Having been completely shut out of sunrise/sunset opportunities over a period of four days and with a forecast of completely overcast skies beckoning for a fifth, I nonetheless arose early enough to make my way to Pyramid Lake Road in the hopes of getting lucky at Patricia Lake. As I prepared to head out I glanced at the sky from the dark parking lot of the motel I was staying at–no stars were visible. Not a promising sign.
I hadn’t had the opportunity to scout the location the day before, but the route to Patricia Lake via Pyramid Lake Road appeared to be a short and easy to follow one, and it proved to be so. In a matter of less than 10 minutes, the narrow, winding road emerged from behind a thick grove of trees to reveal a good-sized body of water to the left. There was some ambient light by this time and I good see that the surface was glass-like, which meant that there was no wind to speak of. Unfortunately, it was mostly reflecting cloudy skies.
It was quite chilly–below 40 F according to the car’s outside thermometer–but the lack of wind kept it from being too unpleasant. I pulled off on the side of the road behind a parked vehicle and climbed down a short embankment to scout the location. There was a narrow, sandy beach and I found a few partially emergent rocks in the shallows to use as foreground objects. There was plenty of coniferous growth lining much of the far shore and a beautiful pocket of aspens, at peak color, ahead and to my right. The air/water temperature contrast was producing a light mist at the lake surface. I could see part of the lower slope of Pyramid Mountain behind the forest, but the peak was entirely shrouded by low-hanging clouds. Still, if anything happened as day break approached, this looked like a very promising spot. I went back to the car for my gear and returned to the recently discovered shoreline spot, set up and waited to see if something would happen.
It didn’t look good. It got brighter, of course, but that only appeared to have the effect of making it easier to see all the clouds. A photographer, from Edmonton, set up about 40 feet to my left and, since we didn’t have anything to do but wait and hope, we chatted a bit. We were both keeping an eye on the scene as we talked, and after some time–I’m not sure how much–passed, I noticed a small opening in the direction of Pyramid Mountain’s peak. The opening got bigger and, for 15 minutes or so, we were treated to something pretty special.
The clouds never completely lifted, or even appeared to have the promise to do so, but they did allow the peak, with beautiful direct light–apparently there wasn’t much opaque above the low cloud cover–to emerge.
While this was going on, I pulled out my second camera body, with the 80-400 telephoto lens attached, to produce a peak portrait of the scene. (It’s remarkable how convenient it is to have a pair of identical camera bodies, with different focal length lenses attached, precisely to be able to make quick switches like this. I did this repeatedly during the trip–which will be the subject of a subsequent “interruption” post–to great effect.)
After a few minutes, the clouds started to pick up color from the rising sun–you can see a hint of this in the above image–and I went back to the wider angle camera/lens.
The show was over in a matter of minutes as the gap in the clouds closed up, hiding Pyramid Mountain and leaving the entire scene in even light. I pulled the telephoto rig back out to do some reflection work with the trees on the other side of Patricia Lake.
With the even light of overcast promising to hold for at least a while, I decided to investigate the aspen forest sitting between Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake, a bit further down the road. This would be perfect light for working deep forest scenes and details (fitting in perfectly with the theme that I blogged about in my last post), so I decided to take advantage of it by moving the car down to the far end of Patricia Lake and simply wading into the forest.
A trail follows the shore through the trees, but the aspen forest that abuts the lake is essentially trackless. I simply wandered in and started looking for compositions.
Potential shots in dense forest settings like this lurk almost everywhere, but it takes some care to tease a signal out of the considerable “noise” formed by the ubiquitous clutter. When working with the trees themselves, I typically focus on patterns formed by the trunks and the interruption of those patterns, created in this case by the occasional small conifer.
Between glances at the trees, I turned my attention to the forest floor–a favorite source of mine for intimate compositions.
It was mid-morning by the time I returned to the car, but it was still completely cloudy, so I moved another 1/2 mile or so down the road, to the southern edge of Pyramid Lake, and explored the other edge of the aspen forest via the nearly unmarked Wildland Trail. The light remained perfect and I found myself with slightly more room to work with than had been the case in the part of the woods adjacent to Patricia Lake.
Again, the forest floor, covered with fallen aspen leaves, held some hidden gems…
…and the trail itself was a willing subject.
It was late morning by the time I wrapped up at the Wildland Trail and still cloudy, so I continued along to Pyramid Lake and did some scouting, along the east shore of the lake itself and then on Pyramid Island. The wind had picked up by this point, killing reflections, so I didn’t do any shooting. I ultimately drove to the end of the road and then hiked roughly a mile to the Pyramid Lake outlet stream. A momentary break in the clouds brought the disk of the sun into view.
After returning to the car, I decided to clear out of the Pyramid Lake area and perhaps check out Maligne Canyon, in another part of Jasper National Park–the overcast conditions would be perfect for that area. But on the way back towards the town of Jasper, while still on Pyramid Lake Road, I noticed some ducks in a boggy area called Cottonwood Slough, on the west side of the road. The reflections of nearby aspens produced some nice color on the surface of the water so I stopped, donned my rubber boots and waded partway into the soggy marsh.
After leaving the edge of the marsh I took a good look back at the slough itself, with its snags and yellow heath and decided that it made for a nice landscape image. I was just beginning to see signs of clearing in the sky and was beginning to wonder if the overcast would soon be a thing of the past.
Looking to the right of Cottonwood Slough, I noticed that the clearing skies were just beginning to reveal the peak of Pyramid Mountain, as had happened at daybreak at Patricia Lake. The wind had died back down and I wondered if there was anywhere on the watery surface of the slough that a reflection could be obtained. I waded back into the tall grass and made my along the water’s edge until I found what I was looking for.
By the time I extracted myself from the marsh for the second time, it was obvious that the overcast skies were a thing of the past. So, I changed plans again and drove back toward Pyramid Lake in the hopes of reclaiming some of the reflections that had disappeared earlier. I walked almost the entire length of the eastern shore of the lake and found a few good spots along the way. (I spotted some loons, but I was unable to get a shot of them before they swam around a bend in the lake and disappeared.)
While I was sizing up the shot you see immediately above, I heard a sploosh noise and then the sound of someone paddling. I was perched high up on a ridge, amidst a thick stand of trees, overlooking Pyramid Lake and after a short time, a kayaker came into view. The light was pretty harsh, but I really liked the composition, which had a real storytelling feel to it, and nabbed the image you see below.
It was nearing mid-afternoon by the time I decided to put a wrap on the Pyramid Lake Road area; I’d been on the gr0und there for seven or eight hours–at least twice as much time as I had anticipated. I decided to spend the duration of the afternoon checking out Highway 93A, a lightly traveled road that runs alongside the Athabasca River and several small lakes. It’s also the access route for the road up to Mount Edith Cavell. I planned to shoot sunrise at Mt. Edith Cavell the next day and wanted to scout the area–and perhaps do some shooting–at or near sunset so I’d know what I’d be facing.
But first I drove the length of Highway 93A, scouted several of the lakes for possible future visits and ultimately shot at several spots along the Athabasca River. The first was at the Meeting of the Waters Picnic area, where two arms of the Athabasca River come together. Access to the riverside is quite easy at this location, and I spent some time working several compositions. The sky was almost completely clear at this point, but I found the scene quite enticing.
A couple of miles back up the road I found another river view that I liked and climbed down near the river’s edge to work the scene.
I liked what the shadows cast by the trees along the riverbank was doing on the water and thought a black and white conversion might work. due to the natural contrast of the scene.
It was about two hours before sunset when I decided to make my way up the road to Mt. Edith Cavell. The road is roughly nine windy miles long, and climbs up to a considerable height. Less than a mile from the end of the road is a parking area that provides access to a trail head that leads the hiker, after a very short distance, to the outflow stream of Cavell Lake. I took a quick look down there and was very impressed with the view of the mountain from several spots along the lake shore. I would return there before sunset.
I got back in the car and drove the final 3/4 of a mile or so to the parking area at the end of the road. From here, a trail allows you to approach Cavell Pond, which sits immediately below Cavell Glacier and Mt. Edith Cavell itself.
(If you’re unfamiliar with Edith Cavell, for whom the mountain was named in 1916, go here.)
I had been under the impression that a trail went right down to the edge of Cavell Pond, and at one time it did, but after one of the the three glaciers that surround Mt. Edith Cavell collapsed a few years ago, flooding the entire area all the way back to Cavell Lake, access to the pond has been restricted and the trail down to the pond–which was destroyed in the flood, hasn’t been rebuilt. The trail now ends roughly 500 yards above the pond, and there are ropes set up and signs warning of the danger of advancing beyond the viewpoint. This doesn’t stop everyone; when I got to the viewpoint, I could see two people down at the pond. As badly as I wanted to go down there–the photo ops must be phenomenal–I didn’t, even when the area was entirely deserted as sunset approached, when I could have picked my way down there undetected. I’ve been around too many photographers who incessantly complain about what “tourons” are doing to ruin their picture-taking opportunities but who show absolutely no compunction about breaking all sorts of rules when it suits them and seem oblivious to the hypocrisy of all this. In any event, disappointing though it was, I made do with the area around the viewpoint itself.
Along the trail on the way back to the parking area, I found another composition, using a rushing stream for foreground interest, that I found appealing.
It was less than 30 minutes before sunset when I retraced my steps back to Cavell Lake. From there, I made the day’s final images. There were very few clouds in the sky this evening, but the light was sublime, even though the best images of Mt. Edith Cavell are made at sunrise, not sunset.
It had taken five days, but I finally had evidence of a sunrise–and sunset–in the Canadian Rockies. The forecast for the following morning was for clear skies. Not ideal for sunrise, but better than socked in clouds. My plan was to make the long trek back up to Cavell Lake in time for civil twilight.
Next: The Canadian Rockies, Day 6 – Mt. Edith Cavell at Sunrise, Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake (and Wildlife!)