It was my last morning at Jasper and I decided to try and capture sunrise from Glory Hole–a location I’d visited in the afternoon of Day 7 that I thought would make a fine shooting location at first light, so I got up extra early and made the approximately 15-mile drive in the gloom to the location I’d recorded on my GPS the previous day. I hung out at the spot for some time, but–though it got brighter–it was far too cloudy for there to be any sunrise that morning, so I grudgingly gave up and made my way back to Jasper with the intention of checking out of the motel and making my way down the Icefields Parkway in the direction of Athabasca Falls.
But while I was driving back toward the town of Jasper on the Yellowhead Highway, I noticed that the sky was doing some interesting things to the northeast. It wasn’t sunrise light per se, but as I approached one of the Yellowhead Highway bridges that crosses the Athabasca River, I pulled off the road, made my way down to the river bank and captured the image you see below.
I made my way back to town, checked out of the hotel, filled the gas tank (very important, since the next gas station was at Lake Louise Village, more than 150 miles away) and began the trek south on the Icefields Parkway. The first 50-odd miles covered terrain that I’d passed on the way to Jasper, back on Day 4, in the dark, so it was really my first look at this spot. I didn’t make it all that far.
On a large bend in the road I saw a beautiful meadow to my right, and even though there wasn’t a pullout I stopped–well off the shoulder of the road. I spent quite a bit of time at this spot, making the most of the stands of aspen mixed with pristine conifers and an attractive background of mountains and partly cloudy sky. The light was soft and was a lovely complement to the setting.
After shooting (relatively) wide I pulled out my second camera body with the 80-400 mm lens attached and spent some time working with tighter perspectives.
Once again I was left to marvel at the photographer’s paradise that is the region known as the Canadian Rockies. Here I was at an unmarked, essentially unrecognized spot and I could have spent most of the day here making images, if I’d had the time. All of the shots in this sequence were made without moving more than 75 feet from my parked vehicle.
It was mid-morning by this time and I reluctantly got back in the car and headed back down the parkway. My next stop was Athabasca Falls–a popular location for the many tour buses that zip up and down the parkway. The falls area wasn’t too crowded when I arrived and after walking the short distance from the parking area to the falls viewing area I sized up the location.
Athabasca Falls is a gusher of a waterfall, but it’s difficult to obtain what I’d term a clear, full view. Ultimately, I spent most of my time working on sectional compositions, most of which I subsequently converted to black and white, as you can see below.
I then focused my attention on telephoto shots of the Athabasca River above the falls.
I gradually made my way upriver along a trail that skirts the bank, and worked my way over to a rocky shore for a wider perspective of the scene.
As I made my way back towards the parking area, I stopped on a bridge just below the falls which looks into the slot canyon that sits downriver. There was someone in a kayak who was serving as a model for a group–I honestly couldn’t tell if they were preparing for a photo shoot or what (there was no equipment in place, but a lot of the talk among the participants sounded photo-ish)–in the rapids of the slot canyon. The people up on the rim were occasionally trying to communicate with the kayaker, but he obviously couldn’t understand what they were saying over the roar of the waterfall, the sound of which must have been amplified by the echo bouncing off the canyon walls. Regardless, the kayaker must have been highly experienced because he was holding his own under some rather gnarly-looking conditions. I took a moment to pull out my equipment and capture the scene.
I had spent nearly two hours at Athabasca Falls and it was pushing noon as I moved along. As had been the case on my northward drive on the Icefields Parkway several days prior, I found myself stopping frequently at the many pullouts.
At one of these stops, a huge glacier was the main attraction. At this location, I worked exclusively with a telephoto lens to compress the elements of the distant scene.
The river floodplain in the valley below also made for an interesting patterned shot, I thought.
I took a short road off the parkway to have a look at Sunwapta Falls, another gusher of a waterfall with limited views. I couldn’t find a way to capture the falls in full without incorporating objectionable elements, so I worked the top of the falls, and the Sunwapta River above them.
This was Upper Sunwapta Falls. I wanted to hike the trail down the canyon to Lower Sunwapta Falls and photograph there as well, but it was mid-afternoon by this time and I knew that, between the round-trip hike (roughly 2 1/2 miles) and time spent shooting, I’d lose the better part of two hours and I had to be at the Aurum Lodge, for the start of the tour I was joining, before 5 PM. From my current spot, if I drove without stopping, I’d probably arrive at the lodge after 3:30, and, really, given the scenery and my predilections, what were the odds that I wouldn’t stop again? So I headed back to the car and resumed the drive.
Eventually I stopped at a location called Hilda Ridge, which provided interesting views of Hilda Creek on both sides of the parkway.
Finally, I stopped perhaps 15 miles north of Saskatchewan Crossing where low-hanging clouds were clinging to the mountainside, above the tapestry of aspens, east of the roadway.
I was still roughly an hour short of the lodge and it was approximately 3 PM. I told myself–no more stops!–and I behaved. I continued south on the Icefields Parkway until I reached Saskatchewan Crossing and then took a left on Highway 11, exiting Banff National Park after a couple of miles. This was my first look at David Thompson Country and I was impressed with the scenery and the emptiness of the area as I made my way 30-odd miles east toward the lodge. There were almost literally no services or residences of any kind for the duration of the drive. This was a remote area.
I reached the lodge at about 4:15, met one of my Aurum Lodge hosts, Alan Ernst, who got me checked in and settled. I joined the other tour participants at around 5. (For a more complete overview of the tour itself, go here.) After some brief introductions and some words from Royce Howland, the tour leader, about what to expect, we piled into a couple of vehicles and made a 15-odd minute drive to the west–the direction I’d come from–on the highway for a sunset shoot at the Kootenay Plains.
This became one of my favorite locations of the entire trip–not just the tour, the whole 13-day excursion, including my time on my own. I’ll likely have more to say about this topic in a dedicated “thematic interruption” piece at some point, but suffice to say for now that I was as taken with the various meadow locations that I experienced in the Canadian Rockies as any scenic genre it was my pleasure to witness, be it the Hillsdale Meadows, the Opabin Plateau, the Bow River Outlet Trail, the Palisades Picnic Area or the unnamed meadow that I’d spent time in that very morning along the Icefields Parkway south of the town of Jasper. The Kootenay Plains was as breathtaking a spot as any of these, perhaps more so given the incredibly open, big sky feel of the place. There were stands of aspen and conifers in a broad, grassy pasture ringed by snow-capped peaks with fast moving cloud formations above and, quite literally, 360 degrees worth of spectacular views. It was almost overwhelming. Almost.
As the sun went down the cloud formations lit up, one-by-one. The best locations to frame the views in different locations required a fair amount of movement. I did some of this, but as I was brand new to the location, rather than running around like the proverbial chicken (without the proverbial head), once I sized up the place I confined myself, mostly, to one comparatively small area, best to capture the effects of the rapidly changing light.
I simply couldn’t get over how wonderfully the elements of this location naturally conformed to my compositional desires. For someone as used to cluttered environments as I am, I was like a kid in a candy store. It was almost as though I’d been given the opportunity to arrange the various elements of the scene in advance.
Before we knew it, the blue hour was upon as us. As if on cue, the moon rose, putting a cap on yet another extremely long, almost scarily memorable day of photography in the Canadian Rockies.
As the last light dropped away and we prepared to leave, I asked Royce if we’d have the opportunity to revisit this spot before the end of the tour and he assured me that we would–which I was very pleased to hear.