Over the Salal Fields And Far Away

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestIt was dripping; the sun shrouded by cloud, the cloud returning to damp where dew ran with rain and rain soaked into thick rivulets of sand. All these paths led to a tempest of gray salt, growling together as an always-temperamental Northwest coastline. We shouldered our loads, pack mules down scree slopes, each step sinking into the shifting earth.

The first day was different. From the golden sun reflecting off a classic green pearl, a perfect wave was ridden with friends yelping like small creatures in a wide world. Slowly, in its own time, the swell built into a fortress of play. A soft offshore breeze told ancient stories of the last days of summer, like secrets spoken only to the two of us out that morning.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestWalking off the beach, skin tensing from the drying salt water, we turned and marveled at the temptation we left, but the promise of additional companions and a new adventure forced us back through the thick fern fronds and salal fields that guarded those secrets. We pulled into a freshwater bay to meet our other companions: Sam from Ocean Beach and Kris from hometown.

As we spread our gear across the gravel, we reveled in what was just had and the anticipation of what was to come—a sea of imagination. Tents and tarps; jackets and neoprene layers; stoves, filtration systems and amenities; all stuffed into bear canisters and assertively packed within the confines of four new SealLine expedition packs. Canoes and paddles, boards, wetsuits, a small wooden door, screwdriver and hardware made the trip. Finally, amenities for the sun and the cold: beer.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestEach canoe weighed heavy in the soft mud as the four of us laughed, organized and inspected everything. We had the gear and a malleable plan. Now we needed waves. Under a milky afternoon, still with high, wafting clouds, we embarked waters teaming with perch, pikeminnow, coastal cutthroats and kokanee to a point of cache and then further across deeper waters into the middle of nowhere.

This was our annual expedition in search of far-away waves—often not there, often there. We scanned bays and points, searched maps and planned routes. One year the Lost Coast Range, another south to Baja. This year we wanted to stay home and discover the little-known secrets of our wild backyard.

On far western shores we moored the vessels under thick drooping cedar boughs and trekked into the shadows, dusk above us and wet bog beneath. We slipped on decaying boardwalks, falling sideways and forward as we toddled, drawn to the roar of a thundering ocean a mile away. Our boards acted like crutches under our arms and our thick waterproof packs like mattresses. As the trail rose and fell, twisting through the forest terrain and between protective eight-foot-tall salal fields, we were in a florist’s dreamland, as well as our own. Suddenly, darkness gorged upon the remaining light, birds fell still and night insects began their choir. Surf hissed as it crashed upon salty shores. Thousands upon thousands of pounds of hypertension breaking, tumbling over and over one another. The animals, the dripping canopy, the ancient muttering streams tinged brown by Fall leaves was drowned by excitement.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestCamp One welcomed us with an evening storm that lulled us to sleep with the soft, synthetic patter of raindrops on nylon. As we emerged into the light of day two, all was sodden, the leaching wetness of winter – the rotting season. Nothing remained dry outside our expedition packs. And as we cooked packets of instant oatmeal, we scanned the angry horizon for signs of contour.

North was a mark on the map, a point, as well as lingering deer tame enough to comb with a pick. South was a bay with few signs of humanity and, straight west, into the heart of the Pacific was a madness of gray matter combusting without pattern, ending in a wall of white frigidity. So we checked north. We ventured south. And came to the conclusion over much deliberation, pseudo-scientific nonsense and amateur forecasting that south was the answer to our dreams. There, miles from camp we witnessed a clean, A-frame peak dashing itself upon a hardened black shoals, falling to rest after its long journey. So we tore like madmen, over silky seaweed and mounds of purple bear scat back to camp in a rush to beat a pulsing tide. Packed a little lighter, we double-time over bleached-tree graveyards, through gaping stone holes and slippery cavernous passages.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestCamp Two was a sand bank, a small cove of great fortune that was ours, alone, for four days. From this vantage point, we watched the sea. Corduroy lines of swell marched like infantry. That clean A-frame was gone, replaced by a meaty little slab.

Wet in the water and wet ashore, the weather carpeted the coastline each passing day. We ate food the consistency of porridge and drank small cups of instant coffee. Shaded by the rainforest above, picking our way through fern and salal below, we scoured for any bits of dry wood we could find. At the end, we divvied the remaining food and gear between us to lighten our return. Mosses and lichen draped over any uncovered surface.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestThese instances were often the most memorable, the time away from time where scrutiny of an industrial civilization weighed weight upon a ticking time bomb. Omniscient and harmonious was the mind, free to soar in solitude like the eagles above, and glide like a Pelican upon the updraft of rolling sea. We found more scat; bear, raccoon, coyote. We stepped over the skins of dogfish and collected Japanese plastics from disasters far away and seemingly long ago. Then we ended.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestThe morning of our departure, the sun broke and alighted our long playful shadows across the sand as we slipped northward towards Camp One, back through the fern forest and salal fields to a freshwater point. We had work to do.

As we paddled towards our cache near a hollowed-out burnt cedar remnant, abandoned hundreds of years ago by the People of the Canoe, a fire blazed in a clear-cut swathe just over the park boundary lines. It filled the lake’s reflection an even deeper brown, eerily reminding us of the forgotten emptiness that now lies still on the coastal banks, watching the same shoal morph and erode with the ocean’s power.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestWe slid onto the sandy beach, found our stores of wood and hardware, beer and fire, and set to work. Skyler repaired the lean-to with his fashioned door. Sam built a hot fire of cedar wood and lava rock, while Kris fashioned a shovel to carry the stones from heat to shelter. Over the course of three hours we took turns bathing in the sweet sweat of a traditional sauna, removing all traces of bitter cold from our bones. And then just before dusk we set off for home, just as we had done days prior when we entered the shadows of fern and salal that guarded the undiscovered surf in the wilds of our backyard.

Book published! “Human/Nature” by The Nature Conservancy

Thrilled to announce the publication of a recent book project with The Nature Conservancy! Over a course of 12 months, I traveled around Washington State to showcase how humans interact with nature in relationships both recreational and commercial. Here are a few selects, as well as a link to purchase. All proceeds support The Nature Conservancy in Washington State: Human/Nature

Belize Pt 3 – Sage Fly Fishing

Belize Pt 2 – YETI

On water or land, there’s always a place to be thirsty and carry the right vessel.

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Wind + Energy

Wind is a powerful thing. Why not harness it? With luck and great joy I had the chance to visit the Kittitas Wind Farm in Eastern Washington.

The Last Great Wild Place

The Olympic National Park is in my mind one of the last great wild places on earth. It’s absolutely remarkable with thick rich flora and fauna, and some of the last largest stands of trees. To venture into its rivers is an experience in and of itself, especially when you’re walking with two great anglers. Dylan Tomine and Nate Mantua are highly educated about the remaining wild fisheries around the world, especially the great steelhead runs along the West Coast. With Sage and Patagonia, I had the opportunity to spend two days wandering up and down the tributaries with them, and a host of other wildlife.

 

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Seattle Times Op-Ed: Indigenous knowledge is critical to understanding climate change

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

As we prepare to join Saturday’s March for Science, please understand that by integrating traditional knowledge with Western science, we can solve some of our biggest challenges, including those brought by our changing climate.

Good science is critical to our health, ability to live full lives and community well-being. We use science to advance medicine, enhance our use of natural resources, ensure our food supply and much more. That’s why more than a million people around the world joined the March for Science in 2017 and why we are gearing up again to march for science on April 14.

Western science is just one way of knowing. Indeed, traditional knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples is recognized by the United Nations for its potential to sustainably manage complex ecosystems. Yet all too often, Western science has disregarded centuries of science-based knowledge coming from Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Indigenous peoples have lived in our particular locations for many generations, and we define ourselves in relation to our home environment. Our deep and long-standing relationships with the environment are unique; our very existence depends on our ability to conserve and maintain our lands and waters for future generations.

Today, tribes, First Nations, indigenous peoples and Aboriginals are sounding a loud alarm about the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels, broken natural systems, and increasing fire and flooding are apparent and documented.

For example, stocks of many fish species like Pacific hake are sensitive to ocean temperature along the California Current, and recent declines in their numbers have serious implications for the well-being of my own Makah Tribe.

While others debate the causes of climate change, we who live close to the land are experiencing major impacts from our changing climate and call for immediate and strong action to protect the resources on which we all rely. We can’t afford to disregard indigenous knowledge about climate change.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Growing up as a member of the Makah Tribe, I relied on the empirical knowledge of my ancestors to determine where to fish and how to locate other sources of food. My community relied on indigenous experiences to understand how to keep ourselves healthy.

When I was a child, my father taught me to navigate our ocean territory through currents, tides and landmarks. This knowledge, along with the life cycle of fish and time of year, allowed for the successful, sustainable harvest of species such as halibut, black cod and lingcod. In the years that followed, my peers and I transferred knowledge to other members of the family who integrated the information into current fishing and management practices.

As a youth, I’d get up in the mornings, often before sunrise, and leave the house overlooking a beach. There was no backpack, no lunch box. I was taught what our land would provide through all the seasons: roots, berries, sea urchins and mussels, to name a few. The knowledge of how, where and when to harvest is a way of life, always done in a manner that ensures the resources are sustained for the next person. These teachings and values laid the foundation for the work I completed in tribal leadership.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

To our north, Tlingit and Haida elders observe young herring following older herring to spawning grounds. When industrial fishing removes the elder herring from spawning sites, the stock is destroyed, as the young fish can no longer find their way home. Failure to heed these traditional observations is leading to the demise of herring and threatening aspects of Tlingit and Haida culture that are closely tied to herring.

A recent news item featured the astonishing observation that birds in Australia intentionally spread fire by carrying burning sticks. While this is fascinating, it has long been known to the Aboriginals. Using fire as a management tool is widespread throughout indigenous cultures. Makah is no exception. For centuries our ancestors used fire to manage crops of cranberries and tea. These resources are currently threatened by our changing climate, as well as the laws and regulations that govern the use of fire.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Respecting and embracing indigenous knowledge as important science benefits all of us. In looking for solutions to the environmental dilemmas that confront us, it is critical to apply indigenous knowledge. All of us are looking for a better understanding of the Earth and her ecosystems. By integrating traditional knowledge with Western science, together we can solve some of our biggest challenges, including those brought by our changing climate.

As communities worldwide prepare to March for Science, this focus is appropriate and important. Threats to scientific knowledge must be rejected, and decision making based on fact must be embraced. Equally important, we should also embrace 10,000-plus years of field observation by indigenous peoples around the world.

This empirical knowledge has sustained people and cultures and has laid the groundwork for many modern “discoveries.” Indigenous peoples are truly the experts of their area and place, with a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and our role in conserving resources for future generations.

Original Post (April 10, 2018)

Alaska by Air for RdM – Ketchikan Helicopters

Summer in Alaska is a beautiful thing, especially above the canopy. Shot for RdM – Ketchikan Helicopters out of Ketchikan, AK.

Newly redesigned website at www.CameronKarsten.com

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Alaska with GrundensUSA

In the summer of ’17, I finally got assigned my first voyage to Alaska. It has been a deep-seated desire to visit one of the states’ last frontiers, and do to it with GrundensUSA in collaboration with Dark Seas Division and Silver Wave Seafood Co. aboard the Seine fishing vessel Silver Wave was nothing short of epic.

Check out my fully redesigned website at http://www.CameronKarsten.com

New Work: Lost Off the Coastal Grid

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

A new client sent me on a new adventure to the Lost Coast, California’s unspoiled shores in search of empty waves with three friends. We brought along Grundens’ new recreational clothing line to keep us dry and warm, as well as camping gear by UCO and a couple action cams by Intova. View the gallery on the website, Industrial Revolution’s blog post here, and enjoy the full story with imagery below:

Kris stretches into the armhole and extends through, pulling a thick black neoprene sleeve up onto his shoulder. In defiance, his own skin bunches and folds with heavy drag. It’s a frustrating and familiar struggle for most. For Kris, it’s merely familiar. Calmly, he uses his other arm to help skirt over the shoulder before his hand pokes through with a distinct pop. His other arm then begins, this same process until the entirety of his 5/3mm wetsuit wraps up around his chest, and in doing so, covers a noticeable 8-inch scar. He is nothing but smiles. Almost giddy. Yeah. He’s giddy. With a quick zip and a pull of the hoodie, he grabs his board and jogs toward the heaving sea, leaving me behind to wrestle with my own suit.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Less than six months ago Kris suffered a heart attack—unbeknownst to him for days. He continued his work as usual until an increasingly shortened breath finally drove him to the hospital for an exam. He was nonchalant; the doctors were outraged. They called him crazy. They called him lucky. They called for surgery. Six months later, his arteries mended, his breastplate clasped closed, his skin stapled back together, and he is back; a retired teacher-turned contractor, marching miles through wet black sand, pebbles, large stones and crashing surf with three millennials to an isolated California lineup. The coast is calling. Five minutes later, I’m in the water paddling after him.

This is the Lost Coast: a raw, undisturbed land of wonder and contradiction. Graceful yet ferocious. Peaceful yet violent. Evolved yet ancient. It beckons as it warns. It is a shoreline of proud pine-clad cliffs, sturdy golden grass tuffs, and a thrashing blue-green Pacific Ocean. Kelp beds float below shore birds. Barking seals leap through the surface on wild hunts. Whales breach at the sun’s horizon and few onlookers gawk at the natural beauty. This natural beauty is undeniable, at times unbelievable, and yet few onlookers chance to gawk. To take the time and energy to hike out to this wild backcountry requires a strong willingness and preparedness that gratefully we possessed. Streams supply the drinking water. All else is packed in and packed out.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

With 10 pounds of food each (40 pounds total), stuffed into four bear canisters, packed next to clothes, cooking gear, tents, hammocks, sleeping bags, wetsuits and 6-foot surfboards, our backpacks weighed in at over 80 pounds. I struggled; this was by far the heaviest pack I’d ever carried. My two other 30-some-year-old friends also struggled. I could only imagine what post-surgery Kris felt under the weight and excessive heat we endured while hiking out. But still he and we trod on. We scrambled ridges, tiptoed intertidal zones, and silently tested every motivating mantra we’d ever heard, until finally descending the yellow grass bluff into camp. The waves were pumping. The view was stunning. For a few moments, the pain in our weakened knees and aching hips went unnoticed. Green lines interspersed with whitewash as backlit waves peeled into evanescent barrels. We dropped our packs, chugged our remaining water, and suited up. I was the last in the lineup. Kris is definitely crazy. And we’re all lucky.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

For six days and five nights, we stared at the western horizon. Whether bobbing in the water or resting on land, we became transfixed on the incoming swell. We learned what tides the breaks worked best, whether it was at the point or river mouth, and analyzed each potential crest. Which direction was the wind? Where were the exposed rocks and hidden threats? Was the tide incoming? Outgoing? What was it yesterday, and how is the swell moving in relation to the beach? Parallel or straight onshore? I hope it’s onshore. I hope it’s low tide now with an incoming swell. I hope it’s a building swell. Chest high. Head high. Two-feet overhead. Offshore winds. Our minds danced like monkeys, utterly consumed by the now, the physical. Our senses were elevated by the stillness and simplicity of life off the grid. We had carved out a forbidden space—a temporary break from our familial and business lives—our concurrent realities behind and looming ahead. We had found that other part of ourselves, which exists only in great solitude.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

The sun beat down on our shirtless bodies and blasted our squinting eyes. We rehydrated with hot drinks and fresh filtered water. We cooked large meals to quench our appetites, slowly emptied our heavy bear canisters, and let time disappear from our minds. All was sunrise or sunset, and we didn’t care. Our attentions were on the waves, and when it was on—low to incoming tide—we were as young as ever. We were mere children hyped on an inexhaustible spoon of liquid sugar. Bottomless. Boundless. Endless.

We surfed for hours, until our toes went numb from the cold and our legs reminded us of our arduous hike. Sam from Ocean Beach was always the first out. Seemingly impervious to the long hours in the water, Sam had the luxury of surfing almost yearlong in the punishing OB breaks. Kris, Skyler and I, though accustomed to a shorter season, were at least used to the cold waters—our Pacific Northwest temperaments adjusted to feeling numb year-round. Despite our differences, we were all aligned to one indisputable truth: not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined surfing in a pristine California location, miles away from road or highway, without anyone to share the waves but ourselves. Nothing can prepare you for this pleasure.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

For two days, the swell dropped as a thick impenetrable fogbank closed over our heads. We still got in the water, but now when the kelp licked our toes and bumped the bottom of our boards, it was no longer ticklish fun. It was unsettling. We looked out towards an unseen horizon. The curious fear had finally crept into the consciousness. This was shark country—and the appearance of the fog exacerbated this feeling. Weeks prior, Sam had sent us a video of a great white leaping out of the OB lineup. It was a subtle reminder of where we were headed and of the predator’s unspoken omnipotence. So we stayed tight, waiting quietly through the lulls and shivering in the cold as each passing kelp frond made its presence known.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Then one morning the fog was gone. The breeze was offshore, and the swell was building. As usual, we were up at dawn and down patrolling the waves before we could wipe the sleep from our eyes. The surf was immaculate; powerful, big, green, and beautiful. We rode them like they were the last waves of our lives. With the hazy mountains to our backs, we looked hopefully up and down the coast, as though searching for some way to prolong the trip or slow down time itself. Despite this, the hours slipped by, the tide came in, and soon we were spent, as was our time at camp. With heavy regret, we walked onto dry land, packed camp, and as if we were never there, departed. Sam couldn’t stop turning back at the unridden waves and the cruel beauty of the teasing sea. Nobody in sight. No boards but our own. We left the coast lost once more.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Right before sunset, as we wrapped up our 10 miles back with lighter packs and fuller memories, we came upon a dead grey whale. It lay motionless in the surf; its sides scoured with huge, gaping bite marks. The unmistakable work of the sharks—the ones likely near us, beneath us, and possibly upon us if it weren’t for this feast they had won. Now on land, we could more openly visualize what had been lurking in the waves and may still be just beyond the reach of the whale. And shuddering, we thanked the brave beast for its sacrifice—a fitting reminder of the celebration we had just experienced.

Sure, call us crazy. But we say we’re lucky—to be free, alone with friends, and surfing the spotless lineup along a stretch of one of California’s unspoiled coastlines. The little peril, mostly imagined, is but a small price for this wholly real reward.

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova

Surfing the Lost Coast with Grundens and Industrial Revolution's UCO and Intova