A Home Amongst The Pines
As an adventurer or outdoor enthusiast, there are certain moments in time where you feel like you are exactly where you should be. There are also plenty of times when you feel like you couldn’t be further from that place – right now, writing this feature in my room, for example. But it’s the moments when you are in this place, this utopia, that make everything in between matter.
For me, I feel like I am right where I belong whenever I stand in a place of outstanding natural beauty. And I don’t mean the local park or your parents backyard when I say this. I mean on top of a mountain, looking out over the clouds at sunset. I mean standing underneath a 30 metre waterfall, or traversing a volcano and looking down into the crater. The type of place that will literally take your breath away.
At the times in my life when I am lucky enough to find myself in one of these places, I try to take a second to really focus on the scene in front of me. I put the camera and phone away, and stand up tall. A deep breath stamps this image in my memory, where it stays in a special part of my mind. This part of my mind is reserved for only the most beautiful of moments – all of which are purely natural. Just you appreciating Mother Earth’s beauty, and more importantly, recognising the ever-important role we have to play in protecting her.
It’s Thursday, and my friend Henry and I have a long weekend in front of us. We are living in San Luis Obispo (SLO), Central California. We both love taking photos and exploring the outdoors, and decide it’s time for a road trip. Wilderness calls.
When the opportunity came up for me to travel through California, The Yosemite National Park was high on the list of places to see. Well known for its stunning vistas, giant sequoia trees, granite cliffs and huge waterfalls, it is a natural wonderland and a photographer’s dream. We decide that this will be our destination, as it is only four hours drive north east of SLO.
Friday morning arrives and with the car packed, we are off. We successfully navigate the madness of the American freeways and soon find ourselves climbing steadily. Eventually, we pull up to a booth in the middle of the road. $35 later and we are in.
The Yosemite National Park. Harry and Henry. It’s on.
Yosemite has a one of a kind way of welcoming people. Upon arrival in the park, we snake through the giant pines (many of which are still recovering from the severe wildfires of 2018) until we reach a tunnel. It all goes dark while we drive down the hill, chasing what lies beyond. As the light gets brighter and we exit, our eyes come to focus on a view so ridiculous it defies belief. We are greeted by an amazing panorama of vertical granite and bottle green trees, laid out against the bluest of skies. The Bridalveil Falls plummet from the skies, and it occurs to me that I’ve seen this vista before – it’s the default background on my Macbook.
It makes us hoot and the moment gets to us. We’ve made it. And we are about to hit Yosemite with everything we have.
We jump back in the car and continue to descend further into the valley, heading straight for Bridalveil Falls. From the carpark you can see it through the pines above, plunging 188m (617ft) top to bottom. After parking we rock-hop our way up stream, dodging tour groups along the way until we make the base of the falls. It is just us up here, and a dive into the natural pool is a perfect refresher after half a day on the road.
Our next job is to try and find a camp site. After a last minute online search, we realised that this may have been something we should have organised in advance. Campsites are incredibly full at this time of year, apparently, and most sites require a reservation. We locate a camp where booking isn’t essential, but the site manager has bad news.
“Sorry guys, we’re completely full. You can try and see if someone will share their lot with you but it’s up to them. Otherwise, you can try your luck by the side of the road tonight and come back tomorrow. Normally the rangers will just give you a warning the first time,” we are informed.
Well, that’s not ideal but it’s not going to stop us. It’s almost sunset, and we want to be on top of a cliff to watch. Taft Point is the spot, so we make our way to the trailhead. The golden afternoon light makes the moss on the pines glow a colour that resembles radioactive green. As trees give way to open rock, we see the entire valley laid out in an orange hue in front of us. There are no railings here, allowing visitors to get as near as they wish to the drop off. Vertigo ensues.
As you step up to the edge of the cliff, you are finally greeted by the scene you have pictured in your head so many times before. The entire Yosemite Valley is sprawled out below you, the immense wall of El Capitan imposes itself directly opposite, drenched in twilight. Meanwhile to your right, the Yosemite Falls gracefully drop 2,400 feet to the ground below, feathering in the wind that blows up the face of the rock. The sun is moments from retiring for the day, and the last of the evening’s rays bend around the shape of the peaks and project across the valley. They shine softly into your eyes as you stand up tall, look to the west and take a deep breath.
This is one of those moments.
It’s almost dark before we can peel ourselves away from that view. On the way back to the car, we discuss our options.
“I think I saw a gap in the trees on the side of the road a bit earlier. We should be able to go a little off road and camp in behind the pines.”
“Yeah let’s do it. The rangers won’t see us in there at night.”
After moving a few fallen logs around and carefully positioning our car to avoid being seen from the road, we settle down in our chairs and get to organising some dinner. The first beers are cracked, and our attention shifts up to the stars emerging from the darkness above.
“Ha! Who needs to book a campsite!” We proudly exclaim.
No sooner then the words have left our mouths, a car screeches to a halt on the road and swings around. We are flooded by headlights, our veil of darkness no longer.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING OUT HERE?” booms the park police officer from behind his flashlight.
We plead ignorance as he informs us of several significant citations he should currently be writing out, the largest of which would be accompanied by an $800 fine, the smallest $300.
If we get out of there right now, he’s going to let us off. He informs us that if we follow the road and go left at the stop sign and then take our second left after that, there is a campsite where we can stay for free.
“Thank you sir. Sorry again we weren’t aware of the camping rules. We will be off now.”
While we had every intention of following his instructions, it soon became clear to us after turning off at the stop sign that our second left actually wouldn’t not be for almost another two hours. There’s not many roads out here.
Before we get that far out of the park, we come across a busy hotel which we decide might be a better option. Being the stingey young travellers that we are, we weren’t heading to the lobby to check in, but the car park itself. With our seats fully reclined, we set in for our first night ‘camping’ in Yosemite.
Whether it was due to excitement or simply the fact that we were sleeping in the front seats of a car, we rose as one with the sun. We had a big day on the cards, with a bunch of spots we wanted to see. First up was Glacier Point, and the incredible winding road that you must follow to reach it. We had skateboards in the car, packed specifically for this road. Unforgettable views of Half Dome comprise the backdrop for this spot, and the early morning light filtering through the pine leaves act as a better wake up than your standard morning coffee ever could.
After skating to the end of the road, Glacier Point presents itself. As we come to view the back half of the valley, we meet a man setting up his hang glider. His name is David. He’s 71 years old and has been coming here every year since 1981 to fly, he tells me. I ask him how many jumps he thinks he has completed since then, and he huffs while staring out over the valley hundreds of metres below.
“Too many to say. But it gets better every single time,” he smiles, the sun glinting off his eyes.
I hope I have the same energy in my seventies.
After watching David launch himself gracefully from the cliff and fly out in front of Half Dome, we decide to head back and try the campsite again. This time early in the morning, we hope to catch a spot if anyone is leaving. Sure enough, this time around we get lucky. We set up our temporary home amongst the pines before taking off again to continue the day.
A swim in the river under the dawn wall is the first stop, followed by a hike to the Mist Trail where we climb to the top of the thundering Vernal Falls. The spray sparkles around us like glitter as we walk alongside the falls, a welcome reprieve from the summer heat.
In between finding car parks (Yosemite is a crowded place on a July weekend) and hiking, the sun has once again worked its way down, beelining for another undoubtedly dramatic finale. This means it’s time for us to head to the top of the cliffs again. Today we are heading to the Sentinel Dome to spectate.
We make it up just in time for the spectacular 360° panoramic view of the sunset, a pale pink glow reflecting off Half Dome behind us while the waterfalls in front seem to freeze in time. We rig our hammock between two dead pines and let the last light of the day fall over us like a warm blanket.
We head back to our camp in near darkness, and retire for the night. The next morning, we are due to head home.
As Sunday comes, the energy from yesterday arrives with it. We were still buzzing, and although ready to leave Yosemite, we felt like we weren’t done yet. We wanted more. Sequoia National Park? Death Valley? We decide to take a right turn off the freeway and begin to head straight west – Big Sur our new destination.
With Highway 1 in our sights a call was made and Monday’s shift was swapped. This gives us an extra day. Passing through Monterey, we continue on our way south, stopping at various points to peer out from roads high above the North Pacific. We pass a waterfall shooting down onto a secluded beach, and pull over for a beer at a cafe on the side of a cliff. A big day on the road is catching up with us, and it’s time to think about finding a new camp spot.
The first site we try is by Plaskett Creek, and the lady tells us that despite the ‘Camp Full’ sign she has somewhere for us to stay. It will cost $35, plus $15 for firewood, she says. We look at each other and both think the same thing.
“We’re going to keep looking, thanks anyway,” we reply.
$50 for a piece of grass next to the road. No thanks. We start studying the map and find a road that appears to twist and turn up into the mountains. Henry had heard whispers of local free-camping spots in these mountains, so we decided to take a chance in the dying light. Putting our Toyota Highlander through her paces, we wrestle the gravel road and climb our way through the dust. A small car that we catch up to pulls the pin in front of us and turns around, they aren’t going to make it.
We push on.
Another mile into the hills and we reach a cross roads. We go west, towards the setting sun. Shortly after this, we drive up a steep bit of road and reach what we could only have dreamed for – a perfectly flat camp site, high above the clouds, with no one in site. The ocean bends around the hills below, covered in a dense fog that mirrors the coastline. It is truly an incredible setting and we both find ourselves jumping and yelling. After a sketchy drive in an old car, we couldn’t be happier that it’s all led to this.
We set up camp again for the last time, get a fire going, and watch the sun slowly disappear into the fog below. Again, we set our eyes skyward. This time, however, we know that we aren’t going to be disturbed by any park rangers. We spend the night with the stars, and wake up to glorious sunlight filtering over the various peaks of the ridge.
It was a truly fitting end to our adventure, one that started just days ago but that dealt us a lifetime’s worth of incredible moments, and one that left me feeling grateful to be able to get out there and experience it. I think back to all of the moments that stopped me in my tracks over the past few days, and realise that it might be time to make some extra room for more memories in that special place in my mind.
Stay tuned for some more special images from this trip…
Some days you set your alarm for sparrows, knowing that the waves are going to be perfect. You wake up in the dark for the yawn patrol and pack your boards, a not-so-subtle buzz filling the air. The hype grows as you make the drive to the spot. Standing in the carpark, coffee in hand, the sun starts to slowly rise over the horizon, revealing exactly what you’d been hoping for. Perfect lines stacked to the horizon, glassy conditions and a crisp offshore sending feathered spray to the sky. They don’t happen often, which makes rare occasions like this that much more special.
Here’s Cade Sharp on one of those very days.
A Cornish Cookout
When one thinks England, they think many things. Tradition, history, British culture. And rain.
If you’re talking to an Australian, you might expect a more raucous response; shit weather, shit accents, whinging poms.
I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of my time on postcard-perfect beaches in Australia. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, the beach was a massive part of my life – BBQ’s, cricket, footy, swimming, surfing. For me, I grew to especially love photographing the many changing faces of the ocean – both above and below.
When I tell people this, their first response is always predictable: why would you leave?
A love of exploring the coastline opened my mind to what’s out there, and eventually I was driven to go further, beyond the comfort of the Australian east coast.
Naturally, when I decided to leave home to travel, the ocean was still a high priority and I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the best waves in Europe firing on all cylinders over the past two years. Living in London however, dampens the flame a bit. It’s a big city and the furthest thing from the natural beauty I was accustomed to. The last thing an Australian thinks when they think England is beautiful beaches. Not much in terms of surfing or the lifestyle I’d lived up until this point at all to be honest.
But there was always that one name ringing in the back of my mind, one that I had been intrigued by after seeing photos in surf magazines for years.
I met a bloke in a pub once who was more like me then anyone I’d met since I left home. His name was Dave, we chewed the fat and after a while decided that a road trip was in order. I needed to experience what his country had to offer, he said.
Finally this month I was able to see this beautiful part of the world, and it exceeded all my expectations.
There I was on the coach to Newquay. After 8 painstakingly slow hours of crawling through tiny villages at a snails pace, I’d arrived. I was expecting to see Dave waiting at the stop with a cold one and a grin ready for me, but he was nowhere to be seen. I found a pub and helped myself to the coldy. An hour later I see him walk through the doors.
“Far out I hate coming here,” he puffs.
“Haven’t had a smooth drive here from Bournemouth in my life. Everyone else can do it in 4 and it takes me 7 every time. Shithole.”
I laughed hard, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to hear to kick off the trip. But we all know what a shit car journey will do to even the most laid back among us.
After our respective cross country missions we decided to take it slow that night, and enjoyed an amazing sunset over Newquay with a local brew in hand. The next day was the start of our journey, so we hit the sack early in order to be ready to go first thing in the morning.
We woke to a light offshore and perfect sunny skies, you could taste the salt in the air. With the van loaded up we set sail, our noses pointing South. Our first destination was a campsite that Dave had visited as a boy, with hazy summer memories flooding from his mind to his mouth like an open dam. It was both of our childhood’s he was reminiscing on, and together the excitement grew for what the week would have in store.
Upon our arrival we knocked up our home for the next few days, which consisted of Dave’s van and my tent flanking a communal shelter.
I hadn’t surfed since I was in Spain 10 months ago, so high on my list of priorities was to get salty. A quick walk over the dunes and we were greeted with a view we both longed for – clean lines, albeit small, with crystal clear water and no crowd. A howl of excitement escaped me and I was on my way back to the camp to get the wetsuit on, Dave not far behind.
A few hours and dozens of waves later we were sitting at the camp refreshed, and you already know it was beer time. With the backing of a summer soundtrack, Dave had his next surprise ready to be unveiled. Out of the back of his van he hauled what could only be described as a shrunken alien space ship, a tripod of stainless steel supporting a silver dome. Next came the gas bottle, and once hooked up I realised what I was looking at. The mythical camping pizza oven he’d told me of, the prized final piece of his camping set up.
With the oven firing we ate like kings throughout the course of the week, starting with pizza and graduating on to anything from steak and eggs to sautéed veggies and crispy sweet potato fries. Every other camper who passed us had sore necks by the end of the week, jealousy burning in their eyes. Even if we couldn’t hear it, we knew it was the talk of our tented community every night and we were loving it.
Thanks to the legendary work of my tour guide and companion, over the course of the next week on the road I was able to see so much beauty. We developed a loose routine that started with jumping straight in the van each morning and hitting the open road. We explored just about every cove and cave up and down the coast, hiked to Land’s End, found a seal colony, and skated down some beautiful coastal roads. Then, we would surf for as long as our arms would let us before retiring to the deck chair and the esky to watch the sun fade to stars over our campsite, a sight that I hadn’t enjoyed since Australia.
It was a taste of home and a real refresher. We were blessed with amazing weather and company to boot. A definite trip to remember and I was extra stoked to come away with some images that will always serve as a reminder to my time on the English surf coast.
Until next time.
The Perfect Disguise
The idea for ‘The Perfect Disguise’ grew mainly from spending extended periods of time outside, enjoying one of nature’s most amazing, diverse and ever changing elements – the ocean. As a result of years worth of time in and around the ocean, I feel that I have developed a very real connection with the water and the people who I share it with.
I have always been enticed by the song ‘A Horse With No Name’ by America, and particularly the following lyrics:
These words are what motivated me to take a different approach for this project – taking my photography under the surface, in an attempt to take a peek behind the so called ‘perfect disguise’.
One of my favourite things to do in the ocean happens to be something that not many people get to experience – watching large waves breaking over sand or reef, viewed from underneath the water.
One person that instantly inspired me was a man named Mark Tipple, and specifically, his line of work titled ‘The Underwater Project’. His photos helped me to decide to how to document my images – I was seeking out candid moments in which most cases the subject was unaware they were being photographed.
The collection has images featuring nothing but the ocean’s pure power and turbulence, as well as images with fish and people in the mix. I decided to include people in some of the frames both for scale and to recognise the relationship and connection that fellow ocean lovers share with the deep.