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Winter paddling adventures off Tofino, Clayoquot Sound

November 12, 2018

LP1100160Here’s a secret about Tofino: Some of the best sea kayaking here is over the winter months! We often get a high pressure system sitting just off the coast – which leads to crisp, sunny, windless days. The swell might still be big, so you can’t land your kayak easily at beaches exposed to the surf – but you can sure get out on the water! And that’s what Dave and I did yesterday – experienced the best of Clayoquot Sound from the water!

Dave and I had never paddled a double kayak together before. We wanted to try it out – and, since we were only going out for a day paddle, rather than use up short daylight hours loading/unloading our singles from the truck, we got a rental boat from Tofino Sea Kayaking Co. (where I used to work as a sea kayak guide!).


It was just on low tide when we launched, so we first headed out towards the open ocean as the flood current started to build.


Then we looped around Lennard Island. I don’t think I have ever seen the seas this flat out here! Then we caught the flood current in, along the shores of Echachist and Wickaninnish Island, past the village of Opitsaht, and up Lemmens Inlet, Meares Island.


Yay – Dave even took a picture of me! (Being the photographer, I don’t usually get many pictures of myself – especially nice ones!)


There’s a little secret spot I wanted to check out (I actually have a lot of “secret spots” in Clayoquot Sound) where two small salmon streams – creeks, really – come out into a quiet little bay. I remembered that the salmon runs here were quite late, so I wanted to go and see if we could see the fish going up.


Turns out we had just missed the fish – but not by much. There were bear trails all through the forest here – well used! – and lots of bear poops out on the estuary, and salmon scraps littered throughout the forest. (That’s why these salmon-river ecosystems are so rich and productive: because of all of the natural fish fertilizer the bears spread through the rainforest). So, we had missed the spawn – but not by much. As you can see, the rainforest here was just so beautiful – so wild, so serene – that we were just happy to be here, salmon or not.


We were travelling so fast (double kayaks go much faster than singles, and we are both quite strong paddlers – oh, and we had the optimum tides for this route) that we even had time to paddle farther up the inlet, to historic Adventure Cove, before turning around and heading back to Tofino. Here we are just after 4pm, almost sunset… a great six hours on the water.

Royal Canadian Geographical Society AGM and dinner, 2018

November 2, 2018

I’m just in from the RCGS AGM and dinner, held yesterday here in Ottawa. It’s a long way for me to travel. However, as much as you can keep up with what’s going on with people’s lives and projects online, there is nothing like making connections, hearing people’s stories, and maintaining relationships in person.

LsqshP1100144Here I am with my oldest buddy in the world, adventurer and cave diver extraordinaire, Jill Heinerth and her husband, the multi-talented Rober McClellan (writer and so much more). Jill and I have known each other since we were three years old! Which means that we have known each other for, well, a long time.

As Robert noted, we scrub up pretty well!

For more about the happenings of the day, check out this article: Eight awesome things that happened at the 2018 RCGS Fellows Dinner.

Snorkelling with salmon, Campbell River, Vancouver Island

October 10, 2018

L to R: Jill, Russ, Trish and me. Photo by the amazing Maxwel Hohn

Well, I am gradually transitioning… from being a person who stays above the water (sea kayaking) to someone who gets into the water! No, I’m not fully getting scuba diving… but I am getting into our local waters : cold-water swimming and snorkelling, and aiming to take a course in free-diving next year. (I have always been a gear minimalist… so snorkelling  and free-diving are way more attractive to me than full-on scuba diving).


My first time in a dry suit! Pic: Russell Clark

So here is a fun autumn activity for getting into the water in autumn on Vancouver Island! I was lucky enough to spend a few days with my oldest friend in the world, Jill Heinerth (one of the world’s most accomplished divers, as well as the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s first Explorer in Residence), and two of our other RCGS friends, Trisha Stovel and Russell Clark (of Seaproof TV).

The four of us headed over to Campbell River and went snorkelling with the salmon! I’m not currently set up with pro underwater photographic gear, so the salmon pix are ones I have taken previously (as noted). And here are a few more:


Me, Jill, Trish, Max and Russ – suited up and ready to get in the water!


Jill, working hard. (Barely saw her head above surface the whole time we were there!)


Me and a big ol’ friendly salmon guy. I floated with him for a long time – poor guy, he was so exhausted. Photo: Russell Clark


And here I am again… just working to hold position in the current as the salmon swirl around me. Photo: Trisha Stovel


This is a photo I took a LONG time ago… chum salmon ascending a tiny rainforest creek on Meares Island, near Tofino.


This one is from a long time ago, too. It’s a scan of a slide, taken in the Kennedy River, between Port Alberni and Tofino. I love the colours of sockeye salmon…

North America’s highest waterfall: Della Falls and Love Lake in a day

September 9, 2018

LP1090924Just in from what might be the last adventure of this summer! Dave and I fastpacked in to Della Falls and Love Lake on Monday. (Fastpacking is the best of ultrarunning and backpacking combined: the route we did is normally a 3 to 5 day backpacking trip). We go fast and far – but our packs are light!

I’m not really sure what the total distance was – something between 40 and 50 km, with a net elevation gain of just under 1200 m (Love Lake is at 1240 m, and we started at Great Central Lake which is around 90 m). This route is all within Strathcona Provincial Park, central Vancouver Island.

We were especially grateful for the blue skies, after such a smoky few weeks. And the weather couldn’t have been better: mostly sunny, not too hot and not too cold. Here are some pix – enjoy!


We launched Dave’s boat in the dark, and made it to the trailhead at the west end of the lake before 7am.


The first few hours are fairly easy – a relatively flat and straight trail, only a very gradual uphill – until around here, where it becomes a bit more twisty and rugged.


Della Falls, in the background had very little water going over it – it’s been such a hot and dry summer. (And yes, we packed a tripod so I could get these pix of both of us).


Love Lake. The first time we came up here together (seven years ago to the day) the lake was still frozen solid. Yes, in September! Which means it never thawed that whole year!


So nice to get up to the alpine. We are so lucky to have so many great trails near home.


Then we descended back down from Love Lake and the alpine, and headed upstream to the base of the falls. There was a bit more water coming over the other branch (to the left of this photo, but no trail to get over there) but very little coming down here.


And then back to the boat just on dark. Our time on the trail was 12:46, but that includes stops for the photos (with the tripod and the timer, so they take a while) and a nice relaxing break up at Love Lake. It is raining now as I post this – glad we made it in there when we did!

Megin watershed kayak trip

August 29, 2018


I’m very lucky to own two Feathercraft folding sea kayaks. I bought my first one well over 20 years ago, a gift to myself for completing my PhD. My mom bought one a few years later – and, last year at age 87, she finally agreed she probably wouldn’t be using hers much more, and she gave it to me.


Which means that Dave and I now have two folding boats! So here are pix from our first expedition together – taking advantage of the fact that we can pack these kayaks into a float plane. We flew in with Tofino-based Atleo Air to Megin Lake, northern Clayoquot Sound (Vancouver Island, BC), and descended the Megin River to the ocean and paddled back to Tofino – the whole trip taking a week.


This summer was the 30th anniversary of the Sulphur Passage blockades and protests that ultimately saved the Megin watershed. It is the largest remaining intact watershed on all of Vancouver Island! Being so fortunate to travel it allowed me the opportunity to see first-hand the value of this intact and pristine watershed – from the diversity of the wildlife to the massive size of the old-growth trees!


Above is one many giant cedars on the shores of Megin Lake, and below is me bumping my loaded kayak down the many shallows in the river (it was a very hot and dry summer – and you can see from the photos that we were affected by all the smoke from the wildfires that were ravaging the province).


I feel intense gratitude to the people who dropped what was going on in their lives in 1988 to attend the blockades.

In so many of these environmental “fights”, a win is just temporary – the logging company or mining company or government agency will just come back and then they have to fight the fight all over again (whereas a loss is forever, the area they were fighting to protect is destroyed, and there is no reason to come back for a second fight). But in the case of the Megin, the watershed became designated as an addition to Strathcona Provincial Park – preserved for real!



The photos above are emerging at the mouth of the Megin into the saltwater of Shelter Inlet, and then the evening view from our first oceanside campsite at Shark Creek.


Our final three days were spent navigating the ocean in fog, and then camping on the surf-washed sand beaches of Flores and Vargas Islands.


Here’s the Bob Bossin song No Pasarán – the anthem of those protectors of Clayoquot and the Megin, from back in those days. I still get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes every time I hear it – thank you to all of you!


My TEDx talk: You are not normal!

May 14, 2018

Lsq39939052920_135098203c_oOK, I know that’s not a normal kind of title. Let me explain…

One of the things that I love the most about my training in the Earth Sciences (PhD in Geology) is that it has given me a deep understanding of time. It really broadens how I think of things.

So instead of asking, “What is normal for how human beings live?” with a “now” kind of implied in there… I ask what is normal for humans over the entire time that our species has existed. Not just what seems normal now.


Add to that the fact that I lived for several years as a squatter, in a tiny little cabin in the woods, which gave LcP1090117me a very different perspective about what we actually need to live (and be happy), as opposed to what we now consider we must have in order to be normal.

So that’s the basis of my TEDx talk, delivered at the fantastically organized TEDxChilliwack event on April 14, 2018. My aim is just to get people to think about these things in a somewhat different way. Here’s the video, hope you like it (and if you do, I would appreciate it if you help get my message out by sharing it!)


Photo ID and DNA sampling of humpback whales, Magellan Strait, Patagonia

May 1, 2018

LHUM_5054I was helping with the photo IDs of humpback whales, to assist marine biologist Benjamín Cáceres of the Río Seco Museum of Natural History in Punta Arenas with an on-going project to identify individual humpback whales.



Humpbacks are pretty easy to recognize individually, both by markings on their tail and by the shape and markings on their small dorsal fin. We were in the Barbara Channel, in a remote part of western Magellan Strait. Benjamín was using the crossbow to fire a plug into the whale that would extract a skin sample for DNA analysis, and I was doing the photography to ID the whales sampled. (You need to know what the whale you sampled looks like – so you don’t go back and end up sampling the same one over and over!)

We named the two whales we were following Barney (for his barnacles) and Whitey.  I know, pretty original. But it just helped Benjamín and me to work together and communicate by giving them temporary names.

We got to recognize them pretty quickly – not only their tails, but their dorsal fins were very distinctive. By sampling and IDing the individuals, Benjamín and his collaborators can work out how many whales there are in the region, as well as where they travel to. It was a really interesting project for me to be able to help out with.