Our Type of Traveler: Dax Justin, Photographer and Explorer
Traveling in His Own Backyard
We’ve featured several people for Our Type of Traveler franchise, and most of them have clocked several miles via trains, planes and automobiles. But this time around, we decided to feature someone who’s content with exploring the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains in his own backyard. Although he’s not a world traveler, Dax Justin spends a lot of time recording his mountain treks through nearby parks, including Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
This outdoorsman, explorer and photographer enjoys traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations to capture nature in its untouched, raw form. And we were curious to know what the driving force is behind his passion for adventure, including his 20-day expedition through the Rockies in Alberta, Canada.
What was the first trip that sparked your passion to travel?
My first jaunt into the Canadian Rockies was a strange one. I woke up at the crack of dawn at the end of 2013 in the winter and felt compelled to get lost in the wilderness. I spent very little time in the outdoors until that moment so my gear was very limited. I stayed warm and wore layers of clothes, which included a bunch of sweaters and cargo pants I bought in 2009 that still had the price tags on them. I randomly decided to head towards Bragg Creek in Alberta. It was an out-of-body experience. It didn't feel like I was consciously making the decision to go into the woods; it was just something I had to do as if I was being summoned. That day I spent the entire day wandering without any specific destination and I ended up finding gems in nature. I found dream catchers, teepees, and somehow the sun hit the snow differently that day. It felt like it was the first time I had really seen nature, and connected with it wholeheartedly. I continued exploring even more after that first day.
What made you decide to embark on a 20-day expedition through the Alberta Rockies? What was the most amazing part about your experience? What was the most difficult part of your journey? Any advice you’d offer to someone interested in trying the same trek?
My first expedition started when I read an article published by Travel Alberta titled, “14 Spots in Alberta That Will Make You Feel Alive.” Reading this article struck a chord with me and inspired me to get out to as many spots on that list as possible. I had planned to explore (the Alberta Rockies) for 7 days, but tourism agencies and organizations heard about the tour via social media, including my Instagram and Twitter accounts. Many of them reached out and invited me to participate in various outdoor activities such as trekking, horseback riding, mountain-climbing and canoeing in Banff, Canada; feeding and interacting with wolf dogs in the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary; and finally, taking a helicopter ride over Bragg Creek. All were new experiences for me.
The most exciting moment for me was climbing via ferrata (iron stairway or road) at Mount Norquay. You basically climb up the mountain on iron steps while harnessed in full climbing equipment. It's extremely safe and honestly, I’d recommend it for climbers regardless of their experience level. At one point, I crossed a swaying suspension bridge and it was a pure adrenaline rush.
The most difficult thing about the expedition was trying to overcome self-imposed mental blocks. We all have them. At times when I embarked on very athletic activities I remember saying to myself, “I cannot do this.” And I spent too much time and energy stressing about how I would do. I eventually found out that every activity was a mind-blowing experience and I surpassed my goals and did better than I thought I would.
Name your favorite outdoor sports/activities. What places are the best to experience each activity?
I'd say kayaking and climbing are my favorite things to do. I enjoy white-water kayaking, but I also find it very relaxing to paddle calm waters more than anything else. There's an interesting duality between relaxing and focusing hard on your core to balance the kayak. If you’re into mountain climbing, I suggest trying the via ferrata at either Mount Norquay or Kicking Horse Mountain. Both mountains have their own unique landscape. For example, Kicking Horse Mountain seems to be the perfect landscape outdoor enthusiasts who are adventurous and enjoy multi-pitch climbing.
Is there an outdoor sport or activity that you haven’t tried yet? If so, what and why?
I want to get into more ice climbing. I've sort of tried it once at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park. However, I wasn't with a crew of experienced climbers so I was limited what I was able to accomplish.
Name your top 3 places to visit in Canada and why others should add them to their list of places to visit.
My top 3 places are all located in Alberta and British Columbia. I have a soft spot for Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park, Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park and Kinney Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park. Each site has its own stunning and diverse landscape. Alberta is a popular spot for ice climbers and ice climbing is unbelievable in frozen Johnston Canyon during the winter. Athabasca Falls is one of the most picturesque places in Alberta; and in British Colombia, Kinney Lake has the most beautiful green-turquoise water I’ve ever seen. The 5-mile hike is worth it!
As an outdoorsman or nature lover, you’ve traveled extensively through the Canadian Rockies. What is the must-have item(s) you never travel without?
I always carry a headlamp, a blade, survival and first-aid kit – you never know when you will need it. I'd never leave home without my Canon 7D camera because I feel having a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) is an extension of my eye. I like to capture hi-res photos and long exposure images of water and having my DSLR allows me to do this. I also carry a GoPro Hero 4 Session because it is mountable everywhere. I can capture amazing scenic shots from several feet away and go places I usually can’t take my camera. Sometimes I mount my GoPro on my head or chest. Footwear is also important when enjoying everything from hiking to ice climbing. Sometimes I need a specific type of shoe or boot to best handle the elements, and Keen is usually my go-to comfortable footwear. I believe their shoes/boots are best designed for watersports, hiking and snow trekking… and they use advanced technology to keep your toes from freezing.
Name one travel gadget or travel app you’d recommend to other travelers.
It has to be my inReach Explorer GPS unit. It works in tandem with the Earthmate app to help me plan a trip, navigate and share my outdoor adventures. I can also enable SMS and share stories about my trek via Facebook and Twitter while in the backcountry.
What are your tips for amateur travel photographers who enjoy being outdoors?
One thing I'd want to mention is to stop worrying about the technical aspects of your photos and equipment. The eye is far more important than the type of camera or your lenses. I'd take my eye over the most expensive camera in the world. The fundamental lesson is to just get out there. Throw caution to the wind and randomly explore your surroundings. Take photos of whatever looks visually appealing to you.
You’re listening to music on an outdoor excursion. What are the top 3 songs on your playlist? Why?
My top 3 songs are all from the same artists. Fat Freddy's Drop, a music group from New Zealand, has created their own genre. They call it “Pirate Soul Train” and it is very soulful music. My top 3 songs are “Wandering Eye,” “Silver & Gold” and “Blackbird.” These songs help keep me positive, relaxed and in a meditative state when I’m exploring the Great Outdoors.
What are a few tips you’d offer to parents who want to explore the Great Outdoors with their children?
My main tip is to go exploring without any destination an end point for your journey. Have a general idea or plan for about the destination you want to explore, but go into it without specific expectations because that’s when you’ll run into unexpected surprises. Exploring with kids can be an absolute blast. I allowed my 6-year-old daughter to tell me where to go on our first adventure. She was the decision maker on where we would go and during our travels we randomly found cool waterfalls and cliffs – it was unreal and magical. I offer this as advice because it allowed her to become the Explorer, and increased her mental and physical engagement in what we were doing... not where were going.
When I’m not in the Rockies I am based in Calgary, Alberta. I was born and raised in Calgary and I will always consider it my home.
What would you recommend to travelers visiting your hometown?
I suggest checking out Fort Calgary, the birthplace of the city of Calgary. It is also a symbolic hub and heart of the community. I would also recommend a visit to Heritage Park. It’s one of Calgary’s premier tourist attractions and one of North America’s largest and most successful living history museums.
What places are still on your bucket list to visit? Why?
I really need to see the rest of Canada. I have only been to Eastern Canada once but it was only for a day. Nepal is at the top of my bucket list as well as New Zealand and Iceland.