Chris Wolff, Adventure Hydrologist

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We talked to Chris from adventurehydrology.com about the dichotomy of passion and profession; as well as how to bring them into harmony. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey thus far:

Well, I am an Adventure Hydrologist. And just in case you’re scratching your head wondering what that is, I am happy to explain. Hahah!  I am a Hydrologist (aka – water scientist) who studies the ability of water to change the environment and, in turn,  our ability as people to change water.  Easy enough to understand right?  As an Adventurer, I like to  hike, run, climb, swim, raft, canoe, backpack, mountain climb and darn near do everything else you can think of that gets me outside.  So “what is Adventure Hydrology”?  Combining those two elements, its way to understand how amazing our world is through the lenses of water and adventure.

As for the journey, it’s really just getting started. So far Adventure Hydrology, or AH as I call it for short, is really fun to produce and it’s incredibly rewarding.  I’ve already met so many amazing scientists, volunteers, explorers and like-minded people who love to talk about the world and who love to be surrounded by it.  Plus I’ve had the chance to explore water carved canyons, raft whitewater rivers, cross desert dunes, stroll across glaciers and summit snowy peaks.  For me, it is hard to get better than that!

What can you tell us about being a Hydrologist and your path to becoming a Hydrologist?

Got ya, you want to know my “origin story”.  No problem. While working as a hydrologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, I was asked to help find and rescue endangered fish.  Why was a hydrologist asked to rescue fish you may ask?  First, because the  4th longest river in the United States, the Rio Grande, just went dry and the entire ecosystem was about to collapse.  Second, as a water scientist, it was important I could talk to people about what was going on with the Rio and how we could make things “right”.  As I journeyed down the muddy skeleton of the Rio Grande, riding a 4-wheeler named the ‘fish ambulance’,  I learned that this is a sad, but annual event.  The USFWS had been saving fish on the verge of extinction, keeping them alive during ‘river diversion’ season, and then releasing them back into Rio Grande for the last 10 years…  But why hadn’t I heard about this?  Why is this not news? Or at the very least, why is this not a social media post or volunteer event that would let people know what that the USFWS was doing to keep a 300+ ecosystem alive? That needed to change.

So after working 10 years as a full-time hydrologist and part time adventurer, I chose to combine the two things I am most passionate about into an exciting adventure science series.  I decided to start telling those stories.  To be honest, I am tired of just seeing beautiful pictures of landscapes, people staring off into the distance and then reading an inspirational quote. Instead, I am working to transform AH, and my impact in social media, into something that tells you the story about the world outside your window and how you can make it a better place.

What was my path to become a Hydrologist? Lots of school. A bunch of science. Years of work. Dedication to our natural world.  It was hard, but AH is actually much harder! Hahah!

 

Your Instagram feed is wonderful. What camera do you take your photos with?

Most of my photos are taken using a Sony Alpha 6000 and I do  have a couple of lenses that I switch through depending on what I am trying to capture. Because I travel solo more often than not, I typically have to mount my camera, hit the timer and have 10 seconds to get into the shot and prove I am there.  Plus, one of my most frequent travel partners, Coco, my chocolate lab, doesn’t hold a camera well.  Though her camera skills are limited, she makes up for it by being a great listener and better hiker than me.  So for camera mounts, I use a simple lightweight tripod and a gorillapod-like flexy tripod that I can wrap around trees, curve to rocks and even has fittings for my GoPros and Sony A6000 camera.

As for my YouTube Channel, Adventure Hydrology, I have two GoPro 5s and a DJI Drone that get the job done in a great way! They are robust, lightweight (not the drone necessarily) and are perfect for any adventurers gear bag.  I also have a gimbal that helps stabilize some of my GoPRO video shots and I recommend all adventurers have one.  They do a great job stabilizing landscape pans or more active shots when I am running and hiking.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to create great photos?

There are many adventure photographers out there who can give you great advice on how to take great pictures.  I know because I am always looking to take my photographic skills to the next level too and they are often a great reference for me. So instead of giving advice about how to take pictures, my advice would be to take the time to learn how to tell the story of what we are looking at.   Instagram is saturated with pictures of places like Horseshoe Bend and Angels Landing.  But not many photos tell the story of how they were created or what is happening to those places.  Maybe it’s just me, but when I see a picture, I always wonder how the landscape formed, how hard the hike was to get to that spot or why someone went there in the first place. A great picture is a great picture, especially overlooking vistas like Horseshoe Bend and Angels Landing.  But do you know the story behind why those vistas exist?  I do, but maybe we all should right?!

Where has been your favourite destination you have traveled to so far? Why?

For adventure, I am going to have to say Iceland in the winter.  On a recent expedition the island country, my brother and I battled Icelandic hurricanes, floated in boiling hot springs, crossed melting glaciers, gazed at the aurora, explored hidden ice caves, floated across an iceberg lagoon, ate fermented Icelandic shark and visited one of the most dynamic landscapes on earth.

Just for fun I would say Europe. It was a two week summer trip with stops in Amsterdam, Gent, London, Prague, Bratislava and a tour along Croatia’s scenic coast.  We met some great friends, had a bit too much fun at night and explored some of Europe’s amazing landscapes and cultures.

Who is your ideal travel companion?

My idea travel would probably be my brother.  He is smart, knows his way around a camp stove and loves exploring the outdoors as much as I do. Plus, we’ve traveled quite a bit together and we know how to discover adventure and make friends anywhere we go.  Whether we are walking around old town Bratislava, eating sushi in Japan, riding around Laos on horseback or summiting the west side of Mt Whitney, we are a damn good travel duo.

Where is next on your list of places to go to, and why?

My next journey will take me to Southwest Colorado to explore the San Juan Range of the Rockies. But I am also in the preplanning stages for adventures in Idaho, Northern Arizona, Utah, Washington State, Oregon, and California.  Actually, now that I write it all down in one place, I realize that’s a bunch of time on the road or in the air.

But I suppose the reason for the heavy travel is due to the fact that the west just had a terrible snow pack and darn near every state out here but Montana and Wyoming will be pretty dry this summer.  As a hydrologist, I think it is important for people to realize what’s happening with water, good or bad, and know how it will affect us and our environment simultaneously.  As for adventures, I am connecting with colleagues in those places to explore all things fun in nature. We have plans to white water raft, mountain climb, trail run, backpack across wilderness areas, explore grizzly bear habitat, work with volunteers to restore streams and even chat ocean based micro-plastics while camping along the Pacific Northwest’s Coastline.  It’s going to be a busy but fun summer and fall!

Describe your ideal day:

My ideal day would probably start somewhere in the mountains.  A sunrise hike to the top of a peak followed by a quick descent to our camp and breakfast.  From there, we would do some light swimming in the nearby creek, lake or hot springs.  After that perhaps a nap, a hike, or maybe just a beer and swing in a hammock.  There would be no need to carry your life on your back and no need to worry about food or water this trip.  The weather would be perfect and I would be surrounded by friends and family.  We would have freshly caught fish for dinner, some tasty craft beers and I would bring my guitar.  After the moon set, we would all go for a night time hike, find the best place to stare at the stars and get lost in existential conversation about life, love, the universe and nature. Not much of an “adventure” but you have to take it easy sometimes and recharge your spirit.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to travel?

Plan out your trips well, but be bold and change direction when you have the chance.  Always choose to embark on an unexpected adventure because, in my experience, they are always the most fun and the opportunity may not come again.

What do you never travel without?

I never travel without a map and a compass.  I would say; map, dog, and compass…. but sadly, some places don’t allow dogs.

Where has proven to be the most memorable for you?

Thailand is probably one of the more memorable places I’ve traveled to recently.  The days were hot, the monsoon mellow and the beaches beautiful.  In the morning we took scooters and toured the country side visiting any temple we passed along the way.  During the long warm evenings, we rock climbed karst towers that soared out of the ocean like limestone skyscrapers and fished off the coast as if we were locals. Thailand’s jungle was always welcoming and the sounds beneath its canopy beautifully silhouetted in the shade of vibrant green.

But as you may know, social media doesn’t really tell you the whole story.  When visiting paradise, it was impossible to miss its trash. Trash everywhere.  There were trash cans overflowing with garbage and ocean inlets covered in plastic waste.  When visiting one of the country’s National Parks, I watched as two monkeys fought over an orange soda. Hell, I actually have a picture of the winner as he bit into the Orange Crush, its carbonated orange spray spewing out the puncture wound.  It’s truly a beautiful county but like many places, the sad story is often replaced by the beautiful images we all hope to see for ourselves one day.

What is your first travel experience?

My first travel experiences were always with my folks back in the Midwest.  Since the state I am originally from touches 8 other states, trivia challenge for you, most of my early adventures were road trips.  We visited National Parks, Civil War battle sites, all the Great Lakes and just about any place we were learning about in school.  We even visited local cave systems, learned about regional geology and floated countless river miles to take about water.  To be honest, my parents are the ones who got me excited about history, science, travel and adventure in the first place. Those experiences set the stage for what Adventure Hydrology is today.  And one day I hope to instill the same excitement for learning and adventure into others.

If money and time were no object, where would you like to travel to?

If money and time were no object, I would climb “the Seven Summits” (aka – the tallest summits on each continent) and explore the North and South Poles… I’d count that as one long, cold trip.  Then I’d probably go live on a warm beach for a couple years to thaw out.

 

What valuable lessons have you learned “on the road”?

Most valuable lessons I’ve learned are:

  1. Always try to keep a half tank of gas in the tank because the mountains and desert are terrible places to get stuck.
  2. Get healthy snacks because they make “pit” stops more enjoyable.
  3. Stay organized because if not, you will be digging in every bag for that one damn chord you need.
  4. Enjoy time on the road by yourself, but make sure to make friends everywhere you visit.
  5. Take your dog… they are great travel buddies and keep you warm when your car runs out of gas in the mountains or desert.

 

Make sure you follow Chris’ adventure on Instagram: @adventurehydrology

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkgji24qYW8vBG9tMaaT77w

Blog: http://adventurehydrology.com/