Sunday, November 8, 2015

Putting kids behind the lens - A hiking photography adventure

A while ago I  posted a blog in my series Adventure Chat with Kids about pet peeves. It was a lighthearted chat that had Ben and Liv share some of their pet peeves about adventuring with mom and dad. One thing they both mentioned was the crazy amount of photos we take.  Fair enough but I was honest with them and stated that taking photographs while adventuring will always be a part of what I do. My advice to them - When in Rome...

Slowly Ben and Liv have taken interest in photography and on this particular adventure day, they both were proactive in their desire to take charge of both the camera equipment and photography for the day. I fully embraced their determination and was looking forward to seeing the two very different and unique perspectives they would create in their photographs. It was a tough day to take on photography given the grey clouds, misty weather and dark coastal forest we were hiking in, but they gave it their all.

I was surprised to see that they both captured some pretty amazing shots using aperture. Ben did a great job experimenting with aperture, describing what it was he wanted and ending up capturing the images he intended to catch. Four of his fabulous creations are below.

Liv had a few great aperture shots as well but it was her scene composition and capturing moments of Ben or Ben and I that expresses her style perfectly. She is a story teller and the four shots below certainly tell a story.

Today, I found myself standing around waiting for the two of them to finish taking their shots. Which I secretly loved.  No better time to play a bit myself.  With the dark dreary day, landscape shots were a no go. Not my area of expertise at the best of times so I used the opportunity to capture what I know and love best, Ben and Liv.

Five Tips for Getting Kids Comfortable Behind the Lens

- Support camera use.  Let them take photos when they ask. Give them use of an old camera or trust them with one you currently use.

- Show them some camera features. A quick review of how the camera works and settings to use. Start with the basics like auto focus and zoom. Then move to aperture and shutter speeds.

- Encourage different perspectives. Demonstrate getting low and using different angles. Point out lighting, composition and have them find interesting to them objects to take photos of. Photography is just another form of art.

- Teach them how to hold a camera. Strap around neck, keep fingers out of frame, hold steady with two hands, and rest elbows on knees for added support.

- Allow experimenting. Their photos do not need to be like your photos. They can be blurry or of way too many rocks but if it inspires them to continue taking photographs then keep on letting them experiment.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Snorkel with the Salmon - a Pacific North West Coast Experience

It was a balmy 17C alongside the Nanaimo River.  The warm temps, blue skies and a bright shining sun resembled a typical summer day only difference was, today was October 15.  I was standing alongside the river with an adventurous girlfriend who was looking to check off a bucket list activity - snorkel with the salmon.  A few years ago my family tried snorkeling with the salmon for the first time at this very same spot on the Nanaimo River.  It was a modest experience (not many salmon that year) so I jumped at the chance to give it another whirl.

The quick low down on what is required for snorkeling in rivers late in the year: a dry wet suit complete with booties, gloves, and hood; snorkel and mask; and an adventurous spirit.  It is also a good idea to be river smart.  Keep away from large rocks, overhanging trees or log jams and swim in conditions within your ability. Having a snorkel buddy a good idea as well.

What makes the Nanaimo River great for river swimming in general is the slow current throughout the summer months and shallow areas. Seems this combination is what salmon find ideal as well. The location I had picked out had a rocky bluff beside the river perfect for gearing up and allowed easy access in and out of the river. The location also has a large pool, what locals refer to as deep hole, so it allowed us to easily swim around without worrying about the current.  It is rather deep so viewing the salmon not ideal.  Best to walk up stream and gently float back down to the deep hole.

As the two of us walked up stream, looking like some sort of river creatures ourselves all donned in slick black wet suits, signs of the salmon run was evident.  Salmon carcasses, likely Coho, were littered all along the river bank.  The salmon’s life cycle is a great one.  Born in rivers, salmon grow for a year or so and then venture out far into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia.  Then, some five years later, they return to that same river, their birthplace, to spawn and then die.  As we walked along the river, being sure to step over the salmon that had met their fate, splashes in the river confirmed their presence. It was time to swim with the salmon. 

So there we were, standing in the river about knee high.  My friend and I each adjusted our masks, got the snorkels ready and gently slid into the cool waters.  It took a few seconds to get adjusted and comfortable to the flow but as soon as the mask went into the water a whole new world took over. Underneath me rocks and pebbles became the backdrop. The sound of water rushing was turned off and a calming sound took over. Off to the right a silver flash went by, then another and another. Looking around some more I could now see a handful of salmon swimming effortlessly around me. At one point I recall my friend saying “Oh my, this is so beautiful!” through her snorkel.  It was.  For two and a half minutes we floated with the salmon and it was amazing! Repeated many times over.


The life cycle of salmon is a remarkable one and the brief moment in time I shared with these selfless creatures was almost spiritual. My friend and I left the river completely fulfilled and full of life. This is why I love outdoor adventure. Every outdoor experience enriches my life is so many ways - appreciation for nature, passion for trying different things, sharing outdoor moments with friends, and overcoming my crazy childhood fear of things swimming under me. 

Sunny October day by the river, perfect day to wear KEEN sandals.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Putting kids in charge of travel plans & budget – Munich, Germany – Family Travel

It was the second last day of our three week adventure across Central Europe.  Joel and I were sitting in our hostel in Munich, Germany wondering how we were going to make the most of our short time here.  This marked the last stop before returning home and even though we were all tired, the journey thus far had been fulfilling in so many ways. Ben and Liv traveled well and embraced the culture, people, and adventures along the way. I had taken care of booking most of the hostels, researching possible things to do at each destination, packing each day according to what we were doing and had ran out of steam by the time we reached Munich.  Joel, as always, was our rock and navigated us through countless trains, countries, and language barriers.  Both of us were equally tired of spending money, being responsible for planning a day that everyone will enjoy, and being in charge.  So we turned the reigns over to Ben and Liv.

Liv and Ben, our trusted guides for the day! (photo taken in Vienna)

The idea was Joel’s.  He is brilliant. That, or tired of constantly having to deal with Ben and Liv asking to buy ice cream, some knick knack and having to repeat “money does not grow on trees” over and over again.  This was going to be a way to help them understand what it takes to plan a day of travel and realize the true value of money.

Before we left the comforts of our hostel there were three key things Ben and Liv needed to be prepared for: Research – What were we going to do for the day? Is there something for everyone? Navigation – How are we getting from point A to point B? Do we need maps? Do Ben and Liv know how to use Google Maps on the iPhone? Budget – How much money will we spend? What are the expected costs? What are Ben and Liv willing to sacrifice? Can Mom and Dad ask for ice cream every time we see ice cream?  Here is how our day in Munich unfolded with the kids in charge.


The day started with a debrief on where we were on the map and what options we had as far as things to see and do.  Joel and I pointed out several possibilities of places to go but in the end it was their decision, together, of what we would be doing.  Another decision they were faced with was how we would be traveling throughout Munich.  Would we be taking the metro or walking? Then, the last discussion was about money. Each was given 15 Euros for the day (plus the change we had in our pockets) and that was to take care of all our needs throughout the day, including lunch and paying to use washrooms.  We had eaten breakfast at the hostel, included with our stay, and mom and dad would take care of supper.

The plan Ben and Liv came up with was walk to St. Peter’s Church and then find somewhere to swim in one of the man-made channels along the Isar River.  They even went so far as to packing our towels, swim suits, hats, water, and a few snacks we had left.  Seems like these kids do pay attention!


The chosen method of travel was walking. Ben did great navigating our way from the hostel to St. Peter’s Church.  Joel helped him learn how to use Google Maps along the way and Ben caught on fast.  Soon he was navigating on his own. When it came time for Liv to navigate, she too caught on fast but had to be quickly reminded that navigating through a city meant following sidewalks! Walking in a straight line across four lanes of traffic and two train tracks would not do!

Kids pick of activities in Munich

St. Peters Church, a Roman Catholic church, was built in the 11th century and has seen rebuilds several times due to war and fire. Visiting the church was a great way to learn about some German history, admire the various styles of art inside and marvel at the large ceilings and gilded high altar. Visiting St. Peter’s Church was a perfect fit for our budget.  Admission into the church itself is free. Ben thought it would be worth 6 Euros for all of us to walk up 306 steps to the viewing platform on top the church tower. The reward is a 360 view of Munich. Navigating the tiny spiral staircase that you have to take both up AND down was every bit as entertaining as the view.

Englisher Garten.  If you love outdoor spaces and variety of things to see and do, this is the place for you.  It is a large park, larger than New York’s Central Park, located in the center of Munich offering grassy areas to sunbathe (clothed or not), swim, cycle, walk and re-hydrate at a beer garden of course. Best go early as things get busier later in the day but even experiencing the crowds is entertaining.

On the Eisbach River, a man made channel off the Isar River, there is a wave at the Haus der Kunst that is a popular place for surfing. Surfing in Munich? Who knew? Fun to watch.

Click video below to see some Munich surfing action!

As we walked through Englisher Garten we waded in the channels to stay cool, had ice cream (kids caved) and had lunch at Chinesischer Turm beer garden, seating for a mere 7000! Oktoberfest would be an experience here for sure! Ben and Liv carefully selected a meal each to share with us and Joel saved them some money by packing in his own beer.

Where the Eisbach meets the Isar River is a small rocky beach area that is so far off the tourist trail only locals and their dogs can be found. We swam, we sun bathed, Dad jumped off a bridge, and we all got trampled on by over active dogs.  It was a great way to spend the sunny afternoon in Munich. We even witnessed a new type of river activity. Hang on to a bungee cord while on a skim board (or small surf board) and as you float downstream (facing upstream), hang on as long as possible and then let go. The result is being ejected upstream fast!  Pretty cool to watch. Those Germans sure know how to make fun happen anywhere.

Click video to see river skiing


I was impressed with both Ben and Liv who did a great job sticking to the budget.  The asking for ice cream was kept to a minimum and there was no mention of buying knick knacks. When it came time to eat, reasonable decisions were made rather than rash choices that usually cost more.  Joel and I know that sacrifices to the daily budget need to be made in order to travel the world as a family. After this experience I believe Ben and Liv too have a better understanding of it as well.

Liv’s budget was spent on the following:
  • 1 slice of pizza
  • 2 apples and 2 bananas to share as snacks
  • Lunch at beer garden– European sausage and sauerkraut salad for Liv and I
  • One scoop ice cream and sprinkles (shared with mom)
  • Lighting a candle in St. Peter’s Church and 2 postcards
  • Celebratory ice cream at the end of the night
  • Coins for some street musicians
  • paid for all washroom uses
Ben's budget was spent on the following:
  • One scoop ice cream and sprinkles (shared with Dad)
  • Admission for all of us to go up to the top of the bell tower in St. Peters Church 
  • Lunch for Ben and Dad – Schnitzel and fried potatoes in beer gardens
  • Lighting a candle in St. Peters Church and 2 postcards
  • Celebratory ice cream at the end of the night (never too much ice cream)
  • Bought Dad a beer at the end of the night
Our day in Munich under the kids control turned out to be one of the most memorable days of the trip and was proud of what Ben and Liv accomplished.  The wonderful green spaces in the heart of Munich stole our hearts and I will always have fond memories of our time in Munich. As promised, Mom and Dad were buying supper and as we strolled through Hofgarten, an Italian style renaissance garden built in 1617 we came upon an outdoor courtyard beer garden. I believe it was called Luigi Tambosi but the name is not important. What was important was our time here. We sat and enjoyed a few beverages together and shared in laughter. We had great discussions on what we were going to choose from the menu, mostly trying to figure out what the menu was, and reminisced about the previous three weeks of travel we had enjoyed. As the evening crept on, we slowly made our way back to our hostel. Our final few stops were at Odeonsplatz, a 19th century city square, to sit and relax on some outdoor cushions, listened to some street buskers play music, and purchased one last ice cream, with what was left of Ben and Liv’s money, as a way to celebrate the day and our last evening in Europe.  Ben even managed to scrap together his last few Euros and bought his dad a beer.  What a guy!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A simple adventure break - Falls Lake near the Coquihalla Summit

Many times I have travelled the Coquihalla Highway and sigh as we speed past exits that taunt me with the possiblities of hitting trails and escaping into the beauty of BC's backcountry. Understanding that travel thru here is a means to an end - get from point A to point B. But does it have to be?

Determined to work in some outdoor adventure our next time thru, I did a little research and stumbled upon a trail that would fit in perfectly with our travel plans on Hwy 5.

Falls Lake Exit 221, near the summit of the Coquihalla Highway, will easily lead you to a parking area for Falls Lake. From there it is an easy 1.5km trail to a scenic lake. (3km round trip) The trail is a well groomed dirt trail with some stairs, a couple of boardwalks and only 40m of elevation gain so I would consider this an easy hike for anyone.

Because this stop was our rest break while travelling from point A to point B, we opted to trail run to the lake in order to maximize our time there. It took us about 8 mins to run to the lake and 6.12 mins to run get back to our vehicle. Ben and Liv were highly motivated to beat their time!

Total time for our rest break was an hour. We ate lunch at the lake. Went for a swim and had the whole lake to ourselves. The experience turned out to be more spectacular than I had imagined. Falls Lake can be more than just a pit stop. There were a couple tent pads, outhouses, and a food cache so wilderness camping is also an option. The area would be accesible all year round and is ideal for snowshoeing. May have to stop here next time we travel in the winter.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Soaking wet hikes are rewarding too - 5040 Peak, Vancouver Island

MISSING - 5040 Peak

Last seen 7 km east of Highway 4, 5 km west of Sutton Pass on Vancouver Island, resting peacefully with Cobalt Lake close by.  5040 Peak is described as a limestone outcrop with karst features.  She stands approximately 5040 feet (1536m) and is a resident of the Alberni / Clayquot area.  Reported missing by its Mackenzie Range cousins Cat’s Ear Peak, Triple Peak, and Mackenzie Peak.  Object of interest in case of missing mountain described as a dark gray cloud layer diffused by falling rain. If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of 5040 Peak, please report directly to your local alpine club or avid Vancouver Island hiker. (5040 Peak usually stands above pictured lake)

Can you guess what kind of view we had on our recent west coast hiking adventure? Even before the adventure began, Joel and I knew it was going to be another one of our summit attempts without a view. Yes, another one.  For some reason I think the weather gods figure if anyone can handle no view hiking adventures, it is us.  Weather forecast called for 90% chance of rain. Sunny the day before. Sunny the day after.  One of the driest summers ever on Vancouver Island. We get 90% chance of rain? Ok. Challenge accepted. The goal was to summit a peak on Vancouver Island that has been on my radar for over a year now.  Originally we had planned on doing this over a two day backpacking trip but that had to be adjusted for a variety of reasons. Not a big deal. It was still doable as a day hike.

The fact that we did not reach the summit is a tiny unimportant detail of our adventure. Of course, like many hikers, hiking in sunny, clear weather is what we want.  Weather gods take note. Especially in an area that has stunning views to feed your soul.  But does that mean you cancel a planned trip because of rain? For us it was never an option. It has been months since we have been able to escape into the wild.  Sure, we have been mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and swimming in rivers all summer long but I mean getting as far away from civilization as possible and stepping into the wild spaces of Vancouver Island.

There is something special about using your own energy to move through whatever terrain is put before you and the wilder the better.  For me, it is empowering, calming, rewarding, and I feel completely at peace with everything.  The rain just shows another side of the wild and is equally as beautiful and rewarding.

The rain most certainly added discomfort to our hike. It began to fall from the time we started hiking to the time we got back to our vehicle. The first part of the trail is through a forest, straight up, but for the most part we kept dry. Once we got out of the forest canopy and started hiking thru the heather alpine, things got a whole lot more wet.  Legs brushing against the shrubs at knee height felt like a glass of water being dumped down my legs and into my shoes.  Can the leaves really hold that much water on them? Even when not the first to hike up the trail, it still felt the same. Poor Ben and Liv, the bushes were waist high for them.  Roots and rocks become slippery. Phone and camera lenses begin to fog up. Hands are never dry and after a while pretty much the whole body is feeling wet.  By the end of the hike I can honestly say I know how a drowned rat feels and we most certainly looked the part as well.

Some may say it would be a waste of time to hike to such a beautiful location for no view or pleasure but I beg to differ. Watching the white wispy fog roll thru the trees and across the mountains I know are there is a beautiful sight. Mysterious and powerful.  I noticed the creeks and waterfalls along the trail pick up in flow as did the sound. When the lenses were not all fogged up, I found colors in the photos to pop in contrast to the grey backdrop.  Extra bonus was not another living soul to be found. The human kind anyway, we did spot a grouse. Being an active family who frequents hiking trails often, it was a great test to see just how far we can hike in the rain and what we can do to limit our discomforts.

Spotted a possible Sooty Grouse in the heather alpine

Misty Mountains and waterfalls
Adventure Girl has turned into a space alien! Testing out the emergency blanket.

It was kind fun being in the rain and when we arrive home the kids both told me they had fun hiking, even if they were soaking wet. I told them how proud I was of their efforts and what a great learning experience it was to know they can be outside in the rain for a few hours and manage. Then it was a mad dash to the bathroom for first dibs on a hot shower! Those little buggers are getting too quick!  
{ and funny apparently :) }

Trail details: 5040 Peak is located in the Alberni/Clayquot area of Vancouver Island and is part of the Mackenzie Mountain Range. Trail access - Heading west towards Tofino on Hwy 4, turn left on Marion Creek Mainline, 5km west of Sutton Pass. Then it is a 10km drive along a logging road with several water bars to negotiate. 4x4 recommended. Trail distance to summit – one trip report says 4km. Another says 6.7km. Both say 950m elevation gain. Reported hiking time to Cobalt Lake (half way) 1.5 – 2 hours.  Cobalt Lake to Summit – 1-2 hours. Return hiking time – 2-3 hours. Total 6 – 8 hours hiking depending on your speed. Not including stops. Our trip report – To Cobalt Lake 1.7 km in 1:20 mins and back down in 1:40. 3.4km round trip, 3 hours hiking and 583m elevation gain/loss.