accessories on ebay hoping to recoup my losses. For the time being I had given up on video until I came across Pivothead once I became curious again. I know and expect there will be a multitude of advances within this POV and “wearable imaging” realm in the coming months considering Google Glass and so forth. In the mean time I think Pivothead is where it’s at from a photographers “POV!” I love my glasses, image and video quality and software too. There’s advantages and disadvantages to both but I know that Pivothead would have been there for me on that September day! Keep an eye on this company and the technology they offer. I strongly believe with continuing advances and marketing that they will be at the forefront.
A short video with Gitga’at Guide Marvin Robinson and National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen searching for the Spirit Bear in The Great Bear Rainforest.
Thank you to Leo Jack from Voyager Water Taxi for taking me to and from Fair Harbour and Kyuquot while I was kayaking in Kyuqout Sound and camping on Spring Island last May. Given the long paddling distances between campsites, unforgiving conditions on the water and just the overall remoteness of the area, having reliable transportation and expert knowledge is welcomed.