People of the Wild: Gord Pincock

People of the Wild is a blog series profiling residents of British Columbia who have one thing in common: their love for exploring the BC wild. This week we’re featuring Gord Pincock, a professional sea kayaking guide who uses his decades of experience to show visitors to BC the stunning, remote beauty of Haida Gwaii.

What do you do and where do you live?

My name is Gord Pincock and I am a professional sea kayak guide and wilderness explorer with my company Butterfly Tours. I feel like I’m a bit migratory in that I live in different locations depending on the season. In the winter months I live in Sechelt, which is where I have my primary residence, but every June for the last thirty-four years I’ve headed up north to Haida Gwaii for the summer months. I was born and raised in Vancouver, but I have also lived in Tofino. Aside from spending a few months at a time doing guiding work in the Caribbean, I’ve essentially lived in BC my entire life.

Photo: Gord Pincock

What is it that makes you proud to call BC home?

I feel more a sense of gratitude than pride. Some of the most wonderful things about living in BC are so simple, that unless we bring our attention to them they can be overlooked. I am endlessly grateful for the plentiful, clean, fresh water and air. I’ve travelled quite a bit throughout the world and there are a lot of places where tap water is not drinkable. Here we have awesome water flowing from the mountains and accumulating in numerous freshwater lakes. It’s the norm here for the environment to be clean and the air fresh.

How does BC’s nature and wilderness inspire you?

I feel like wild places can essentially rejuvenate us. I know I’ve experienced that myself and I certainly feel like I’m witnessing that while guiding my tours. I guide weeklong tours with people so I get to see them come fresh into the wilderness and then transform into these wilderness beings that have been rejuvenated.

Photo: Gord Pincock

Also, I think being in the wilderness can enable us to know ourselves better. I’m often reminded of the saying, “If you want to get to know someone then travel with them”. I think if you want to get to know someone really well, then travel through the wilderness with them. And if you want to know yourself, travel alone in the wilderness. But as a practical disclaimer, a tremendous amount of preparation and training is required in order to safely travel in the wilderness by yourself. However, part of what my company offers is the ability to travel through the wilderness in organized groups with someone who has experience. My experience enables me to manage the risk of the wilderness while my clients still get the chance to allow the wilderness to show them who they really are.

That’s an underlying concept or philosophy for my life. I’ve been changed through some long solo trips in the wilderness. In my twenties I used to go for weeks or months at a time alone up in Haida Gwaii and I would come back transformed. Those experiences have remained foundational to my life and I can utilize what I’ve learned during those times in pretty much every aspect of my life.

What would you say makes BC’s rainforests so special?

One of the things that I continuously and simply enjoy, so much so that I feel it right down to my very bone marrow is the timeless sensation of exploring old growth forests. You can see old growth that is so old that it fell over a century ago and it’s now a nurse log for other new growth. Essentially you’re looking at continuous and timeless life cycles. It’s like looking back through centuries of a natural calendar. But conversely, you’re also able to project forward and imagine a new seedling as a future nurse log. For me, the rainforest has the similar effect to that feeling you get when you look up at the stars and feel really small.

Photo: Gord Pincock

Another quality that makes old growth forests really special is that there are so few remaining on Earth. True old growth forests are entirely different than tree farms, and thankfully BC still has some intact virgin rainforests. The first one that springs to mind is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. A few decades ago it was at risk of losing even more of its rainforest, but as a result of the activism and protests, they stopped the logging, shut down the logging camps, and created the National Park Reserve. Sometimes I like to describe it as a place that has been sustainably logged for ten thousand years, because the Haida people have lived there for that long.

What would be a place or experience that you would recommend that a new visitor to BC not miss this summer?

I would suggest that they go find a place with what I call a long view toward a wide expanse of distant horizon. There are many places in BC that fit this description and I would suggest they find at least one that is a bit difficult for them to get to so that they get the satisfaction of having overcome a challenge.

The reason I suggest this is that staring into such vast spaces, similarly to the sensation of stargazing, gives me a sense of realism into whatever is going on in my life. I might think I have troubles but after a walk where I’ve looked out onto the horizon, I realize that I’ve got a few first world problems, but I am just fine. It shifts my perspective.

Photo: Gord Pincock

For example, when I lived in Tofino I would often go out to Long Beach to do this. Although thousands of people go there, it wouldn’t take long for me to climb up on some rocks and get to a higher location where I could spend hours alone. I would get some solitude combined with a beautiful view and this incredible sense of distance. I continually see this impact my guests on my weeklong tours. While I’m making dinner I see them sitting and just gazing out into the wilderness. I figure it’s an original form of meditation.

Then, after finding one of these places, I would suggest seeing how it feels to take no photos and share no social media. Being unplugged can be an exception these days but it can truly provide an entirely different quality to the experience of being in the wilderness. For the first twenty years of my career I did all my guiding and paddling with no camera. I didn’t take any pictures because my philosophy was that it would bring me more into the here and now. And it does. Now I do travel with a camera, partly because I want photos on my website to keep my business going, but I’m careful when and how I bring it out. As soon as I’m looking through the lens, it’s not the same degree of here and now. A camera can enhance the experience in some ways but it certainly detracts in others.

What would you say is BC’s best-kept secret?

For me it’s definitely the west coast of Moresby Island on Haida Gwaii. That’s one of the places I used to do my long solo trips and it’s incredibly remote. You can spend weeks up there and see no one else. It’s on the map, so it’s not a secret, but it’s so rarely visited that it may as well be.

Any last words of advice to somebody thinking about visiting BC?

Less is more! BC is a vast and diverse place. If you’re visiting with limited time, I’d suggest that people consider narrowing the scope of their explorations. The danger with attempting to see it all is that it could actually result in experiencing less of what this province has to offer. I’m often discouraging guests from trying to fit too much in and encouraging them to slow down and take their time.

Photo: Gord Pincock

Follow along with Gord’s BC adventures here.

Discover more of BC’s People of the Wild
here and here.

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Vancouver’s Chinatown isn’t Pretty

Vancouver’s Chinatown isn’t pretty, but no one can deny that it has character. One of the oldest neighbourhoods in all of Vancouver, it’s steeped in local history. For a photographer, there are few urban spaces in Vancouver that deliver the same sense of stimuli. If you’re craving good Chinese restaurants, bustling nightlife, or a faux romanticized 1930s era Shanghai, you’re […]

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PHOTOS: The Highway Tunnels of the Fraser Canyon

As a child growing up in Surrey, British Columbia in the 1950s and ’60s, the Trans-Canada Highway through the Fraser Canyon was a regular route for our family road trips, and I’ve never lost my fascination with the seven tunnels that were built between 1957 and 1964. Located between Boston Bar and Yale, they each have their own character and range from 57 metres (187 feet) to 610 metres (2,000 feet) in length. If you’re looking for a scenic drive rich in history and engineering, this one’s for you.

Some of my earliest memories of the Fraser Canyon were actually not very pleasant, as the road before the modern tunnels were built was very scary in places – a narrow, winding, cliff-hanging beast of a road with a couple of short tunnels. Every time my father drove us through the canyon, though, another tunnel had been added and before long, the scary sections were gone and it had become one of the most dramatic sections of highway in North America. My father, now 92 years old, first travelled through the canyon with his parents in 1929, and has similar memories, both from that trip and later pre-tunnel drives. He says that the most unnerving sections were the lengthy wooden trestles, some of them only wide enough for one vehicle, which stuck out from the cliffs in several places, notably south of Alexandra Bridge. Many sections of the old road can still be walked.

Today’s tunnels from north to south are: China Bar (opened in 1961), Ferrabee (1964), Hells Gate (1960), Alexandra (1964), Sailor Bar (1959), Saddle Rock (1958) and Yale (1963). With one exception, the photos below were shot in December 2014 travelling south, the first time in 50-odd years that I’d been a passenger in a car going through the canyon so I could take pictures.

The entrance to the China Bar Tunnel in the Fraser Canyon, BC with the Trans-Canada Highway in the foreground and trees surrounding the tunnel.

This is the entrance to the longest of the tunnels, China Bar, which is about 610 metres (2,000 feet) long. The yellow sign above the road has warning lights that are activated by cyclists before they enter the tunnel, which is curved so has reduced sight lines. The building contains equipment for ventilation of the tunnel – China Bar is the only one that is ventilated.

Inside the China Bar Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC.

Driving through the China Bar tunnel.

The entrance to the Ferrabee Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC

Approaching the Ferrabee tunnel, which has a slight curve to it. It’s about 300 metres (985 feet) long.

The end of Hells Gate Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC, looking out to a semi truck about to enter the tunnel.

Nearing the south end of the Ferrabee tunnel, with the shortest of the tunnels, Hells Gate, ahead. The Hells Gate tunnel is 57 metres (187 feet) long.

The entrance to the Hells Gate Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC which looks like a dark hole as its the only tunnel with no overhead lighting.

The Hells Gate tunnel is the only one that doesn’t have overhead lighting.

Views of misty clouds and lush trees surrounding Hells Gate Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC

The views coming out of most of the tunnels – in this instance the Hells Gate – is spectacular.

The entrance of the Alexandra Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC, lit up and surrounded by trees.

Approaching the Alexandra tunnel, which is also curved and has cyclist-activated warning lights. It is 290 metres (951 feet) long.

Cyclist warning lights in the Alexandra Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC

A closer look at the entrance and cyclist warning lights in the Alexandra tunnel.

Driving through the Alexandra Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC with a semi truck coming in the opposite direction.

Driving through the Alexandra tunnel – Fraser Canyon, BC.

Sailor Bar Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC from the south with lush green trees on the hillside.

The Sailor Bar tunnel from the south in February 2015 during one of my many drives from Vancouver to Whitehorse. The Sailor Bar tunnel is 292 metres (958 feet) long.

The entrance to Sailor Bar Tunnel, Fraser Canyon, BC with its overhead lights lit up and a vehicle passing through.

Back to December 2014, this is Sailor Bar tunnel from the north.

The entrance to Saddle Rock Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC

The oldest of the modern tunnels, Saddle Rock, is 146 metres (479 feet) long.

Stunning view of cliffs, lush trees and misty clouds from the highway through the Fraser Canyon, BC

One of the stunning views south of Saddle Rock.

In all of these photos you can see the biggest advantage of driving the Fraser Canyon off-season – there’s very little traffic.

Entrance to the Yale Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC

At Lady Franklin Rock, the Fraser River is forced through a 50-metre-wide slot, and both the highway and railway lines required tunnels to get past it. The highway goes through the Yale tunnel, which is 286 metres (938 feet) long.

Coming out of the Yale Tunnel - Fraser Canyon, BC with a truck coming in from the opposite direction.

At this point, about to exit the Yale tunnel, I often have a strong desire to do a U-turn and drive through all the tunnels again. Some kids never grow up!

Whether your interests are in scenic photography, history or engineering, the Fraser Canyon has a great deal to offer in any season. Beyond the highway scenes I’ve posted, there are many superb places to go hiking and exploring, many of them on old sections of highway such as at Alexandra Bridge, so offering very easy walking. Interpretive centres at each end of the Fraser Canyon – the Tuckkwiowhum Heritage Interpretive Village in Boston Bar and the Yale Historic Site and Museum in Yale – can add even more depth and colour to your exploring.

Related links:
The Mighty Fraser Circle Route

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Explore the Chilliwack Valley with @rjbruni

Discover BC through the eyes of its locals! Each week we #exploreBC through a different Instagrammer who shares their favourite local spots and experiences.

This week, we’re featuring Chilliwack-based photographer @rjbruniHe will be sharing some of his favourite spots to experience the Chilliwack Valley.

A hiker sitting on the top of Goat Peak in the Chilliwack Valley with three alpine lakes below.

“Taken on Goat Peak looking down at Lindeman Lake and Chilliwack Lake, this makes for a steep but well worth it hike. With views of three different alpine lakes, Goat Peak really shows the diversity of the area. Looking around and seeing so many different climbable mountains got me stoked for the next one.”

A cascading waterfall pouring into Williamson Lake with green moss and trees surrounding it, blue skies above and sun pouring in.

“Surrounded by Welch and Foley Peaks, Williamson Lake is one of my favourite zones to explore. This waterfall drains the beautiful blue alpine lake. Whether someone is only wanting to visit the lake or scramble the peaks, it is well worth the trip.”

The silhouette of a hiker standing at the top of Mount Cheam, leaning over above the fluffy white clouds below.

“Taken on one of Chilliwack’s most popular hikes, Mt. Cheam, this trip was one of kind. Having the city below us covered in clouds made this particular night on Cheam quite spectacular. This hike is harder to get to due to the logging road conditions but it only takes 1.5 hours to hike from the trailhead.”

A view of the snow-capped peaks of Chililwack's Cheam Range from a plane, with the plane's wing above and sun pouring in.

“I love not only exploring the valley by foot, but also by air. There is something compelling about jumping in a plane and seeing summits from above them rather than below. This photo showcases the Cheam Range at sunset.”

A hiker standing on Thurston Ridge looking out at the landscape below, including a windy creek.

“Thurston Ridge really puts where I live in perspective. Being able to look west and see all the way to Vancouver, but turn around and see Chilliwack’s powerful peaks so close behind is what makes this hike so dynamic. This night was spent in our warm sleeping bags looking down at the glow of the city.”

A star-filled night sky surrounded by the silhouettes of trees making an arc around the photo.

“Located at the end of the valley lies Chilliwack Lake, nestled between some of Chilliwack’s best peaks. Being so far from the city makes for the perfect spot to see the stars without any city light. A boat was needed for this shot to get to where no car or hiker could.”

A hiker sitting on the top of Flora Peak in Chilliwack taking in the orange glow of the sunset.

“There is nothing like enjoying a mountaintop sunset with your best friends. Flora Peak has an amazing view of its neighbour, Williams Peak. Sharing a trailhead with the Lindeman Lake hike, Flora Peak is easily accessible to everybody.”

About @rjbruni

“I was born and raised in BC’s Fraser Valley. Using serene landscapes to draw in my subjects, I aim to inspire extraordinary lives of exploration and adventure.” Check out more of RJ’s work at RJBruni.com or Inmistmediahouse.com.

Looking for more BC experiences and destinations? Follow us on Instagram at @hellobc.   

 

 

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Wildlife Viewing in Mount Robson

Spring is here and with the warm weather it brings, it’s the best time of year for wildlife viewing in Mount Robson Provincial Park. Mount Robson, located in the Canadian Rockies, is the second oldest provincial park in BC and it’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 217,000 ha (536,219 ac) of pristine wilderness terrain make it a thriving wildlife habitat. You can often spot wildlife along the highways before you even enter the park, as they seek the new spring growth coming up in the valley. These amazing creatures can be difficult to spot, but if you know where to look, there is a good chance to catch a glimpse and get a great photo along your journey. Here are some examples of the wildlife you may spot in Mount Robson Provincial Park, courtesy of the staff at the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Mt. Robson:

Black Bears

Black bear strolling through the grass at Mt. Robson Provincial Park.

Black bear at Mount Robson Provincial Park. Photo: Robert Snache via Flickr

Black bears begin emerging from their winter hibernation in mid- to late-April and their need to fill up on food will drive them to the newest spring growth. This means that through to mid-May, the best chance to spot one will be along the highway on the north side of the park. The south facing side of the road gets the most sunlight and plants such as fireweed and dandelion, which is the bears’ favourite at this time of year. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the bears migrate to the south side of the road, where the high-nutrition spring growth flowers begin blooming. Bears will generally feed in the early morning, then again a little later in the day, showing up along the highway whenever their bellies get empty. This may be as often as every few hours.

Grizzly Bears

A mama grizzly bear and her cub sniffing for food along the highway at Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Mama grizzly bear and her cub at Mount Robson Provincial Park. Photo: xinem via Flickr

Spring is typically the only time to see grizzly bears in the valley floor at Mount Robson. Once the snow leaves, these solitary creatures move to higher ground as they forage for food. They can occasionally be seen alongside the highway, usually at higher points of the road. In past years, grizzlies have been spotted at Yellowhead Pass in the east end of the park, as well as south of the park in Albreda. In the spring, grizzlies often forage for food on south-facing avalanche slopes. Use your binoculars or spotting scope to scan avalanche slopes, watching for movement. Grizzlies have often been spotted on the avalanche slope, viewable from the deck behind the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Mt. Robson.

Moose

A moose drinking water in shallow water at Mount Robson Provincial Park

Moose at Mount Robson Provincial Park. Photo: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Moose are very shy and are one of the most difficult large animals to spot. They enjoy eating marsh grasses and browsing on willow branches, so the best place to see these majestic creatures is in marshy areas or along riverbanks. The marshes at the east end of Moose Lake are a great place to watch for moose, as the wetlands are easily visible from the highway. When out walking, you can see signs that moose have been in the area by watching for bushes that have been browsed – branches with the leaves stripped off and the tender tips of the branches broken. Dawn and dusk are the best times of day to see moose.

Waterfowl

Starratt Sanctuary in Valemount British Columbia with the Canadian Rockies in the background, reflecting off of the water

Robert W. Starratt Sanctuary, Valemount. Photo: Wendy Dyson

Spring is the best time of year to view waterfowl, including mallards, teals (Blue-winged, Green-winged and Cinnamon), ruddy ducks, shovellers, scaups, widgeons, bufflehead, golden-eyes, ring-necks and wood ducks, as they migrate through the area, making the valley a birdwatcher`s paradise. The Canadian Geese are nesting, so it is a great time to see goslings (baby geese). The R.W. Starratt Wildlife Viewing Sanctuary in Valemount is a lovely spot to see a wide variety of bird life. The sanctuary is also a moose habitat, so there is a chance to see them as well. In the early evening, beaver and muskrat are active in the area, so as you walk the trail (which has two viewing towers along the way), there’s an opportunity to see them in the waters. Be sure to bring your binoculars!

Know Before You Go

The British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Mt. Robson keeps a log book where visitors can record which animals they have seen in the park and where, so stop by to find out where the most recent viewings have been. It is important to respect the wildlife you see as you travel through the valley. Do not approach any wild animals and refrain from feeding them or leaving food or garbage out. When you see wildlife along the highway, pull well off the road, take a couple of photos and then continue on. Your stop should be limited to a couple of minutes to show respect for the animals and other visitors to the park. Please stay in your vehicle.

Related links:
Bird Watching in Valemount, British Columbia
Hiking in Mt. Robson Provincial Park
Parks & Wildlife in British Columbia

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