Gregory Gould saw meteors fire over Takakia Lake this summer, but not before getting a good feel for the rain that fills it.
Growing up just beyond the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Gould has done plenty of alpine hikes on the well-marked trails of Banff, Jasper and Yoho.
But for the last three summers he has been trying to reach a place his father Doug and uncle Ian told stories about — a ridge-ringed lake high above the west coast of Morseby Island that is home to bears, rare plants, and rare views.
“The access to the west coast is just tough,” he said.
Rain falls heavily on Haida Gwaii’s west coast — around Mount Moresby, the annual rainfall is more than triple that of the islands’ east-side villages.
Not only that, but the steep hike up from Peel Inlet to Takakia Ridge is unmarked, often fogged, and wrong turns often lead to impassable cliffs or stacks of blowdown trees.
Starting in 2015, Gould and some friends came to Haida Gwaii on what should have been the driest weeks of the year in early August. They reached Peel Inlet from the de-activated logging road that starts at Moresby Camp, then tried to pick a way up to the ridge.
“Every single time there’s only been a day or two where we didn’t have an 800-foot cloud ceiling, where really you can’t even see the peaks you’re trying to get to,” Gould said.
“So many trails you follow just lead to the nicest patch of grass, because they’re set by deer.”
The first year, they only got up to the first of three smaller lakes near Takakia before they were chased down by a storm. For four days they camped under a downpour, then headed home.
In year two, they got as high as Takakia Ridge, but with blistered feet and soggy weather, they didn’t take a chance going down to the lake itself. Friends who had hiked in places like Hawaii and Iceland found it daunting.
Getting some GPS gear and more alpine experience helped, but this summer Gould said they mostly got insanely lucky.
They started climbing just as one storm front was leaving, and camped on the ridge they found an unheard of day: 22 C, sun-baked and windless.
After waking up to watch the Perseids meteor shower, sunrise brought an amazing sight — all the surrounding peaks stuck out like islands from a wash of low-lying cloud.
Gould captured some photos three summers in the making, including one showing their tent down by the lake, pitched on rocky ground to go easy on the rare alpine plants.
In the late 1990s, a proposal to tunnel into the lake for an expanded hydroelectric dam at Mitchell Inlet was rejected out of concern that the draw-down would harm the dozens of rare plants that grow there and almost nowhere else on Haida Gwaii.
Full of cliffs, runnels, and limestone outcrops, the area is full of microclimates that nurture a number of Haida medicinal plants.
Few people visit Takakia Lake, and most come by floatplane — it is the only freshwater lake in Haida Gwaii where floatplanes can land, and even then their access is controlled.
Gould isn’t exactly a pilot, but starting with on-the-ground wilderness photos inspired by his photographer uncle Ian, he has more recently branched out into aerial photography thanks to drones.
Islanders may recognize some of his work in the Haida language film SG̲aawaay Ḵ’uuna / Edge of the Knife; a making-of documentary about the film, called Retake; or from some promotional films about fisheries and tourism on Haida Gwaii.
It took practice, but he is getting a handle on how to storyboard his videos and compose smooth shots from the air — not an easy thing with a tiny aircraft where the carefully controlled pitch, yaw, and tilt of the camera is easily thrown off-course by a gust of wind.
“Even though it might be a perspective that you as a person will never get to see, it really gives you a feel for a place that you on the ground can’t get,” Gould said.
Someday drones may well autopilot out to places like Takakia and back without a single charge. But for now Gould appreciates how challenging it is to see it and other parts of west coast Haida Gwaii.
“There is a beauty there that’s not really available anywhere else on Earth,” he said.
To see more of Gould’s photography and read his travel blog, visit ghvideos.ca.