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The Disappearing Wilderness

Recent travels in Tasmania had me undertaking a ten day adventure through the Eastern Arthur Range in the World Heritage listed South-West National Park.

From the range you are extremely far from anything, with wilderness in all directions as far as the eye can see. It’s quite astonishing in today’s age for any place, let alone a tiny island, to have so much inaccessibility, fresh air, and freedom. The Eastern Arthur Range to me is true wilderness – vast, untouched, difficult to access, and incredibly inspiring. I grew up close by with a poster of Federation Peak hanging up on my bedroom wall and for many years I told myself: “one day!” Tasmania is where my love of nature and the outdoors began. Now an adult, engaging with the wilderness through photography has been my way to appreciate it on a deeper level.

 

Federation Peak’s 1224m summit block takes in the last sunshine of the day as the fog consumes the Eastern Arthur Range, South-West National Park, Tasmania

 

From day one on the trail I had plenty of time to contemplate, relax, reset, and adjust my body-clock from the ever-increasing pace of today’s world. I was disconnected, yet somehow I was more content, connected and self-aware than ever. Today’s world is a place where striving to be first, best, or different are prized for monetary gain and the ego’s desire for attention, fame, and notoriety. These superficial things are quickly put into perspective and forgotten when you watch a massive cloud bank consume the Eastern Arthurs at sunset – enveloping everything except Federation Peak – which is the central focus of the range; or when a wedge-tailed eagle circles you to within ten metres on The Devil’s Thumb – not once, but twice, enabling eye-contact and the taking of each other’s measure; or when marveling at millions of stars reflected in Hanging Lake on a rare calm, clear night; and then when you encounter an elusive, endangered tiger quoll on the trail who appears completely unfazed by your presence. If you want stress relief I recommend you strap on a backpack and head into the South West wilderness. But be prepared – life is simplified, yet risks are amplified. Your daily challenges will include crossing rivers and negotiating quagmires of mud as well as trusting your life to protruding tree roots whose reliability is entirely questionable. This kind of adventure is character-building, but perhaps that is what is needed in this day and age when we are constantly encouraged to seek security and minimize risk.

 

 

Sadly, the value of wilderness is not understood by the majority, and it is disappearing at a rapid rate across the world for short-term and short-sighted gains. Here in my birthplace, maintaining the integrity of the Tarkine in the North West is currently the hot topic and back home in the Canadian Rockies logging is controversially creeping into the nearby foothills. This time, on my return to Tasmania, I discover that a new track is being proposed through pristine forest to the shores of Lake Geeves, nestled right under the nose of Federation Peak, which would further encroach on (and surely diminish) the wilderness value of the World Heritage listed Eastern Arthur Range.

 

Lake Geeves receives very little sunlight nestled at the base of Federation Peak’s South face, South-West National Park, Tasmania

 

Wilderness is vitally important for the maintenance of ecological diversity. The unique structure, size, and maturity of old-growth forest in wilderness provides habitat for a wide range of organisms. Undisturbed wilderness maintains and sustains organisms ranging from the microscopic to large birds, mammals, and reptiles. Old trees die and fall, creating further niche habitats, while other organisms benefit from ground cover, grasses, mosses, and lichens. Of added biological and ecological benefit is the old-growth forest’s capacity to retain moisture. Old-growth forest is one of the few land features that produce topsoil instead of degrading or destroying it. Wilderness also has an important role in water and air purification cycles. Along with its ecological and conservation value, wilderness plays a significant role in mitigating the causes of climate change because it is identified as an important carbon sink whereby plants grab and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis. Current estimates suggest that globally, old-growth forests store nearly 300 billion tons of carbon in their living parts, or roughly 30 times the annual amount of emissions created by burning fossil fuels 1.. Knowing this it is unfathomable to me that these wild places are not given the respect they are due, so that they are protected and preserved for posterity.

 

 

Recently social media has been criticized for the popularization of many outdoor locations which have increased the desire to go there and take a selfie or to ‘do it for the gram’, resulting in increased track erosion and the degradation of the surrounding environment. Our increasing population and the relative ease with which we are able to travel the world today, along with increased access to information via the internet, is compounding the problem. If increasing popularity could lead to increased respect, protection, and preservation, through education and the understanding of the importance of wilderness, then we might be able to attain a healthy balance. The situation is dire for the remaining tracts of wilderness which are still not seen for their intrinsic value by governments, corporations, and the individual hell-bent on attention by increasing a social media following. Instead these havens are seen only for their potential yield, future profit, and personal gain. Surely these places should remain intact for future generations to appreciate and experience respectfully – should they choose to take up the challenge, accept the risk, and strap on that backpack. The experiencing of true wilderness is like nothing else, and it is an experience that can’t be manufactured. It will no longer be available to us, or to the generations to come, unless there is a change in the way we view, and move through, our wild places.

 

 

 

Returning to civilization I found that the trip had been incredibly beneficial as I had been able to reflect, re-align my priorities and way of thinking, even if ever-so-slightly, for the better. I had recharged. And, I had fulfilled my childhood dream of witnessing Federation Peak up close, closing one chapter but turning the page to open up yet another. “I wonder what the view is like from over there?” I thought as I looked across at Precipitous Bluff from the top of Federation Peak. The next time I return to Tasmania and the wilderness is calling that might just be where I end up.

 

Precipitous Bluff, affectionately known as “PB”, is another committing and wild destination in Tasmania’s South-West National Park

 

  1. ‘Future Directions – the Role of Old-Growth Forests in Carbon Sequestration’, by Geoffrey Craggs, JP, Research Analyst, Northern Australia and Land Care.
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TOP 5 winter photography locations in Canmore

Winter can be one of the most beautiful times in the Canadian Rockies and I want to give you some inspiration to get out the door and begin capturing amazing photographs in and around the Canmore area of the Bow Valley. Here are my top 5 winter photography locations in the area although these can be applied in any season (use the google maps link to see where each location is on a map);

1) Benchlands Trail & the hoodoos

This location offers the grandview of Canmore up close from right in town. It works especially well for night photography or at blue hour when you can highlight the town’s lights beneath the mountains. At the Banff end of this elevated trail you lose a little elevation and get up close to a few of Canmore’s hoodoos, or eroded pillars. Use them as a foreground but make sure to stay off them, they are fragile!  (difficulty: easy)

 2) The hillsides by the Alpine Club of Canada

This location is less visited by photographers but I suggest you go here after heavy snow. The image at the beginning of this blog post was made there. The trails are significant in the area so enjoy exploring. A few of them are closed in winter to give wildlife space so respect those closures if you come upon one. Bring ice cleats in case as this area is hilly and snowshoes if there has been a lot of fresh snow. Park before you reach the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) on the side of the road and walk up to the ACC to access the trails. (difficulty: moderate)

3) The “engine” bridge

Almost a secret spot in Canmore, the engine bridge was originally used in the town’s coal mining operations by Canadian Pacific Rail. It is now a pedestrian/bike bridge that allows for an amazing view of the Three Sisters, and the Lawrence Grassi (Ehagay Nakoda) range including Ha Ling Peak. The Bow River is a great foreground and steam rises off it on cold days adding atmosphere. Go in the morning at sunrise as the angle of the light sidelights the mountains beautifully. (difficulty: easy)

4) The iconic Three Sisters view

The classic scene that most photographers shoot when they come to Canmore. It’s a very short walk off the 1A Highway (Bow Valley trail). Park at the off leash dog park and cross the highway, following the creek bed for 5 minutes until it opens up. This is where most people stop and shoot reflections of the mountains in a pool. This will be frozen in winter but I suggest exploring further in any season as there are many more unique angles to be found ahead of this location towards the Bow River and Three Sisters. (difficulty: easy-moderate)

5) Ha Ling, EEOR, Grassi Knob & the Lady Mac platform

These high points offer birds eye views of the valley and I highly recommend you visit atleast one of them. In winter they can be dangerous and within avalanche terrain but often they are safe, strenuous half day trips – you need to be able to determine which it is before you go by gathering information from other parties, checking weather reports and always staying within your comfort zone & abilities. One place you can seek advice and current conditions is through the facebook group, ‘Scrambling in the Canadian Rockies’. Go with a partner and bring microspikes. See the day-to-night timelapse I made from the summit of Ha-Ling peak below. (difficulty: hard)

 

Click HERE to pinpoint the locations using google maps and click the custom markers I have created for additional information.

 

 

** Bonus location ideas: Grassi Lakes ice waterfall, trapped ice bubbles at Gap Lake or Spray Lake, Harvie Heights wanderings – there are elevated viewpoints hidden throughout.

 

 

** TIP: Download the app, “The Photographers Ephemeris”, and enable its add-on, “Skyfire”. This will show you updated and surprisingly accurate sunrise and sunset potential for the upcoming days which is very useful as a motivator on cold winter mornings! Have your gear packed the night before to make things easier on yourself. That will allow you to focus on last minute location fine tuning according to what the weather is doing.

 

Share your favorite areas for winter photography around Canmore and the Bow Valley in the comments and sign up to my mailing list for information about future workshops in this area.

 

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2016 – a review

My favourite 10 images that I took during 2016 (click on each one for a closer look);

 

 

and the “B” side images;

 

 

and some “C”s…..I had a really fun year!

 

 

So it was a big year, we finally moved to Canmore to make our home in the Canadian Rockies! Once there I managed to climb 51 separate mountains in the next 8 months to finish off the year. My goal was my age in peaks for the year so I was happy to achieve that when I hit 33 peaks with Mt St Nicholas in Banff National Park but going up mountains has so many positive effects that I kept at it right until year’s end. Bring on 34+ peaks in 2017! I was also fortunate to be invited to help on a few of Will Patino’s photography workshops, both here in Canada and also over in Iceland which i’m so grateful for as It opened me up to new friends and experiences that I had never imagined. I still have to process a lot of the Iceland images. I’m really looking forward to creating even more unique images next year and to continuing to take steps to build a happy and fulfilling life.

All the best in 2017!

Nick

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2015 – a review

My favourite 10 images that I took during 2015 (click on each one for more details);

In 2015 I have worked on photography as much as possible. It has in some way shape or form been present in every spare waking moment that ive had! Ive been lucky to have this time for it but am always left wishing there was more. I managed to do many things im proud of and becoming a Permanent Resident of Canada was one of those. It helped me be able to move forward with more purpose knowing that im here to stay….8 years on temporary permits was great for travel and flexibility but not if you wish to start something. The most exciting part of the year was traveling alone to the Yukon Territory for 2 weeks to backpack & photograph Tombstone Territorial Park. Nothing beats being immersed in nature, with a close second photographing it with intention to hopefully come away with a ripping shot or two.

Happy new year and best wishes for 2016!

Nick

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