Our photographers caught the travel bug this month! You can travel around the world with us, from slack-line in Rio de Janeiro to desert exploration in Erg Chebbi, Morocco. Take a polar-plunge in Antarctica (or kayak if you prefer and see penguins) or swim in the warmer waters near Cinque Terre. Follow along as we pack-raft through Laos, stopping at villages that have to relocate due to dam construction along the way, ascend Kilimanjaro, rock-climb in Malta, or visit the Taj Mahal.
Hawai’i is one of the most spectacular photographic destinations in the US, but what’s it like to live there? We sat down (virtually) with 5 Aurora photographers, Elyse Butler, Sean Davey, Grant Kaye, Logan Mock-Bunting, and Mallory Roe, to find out about life, photography, food, the silly things us “mainlanders” do when we touch down in the Aloha State, and why the natives say “Lucky we live Hawai’i.”
Aurora: What originally brought you to Hawai’i?
Elyse Butler: I was born here and decided to come back to the island after graduating college. I’ve lived on Oahu for 8 years. Mallory Roe: During a year of travel, I came to Kauai for a week to explore and shoot around. I ran into another photographer at a waterfall who was teaching a landscape photography workshop. I told him he should hire me on to help him teach, and he did! I’ve been living on the island of Kauai for nearly 3 years. Sean Davey: I came to Hawai’i 20 years ago as a surf photographer. Originally, I really didn’t have a lot of interest in going to Hawai’i, simply because every other surf photographer goes there in the northern hemisphere winter. But my magazine editor sent me in late 1994. I met my future wife the next season and we got married. Grant Kaye: I was born on Lana’i in the 1970s. My folks and my huge extended Ohana (family) all still live there. Now I live in Truckee, CA, but I go home as much as I can. Logan Mock-Bunting: For me, it was the idea of spending more time in the Ocean – swimming, surfing, paddling and freediving. My wife and I have only been here for about 3 years, living in Honolulu.
AU: What’s the greatest thing about being a photographer in Hawaii?
Elyse: The people are so friendly and the islands are incredibly beautiful. I constantly draw inspiration from the ocean and wild rugged nature that is so accessible here. Sean: During winter, we have some of the most consistent big surf anywhere in the world and then during the summer months, the whole north shore becomes one huge swimming pool with usually some of the clearest waters. The biggest challenge that I typically face here are getting the right tides and ocean swells to match up with the right places at the right times of day. It’s like juggling nature. Grant: The ecological diversity is almost unparalleled elsewhere on earth. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island have almost every single named distinct ecological zone on the planet. You can literally shoot skiing and then drive down through grasslands, into rainforest, and come out at the beach for sunset in a few hours. Mallory: I am surrounded by diverse, breathtaking scenes and don’t have to go out of my way to take advantage of them- I can get to some of the most beautiful beaches in world, hike along some of the most amazing ridges, shoot gorgeous waterfalls, explore deep into the jungles and STILL be home by dinner!
AU: What’s your favorite activity and the best place to go do it?
Elyse: Swimming and paddle boarding in the ocean at Waimea Bay on the North Shore. Mallory: The Kalalau Valley is stunning. The trail to get to the beach is 22 miles round trip. You do it once and you’re hooked! There’s nothing that beats hiking out to the Kalalau for a few days. Mainlanders come to Hawai’i for Paradise. People who live in Hawai’i go to the Kalalau for paradise. Sean: Put on a mask and snorkel and swim behind the waves, underwater. The view there is totally unlike anything else. One of the most remarkable things you will ever see. It’s best to do when the surf is small and the water remains clear. Logan: Man, you can’t be giving out local knowledge indiscriminately. That’ll get you in a lot of trouble over here.
AU: Best food and favorite spot for it?
Mallory: The lilikoi fruit is my favorite. When it’s in season, you can find it just about anywhere there’s vegetation. Sean: Lei Lei’s at Turtle Bay, just across the road from where I live. I highly recommend the crunchy coconut shrimp and seared ahi ceasar salad. Grant: If I’m at home, the Lana’i Ohana Poke Market, where Aunty Donna serves up mean poke. If I’m on O’ahu, plate lunch in Waimanalo or from Alicia’s. If I’m on the Big Island, kalua pig and malasadas from Tex Drive In. Logan: Can’t beat good poke (seasoned raw fish with rice and various seaweed, onions, peppers, etc.) My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
AU: What is your favorite way to eat Spam?
Elyse: Never! Ha! Grant:Musubi! Sean: They actually serve Spam at McDonalds.
AU: What’s the greatest misconception that “mainlanders” have about Hawai’i?
Mallory: That we constantly are visiting the other islands. Travel throughout the state of Hawai’i is not simple. It’s quite an investment just to mosey over to another island for even just a few days once you factor in the cost of airfare, rental car and accommodations. We mostly stay on our own island unless our work takes us to another island. Island hopping is not something most residents do very frequently or casually. Sean: Hawaiian pizza was not invented in Hawaii. It was actually created by someone in Canada. Grant: The obvious one is that a lot of people from the lower 48 think Hawaii is another country. I’ve had people in baggage claim ask me where immigration is after they get their bags!
AU: What is your favorite native plant or animal? Tell us a bit about the unique biodiversity on your island.
Elyse: I love the honu ‘green sea turtle’ and the uluhe fern. I often come upon sea turtles when I’m swimming in the open ocean, and it’s always an amazing experience. I love to find uluhe ferns when I’m hiking in the mountains, the purple coil and fiddlehead make it look like a Dr Seuss plant. Sean: We have such a plethora of cool creatures, flowers and trees here. I just adore some of the huge monkey pod trees and Banyan trees. One Banyan tree can have unlimited number of trunks. There is a Banyan tree in Lahaina on the island of Maui that is the largest in the US and takes up an entire block of the town. Grant: I like the beautiful Naupaka flower, which has an awesome story in Hawaiian culture. There are two shapes of the flower, each a half a blossom, one that grows at the beach and one that grows on the mountain. The story goes that they are separated, star-crossed lovers. There’s lots of good mele (Hawaiian music) about it. Logan: The Official State Fish of Hawaii is the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a, a striking and beautiful trigger fish. Humuhumunukunukuapua`a isn’t that hard to pronounce really – just take it one syllable at a time: “who-moo-who-moo-new-ku-new-ku-ah-pooah-ah.” But my favorite is undoubtedly the Akule (big eye scad) Baitballs – free diving through these massive schools of fish swimming in synchronicity is a magical experience.
AU: What’s your “ONLY happens in Hawai’i” moment?
Mallory: One time I walked into a Starbucks and there was a guy sitting at one of the tables with no shirt, just chopping up a pineapple with his machete. Nobody seemed to notice or act like what he was doing was out of the ordinary. Grant: During our wedding ceremony at the Pu’u Pehe coast on Lana’i, a huge pod of humpback whales swam by real close, came up and blew air. That was pretty special.
When climbing legend Royal Robbins passed away in March, we asked several Aurora photographers who had known Royal, or been influenced by him, to share their thoughts and stories about the iconic climber.
Royal was, and still is, a great inspiration to me. He was a living example of how to do life well. He led with kindness and wisdom. He truly was a leader of man.
– Tom Frost
I started climbing in the 80’s when it was still a fringe sport and information was hard to come by. Royal Robbins’ books Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft were the bibles that taught me the techniques that have kept me alive and safe to this day.
– Jonathan Kingston
I never met Royal and have only been to Yosemite once, very briefly 22 years ago. But as a young kid growing up in middle Tennessee who was rabid about rock climbing, Royal had a profound effect upon me through his books. Yosemite historical books were important, but nothing like the impact that his Rockcraft series had on me in my early teens. I must have read and re-read those two little paperbacks a 100 times. In the absence of real climbing instruction, they bridged a gulf on how to climb safely but even more importantly – they taught me how to climb from an ethical and spiritual point of view. Anyone can get up the rock, but Royal firmly planted the ethos in me that it was how you got up the rock and how you left it for others to enjoy that really mattered.
– Harrison Shull
My photo career began as a way to fund my own passion for climbing. As an early Outward Bound instructor Royal’s books on rockcraft were on my mother’s bookshelf and he became an inspiration in the early 70’s, long before I understood how necessary and important his ethical stance was towards clean climbing. As my generation of ’80’s climbers proliferated mass bolting and sport climbing I gravitated instead towards routes with natural and removable protection and wild places. Royal’s books had influenced me well. In the early 90’s Royal called to purchase a printed photograph I had taken of a silhouetted climber descending a steep cliff in front of El Capitan in Yosemite. I knew then that my art of photography reflected a little of Royal’s art of climbing and I was happy.
Like many climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, I was sad to hear about the passing of Royal Robbins, one of the true pioneers and icons of our sport. Reading about Robbins’ adventures in Yosemite as a kid was hugely influential and inspirational to me. One time, my editor at Boy’s Life called and asked if I’d ever heard of some guy named “Royal Robbins” and if I wanted to shoot him taking a group of Boy Scouts from Modesto rock climbing. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to shoot alongside the guy who virtually invented rock climbing as we know it. That night around the campfire, Royal opened up a bottle of wine, and poured himself a small glass. One of the father chaperones casually mentioned to Royal, “We don’t drink at Boy Scouts events,” to which Royal casually responded, “Oh, OK. Well, I do.” Royal and I shared a bottle of wine and we all sat around the campfire and listened to Royal’s stories. It was just an incredible experience — a testament to the fact that Royal was the ultimate climber’s climber. I’m also sure that he inspired at least one of those Boy Scouts that day to become a climber, or at the very least, to not be afraid to take risk and live adventurously.
– Corey Rich
For me, a boy living below sea level in the flatlands of Holland, reading the accounts of Royal Robinson forced me to go explore the three dimensional world. I waited anxiously for every American climbing magazine to drop in my mail box, so I could learn about adventures and dream about first ascents. It was not difficult to choose a location of my Wilderness EMT course at NOLS in 2010: Yosemite was the birth ground of modern big wall climbing. You can imagine how excited I was when I heard Royal Robins was visiting the valley. I think I even skipped some lessons from medic school, just to be sure to see and meet him and Tom Frost (I got two idols for the price of one) at a lecture in Curry village. Like a teenager at a rock concert I asked for their signatures and what I remember the most is that he impressed me with his friendliness. Today I am inspired and every time when I tie in to a rope I hear his wise words: “Climbing is not about reaching the top, it is all about the style you do it in.”
– Menno Boermans
Spring is here, and our photographers have been busy traveling and adventuring! From Nepal to Cappadocia, Alabama Hills to Slovenia, and everywhere in between, they’ve been capturing local culture and having fun!
In case you already miss the snow and cold, we’ve got skiing in Utah, Argentina and Norway, ice climbing in New Hampshire, and snowy scenes in Yosemite. For everyone else, there’s signs of spring and summer, and it’s time to get outside for your workouts. Maybe that’s using city structures as fitness equipment rather than obstacles, yoga in a field, or running (with or without beers in hand!) For traditionalists, we’ve got tons of outdoor activities: surfing, high-line, camping, hiking, sailing, canoeing, cycling, paddleboarding and a rock-climbing excursion to Venezuela!
Anyone who has ever been on an adventure knows just how fickle plans can sometimes be. Being able to adapt at a moment’s notice is all part of the journey, but doing so behind a camera lens takes more than just a willingness to change course. It requires patience, skill and technique.
When the temperature was a sweltering 98 degrees last July in British Columbia, a day of mountaineering turned into a pack raft adventure when photographer Chris Kimmel, with friends Evan, Adam and Cole, decided to ditch the hiking boots for a cooler option.
We caught up with Chris to talk about this impromptu excursion down the Chehalis River in British Columbia, how it yielded some incredible photographs, and what he learned along the way.
Aurora Photos: How did you prepare for this excursion?
Chris Kimmel: This wasn’t what we initially set out to do that day, so I didn’t have all the right gear for photographing the water aspect of the trip – for example, my waterproof casing. I had to adapt and manage with what I had, and I was extra careful when getting my camera out while on the water. However, this prompted me to find different angles that I otherwise may not have gotten.
AP: How did the change of plans impact your photographs?
CK: The photos from the higher angles were some of my favorite shots because they required the most work. I had to scramble up the cliff face, bushwhack though the forest, search for a place to get a view, then hang myself over the cliff edge to get those shots. It would have been much easier for me to just stay on the shore or in the boat, but the results were worth it. It’s a unique perspective that gave me the opportunity to capture parts of the canyon I’d never seen before. At one point in the trip we were rafting down and passed two people climbing. I was able to capture the rafts and the climbers in the same shot. I love this depiction of the diverse opportunities available in our back yard. All you need to do is get out and explore!
AP: Do you typically use trips to motivate others to “get out and explore”?
CK: I love sharing my experiences and urging others to explore the world around us. I want to show people there are beautiful places that are close to urban areas, yet remote at the same time. One of the greatest things about getting outside is that you can adapt the adventure to your skill level. Our trip had a short hike in, followed by intermediate rapids and plenty of opportunity to hike the canyon or climb the surrounding cliffs. Every step of the way could be geared up or down depending on the adventurer’s skill and comfort level.
AP: How did you come to climb and rappel that section of the canyon?
CK: Visiting from Australia, Evan had his heart set on climbing a mountain that day. We brought the rope and harnesses along just in case we found an interesting route in the canyon. When Evan spotted this cliff face there was no stopping him from climbing it. Adam, Evan and I have climbed a number of peaks in the Coast Mountain Range together. Each climb seems to get more difficult so we always bring gear to set up an anchor and rappel just in case we get stuck or conditions get dicey. The climb and rappel off the canyon wall gave Evan a taste of the mountains for the day and Adam had some fun trying to catch Evan while battling the river currents below in his pack raft.
AP: What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
CK: This was my first time paddling this section of the river. It’s an inspiring place and I know I’ll be back. Adam, Evan, Cole and I learned from one another as well. As we went down the river on the pack rafts, we would give each other tips for the rapids as we went through each one. One of the biggest takeaways on any adventure is what you learn from those you’re exploring with, or people you meet along the way.
AP: What inspires you most as a photographer?
CK: I love exploring and seeing new places. It helps you find out exactly what you are made of when you are faced with different challenges. I also enjoy seeing and learning from how others react to adversity. If I could give any advice to someone, whether they are simply looking for an adventure or furthering that by photographing their experiences, it would be to take any chance you get to travel. As days pass, opportunities to learn from and grow from experiences pass as well. It’s incredible to see new places and capture something that you’ve never captured before.
About Chris Kimmel
Chris Kimmel grew up just outside Vancouver, British Columbia. He is passionate about finding remote yet accessible environments that he can photograph and share with others in the hopes of helping others enjoy the great outdoors. He wants people to understand and see the beauty in the natural environment that surrounds us, and he captures that in his landscape and outdoor adventure photography. Chris has been published by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, BBC, Backpacker among many others.