Live, Laugh, Adventure

……and take lots of photos along the way!

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.

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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):

 

 

What’s in my photo bag?

What’s in my photo bag?  Here’s a list:

 

  • Canon 7D: I agonized for months between the 7D and 5DMII but in the end chose the 7D as fitting more of my needs overall.  It’s been a good body for me especially shooting sports.  Now that the 5DMIII is out I’d sure like to try that for its IQ and low light performance. (update: I now have a 5DIII and am loving it)
  • Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS Lens: this is the lens that’s on my camera most of the time.  It’s a good combination of ‘walk around’ zoom range and image quality.
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens: this is my favorite lens.  It’s close to being Canon’s sharpest lens and a real delight to use.
  • Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens: Under the right circumstances I really enjoy shooting wide.  For a crop camera this is one of the few choices to get you really wide.  Even though it’s not an L lens, many photographers feel it comes very close in image quality.  You have to be careful using it at 10mm though since it does come with significant distortion.
  • Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens:  When I bought this lens I wasn’t sure how much I would get into macro photography.  While its not the main kind of shooting I do its fun to take out occasionally.  While this isn’t an L lens many photographers feel that it comes close in IQ if not in build quality.
  • Canon 50mm f/1.8 II Lens:  While the ‘nifty fifty’ has the build quality of a something you’re likely to get out of a cereal box, it’s a dirt cheap way to get a very fast lens for low light shooting.  I don’t use it a lot but for certain low light events (think fire dancers) it will perform where my other f/4 lens fear to tread.
  • Canon 1.4x EF Extender II:  This is a recent addition to my bag.  I use it mostly for shooting sports (rugby) combined with my 70-200.  It does cost you a stop and you take a small hit on IQ but it will get you in closer.
  • Canon Speedlite 580EX II: I don’t shoot flash a lot but when I do this speedlite works nicely.
  • Feisol Tournament Carbon Fiber 4 Section Tripod:  My first tripod was a heavy metal Manfrotto.  After suffering the weight, freezing my hands off on the metal legs and not being able to fit it in my backpack I found that I just stopped carrying a tripod.    To get back into it, I spent considerable time researching a better tripod.  I ended up choosing a Feisol Carbon Fiber tripod.  It weighs considerably less than my old one, is easier on the hands (no metal) and the legs are cleverly engineered to fold back over the ball head to reduce the length to the point where it will even fit in my 22L day pack.  As an added bonus it has no center column which I find to be a tremendous source of vibration.  I love this tripod and would buy another in a second.
  • Markins Ballhead: If you do any shooting off level ground do yourself a favor and get a ballhead. It makes lining up your camera so much easier and less frustrating than a pan/tilt head.
  • B+W 77mm Circular Polarizing Filter
  • Kirk L-Bracket for Canon 7D: An L-bracket allows you to switch your camera between landscape and portrait orientations very easily.  It keeps the camera centered on the tripod and up high where it’s easy to use (important feature for photographers with back problems).  Kirk makes very good quality equipment.

As with most other photographers, I have yet to find the one perfect bag for all situations (does it even exist?).  As a result I have ended up with a number of photo bags that I use depending on the situation:

  • Lowepro Fastpack 350 Backpack:  This is my most recent addition to the bag collection.  I was looking for a larger bag to hold all my gear plus laptop and headphones, documents etc for air trips on holidays.  Overall I like it.  Its suspension is comfortable, its well designed and well made.  My only grip is the silly little compartment in the camera section.  If this was just a little bigger it would fit my 70-200 nicely.
  • Lowepro Slingshot 200 AW Sling Bag: This was the first camera bag I bought and I still use it often.  Its a little small with the 7D but still works.  I can carry my 7D with max 70-200 mounted (but won’t fit with the 1.4 extender on), 24-105, 10-22, 100 macro and filter pack.  Its quick to use as a sling and very convenient.  Don’t plan on long hikes though.  It gets uncomfortable after an hour or so.
  • Kata 3N1-33:  This was the first bag I bought for airline travel.  While the storage is well laid out and it holds a lot, the suspension system is absolutely terrible.  Sorry Kata, but you’re going on Ebay.
  • Osprey Talon 22L and 38L: I love Osprey packs.  After trying many bags to hold photo gear while hiking and snowshoeing I eventually settled on carrying all my photo gear in individual padded pouches and have found this works very well.  I have pouches for each lens and only bring the lenses I think I will be using.  I have a neoprene fitted cover for my camera which protects it from bangs.  The Osprey packs are extremely well made and very comfortable.  They have very well designed suspension, hydration sections and are laid out nicely.  They come in a variety of sizes.  For summer day hiking I use the 22L.  For winter day hiking I use the 38L.  We like these packs so much that every member of my family has at least one.

 

Best Places to Buy Photo Gear

Most local camera or big box stores will stock entry level DSLR bodies and lenses but if you want to move up in quality to semi-pro or pro equipment the list of good places to buy thins out considerable.  If you want to buy in Canada, the list gets even shorter.  Here is a list of places that I have found to be good.

  • My favorite 2 places to buy are The Camera Store in Calgary and B&H Photo Video in New York.  I have found these 2 stores offer the best prices and selection.  Which store I’ll buy from for any particular purchase depends on the currency exchange rate and specific prices.  If the Canadian dollar is strong then often the prices at The Camera Store will meet or beat the B&H price and you don’t have to worry about shipping across the border.  When buying gear in the US you have to be very careful about brokerage fees.  Some of the courier companies charge exorbitant rates which can give you nasty surprise when your equipment is delivered.  Luckily, B&H changed their order process so that the fees (which are very reasonable) are included in the price and shown up front before you buy.  No more nasty surprises!
  • Occasionally I’ll buy something from Blacks Photo.  Their prices tend to be higher and they don’t carry much advanced gear but they will price match if you print something out that lists the competition’s price on exactly the same item but only if the other store is Canadian.
  • I used to check London Drugs but I don’t any longer.  They generally only carry lower end gear, their prices were always substantially higher and I find the search engine on their web site to be very irritating.
  • Vistek.ca is another Canadian camera store that’s big online and in some major cities.   I’ve never bought anything there since I have always found a better price elsewhere.  Other photographers I know speak highly of it though.
  • I used to check Henry’s Photo but I don’t any longer.  I found their prices were usually the same or higher and since their stores are all in Eastern Canada shipping was slower to BC.
  • Ebay.com: I have occasionally bought something off of Ebay.  I’m not sure I would buy a body or lens off the site but I’ve had good luck saving money on things like L-brackets and grips.

One site which I have found very useful in finding the best price on camera gear is Photoprice.ca.  You choose what gear you are looking for and it compiles a list of prices from all sorts of camera stores in Canada and the US.  A particularly nice feature is that it includes all taxes, duties and shipping in the price so its easy to compare.