Stories of nature exploration with interest in science and a passion for adventure.

The purpose of my blog is to use stories, photographs and film to share my experiences and evolving perspectives made through scientific research and self-guided adventures. I hope you enjoy it and find much inspiration for your own adventure!

The structure of my blog: This page describes the decisions and passions that led me to a life of adventure and discovery. Browse the links listed on the right-hand side of the screen to see my adventures through time and space.

All films and photos are my own unless otherwise acknowledged. Please write to mountainira@gmail.com with any questions or comments. 



The path that leads to here - a short bio

Chopicalqui, 6354m. Cordillera Blanca, Peru. 2007

My first adventures were short hiking trips with friends when I was 16 in Vancouver’s North Shore mountains. I enjoyed the liberation of the mountains and was surprised by the satisfaction generated from a challenging hike or summit. After graduating from high school I backpacked across Europe for four months where I gained exposure to diverse cultures, beautiful landscapes, and the enticing tales of travelers who had visited unexpected places all around the world. I was fascinated to hear enthusiastic and positive impressions of places like Bolivia, Pakistan and Tanzania. Excitement flowed like cheap wine as I listened to stories of hitchhiking the deserts of Africa, crossing Siberia by train and traversing South America by bicycle. At 18 years old, the Earth, suddenly, filled me with wonder.

When I returned home from Europe, BC shone in a new light. Like never before my homeland was absolutely beautiful and full of adventure opportunities. Being that I was so young and the world so grand, there was no time for school. Instead, I worked in construction to fund the next adventure. I got into long distance running, began hiking and camping with greater frequency, and quickly tackled my first real alpine ascent on Mount Matier (this 4 min film is of my return to Matier in 2010). Over the next two years I climbed some 35 mountains in BC as my passion for mountaineering evolved into a primary goal in my life. I felt a sense of awe and focus while manoeuvring through open alpine landscapes and gained introspection from passing time, sometimes alone for up to two weeks, in wilderness settings. I climbed extensively across BC then in 2004 and 2006 made two separate, very long mountaineering trips to Latin America. Through my outdoor pursuits I learned things not taught in school, such as my own physical and mental limits, and how to stay focused through extreme challenges.


Cycling the 'Highline' around Anderson Lake in St'at'imc First Nations traditional territory, Lillooet, BC

I also began to undertake long distance bicycle rides, which are marvelous in that they can start right from your front door but then link you through time and space to the farthest corners of the continent. First, I cycled from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland (2006), then all over south west BC, and eventually from Vancouver to Whitehorse (2010). I find that while on long-distance bike trips I have a deep sense of purpose: to stay alive and mindfully enjoy each day. On these trips accomplishment is measured in distance traveled and not a single day feels wasted. I also appreciate that bike travel leaves an exceptionally small ecological footprint and is silent and unobtrusive -always met by genuine smiles from the locals. An important priority in all my adventures is to foster rapport of harmony and respect between myself and the communities and ecosystems that I visit. 

A 6.6m diameter, 92.6m tall coast redwood in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Nov 2012

My most recent bike trip was especially ecologically focused. during eight months I cycled nearly 11,000 km through eight countries on a mission to visit many of the world's largest trees. I traversed the west coast of the United States, then began a 5,000 km transect of Mexico all the way to Belize and its delightful 'Hummingbird Highway.' I then picked way through Guatemala, crossed the highland passes of Honduras and arrived to study Spanish a while in Nicaragua. I climbed volcanoes in Nicaragua, then traversed Costa Rica and western Panama to arrive at the Panama Canal alone. In Panama the next great chapter of my life began to unfold: a building career in forest ecology researcher. I landed a research internship with the Smithsonian to explore a wild corner of the Panamanian rainforest in search of big trees. A short article and video here about that. But, before I explain my current path, I must share that life has not always been so easy. 
In this moment I arrived to the Panama Canal, Panama after cycling from home in Vancouver. April 2013
As my sense of the scale and complexity of Earth grew from traveling, so did my interest and awareness in the environment. In 2007, after a strenuous year of cycling and mountaineering I was shaken by knee problems that impeded my construction work and caused me to doubt my grand aspirations to explore the Earth. But this seemingly devastating turn of events was lifes harsh way of allowing me to reassess my options. 

I was 22 years old and it was time to pursue my scientific interest in the environment. I gave school another chance and for the first time ever, I was thrilled by school. I was absorbing information on subjects that fascinated me, including: climatology, mountain formation, biology, and geography and others - basically, everything that I deemed fascinating and important in the world. My perspective of humans and nature evolved rapidly. I finished a two year degree at Langara College and then began third year at the University of British Columbia (UBC) studying Natural Resources Conservation in the Faculty of Forestry. A combination of having spent a great deal of time immersed in forests and what, in my impression, was an outstanding academic program, focused my broad environmental interests quite poignantly into forests.

During my years in school my knees recovered to very good strength. Again, I could run up and down mountains nearly as I pleased. However, forests became my greater interest. Over the last six years many of my excursions have been focused on forest exploration, usually with the goal to locate a monumental old-growth tree (Here is a 
3 min film into my favourite grove near Vancouver).


A red cedar stump in Seymour Valley, North Vancouver
When observing the difference in size between the old stump
and the new growth an interesting question emerges:
How long will it take this forest to recover from logging?
(or will it?)

I got my start as an engaged active citizen through forests. I began to build perspective toward the incredibly complex environmental challenge of forestry: how can we obtain renewable timber resources without destroying forest biodiversity or causing long-term impacts on the ecological, cultural and economic values of old forests? 

To communicate my perspective, I began leading numerous free public hikes and giving public slideshows. I created an online hiking website guide to get people out to connect with the forest. My goal is always to give enough of both sides of the story, ranging from the importance of forestry in our history, economy, and culture to the irreparable losses of natural wealth that we have borne because of it. 

The more I learned about old forests the more they became a major influence on my life. After my undergrad at UBC I spent 10 months riding a bicycle to Panama. My cycling route spanned nearly 11,000 km, passed eight countries and it was the longest bike ride of my life. The trip was inspired by a mission to visit many of the world's largest trees along the west coast of the United States, which was an unreal experience. I traversed 5,000 km of Mexico to BelizeGuatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and beyond. I climbed quite a few volcanoes in route, including many in Nicaragua. Then, I traversed Costa Rica and western Panama to arrive at the Panama Canal. Alone. Where I landed a research job with the Smithsonian to explore a wild corner of the Panamanian rainforest in search of big trees. Read this article I wrote (Oct 2013) for the McGill Reporter: Expedition Kuna: A tropical rainforest forgotten by time.

As volunteer with the Smithsonian, I undertook two expeditions to a remote region of eastern Panama to measure forest carbon stocks with help from the local Indigenous Kuna people. It was a wonderful but very difficult expedition. 







A 6.6m diameter, 92.6m tall coast redwood in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Nov 2012

Masters Thesis (in progress of being updated)

That trip revoltutinzed my understanding of the diversity of forests and their complex interconnections with people. Also, something amazing happened while on route. One morning, while in a hammock on the beach, I woke up to a letter awarding me a scholarship for grad school. I carefully...

I worked for two years on the question of how long it takes for the values lost from harvesting old-growth to recover... The thesis turned into something I was am very proud of. I presented my research and published one paper so far in a top Forestry peer reviewed journal.

I won the NSERC Science, Action! video contest. The video is below.
Thanks for everyone who cast a vote in my favour!! Congratulations to everyone who submitted a video into the contest!

 

This film gives an overview of my MSc thesis, which investigates the impact of clear-cut forest harvesting on the multiple benefits provided by forests of Vancouver Island, BC. 



My MSc thesis is supervised by Dr. Sarah Gergel and Dr. Elena Bennett.


Sitka Spruce in Carmanah Valley, Vancouver Island, BC. May 2012.

5 comments:

Germain Côté said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Germain Côté said...
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Germain Côté said...

Dude, you are more than inspiration, you are the living proof that dreams are possible. since a couple of years, my goal is to save as much money as I can so I can leave as long as I have money and explore a part of the places I'd like to see. I went 2 months alone in Paraguay to live in a local family when I was 16 and now I just want to discover other cultures. I'll introduce myself to travel in bike on June (in Gaspesia) with a friend. Based on your blog, your are now studying at McGuill ( if I'm right) and I wanted to know if you were ready to give me a bit of your time to share some advices?

Ira Sutherland said...

Hi Germain, It sounds like you've got exactly the right idea. Of course, if you have any specific questions Im happy to try to answer them but Im not sure you need any of my time. I say just go for it! Seize the world and spend your time well. Let your own dream take shape and follow your instincts for adventure and joy.

ronaldo said...

nice