Patagonia Adventures

My blog updates were seriously lacking after my DSLR and goPro were stolen. Luckily Dave had his go pro and iPad for video. So here’s a highlight reel of some of our adventures in Patagonia. Enjoy!

Chile’s Lakes District – Pucon and Cerro Frey

After 6 days in Pichilemu we headed south east into the Lakes District to the adventure capital of South America – Pucon. Our main objective in Pucon was to do as much cool stuff as possible. In five nights we managed to go whitewater kayaking on the Trancudo River, take a dip in some thermal hot springs, go mountain biking, swim underneath an 85 m waterfall in the middle of nowhere, hike a trail in a nature sanctuary filled with Arrucaria trees, aka monkey puzzle trees, and then to top it off we ski mountaineered on split boards to the top of Volcano Villarica, a 2800 m glaciated active volcano, and then we snowboarded down.

Sorry there will not be any photos because my DSLR and GoPro have been stolen… Luckily I had most of my pictures backed up on an external HD but I lost almost all the pictures since Pichilemu…
Pucon is in the heart of the Lakes District, just north of Patagonia, in Chile and Argentina. When we arrived I felt as though I could be in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva or in the Alps. The influence from German settlers that the Chilean government invited from Europe in the 1800′s to settle the lands in the region is undeniable, complete with timber frame buildings, beer halls and delicious beer. After getting our fill of different adventure sports we once again turned the compass 540 degrees south, this time towards Argentina.

Crossing the Andes is similar to crossing to coast range back home in BC. We left the temperate coastal forest, passing seemingly hundreds of lakes amongst the refreshing mountain air. After crossing the border with no problems we arrived in an arid climate similar to Kamloops or Princeton. Bariloche is a large town in Argentina. Once again the European influence was obvious but this time the town had a similar feel to Vienna or Salzburg in Austria. Bariloche is best known for its beautiful lake scenery, amazing steak and nightlife. We weren’t there to partake in nightlife however, so after a day of getting food and supplies we packed our bags and headed for the hills.

Cerro Frey is a well known alpine rock climbing destination in Argentinian Patagonia. The hike in is four hours covering 10 km and 800 m elevation, if everything goes according to plan that is. 3/4 of the way up the hike with our 50 lbs packs I realized I left our precious meat, butter, eggs and cheese in the hostel fridge. At that point we decided there was only one option really… So I dropped my pack and ran back down the trail and caught a bus back in to town to get the goods. Dave hiked his pack up and came pack down to bring mine the rest of the way and set up camp. I managed to get into town in two hours, grab the food, bus back to the trail head and enjoyed a beautiful trail run up to the camp. Needles to say I was bagged after covering 37 km and 1500 m of elevation in a day. So we cooked up the sausage and hit the sack.

The red granite spires of Frey rise out of an alpine cirque lake to an elevation of 2400 m. The climbing routes were endless. To scratch the surface of possible climbs would require months. We spent three nights and four days getting our feet wet with some sport climbing and some traditional multi pitch routes. We managed some pretty nice climbs and thoroughly enjoyed some exposure to proper Patagonian climbing.

The hut, Refugio Frey, offered rooms and meals for pretty cheap but we decided to camp and endure the howling winds, somewhat frigid temps and most unfortunately; an unhealthy dose of blowing sand that invaded every nook and cranny of our gear and ourselves. So after some epic climbing, a close call with some rockfall resulting in an injured foot and our patience for wind and sand beginning to crack we hiked out and began our journey back to Chile, specifically Cochamo Valley; another renowned climbing area.

Chile – Santiago and Pichilemu

Santiago

Santiago

Yeah so chile has been great so far. We stayed a couple days in Santiago which is a pretty cool city. It’s neat to see old Spanish conquistador architecture juxtaposed to modern glass skyscrapers. The people have been truly friendly. In Santiago we did a free walking tour, hiked San Cristobal hill that overlooks the city which is backed by the snowcapped Andes, and slept a lot.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition

Mi espanol es muy malo. Aka my Spanish is really bad and next to few people speak English here, only hostel staff and other travellers usually. So I’m on the steep curve of learning Spanish. Chileano Spanish has a crazy accent too. They drop s’s all the time and even people who speak Spanish can’t understand because of all the slang etc. While it’s been a challenge it’s also very rewarding to come to an understanding with someone using sign language, broken Spanglish and patience.

The longest wave

The Longest Wave

After a few days of adjustment and a slightly difficult, but hilarious, attempt at the purchase of bus tickets we began our 2 month long journey south to Patagonia. First stop was Pichilemu, an unassuming coastal surf town with dirt roads, long black sand beaches and few people. Since we are here in the shoulder season we were the only ones staying in our hostel and most of the shops and restaurants were empty. That was a bit weird but not a concern as the weather was in the mid 20′s and the surf breaks weren’t crowded.It was nice to relax here and get some sun and surf. Punta del Lobos — translated to peak of the sea lions named for the two massive rocks that rise out of sea — is a point break that produces massive waves (10 m) all winter and surfable waves the rest of the time. It was here that I surfed the longest wave of my life.

Punta del Lobos

Punta del Lobos

One day when the waves were the heaviest I’ve ever seen, Chilean surf legend Ramón Navarro was towed beyond the Punta del Lobos on a jet ski to ride these gargantuan waves. We watched from the point with a humbling appreciation for the power of the ocean and with respect for the skill and guts these surfers have. As a set of waves rolled in they rolled over the top of these eight story waves like rubber duckies in an angry bowl of soup. As the perfect wave rolls in Ramón starts to paddle into the wave which picks him up as if a giant hand reaches up from the sea to push him forwards down the wave.

Ramón Navarro Droppin´ in Steep

Ramón Navarro Droppin´ in Steep

As the wave breaks the surfer is faced with looking straight down  10 m and drops in as if falling off a building. Unfortunately this one wave was too steep and as Ramón drops in, the board comes out from under his feet. He bails while near the top and falls into the face of the wave which continues upwards and breaks, dropping  Ramón over the 10 m water fall and god only knows how far deep under water as the wave slams back into the Ocean. He’s underwater for at least 15 seconds until he emerges to catch a breath, only to have 3 successive waves of the same size crash on top of him while the jet ski stands-by helplessly until Ramón is pushed far enough to where the jet ski can come rescue him… The jet ski rips in to grab him quickly before the next wave swallows them both up and then bolts towards shore. Curiously the jet ski stops for a few seconds once out of the break and we all wonder if he is conscious, but after a few seconds you see that he’s fine and then… the jet ski heads out towards the waves again and drops Ramón off as he prepares for another wave.
Our last adventure in Pichilemu had us riding horses north of the town along the rugged wind swept coast towards a ‘ruggo’, a simple home built on the beach. The owner is an artesinal fisherman living a subsistence lifestyle. When we arrived we were introduced by a friend we met in town and were greeted warmly by a man in his forties wearing a ball cap and smiling brightly at the site of an old friend and new visitors. See, Phillipe lives by himself, doesn’t have many neighbours and doesn’t see people as often as you or I.

Phillipe´s Rugged Beach House

Phillipe´s Rugged Beach House

We were immediately prepared an amazing seafood soup of the days catch, some sort of barnacle/mussel and squid. It was served cold and raw in an amazingly delicious broth. Actually, it was delicious until I added a minute amount of his home made hot sauce. As soon as I put it in the soup Phillipe shouted ‘oh!’ and began to watch me very intently. As I drew the spoon to my mouth I nervously wondered what I had in store. Dave asked me if I was ok as all the blood drained from my face and my sinuses began running immediately. That shit was muy picante.
That night he toured us around his property, showing us his garden where he grows all the vegetables he needs. He showed us his stables where he keeps his horses, his collection of 10 different wetsuits that he uses for diving for fish and kelp and lastly the spear gun he uses to catch fish in excess of 10 lbs.
Phillipe is a self-proclaimed pirate and anarchist. He lives off the grid with solar panels, and lives a traditional lifestyle. Selling kelp that he dives for is his main source of income, which is apparently fairly lucrative. His house was completely destroyed in the 2010 tsunami that brought the ocean 10 m higher than normal, washing away everything. Since then he has completely rebuilt his house on the beach, so close to the ocean that a really high tide floods underneath his porch. Phillipe left a lasting  impression on me, his traditional knowledge and audacity to live such a lifestyle forces you to ask questions you didn’t think to ask. I could see the appeal, as Phillipe and I looked out at the ocean and beach and he said “todos para mi”

“We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men”. -Aldo Leopold

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Lost Lake Snorkel

Here’s a video of a snorkel survey we completed as a part of an ecological inventory at Lost Lake in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. No fish detected, but definitely some cool plants and amphibians.

Yellowstone National Park

This past year I spent many days on a bus with 28 of the most friendly and like-minded people on earth. We’re an above-average class of students in British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Management program. Our purpose is to visit Yellowstone National Park. The world’s first national park, established in 1872 and home of many of the continents most amazing wildlife.

This is a trip of a lifetime. To be accompanied by some of the greatest people I’ve met in my life and to be instructed by some of the most professional professors in BC is something to to take note of.

Sustainable Seafood and the Fraser River Sockeye

Photo Courtesy of The Land Conservancy

Brett Johnson
April 2011

What is sustainable seafood? This question is currently the focus of many research biologists, oceanographers, environmental organizations and marketing agencies. Diminishing returns of most anadramous salmon species, including the Fraser River Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka), has increased pressure on government and industry to gain a better understanding of sustainable fisheries practices.

1.5 million of a forecasted 10.5 million Sockeye returned to the Fraser in 2009 prompting the Stephen Harper government to launch the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River on November 5, 2009. The focus of this federally appointed inquiry being the investigation into the causes for the decline of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon. Technical and scientific reports being prepared for the commission include: the effects of parasites and diseases, water pollution, freshwater ecology, salmon farms, fisheries harvesting, marine mammal research, climate change, production dynamics and the status of DFO science and management (Cohen Commission 2011).

Possibly more alarming than the dismal return of sockeye in 2009 was the unprecedented and completely surprising return of 34 million sockeye in 2010. The return was 3 times greater than was forecasted by DFO, which leads everyone to wonder how DFO missed this one. Techniques to predict run sizes include test fisheries, measuring the number of smolts that migrated to sea, seawater temperature, plankton density and how many early sexually matured jacks return in advance of the rest of the run. However there is great uncertainty and variability in the accuracy of forecasts which depends on the underlying assumptions that are made when choosing forecast models (DFO 2010).

Also, “information to predict changes in ocean productivity may help decrease the uncertainty in future forecasts, environmental indicators that been explored for the Fraser River Sockeye to date typically have not improved forecast performance. It is likely that a different set of environmental indicators are needed for Fraser Sockeye than those that have been evaluated thus far” (DFO 2010).

It is clear that methods used to forecast returns needs more attention and that factors affecting marine survival rates of Sockeye are poorly understood and that more research and funding is required to properly understand and be able to accurately forecast salmon returns. This boom and bust cycle of sockeye population is alarming and highlights the incomplete understanding of factors affecting sockeye life cycles.

So with all this turmoil and confusion surrounding the management of Fraser Sockeye it is a wonder why the UK based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified this fishery as sustainable in July 2010. When this was announced there was great uproar from many Canadian environmental groups stating that the MSC has lost its credibility as an eco-labeller. Bruce Hill, coordinator of The Headwaters Initiative was quoted saying “…it’s nothing more than eco-fraud and green washing” (Hume 2010) Fraud perhaps, considering the fact that the Cohen Commission’s final report and COSEWIC’s listing is not even released yet.

Kerry Coughlin, Regional Director Americas for the MSC, said the organization felt it wasn’t necessary to wait for the results of the judicial inquiry or for the COSEWIC study, because any findings could be considered later” (Hume 2010). This attitude represents the backwards ideology that needs to be re-thought. These types of certifications should be based on acting conservatively and erring on the side of caution in the face of uncertainty. The logic to pre-emptively list the sockeye fishery as sustainable in advance of the largest federal inquiry and greatest effort to research and understand this species is concerning. It leaves me wondering whether the MSC’s role is not to protect our oceans but rather to provide marketers with a label to please eco-conscious consumers.

Concern has been raised over many certifying organizations abilities to accurately define sustainable fisheries. Greenpeace in particular is of the opinion that “no fully credible certification programme for sustainable wild-caught or farmed seafood currently exists” (GreenPeace 2009). Cited reasons for concern over fisheries certification organizations include limited consideration for socio-economic aspects, objections processes not being accessible to all and particularly in the case of the MSC and “a weakness of the MSC principles and criteria for sustainable fishing” (GreenPeace 2009).

The MSC uses weak language in their official regulations. A report by Greenpeace goes on to detail several inherent problems with the MSC’s criteria.  For example, words like should rather than shall are used which allows for considerable interpretation. The results of weak certification standards by the MSC can result in fisheries that target depleted stocks, involve a threat to or kill species that are protected/endangered or threatened, involve a high by-catch or have adverse affects on pelagic or benthic habitats as a result of bottom trawl and dredging techniques (GreenPeace 2009). Further, we can see that highly controversial fisheries such as the Fraser Sockeye can become certified from this organization.

We ought to proceed conservatively and with extreme caution when it comes to managing our natural resources. The Fraser River Sockeye is an integral link in the health of BC’s land, creatures and people. Biologists will look back at that exceptionally broad growth ring of riparian trees from 2010 and remember the 34 million sockeye that returned to the Fraser to nourish our forest and it’s inhabitants and to spawn a new generation. It is my hope that this event will spawn a new generation of human intelligence, one which realizes the oneness of all life and the interconnectedness which exists in every facet of existence.

Works Cited

Cohen Commission. (2011, March 10). Commission of Inquiry Into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraer River. Retrieved March 10, 2011, from Cohen Commission Video Introduction: http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/Presentation.php

DFO. (2010). Pre-Season Run Size Forecasts for Fraser River Sockeye Salmon in 2010. Science Advisory Report 2010/031, DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, Pacific Region, Vancouver.

GreenPeace. (2009, Jue). Assessment of the Marine Stewardship Council Fisheries Certification Programme.

Hume, M. (2010, January 20). Sustainable sockeye ‘eco-fraud’. The Globe and Mail .