CamelBak Chronicles w/Oskar Blues Brewery

CamelBak approached me with this killer idea to shoot a outdoor lifestyle stills and motion campaign with a number of different brand collaborates. Without hesitation, I jumped onboard. So far with 4 projects under our belts, were looking to 2023 to bring on a new line of radical adventures and super cool talent.

With Oskar Blues Brewery one of the companies working with CamelBak, my team and I flew down to Austin, TX to meet with the all-too-stellar Producer/Creative Director Grace H.. We scouted, discovered and began a narrative about Matt – lead Cellar Manager at Oskar Blues and how he creates and assesses his product throughout a continuous brewing cycle and once off-duty ventures into the outdoor wild playgrounds with colleagues and friends to let loose and re-energize.

From the brewery grounds to the reservoirs of Austin, we see Matt let loose in his natural surroundings, all the while incorporating the CamelBak ChillBak to bring the necessary 24+ cold Dale’s Pale Ale beverages along the journey.

Shot and Directed by Cameron Karsten

Motion shot by Leo Phillips

Edited by Luke McJunkin

Creative Direction by Grace H.

More available at www.CameronKarsten.com

2022 Director’s Reel

Work shot throughout 2022. Thanks to Leo and Daud for the amazing camera work. Luke and Sam for the killer edits. And the clients featured here, and others that are not, for believing in our vision and efforts.

www.CameronKarsten.com

It’s All Home Water: Restorative Shovels and Dynamite (Select Images)

Originally written by Gregory Fitz for Patagonia, this post provides a gallery of the select images for the project.

It’s All Home Water: Restorative Shovels and Dynamite

Written by Gregory Fitz

Photographs by Cameron Karsten

Original article posted on Patagonia

Also known as “The River of No Return,” Idaho’s Salmon River rambles 425 miles and descends more than 7,000 feet from its headwaters in the Sawtooth National Forest to its confluence with the Snake River. © Cameron Karsten Photography

By the time steelhead or salmon pass the town of Riggins, Idaho, during their return migration to the Salmon River, they will have swum more than 500 miles against the current—the length of the Oregon-Washington border—and climbed over 1,800 feet above sea level.

Depending on the species, and where in the watershed they were born, many of them would still have many more miles to go before reaching their spawning grounds. The salmon would be nearing the end of their life cycle: But none will survive the journey. The majority of the steelhead won’t survive the ordeal either. But a few of them, if they aren’t too exhausted, will utilize spring runoff to carry them back to the ocean so they can attempt the entire process again.

The loss of economic activity is destructive in obvious ways, and can leave river towns reeling, but the loss of the fish resonates even deeper than money measures. It hurts deeply when the river feels like it is dying.

The returning fish will have crossed the eight massive, main-stem dams on the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers before turning into the mouth of the Salmon River. If they hadn’t been among the juvenile fish transported in barges and trucks operated by state Fish and Game agencies, they would have crossed those same eight monoliths years earlier as smolts heading out to sea. They would have done so at a much slower pace than their ancestors, and suffered dramatically higher mortality rates, because of the slow, warm water impounded behind the dams and the gauntlet of hungry non-native predators—walleye, smallmouth bass and channel catfish—now prowling the stagnant reservoirs.

The four federal dams on the Lower Snake River—Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite—have been at the center of bitter conflict over the future of the Snake Basin’s salmon and steelhead since before their construction began in 1956. Even then there were warnings against the damage the dams would cause. It wasn’t a secret. There were already plenty of examples of what dams did to rivers and migratory fish, but politicians decided that barge transportation, an inland port at Lewiston, Idaho, and “cheap” electricity were worth the trade. They promised that hatcheries would simply replace the lost steelhead and salmon, a mollifying ecological lie proven wrong almost immediately after construction was complete.

For generations, these four dams have been killing the Snake River’s native salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey. Scientists have been telling us for years that the dams must be removed to have any hope of preventing the Snake’s remaining salmon and steelhead from slipping into extinction, let alone having a chance to begin restoring their populations. Decades of repeated lawsuits, inadequate federal hydropower management and salmon recovery plans rejected by the courts, and $18 billion of mitigation efforts have failed to stop the declines. Today, the basin’s steelhead, sockeye salmon, and spring/summer and fall Chinook salmon are all listed under the Endangered Species Act. The dams keep grinding along, but conservationists, tribes, anglers, commercial fishermen and river communities have never stopped fighting to remove them.

The need to restore a free-flowing Lower Snake is only growing more pressing as the looming threats and growing impacts of climate change bear down on the watersheds and remaining fish. As of writing, wild steelhead numbers are so low that 2021 is likely the worst run ever recorded in the Columbia and Snake. In April, the Nez Perce Tribe’s fishery scientists released a stark report showing that nearly half the Snake River’s spring Chinook have reached quasi-extinction thresholds. The basin’s steelhead are close on their heels, and the majority of populations will continue on similar grim trends without consequential intervention. Sockeye salmon are barely hanging on. We are losing these fish in real time as distinct populations in specific tributaries slip to numbers too low to sustain themselves or survive losses in commercial or sport fisheries, a drought or a prolonged heatwave.

The dams, and their impacts on the watershed’s native fish, have been a political third rail for years in the Northwest, but that grim stalemate shattered in February 2021 when Republican Representative Mike Simpson from Idaho released his plan proposing to breach the four Lower Snake River dams and invest widely in the region’s transportation, energy and irrigation infrastructure to replace their services. The proposal was never finished legislation, but the concept received robust support from regional tribes, some cautious bipartisan support, vehement and dishonest condemnations from some of Rep. Simpson’s fellow Republicans and a wide range of responses from conservation and fishery groups. In the end, the plan failed to secure placeholder funding in the federal budget, but the fundamental principle of breaching the four Lower Snake River dams to prevent salmon extinction was suddenly no longer an unspoken, avoidable topic for the region’s elected officials.

In the following months, the Environmental Protection Agency finally established legal guidelines for water temperatures in the Columbia and Lower Snake that could force consequential changes to hydropower operations. The Biden administration and litigants in the long-running lawsuit challenging federal hydropower operations and salmon recovery plans agreed to pause litigation for new negotiations seeking a comprehensive solution for the watershed and its struggling fish. Washington Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee have announced a new process to study salmon recovery and are even considering removing the Lower Snake dams. They’ve promised their recommendations by July 2022.

In river communities throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon, where residents and tribes have spent generations watching salmon and steelhead runs falter and collapse, there is a deep need for leadership and practical solutions for breaching the dams before it is too late for the Inland West’s fish and the people and landscapes depending on the arrival of salmon each season.

Completed in 1975, the Lower Granite Lock and Dam is the newest dam on the Lower Snake River. Removing the four Snake River dams would open more than 140 miles of habitat to salmon and steelhead. © Cameron Karsten Photography

Photographer Cameron Karsten and I got invited to Riggins, Idaho, by Roy Akins, a fishing guide and the owner of Rapid River Outfitters, a member of the Riggins city council and chairman of the Riggins Chapter of the Idaho River Community Alliance. The steelhead season was winding down, and he had a couple days available to show us around town, talk about the pressing need to remove the Lower Snake Dams and do some fishing. I suppose it would have been easier to just chat with Roy a couple times on the phone and read his great letters to the editor in regional newspapers, but when someone with a lifetime of experience on the water offers to show you their home water, it is impossible to turn down the opportunity.

Riggins is a small, narrow town sitting at the base of a steep canyon where the Little Salmon River joins the mainstem Salmon at an oxbow. It is home to a little more than 400 people year-round and is built tight against the riverbank, about 87 miles upstream of the Salmon’s confluence with the mighty Snake. In the 19th century, it was a remote outpost serving gold miners and trappers called “Gouge Eye,” named for the vicious results of an infamous brawl at a local saloon, until it was renamed after a prominent family who also happened to operate the town’s postal service.

Of course, long before then, the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) lived, hunted, gathered and fished in this deep valley filled with salmon. Downstream, near the confluence of the Snake and Salmon Rivers, is the site of an ancient village called Nipéhe. Archeologists have dated artifacts from here over 16,000 years old. Astoundingly, it is thought to be the oldest known site of human habitation in North America.

The Nimiipuu people are still here today, but control of the land was taken by the United States government through violence, federal decree and dishonest treaties. They were forced onto a reservation but still fish the rivers each season and remain tireless leaders in the fight to restore a free-flowing Lower Snake River.

Riggins was founded as a remote mining outpost soon after Lewis and Clark passed through the region and continued as a hub for the timber industry for another century, but after the big trees were largely gone and the local sawmill burned down in 1982 the community has turned back toward the Salmon River. It hasn’t always been easy, but the town has successfully made a transition from an economy built on relentless, unsustainable extraction to one built around river recreation.

Today, tourists from across the globe visit during the summer for the renowned white-water rafting, jet-boat tours or to disappear into the sprawling roadless area of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. But as Roy explains, the rest of the year, as long as there are enough fish returning to allow a season, “It is steelhead and salmon fishing that keeps the lights on and doors open in Riggins.”

Places like Riggins, Idaho, depend on clean water and abundant fish runs for their survival. Roy Akins, a fishing guide and the owner of Rapid River Outfitters, navigates the Salmon River, above town. © Cameron Karsten Photography

Steelhead fishing in Riggins is a community endeavor, and Roy starts his days on the water with breakfast at the River Rock Cafe. A little after daybreak on a clear, blustery morning, we joined him and a small group of guides, colleagues, clients and friends at the cafe. Over a truly exceptional plate of homemade biscuits and gravy, we talked about the steelhead season (like elsewhere across the West this year, the pandemic had driven traffic to the rivers, but fish counts have been very low) and made plans to meet up with a few of the folks that evening and the next morning.

The Salmon River is more than 400 miles long and is one of America’s longest rivers to remain undammed on its main stem. It drops 7,000 feet in elevation along its course and much of it flows through a rugged, wild landscape still only accessible by boat. Long known as “The River of No Return,” its Middle Fork was included among the eight rivers designated in the original Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 and, within the boundaries of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, it flows through isolated chasms deeper than the Grand Canyon.

We floated a section of the Salmon upriver of town. The river was still holding at winter’s low flows but beginning to show a touch of color from the snow starting to melt in the mountains. Soon, when runoff began in earnest, the river would fill to the banks and regain the velocity and huge rapids that make it famous among kayakers and white-water rafters. Those flows and remote location mean the Salmon River is a watershed that breeds powerful strains of long-migrating steelhead and salmon. Among others, the sockeye salmon that return to Redfish Lake in the river’s headwaters, one of the longest salmon migrations in North America, climb 6,500 feet of elevation and swim 900 miles by the time their journey home to spawn is complete.

Roy has been fishing and floating the Salmon River most of his life. He grew into his role as civic leader and city council member in the last decade or so, but he has been involved in the fight to breach the Lower Snake River dams as long as he’s been on the Salmon. As a young man, after only a single sockeye salmon—dubbed “Lonesome Larry”—returned to Redfish Lake in 1992, he and a group of friends swam the entire distance between Redfish Lake and Lower Granite Dam to call attention to the loss of salmon smolts during their migration out to sea. They swam it as a relay and stopped in the communities along the way to talk about the toll the four Washington dams take on Idaho’s fish. Soon after, he and his wife moved to Riggins permanently to raise their family and build a life around fish and the free-flowing Salmon River.

“We got lucky for a few years, with good snowpack in the mountains and some productive ocean conditions,” he explains. “It made us a little complacent. We had relatively strong runs of steelhead and Chinook. We had long fishing seasons and anglers came from everywhere. We got a small taste of what abundance could feel like for a town like Riggins, but in 2015, we learned again how vulnerable these runs have become.”

That year, record-breaking heat baked the reservoirs behind the dams. Almost the entire returning run of sockeye salmon died in the hot water before they could get back to spawn, and huge percentages of steelhead and salmon smolts were lost. Those that survived swam out into the warm waters and disrupted food web of “The Blob” in the North Pacific. “We knew it was going to be bad, but we didn’t realize how terrible it would be until a few years later when the fish didn’t show up,” Roy said.

If we don’t take the steps to get this right and help the fish survive now, we’ll lose them and the rural communities, like Riggins, that depend on them. – Roy Akins

The numbers are stark. Runs in the Snake River Basin have crashed to some of the worst returns on record in recent years. Salmon and steelhead seasons have been reduced or closed. When there aren’t fish, the anglers don’t arrive either. A large hotel in Riggins went out of business as angler traffic dwindled and rural communities across Northern Idaho have seen millions of dollars of revenue provided by the fishing economy evaporate. The loss of economic activity is destructive in obvious ways, and can leave river towns reeling, but the loss of the fish resonates even deeper than money measures. It hurts deeply when the river feels like it is dying.

Roy points out that recent years of poor ocean conditions affect every salmon and steelhead population in the basin, but reminds us that rivers like the John Day, a tributary of the Columbia, have much better rates of smolt survival during the same time frames. Every dam takes a toll, but those salmon and steelhead only need to cross three dams. The fish migrating to and from Idaho must cross eight. The four Lower Snake dams impound and heat a combined 140 miles of river. Aside from the direct loss of valuable Chinook spawning habitat drowned by accumulated silt and still water in their reservoirs, the dams, and their slack water reservoirs, simply kill too many fish. Smolt-to-adult survival rates of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead are frequently documented dropping below replacement levels, a sure trajectory toward extinction.

The losses are particularly excruciating because Northern Idaho still has much of the best remaining habitat anywhere in the Columbia or Snake River watershed. Within the upper reaches of the Clearwater and Salmon River drainages, with the bitter exception of the North Fork of the Clearwater where the Dworshak Dam was built without a fish ladder. Thousands of miles of intact spawning and rearing habitat is permanently protected within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and is still accessible to anadromous fish. Places like the Lemhi River and Yankee Fork are being restored after years of mining damage. All this high-elevation, cold habitat will only become more important as the climate warms and places more thermal impacts on salmon and steelhead populations during every stage of their lives.

Since the Swan Falls Dam was built on the mainstem of the Snake River in 1901, Idaho has been willfully destroying the salmon runs of the Snake River. When they completed the Hells Canyon Complex in the 1960s, the state finished the work of ending the immense runs of fish that historically swam all the way to Shoshone Falls, filling every tributary in the basin along the way. For all recorded time, Chinook and sockeye salmon returned as far as northern Nevada. The dream of breaching the four dams on the Lower Snake River is a desperate last chance to preserve what remains.

Roy points upstream toward the vast roadless area of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. “Around here we like to say that we have a beautiful five-star hotel sitting here waiting for the fish to arrive. We still have incredible habitat, we just need to let the fish reach it and utilize it.” He shakes his head in frustration. He says he doesn’t know how many more hot years the fish can survive if the dams don’t get out of their way.

Ominously, a few months after we visited Riggins, the region suffered another record-breaking summer as a heat dome bore down on the Northwest. Temperatures in Portland reached 116 degrees, and the water measured at dams on the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers held at temperatures known to be dangerous, if not lethal, for salmon and steelhead for weeks.

Roy points out that barge traffic on the river is way down. Grain can be transported by railroad, and many other goods are already going by truck. The paper mills can, and should, be updated to be more efficient and cleaner. Irrigation pipes can be lengthened, and water could be used far more efficiently. The lower Snake River dams are getting old and are increasingly expensive to maintain. They leak hydraulic fluid into the water. There are good options to replace the small amounts of low-carbon, baseload electricity the dams produce, and the government can honor treaty obligations to the Nez Perce and other tribes of the region by working with them to restore the salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey.

He reminds us, “The fish need a free-flowing river. Everything else we do on the Snake River, we can decide to do it all another way, and a better way. If we don’t take the steps to get this right and help the fish survive now, we’ll lose them and the rural communities, like Riggins, that depend on them.”

We still have incredible habitat, we just need to let the fish reach it and utilize it. – Roy Akins

On our way back to Seattle, Cameron and I had planned on detouring into the Palouse to visit and photograph one of the dams strangling the Lower Snake River, but before we left Riggins, we swung by Jon and Elizabeth Kittell’s home overlooking the river for a strong cup of French press coffee flavored with cinnamon and oat milk creamer. We’d met Jon when he ran our shuttle the day we fished with Roy, and we’d made plans to connect before we left.

The Kittells first arrived in Riggins as white-water rafting guides. They lived in a camper each season and grew to love the Salmon River, the community and the landscape. Each season found them seeking ways to stay a little longer until it was clear that Riggins had become their home. Jon continued to spend many weeks on the water each year, guiding multiday raft trips and steelhead anglers. Elizabeth grew her yoga practice and hosted outdoor retreats, including multiday river trips that combined yoga and rafting. In the winter, through connections they’ve built on years of travel and study, the Kittells host trekking trips in Nepal. They don’t match my narrow assumptions about who lives in rural Idaho.

In January 2021 Jon accepted a new role as the salmon and steelhead coordinator with the Idaho Outfitters and Guide Association. Jon laughs that the transition from white-water rafting and fishing guide to working on a laptop and testifying at hearings at the Idaho Legislature has been a bit tricky, but it is a great opportunity to advocate for the communities and rivers of rural Idaho. Front and center of this work is the effort to finally find a way to restore a free-flowing Lower Snake River without leaving the people of the region behind in the process.

“It is going to take more than fishing guides to save these fish,” Jon says. “For too long, the argument to remove the four dams on the Lower Snake River pit user groups against one another. That is never going to work because in reality none of us are just one thing. When I look at my neighbors, I know they want clean water and more fish. They want to find ways to protect salmon and steelhead, but they are also farmers and ranchers, ratepayers buying electricity and business owners who need their hometowns and schools to survive. We need a plan that brings back the fish but keeps everyone whole.”

Elizabeth echoes the idea. “We are community members first and living here is beautiful. It is where we want to be. It can feel closed off to outsiders here, but when you spend time becoming neighbors and living here, you see that there are opportunities to find common ground.” She illustrates her point perfectly by telling stories of sharing cookies with neighbors who might not see eye-to-eye with their politics but still look out for each other. And the opportunity to feed their wedding guests salmon a few years earlier because of friendships she and Jon had been able to build with local Nez Perce dip-net fisherman.

Jon sees an opportunity in something like Rep. Simpson’s plan to invest in the entire region, and he knows there is great urgency to the work. He sees the salmon and steelhead populations continuing to fall and communities hurting from the loss of fish. Paraphrasing a conversation with another fishing guide, he explains, “Everyone says if we don’t find a solution soon we could lose everything. What are you talking about? Look at the fishing seasons closing … We are already losing everything. We need to embrace our chance and build something sustainable for the long term.”

Barges at anchor below the Snake River’s Lower Granite Lock and Dam are used to ferry juvenile salmon downstream, through the Snake and Columbia systems. © Cameron Karsten Photography

While Cameron was taking photos of the Lower Granite Dam, the furthest upriver of the four Lower Snake River Dams, I found myself looking downstream. The flooded river valley was wide and stagnant. There were once millions of salmon and steelhead returning through these waters every year. Now there was a massive wall of packed earth and concrete connected to high-voltage lines and signs celebrating the recreational boating opportunity provided by the slack impoundments.

In another couple months, the first spring Chinook would be arriving. Run counts were expected to be quite low. I’m terrified we will lose these fish in my lifetime. It isn’t an unrealistic or hyperbolic fear. After all, look how much we’ve forfeited already.

I know not every dam is coming down anytime soon. Energy underpins our society and every form of making it comes with compromises. Hydropower dams are often considered a clean, renewable source of dependable electricity, but methane produced by warming reservoirs, drought impacts on their ability to produce power and the astounding damage dams cause to watershed ecosystems must be reasons to reconsider their role.

We absolutely must decarbonize our energy system and doing so at anything close to the pace required will be one of the truly monumental undertakings humanity has ever attempted. Even so, we should be able to choose which dams remain and which must be removed to ensure salmon have a path home to as many of their natal waters as possible.

These four dams are weak links in the system. They were primarily built for barge transportation, but from where I stood, I could see the railroad lines running along the high banks. Why not expand them, move things in that corridor instead and let this part of the Snake River run free and cold? Why not find a way to let some of the salmon return home?

Now is the time for restorative shovels and dynamite. Humanity built the dams and humanity can take them down. It’s only concrete.

In the Snake River Basin, salmon fed Indigenous people for millennia and European immigrants for centuries. They still could if we honored our ethical, treaty and ecological obligations. We could opt for restoration instead of extinction.

I want Riggins, and all the tribes and communities of the basin depending on migrating fish, to thrive again. I want to be fishing far upstream of the Lower Granite Dam site, on the wild, powerful Salmon River, and know there is a steelhead or a Chinook holding out in the run. But mostly, I don’t want the landscape to keep starving. Salmon have always carried marine nutrients into the interior with their bodies. They fought against gravity and the river’s current and fed the next generation of fish and all the surrounding, interconnected ecosystems.

Scientists can look at tree rings and soil samples in Northern Idaho and find nitrogen from the Pacific Ocean in both. They can also see evidence that decades of diminishing salmon returns are slowing the growth of forests in watersheds depending on the annual gift of salmon arriving. We should be wise enough to see the priceless value of these systems and recognize the importance of ensuring they are able to continue.

Today, the cycle is broken. Half measures have failed, and there is no time left to spare. The four dams on the Lower Snake River can’t be allowed to strangle the watershed any longer. They need to go. Breaching the dams is no small task, but standing at the base of Lower Granite Dam, staring at the dying Snake River, the way forward is clear even if our politics often seems moribund and short-sighted.

Now is the time for restorative shovels and dynamite. Humanity built the dams, and humanity can take them down. It’s only concrete. A future where salmon are allowed to continue migrating through a free-flowing Lower Snake River should be a vision that transcends partisanship and unites all of us across the Pacific Northwest.

Let’s not let the Snake River Basin become another place we lose completely. Let’s make it a site of collaboration, restoration and renewed abundance instead. Let’s take the opportunity, while it still exists, to ensure this watershed and its incredible native fish remain one of our best gifts to the generations still to come.

Harvest 2022

with Cornerstone Ranches – Lower Yakima Valley, Toppenish, WA

Every end of summer, the valley is buzzing with activity. Whether an apple harvest, grape harvest, or what the region is known for, a beer brewing hops harvest, there are people, machines, noises, scents, and 24/7 labor until every last commodity is picked, processed and delivered. For farm owners it is time of little rest. And for seasonal workers whom some have traveled far to support themselves and their families, it is an opportunity that only comes once a year.

Cornerstone Ranches produces some of the world’s finest hops and apples. But in terms of beer brewing hops, breweries from all around the country come to visit Graham Gamache’s historic hops facilities. Within the Yakima Valley of Washington State, an astounding 75% of the world’s beer brewing hops are grown and processed. And Graham’s Cornerstone Ranches has been within the industry for generations, growing some of the finest cones for beer brewing.

Let’s work together! Visit www.CameronKarsten.com for more and shoot an email to cam@cameronkarsten.com

seeking AUTHENTICITY – true to one’s own personality and/or spirit. Represented by the folks at The Gren Group.

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.

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

Vodou Footprints: Levoy Exil – Saint Soleil’s Vodou Mystic

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Levoy Exil is an artist. He’s from Haiti. He lives in Haiti. He is a visionary with deep roots into the mysticism of Haitian vodou. “I have revelations when I’m asleep. In black and white. The black is the body, the white is the spirit. I sing the song of creation to Damballah. I offer him blue, white and mauve. There are lines of dots all around the shapes, in relief. There are dots of light. The red is part of the body. It’s also a symbol of goodness, and it’s good for healing too. Damballah is a snake, made up of all colors.”

Levoy is an original member of the famous Haitian artistic movement called Saint Soleil, which began in 1972. Inspired by vodou religion and the cosmological energies called loa, or vodou spirits, St Soleil (Holy Sun) grew from the peasant mountainsides outside of Port-au-Prince into an internationally-renowned style specific to the culture of Haiti. Levoy still practices the art of the movement, and today is an icon of Haitian creativity and vodou symbology, helping bring to light the true beauty of this ancient belief system.

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A Trip to Yellow Island with The Nature Conservancy

Sunday was spent driving, boating and walking onto a privately-owned island that few have ever explored. The Nature Conservancy of Washington guided it’s members out to Yellow Island, a small islet southwest of Orcas Island. Leaving Anacortes on a chartered boat, we cut over the calm chilled green waters of a north Puget Sound swirling under sharp blue skies. With Mt. Baker and the Cascades brooding with white summits, the twin 80hp engines sped us into the passages where ferries filled with tourists criss-crossed through the San Juan Islands.

Yellow Island is an 11-acre landmass with over 50 wild flowers bursting in spring air. Once we arrived on its pebbly shores, hummingbirds darted from blossom to blossom across the ancient prairie land. Before the arrival of Europeans, indigenous peoples settled the island and frequently burned the landscape to sustain its prairie land. Few of the original burn scars can be found on the oldest tree trunks. In 1979 the island was purchased by The Nature Conservancy and thus preserved as part of Washington State’s pristine environmental heritage.

A link to The Nature Conservancy’s Washington Nature blog:  Exploring the Gem of the San Juan Islands

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Leaving Anacortes, WA

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Ferries shuttling tourists through the San Juan Islands

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Yellow Island

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Burn scars to sustain the prairie landscape

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The Nature Conservancy scientist Paul answers questions by a TNC member

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An employee of TNC who has lived on and cared for Yellow Island for 17 years

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