Live, Laugh, Adventure

……and take lots of photos along the way!

The Colors of Kauai

In most of my blog posts I’ve picked a location and tried to paint a picture of that place in your mind with words and images.  This post is different.  Kauai is the most colorful place I have ever been to.  Here is a taste of those colors in images from all over the island both above and below the water.

Only when the world runs out of color will I start shooting Black and White.

 

 

Vancouver Island: Glorious Green Mountain

What makes a place magical?  I’m not really sure but whatever it is Green Mountain has it in spades.

This is by far one of my most favorite places to hike on Vancouver Island.  Is it the views over the mountains extending as far as the eye can see?  I suppose that’s part of it.

Is it the rare natural meadows?  They certainly make it easy to enjoy the views while hiking and they are not found in very many places on Vancouver Island.

The bright splashes of fall color certainly don’t hurt.

Whatever this mountain has it certainly draws me back again and again for some spectacular hiking.

Access to the mountain can be difficult.  The access roads are on TimberWest private land and both the gate at the end of pavement on Nanaimo River Road and at 2nd lake must be open to get in.  Contact TimberWest for status of the gates.  Access is often further hampered by snow.  During the winter this area can get significant snowfalls and usually gets enough to prevent driving anywhere near enough to snowshoe or hike in.  This varies widely year to year.  Depending on the snow pack and weather I’ve seen access as early as February and as late as June.

Even if the road is clear of snow a 4 wheel drive is required.  It doesn’t take much of a 4×4 (I’ve see SUV’s, Pickups, Delicas etc all make it up) but it does require the traction and clearance of a 4×4.   There are 2 spots in the road where this is needed.  There is a washed out area at 730 m

UPDATE 2016-09-19:  The road has now been fixed almost all the way to the top.  The washouts are gone.  The road, while still a bit rough, is passable by a 2wd to within 500m of the trailhead.  If you want to drive the last 500m (fun!) you will still need a 4×4.

In winter this washout becomes even more challenging.

The other area requiring a 4×4 is just short of the parking area for the trailhead at 1100 m.

If you can manage to make it in, you’re in for a treat.

From the area where you park the hike starts with a short walk to over a deactivated road to the base of the natural meadows.   There is no real trail as such, you just make your way up the meadows.  As long as you are walking uphill you are heading in the right direction.

There are lots of Elk trails that you can follow up through the clearings.

The meadows are home to a variety of colorful plants and fungus.

If you are looking for wild flowers the best time to visit is in the spring after the snow has melted.  Timing your visit is somewhat difficult since its hard to determine the level of snow melt in the backcountry without frequent visits.

About half way up the mountain there are the remains of the old A-Frame cabin from the days when Green Mountain was a ski area.  All that’s left now is rubble. Here’s a few photos from 1963 when the ski area was operational: photos.

Before long the summit knoll is clearly visible.

As you hike keep your eyes open for wildlife.  Its not unusual to see Roosevelt Elk on your way up the meadows.

While I often see Black Bears on the road up I’ve only ever seen any on the mountain itself once.

To reach the summit you have to cross a steeper section that involves a bit of scrambling but its not technical or very exposed.

If you are quiet as you approach the summit knoll you may get lucky and see some Vancouver Island Marmots taking in the sun on the southern slopes.  If you do see some please be kind and don’t disturb them.  They are Canada’s most endangered species and need all the help we can give them.

To access to the summit knoll you thread your way through some gnarled trees.

Its like entering a secret garden.  Once you are though there is a small pond area enclosed by trees.

Climbing a few more meters you reach the actual summit.  Its a great place to have lunch, take in the views and add your own rock to the summit cairn.

If you wander around a little on the summit you can see some views back towards Nanaimo.  In the photo below the closest lake is Heart Lake with Second Lake in the distance.  To the left of Second Lake is Mt. De Cosmos and to the right is Mt. Hooker.  Visible directly behind is Blackjack Ridge with Mt Benson and Nanaimo behind that.

If you can time it just right Green Mountain is also a great place to snowshoe, backcountry ski or snowboard in the winter.  If you’re too late or too early in the season, however, there is likely to be too much snow on the road to get close enough.

In addition to hiking up to the main summit there are a couple of other interesting destinations on Green Mountain.  To the south there is prominent rock outcrop.  I don’t think it is a named location but we call it Green Knoll.  Access this area by heading to right on the saddle below the main summit.  The final ascent onto the outcrop involves all 4 limbs but no real exposure.  Here is a photo of that outcrop in the winter.  Its the steep dropoff on the left side of the photo.

Looking back from Green Knoll gives a great view of Green Mountain summit.

Another interesting destination is the North summit.  Access to this area is via the Sno-Bird trail which branches off the main road up at about 800 m.  This area is far less visited but has some fantastic natural meadow hiking.

The views on the way down are just as nice as on the way up.

No matter which area of Green Mountain you visit it makes for a fantastic and unique experience.

Trail Notes:

Driving time from North Nanaimo to the trail head: about 1.5 hours (shorter from central or south Nanaimo).  A 4 wheel drive vehicle is required to negotiate the road and both Nanaimo Lakes logging road gates must be open.

Driving Directions:

Round trip distance from the trail head to the top and back: about 5 km depending on which route you take.

Hiking time: 2-4 hours depending on how fast you hike, how often you stop and how much you explore.

Starting elevation: 1100m

Max elevation: 1477m

Trail Difficulty: Easy (with a couple of short Moderate sections)

GPS Track Download: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=2761322

Suggestions: bring a camera (the views are worth it!), hiking poles are nice but not required.  Although navigation on the mountain itself is fairly easy since its all open walking, a GPS with the above track loaded on it is a great help in sorting out which logging roads to take in.  There are a number of roads and branches heading off in different directions and they all look similar enough to make it easy to get lost.

 

 

Kauai: Polihale Beach

Wow! This truly is the mother of all beaches!

I heard those words from my wife standing beside me as we first walked out on Kauai’s westernmost point, Polihale Beach.

We had talked about coming out a few days before and to tell you the truth I wasn’t sure I wanted to come.  I had heard stories about people getting stuck on the road.  I had heard it was hot.  I had heard there was no shade.  I had heard there were no trees.  Suddenly all that didn’t matter and I was plenty glad we did come.

Yes the road had a few sketchy sections.  Yes its was hot.  No there were no trees or shade.  But oh what a glorious beach!

Polihale is one of Hawaii’s longest stretch of Beach.  Its a remote, wild beach characterized by rough waves, rapid drops and rip currents.  There is no reef barrier to protect the beach from waves.  The only safe spot for a swim is at Queen’s Pond located about midway along the shoreline.  We happened to visit on a very calm day and there were some people swimming but from what I’ve read it can be pretty dangerous.

The northern end of the beach lies at the start of the Na Pali Coast with its world famous cliffs.  Although we didn’t stay that long from what I’ve seen of other photos this is a great place to take sunset photos especially when the last golden light of the day plays on the cliffs.

Because of its remoteness, its often not crowded.  It makes a great place to wander the beach and get lost in its beauty.

Even the local dogs like watching the waves roll in.

Or if you’re more energetic there is plenty of room to run.

On a clear day the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau is visible offshore with Lehue Rock to the North.

When we were there a group of locals had rolled out onto the beach and set up their shade tents.  I stopped and talked with them for a little while.  They were pretty friendly.

Despite the great beauty of this beach, I found it a bit tough to come away with a photo I was really happy with.  This was one of my favorites and gives weight to the adage that sometimes simpler is better.

Despite some of the difficulties in getting there, Polihale is well worth the effort.

 

Vancouver Island: Robert’s Roost Trail

Robert’s Roost is one of my favorite local hiking trails.  When I want a quick hike, a little fitness training or just a wander in the woods with a nice view at the end this is my go to trail.

To access the trail park at the Morrell Nature Sanctuary.

View Larger Map

Head straight down the main trail past the information booth.

This section of trail can be stunning in the fall and is a great place to take photos of fall colors.

The main trail through the sanctuary ends at a green gate.  Walk past the gate and out into the open area under the power lines.  Continue directly across the power lines and look for a trail leading into the forest.  Its marked by 2 vertical metal bars.

Within a 100m or so you will come to a fork in the trail.  Go right.

Within a few short meters you will come to another junction.  On the trail to the right there should be a sign on a short stump with ‘K2′ on it [Edit – this sign may now be gone].  Go left (straight where Chase is).

The trail winds its way gently uphill through the forest with plenty of exposed roots to catch the unwary hiker.

Along the way there is plenty of evidence of the working history of this forest.  In some of the large stumps you will see horizontal slats cut in a few feet up.  These are springboard holes cut by loggers before the age of chain saws.  The logger would chop the springboard hole with an axe and shove the end of a long board into it.  They would then stand on the board to chop or saw the tree down.  Using a springboard put them up high enough to avoid having to saw though the thick part of the tree at the base.

In general the trail is fairly easy walking.  Some areas in this lower section can get muddy but there is usually a way through without getting your boots too dirty.

This is typical West Coast rain forest where Mother Nature is busy reclaiming her own.

As you hike further you are treated to views of the tranquil forest.  Slow down, enjoy.

The trail follows a small stream up the hill.

Two kilometers into the hike you will intersect a major trail.  Go left.

About 100m past this you will see 2 trails heading off to the right (as well as you the trail you are on heading straight).  This is known locally as the ‘Crow’s Foot’.  You want to take the 2nd trail to the right.  Look for some blue paint on a tree like this:

This next section of the trail has some nice wetlands off to the right.  They can be quite beautiful if you stop and wander off the trail a bit to explore.

About 300m past the crows feet the trail pops out on a logging road.

Turn right, walk about 20m and look to the left for the trail heading uphill (where Chase is standing in the photo below).

From the logging road to the top of the Roost is the steepest part of the trail.  Shortly after you leave the road there is a short section of rock to scramble up.

There is usually a rope in place to help you.

The trail continues through the forest for another 400m.

Keep your eyes open for Owls in this section.

Just below the top there is another steep section with a rope assist.

When you first get to the top you’ll find lovely views out over Nanaimo and the Salish Sea.

As nice as the views are on sunny days this is also a great location to shoot some moody weather shots.

If you wander over to the other side there are some nice views back up towards Mt. Benson.

The top of the Roost is home to an interesting collection of Manzanita bushes (a cousin to the Arbutus).  Their red bark and gnarly shapes make them interesting subjects for photography.

This is a great hike in any weather.  If you get a chance to try this trail it makes a wonderful few hours.

Trail Notes:

Driving time from Downtown Nanaimo to the trail head: about 10 minutes

Round trip distance from the trail head to the top and back: 6.2km

Hiking time: 2-3 hours depending on how fast you hike and how often you stop.

Starting elevation: 67m

Max elevation: 423m

Trail Difficulty: Easy (with a couple of short Moderate sections)

GPS Track Download: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=2734141

Suggestions: bring a camera (the views are worth it!), hiking poles are nice but not required.  A printed copy of this guide may help you sort out which turns to make.  There are a number of intersecting trails which may throw you off.

Photo Map (click on any flag to see the photo I took at that location):

 

 

Kauai: The Forbidden Isle of Ni’ihau

The small island of Ni’ihau lies 18 miles southwest of Kauai across the Kaulakahi Channel.  Nicknamed ‘The Forbidden Isle’ due to it being generally off-limits to all except for the owners and their relatives, Ni’ihau is the seventh largest inhabited Hawaiian Island.

Ni’ihau was purchased from the Kingdom of Hawaii by Elizabeth Sinclair in 1864 for $10,000 in gold and private ownership of the island has passed down to her descendants, the Robertson family.

About 130 people live on Ni’ihau, nearly all native Hawaiians.  This is the only island where Hawaiian is spoken as the primary language.  The only power on the island is solar and water comes from rainwater catchment.  There is no telephone service and no automobiles.   Horses and bicycles are the main form of transportation.

Ni’ihau played a small role in the attack on Pearl Harbor when a Japanese fighter pilot crashed on the island and terrorized its residents for a week.  In another claim to fame, some scenes for Jurassic Park were filmed on the island in 1992.

Ni’ihau is also home to some of the best diving in all the Hawaiian Islands which is how I heard about it.  In researching scuba diving locations before our trip to Kauai, I read numerous accounts of the great diving here.  However, I was disappointed to learn that the dive companies generally stop their trips out to Ni’ihau before we were to arrive in October due to how rough the waters in the channel get in the winter.

I had resigned myself to missing this opportunity and did some local diving off the south shore with Seasport Divers.  I got to the know the skipper a bit on the dives and was both surprised and delighted to be invited on a quick charter they were going to squeeze in to Ni’ihau because the weather was unexpectedly calm.  Needless to say I jumped at the chance.  My wife later asked how much it cost and I had to admit that I never even asked!  Oh well, its bad karma to worry about price on bucket list events.

I was up early on dive day for a 6am meet at the dive shop.  I was so excited I set no less then 3 alarm clocks to make sure I didn’t miss it.  We boarded the dive boat at Kukuiula Harbor and were treated to a nice sunrise to start the big day.

The crossing to Ni’ihau took about 2 hours.  It was a pretty nice crossing as the waves were very calm.  As we approached the island we could see the cliffs on the northern end of the island dropping steeply to a flat sandy area.

We had planned 3 dives mostly on the northern end of the island between Ni’ihau and the small Lehua Rock just to the north.  These were advanced dives with a special gas mixture called Nitrox which extends the time you can stay underwater without getting into decompression requirements.

Lehua Rock itself is an interesting piece of geology with its dramatic layers of lava sediment from eons past clearly visible.

With the boat anchored between Ni’ihau and Lehua Rock, we entered the water for the first dive.  You’ll have to excuse the quality of the dive photos since I don’t have an underwater housing for my main camera and was forced to use my Point and Shoot camera in a small housing.

A terrific feature of diving here are the vertical walls.  I think this one was taken on a dive called Vertical Awareness (hmmm, wonder why?).

Another great feature is the abundance of underwater life.  I was taking some video of the sheer number of small tropical fish and got surprised when a Giant Trevally came lumbering by.  Its not everyday you get to see a fish of this size up close underwater.

Here is another short clip of that Trevally.  I think he liked me (either that or I looked like a nice snack!).  Keep in mind that this fella was about 3 feet long.

When Giant Trevally’s aren’t swimming by there is plenty to look at on the bottom.  These are likely some sort of Hawaiian Polyclad Flatworms.

I think this is a Crown of Thorns sea star which is not necessarily welcome on the reef as they can have devastating consequences to the coral.

This is one of my personal favorite (aside from Humuhumunukunukuapua’a), the Hawaiian Lionfish.

On our second dive we swam through some cool caves (although technically these would be known as caverns since you can see an entrance at all times).

Here’s a short video of swimming through one.

One of the caves had some Black Coral growing down from the ceiling,

…and a Spiny Lobster hiding out inside.

When you dive multiple times in a day you have to spend some time on the surface in between dives to give your body a chance to get rid of the nitrogen which builds up in your body during a dive.  These ‘surface intervals’ are really enjoyable since they generally involve sitting in the sun, eating and swapping dive stories with other people.  During one surface interval we had a visit by the local Monk Seal. I’m not sure what the square patch on his back is.  Maybe he was tagged with a radio transmitter at one time.

During another one of our surface intervals the snorkel tour boat in the photo below called our captain.  It seems that a newly married guy on their boat had lost his $10,000 wedding ring when he jumped in the water and they wanted to know if our skipper could dive down and look for it.  Our boat pulled over and our fearless captain went in.  I didn’t have high hopes for finding a small ring in a big ocean but he came back up a few minutes later with the ring.  And not only that ring but he had found another one as well!  I gather this is not uncommon since one of the dive masters related a similar story of being hired to find a wedding ring at Kipu Falls (he found it).

One of the creatures I get a kick out of meeting underwater is the sea turtle.  They’re so calm and graceful underwater and generally have a ‘who cares’ attitude about divers.  Here’s a short video  of one such encounter.

The highlight of the diving was our encounter with a number of Spotted Eagle Rays.  This is the first time I’ve seen these graceful underwater fliers and it was a pleasure.  We encountered groups of them a number of times but this was about the best video I got of them.

After finishing our final dive we headed home across the channel.  As often happens, the wind had kicked up in the afternoon making the 3 hour crossing a bit of a punishing wave slamming adventure.  Luckily, the crew was used to this and had laid out mats on the dry covered portion of the deck for us weary divers to sleep on.  Everyone was pretty tired but very happy when hit the dock back on Kauai at 8pm.  Having started at 6am it made for a long but incredibly satisfying day.

And what comes after a perfect day of diving?  A perfect Kauai sunset of course!

Author’s note: after writing this post I got curious about Ni’ihau.  I found a couple of posts on youtube that, although a little dry, give a pretty fascinating tour on the island with some interesting historical tidbits.

http://youtu.be/lA0fB-9odwk (part 1)

http://youtu.be/1kHqZ-KrhnQ (part 2)

Vancouver Island: Alberni Inlet Trail

Island Timberlands, the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District have teamed up to provide a new hiking trail near the town of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.  The 12 km trail runs from just outside town through Island Timberland’s working forest along the east side of Alberni Inlet to China Creek.  I recently had a chance to walk the first 4km of the trail.

To get to the trail head, drive to Port Alberni and follow the signs through town to Bamfield.  From the main road into town turn left on 10th Avenue.  Continue 1.2km to the four way stop at Argyle.  Turn left and then 0.3km ahead turn right on Anderson.  Proceed 2.2 km to the trail head parking lot at the corner of Anderson and Ship Creek Road.  It’s well signed and hard to miss.  The road is paved right to the parking lot so any vehicle is suitable.

From the parking lot the trail winds its way through a flat area of forest containing (if I’m not mistaken) what looks to be some old growth fir trees.

After crossing a small stream the trail begins to head on a steady but not steep uphill for about 1.5 km.

Periodically the trail opens up to give some very nice views of Mt. Arrowsmith and the town of Port Alberni.

Passing through 1.5km you’ve gained about 150m in elevation and the trail begins to flatten out as it passes through a very peaceful wetland area.

The wetlands must be popular with frogs since they were sending up quite a chorus while I was passing through.  From the wetlands you descend down into some deep rain forest with a nice little stream crossing.

As you emerge from the rain forest the trail opens up and trees begin to change.

Just short of Follinsbee Creek the trail forks.  To right the trail follows the creek down to the ocean.  I took the left trail which heads over to a look out and then continues on to connect up with the left fork to run south along the inlet.

At about 4km there is a short but steep scramble up from a logging road to the lookout.

This vantage gives great views both up and down Alberni Inlet and is a great place to stop for lunch or to camp for the night if you got a late start on the trail.

I headed back to the trail head after having lunch at the view point.  The next time I do the trail I’d like to head down Fillinsbee Creek and see what the section down along the inlet looks like.  The views on the way back are just as nice.

This is an interesting trail.  While it doesn’t have that pristine ‘hiking in the middle of nowhere’ feel, it is a pretty interesting blend of working forest, views and nice terrain.  Kudos to the creators of the trail who obviously had a vision and put a lot of work into it.

Trail Notes:

Driving time from North Nanaimo to the trail head: 1 hour

Round trip distance from trail head to the lookout and back: 8.8km

My time hiking the trail (including about a 20 minute lunch): 3 hours

Starting Elevation: 120m

Maximum Elevation: 300m

Trail difficulty: easy

Trail Brochure : http://www.acrd.bc.ca/cms/wpattachments/wpID206atID984.pdf

Island Timberlands Blog (where they post any trail closures): http://blog.islandtimberlands.com/

GPS Track Download: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=2689042

Suggestions: bring a camera (the views are worth it!), hiking poles are nice, make sure you print off the trail map (see link above) and bring it with you.  There are trail markers on the route but sometimes you need to consult the map to figure out which way to go on some of the logging roads.

Photo Map (click on any flag to see the photo I took at that location):

 

 

Kauai: Baby Beach

While we were on Kauai we settled into a daily rhythm of sightseeing during the day and then about 2 or 3 pm we would look for a beach to have a little downtime on.  We’re beach people and we love settling in on the warm sand and listening to waves lapping on shore.  Without even being aware it became our unwritten mission to try and hit a different beach every day (I’m happy to report that we failed in that mission even after 2 weeks!).

On one day we chose Baby Beach.  Even with guidebook in hand it took us a little while to find the entrance.  After visiting the Spouting Horn (for the third time, seems my wife couldn’t get enough of those $15 pearl strings!) we turned off of Lawai Road on to Hoona Road just fine, but it took us a little while to find the tiny entrance to the beach.  However, once we parked and walked down we discovered how cute this little beach was.

It’s not big and the snorkeling isn’t any good but for an out of the way place without the crowds to tuck in and let the clouds drift by it was ideal.

The water is shallow and protected by a reef just offshore making its waters popular for swimming with small children.

One glance at the homes tucked away at the end of the beach left me daydreaming of owning one.

 

Man verses Elk

I live on Vancouver Island.  Most people who live here don’t realize it but if you drive inland off the main highways you pretty quickly get into some remote and undeveloped country.  Sightings of wildlife, especially our local Roosevelt Elk, are fairly common. If you’re not familiar with what an Elk is picture a cow built like a horse and you’ll be pretty close.  Here’s a short ‘tail’ of one such encounter.

I was driving out of the back country from hiking in the Nanaimo Lakes area when 3 big Elk bounded out in front of me from the bush. After I restarted my heart I gently stopped the truck at the side of the road.

I could see that the Elk hadn’t gone far into the bush and wanted to get some close up photos of them. Being a subscriber to Murphy’s Law, I knew without looking that I must have the wrong lens on my camera. A quick look down at my camera confirmed this.  I quickly changed lenses and set up my camera for wildlife shots.

Now Elk are very elusive and will run off at the slightest noise so I knew I had to stay quiet. I mentally prepared myself by thinking ‘I am smoke….I am the mist on the water… I am the wind in the trees…I am stealth itself’. Being as ready as possible I gently opened the door to begin the pursuit of my photographic prey. The loud reminder from my truck that the key was still in the ignition reverberated beautifully off the mountains surrounding me, leaving no doubt in minds of the Elk that they were being pursued by a moron.

Having lulled the witless beasts into a false sense of security, I set off into the bush. The 20 minutes I spent trying to work my way close to them produced nothing more than a profound understanding that whoever designed the Elk must have put that white patch on the back of their ass as the bovine equivalent of a one finger salute. I’m sure I could hear them laughing as they ran away.

Nature 1, Lorne 0.

The Elusive Elk.