Posted by: kerryl29 | February 1, 2016

Thematic Interruption: The Imposing Mountain Conundrum

There’s a natural, entirely understandable, tendency to pull out the wide angle lens when photographing in the mountains; there’s an awful lot of beauty to behold.  I certainly partook in plenty of wide angle mountain photography while in the Canadian Rockies each of the past two autumns, particularly when composing from the edge of lakes and streams.

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

While going wide has the obvious advantage of bringing in potentially attractive elements like colorful skies and reflections, but there’s a potential downside as well.  One of the incontrovertible influences of nearby mountains is the unmistakable imposing feel.  Mountains loom over the scene in a manner that’s difficult to describe with words.  It’s difficult to demonstrate with images as well.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

The thing about wide angle lenses is that background objects–like looming mountain peaks–are reduced in presented size and, by extension, visual impact.  Of course, you can pull out a long telephoto lens and produce a “peak portrait,” something I do fairly frequently myself.

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

While peak portraits can be vert attractive, they frequently fail to impart the majestic emotion of the mountains, principally because they omit elements that clearly produce a sense of scale as well as a three dimensional feel.

Mt. Abraham Details, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Abraham Details, David Thompson Country, Alberta

My sense is that a kind of happy medium is needed.  The inclusion of a foreground object–or objects, plural–without resorting to the distortion of a wide angle perspective is the best route.  A short to medium telephoto lens is the optic of choice; a 70-200 mm zoom is just about a perfect option.  Not every scene will allow for something like this, but when the elements come together, it can work wonderfully.

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larch Valley, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larch Valley, Banff National Park, Alberta

The method typically works best when there’s a shooting perspective with some elevation–an overlook, or something similar, giving you enough room to make what is a mid-ground element to the naked eye appear as a foreground element through the lens.

Valley Fog, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Valley Fog, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Elliot Peak from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

In principle, there’s no reason the same approach can’t be used for another object serving in the role of the mountain–a tall building, a rock pinnacle, a single tall tree.

Regardless, consider keeping this option in mind when you want to try and convey the formidable nature of a towering background edifice.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 26, 2016

Canadian Rockies Day 10: Down Time

When I’m on a photo trip, there’s invariably at least one day while I’m on site that involves a dearth of photography, for one reason or another.  On this particular trip, this was one of those days.

Day 10 was the third–and final–day that I had reserved access to the Lake O’Hara area.  Given the success I’d experienced on Days 6 and 7 on the  Opabin Plateau, I’d planned to spend Day 10 making the hike from O’Hara to Lake McArthur.  Weather permitting, that is.  And there lies the rub.  The forecast for Day 10 was for a significant chance of rain, beginning late morning.  I decided that, if it was precipitating when it was time to board the 10:30 bus, I’d pass.  (I had no interest in reliving the previous year’s experience.)  If not, I’d go.

I had a few hours between day break and the bus departure and I decided to spend sunrise at nearby Herbert Lake–just a few miles north of Lake Louise Village on the Icefields Parkway.  Herbert Lake is a very pretty setting–a small kettle lake, surrounded by conifers, with the Bow Range in the background.  I’d photographed at this location twice the previous year, but always in mostly cloudy conditions.  I hoped that this morning would be different, though the forecast wasn’t at all promising.

It was still dark–and the parking lot was deserted–when I arrived at Herbert Lake, but I could see the hint of first light to the east.  I could also see a mostly cloudy sky.  I wandered along the edge of the lake, found what I felt was a favorable spot, and waited, hoping that a break in the clouds might lead to some interesting light.  I got about 15 minutes of just that.

Herbert Lake at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

I started seeing some clearing even before the sun rose above the horizon and experienced some very nice color in the sky at dawn.

Herbert Lake at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

When the sun finally pierced the horizon, there was a few minutes of beautiful light on the Bow Range, even as thickening layers of clouds rolled in from the west.

Herbert Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

The window that allowed direct light on the mountains remained open just long enough…

Herbert Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Within two or three minutes of the time the above image was made, the cloud window closed…and it never re-opened during the remainder of the day.  Moral of the story–be there.  If I’d taken the sunrise forecast as gospel, I would have missed out on this memorable early morning photo opportunity.

I still made a few images during what was left of the pre-bus departure morning.  I drove about 10 miles up the parkway to photograph a mossy waterfall at the edge of the road in the even, overcast light.

Mossy Waterfall, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mossy Waterfall, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

On the way back, toward the O’Hara departure area, I stopped along the side of the road to produce a couple of additional shots of the Bow Range.

Bow Range, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Range, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Pines & Larches, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Pines & Larches, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was cloudy and breezy, but there was still no rain falling when I arrived at the O’Hara parking lot, so I reluctantly got on the bus.  The reason for my reluctance was that I couldn’t believe the rain would hold off much longer.  Unfortunately, I was right; it started raining moments after the bus reached the Le Relais shelter.  It remained fairly light for roughly 30 minutes–during which time I wandered the Lake O’Hara circuit trail.  Plans to head to Lake McArthur were tabled, as I was positive I would regret going out on the open trail, with no shelter available.  That turned out to be prescient as the rain slowly increased in intensity.  I rapidly made my way back to Le Relais and, within a minute or two of my arrival, it started to pour.  I remained almost entirely dry and simply waited for the first bus back down to the parking area.  It was a wait of a couple of hours, but at least I stayed dry (and relatively warm, as the temperature dropped).  It was disappointing to have this final day of O’Hara access ruined, but since it hadn’t come as a surprise, and since it had followed on the heels of two very good days up on the Plateau, it wasn’t devastatingly disappointing.

I was back down at the parking area at roughly 2 PM.  It was still raining, and pretty hard at that.  I did something I hadn’t done during the entire trip (and wouldn’t do again)–I retreated back to my hotel room mid-day; it was less than 15 minutes away.  After about an hour, the rain appeared to decrease, and I headed back out.  It was still completely cloudy, and damp, but the rain was light and intermittent.  I decided to return to Yoho and head up to Takkakaw Falls.  This was to be my last day in the greater Lake Louise area and would be my last chance to photograph Takkakaw, so I decided to take it.

There was a lot of wafting mist as I drove up the Yoho Valley Road (Takkakaw lies at the end of the road), so I stopped, in light rain, at a couple of spots to make a few images.

Valley Fog, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Valley Fog, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Valley Fog, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Valley Fog, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

By the time I reached the Takkakaw parking area, the rain had stopped completely, thought it appeared as though it could start again at any time.  I made my way up the trail that leads to the falls and wandered down to the outlet stream to produce some images.

Takkakaw Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Takkakaw Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Takkakaw Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Takkakaw Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

After I finished at the falls, I retreated back to the car and, as I was preparing to stow my gear, discovered that the front lens cap for my 24-70 mm lens was missing.  I checked my pockets, fully expecting to find it.  Nope.  Checked my bag.  Nope.  Checked on the ground near the car.  Nothing.  I then retraced my steps all the way back to the falls, covering all of the different routes I’d taken previously–I never found it.  This was a problem.  I had several more days on the trip, and then a plane ride back to Chicago in my immediate future.  I couldn’t imagine keeping the front element of the lens clean and undamaged during that time without a front cap.  If need be, I could put a clear filter on the lens, but that would create a number of in-field workflow problems.  I needed a cap, but where was I going to get it out here?  And on a Friday night.  I was sure I could get a replacement in Calgary, but that was a 5-6 hour (minimum) round trip drive, and it was already too late in the day to make that happen.  And the next day I was scheduled to head north–away from Calgary–in the direction of Jasper.

Then it occurred to me–perhaps there was a camera store in Banff.  I’d driven through the town a couple of times earlier in the trip and it certainly looked like the kind of place that might have a real camera store.  I raced back to the hotel to access the Web and, sure enough, found a listing for a camera store.  Based on the store’s website, it appeared to be a full service facility…and it was open until 9 PM–giving me more than two hours to get there.  It meant giving up on a sunset shoot, but considering that the skies were entirely overcast, that didn’t appear to be much of a sacrifice.  I called the store, verified that they had a suitable replacement cap for sale, and high-tailed down the Trans-Canada Highway to make the purchase.  I found the store with minimal difficulty, made the purchase, and was back in my hotel room, with a capped lens, by roughly 9 PM.  Crisis averted.

Before I hit the sack that night, I moved some of my bags into the trunk of my rental car, making it easier to hit the road very early the following morning.  I had an extremely early morning planned, intent as I was to head far up the Icefields Parkway for sunrise, a prelude to my journey to Jasper on Day 11.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 19, 2016

The Canadian Rockies Day 9: Memories of a Lifetime

The Icefields Parkway stretches 144 miles (232 km) between Lake Louise in the south and Jasper in the north, providing access to a nearly infinite number of beautiful places.  On Day 9, I decided to spend some time working the southern half of the parkway for the bulk of the day, followed by a late shoot on the Kootenay Plains–about 20 miles east of the parkway at Saskatchewan Crossing on Highway 11.

I started with a sunrise shoot at the Bow River Outlet.  You’ll recall that an attempt at a sunrise shoot there on Day 3 was abrogated given the inability to find the trailhead in the dark.  Later that same day, in broad daylight, the trailhead was easily found and I marked the spot on my GPS.  As a result, I had no trouble finding the trail in the pitch dark on Day 9.  I headed down the path–which drops down below the road bed–and within no more than 300 feet ran into a problem.  Despite a working headlamp, I couldn’t follow the trail, which goes unmarked through a damp, mottled, rocky area, before becoming evident again after several hundred additional feet.  I probed around and could find no sign of the trail.  I decided to take a chance and more or less blindly head in a direction that felt right…and was rewarded when I found the extension of the trail.  The remainder of the 2/3 mile route was fairly easily traversed, despite some patches of ice in a few spots.  The light was just beginning to come up when I reached the water.

The Bow River Outlet is the precise spot where the Bow River drains Bow Lake and it lies in a stunning setting.

Bow River Outlet at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

I set up and simply waited for the light.

Bow River Outlet at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Jimmy Simpson from the Bow River Outlet at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Jimmy Simpson from the Bow River Outlet at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

There weren’t as many clouds to the north as I would have liked, but the light remained very nice for quite some time.

Bow River Outlet at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

As the sun came up, I continued to alternate between a wide angle lens and a telephoto, and turned my attention in other directions.  The skies were far more interesting to the southwest.

Bow River Outlet Reflections, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet Reflections, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain from the Bow River Outlet Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain from the Bow River Outlet Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

When I was done at the Bow River Outlet, I returned to the car and drove a very short distance–about a mile–north on the Icefields Parkway to the Crowfoot Glacier Overlook.  Rather than trying to photograph from the overlook pullout, I carefully hiked down a steep slope to what appeared to be a trailhead.  That trail led, in short order, to a number of spots along the Bow Lake shore, providing jaw dropping views of Crowfoot Mountain and Glacier in the still beautiful morning light.

Bow Lake Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Lake Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

A total absence of wind made for nearly perfect reflections.

Crowfoot Mountain from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I followed the unofficial trail system through the forest and checked several different spots along the lake, each of which provided a slightly different perspective.

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

My next stop was Observation Ponds, a marshy area near Bow Summit that I’d scouted in unfavorable conditions on Day 3.  I donned my boots to get into position in this wetland and waited out the burgeoning breeze, which was causing the tall grasses to blow and producing copious ripples in the water.  With patience, I was ultimately able to prevail.

Mt. Jimmy Simpson from Observation Ponds, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Jimmy Simpson from Observation Ponds, Banff National Park, Alberta

I continued north along the parkway, and stopped as I approached the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River.  Here the photographer is  treated to sweeping views of the Howse Valley.  I first ventured onto the bridge itself.

North Saskatchewan River from Icefields Parkway Bridge, Banff National Park, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River from Icefields Parkway Bridge, Banff National Park, Alberta

Then I ventured down below the bridge and made my way along the rocky shore to check out the view from river level.

North Saskatchewan River Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Shoreline Rocks Intimate, North Saskatchewan River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Shoreline Rocks Intimate, North Saskatchewan River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Back on the parkway, I went still further north, beyond Saskatchewan River Crossing to the Glacier Lake trailhead.  My goal wasn’t to go all the way to Glacier Lake itself–a roundtrip of roughly 11 miles–but rather as a way to access another portion of the North Saskatchewan River.  It’s only 1 km (roughly 0.6 miles) to the bridge over the river, and I was there in no time.  After surveying the spot, I crossed the footbridge and  found a spot from which I carefully climbed down to the boulder-strewn shore line without much difficulty.

North Saskatchewan River from Glacier Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River from Glacier Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

I eventually climbed back up to the trail, re-crossed the bridge and then wandered a kilometer or so downstream (i.e. southeast) on an unofficial trail that paralleled the river, stopping on several occasions to make images.

North Saskatchewan River from Glacier Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River from Glacier Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River from Glacier Lake Trail Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River from Glacier Lake Trail Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

After wandering around for awhile, I eventually returned to the Glacier Lake trail parking area.  By now, it was late afternoon.  I headed back to the south on the parkway, stopping briefly at a pullout to photograph the aspens on the slopes of Mt. Coleman.

Mt. Coleman Aspens, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Coleman Aspens, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Coleman Aspens, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Coleman Aspens, Banff National Park, Alberta

I continued south to Saskatchewan River Crossing, reaching the junction with Highway 11.  I headed east from there, out of Banff National Park and into the Bighorn Wilderness–David Thompson Country.  This was the locus of activity for the photo tour I joined the previous year.  That experience had provided me more than a bit of insight to this area, particularly the Kootenay Plains, which had captivated me.  I had always planned to return to this location while on this trip and the evening of Day 9 was my opportunity.  Before making my way to the Plains, about 20 miles down Highway 11 from the Crossing, I stopped at Whirlpool Point–a spot we’d visited on the tour.

I’d found Whirlpool Point quite challenging as a photographic locale and wanted to see if a return visit would yield better results.  For the most part, I found it as difficult the second time as I had the first.

North Saskatchewan River from Whirlpool Point Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

North Saskatchewan River from Whirlpool Point Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The stop at whirlpool point did afford me the opportunity to get a good look at a huge ram, but he wandered off before I could get out my camera with the telephoto lens.  I had to satisfy myself with a few shots of the scenery.

Isolated Conifers, Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Isolated Conifers, Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks from Whirlpool Point Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks from Whirlpool Point Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett from Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett from Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Sunset was now no more than two hours off and, unable to contain myself any longer, I jumped back in the car and made the relatively short drive to the main source of interest for me–the aspen groves at the Kootenay Plains.  We’d visited this area twice during the tour and I couldn’t get enough of the place.  This time, I was visiting a bit earlier in the year–about a week–so the aspens were essentially at peak color.  I also had the place all to myself (aside from the odd passing vehicle on the highway I never saw a hint of another human being; this only added to the ambiance) and on this occasion I ran out of light before I ran out of subjects to photograph.

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The Kootenay Plains lie on both sides of Highway 11, with low barbed wire fencing (which can easily be cleared) lining each side of the road.  I went back and forth between the two sides several times and was constantly shifting between wide angle and telephoto lenses.

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

There was a fair amount of wind here, but I was, for the most part, able to obtain sufficient shutter speeds to render that fact moot.

Wind-Blown Aspens, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Wind-Blown Aspens, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The Plains are marked by tall prairie grasses, stands of aspen and conifers, 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks and big skies.

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As you can see, the moon rose while I was on location, making for an added element of interest for east-facing perspectives.

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I spent my time, with ever-changing light, simply wandering around the Plains, compelling compositions staring me in the face at every turn.

Wind-Blown Aspens, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Wind-Blown Aspens, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Just before the light began to fade, I noticed compelling sky conditions behind me and ran across the road one more time.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Dusk, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Dusk, David Thompson Country, Alberta

And with that, the photographic day came to an end.  It was roughly a 90-minute drive back to Lake Louise in the gathering darkness–this distance was, in fact, the only reason I could think of not to return to the Kootenay Plains, and obviously it wasn’t enough to keep me away–but I didn’t care a bit.  What was an hour-and-a-half drive compared to visual memories that would last a lifetime?

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 11, 2016

Lake O’Hara – Hiking Options and Planning Considerations

I’ve received some questions via e-mail about the Lake O’Hara experience generally and about planning a visit to the area specifically.  Another inquiry, by quietsolopursuits, in a comment to the Day 8 chronology post, convinced me that it was time to write a piece that discusses the nuts and bolts of such an endeavor–at least, as best as I can describe them based on personal experience and what I’ve been told by others who have spent considerably more time in the Lake O’Hara area than my four days over the past couple of years.  (Please understand, I’m not an expert on this subject and don’t pretend to be; there are plenty of people out there who have forgotten more about the Lake O’Hara experience than I’ll ever know, but between my limited personal experience and my ability to relate what I’ve learned from others, I hope that what follows will be of some use to those of you considering a trip to O’Hara.)

So, let’s jump in with both feet.

The Lay of the Land

Let’s start by taking a peek at an overview of the area’s geography.

lake_ohara_map(I recommend right-clicking on the map image and opening a much larger version of it in another tab or window so that you can easily follow along with specific directions and notations that will appear in the text below.)

Access to Lake O’Hara from the Trans-Canada highway–regardless of whether you obtain a reservation on the bus or you hike in–comes southbound via  the Lake O’Hara Access Road (an unpaved fire road), the last two miles (3.2 km) or so of which you can see emanating from the top-center of the map.  (The parking lot for Lake O’Hara is well-marked and lies on a short spur road about halfway between Lake Louise Village, Alberta and Field, British Columbia, on the Trans-Canada Highway.)  The full length of the O’Hara access road, from the parking lot is approximately six miles (11 km) and it’s uphill all the way.  It’s not a particularly steep uphill climb–remember, it’s navigable, in both directions, by an ordinary school bus–and the “trail” is really a road, but it’s a long trek, particularly if you’re hauling photo (and other) gear–and you should be.  Keep in mind that the end of a hike to Lake O’Hara via the access road is simply the beginning of the adventure because the attraction once you reach the lake itself is a series of additional hikes–almost all of which are fairly long and quite arduous.  Starting one’s day with a six-mile uphill hike and a full pack is an ambitious undertaking, but not out of the realm of possibility as long as you’re in good physical shape and you get an early start.  (Keep in mind that this entire area is of the high elevation variety; Lake O’Hara itself–essentially the low spot of the immediate region–is nearly 7000 feet (2115 m) above sea level; most of the trails access spots considerably higher than that, so if you aren’t used to the “thin air” of these alpine areas, you’ll need to acclimate yourself.)

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to hike back down to the parking area.  You don’t need a reservation to take the outgoing bus from Lake O’Hara (though you do need to have cash to pay for the ride–in 2015, it was $10 CN for a one-way outgoing bus ride).

The bus up to the lake makes two stops.  The first is at the entrance to the Lake O’Hara campground.  The second, no more than 1/2 mile (0.8 km) further up the road, is the Le Relais Day Shelter.  If you’re up on a day pass, this is where you’ll disembark (and, upon return, board) the bus.  Le Relais is located just steps away from the northwest shore of Lake O’Hara, as you can see on the linked map.  This is the nerve center for the extensive series of hiking trails that permeate the area.

Hiking in the Lake O’Hara Area

There are a number of hikes that you can make and every single one of them provides direct access to absolutely stunning scenery.  All but one of the hikes is relatively lengthy and comparatively difficult.  The exception is the Lake O’Hara Circuit (Trail #25 on the map), which circles the lake.  It’s fairly short (1.7 mi; 2.8 km) and has only minor changes in elevation.  The only portion of the trail that’s even moderately difficult is the need to cross a rocky moraine located on the southeastern edge of the lake, but even that part of the route is well-marked and, when dry, nothing more than a tiny inconvenience.  I’ve hiked this trail a couple of times (on the same day as I’ve done other, much more difficult hikes) and it’s very easy and provides marvelous views of this beautiful lake and the surrounding forests, streams and peaks from every possible perspective.

Lake O'Hara Canoe Dock, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara Canoe Dock, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

There are a series of highline hikes that are accessible in the area, including (but not limited to) Huber Ledges/Winwaxy Gap (#11), Yukness Ledges (#28) and the All Soul’s Alpine Route (#1).  I haven’t hiked any of the alpine trails, principally due to lack of time and the amount of gear that I’m carrying.  Many of these trails require some degree of scrambling over scree slopes or boulder fields and I just didn’t think that was a great idea given that I’m hauling a pack full of gear and clutching a tripod.  These trails are also completely exposed to the elements and they have a tendency to ice up fairly easily.  They are, however, absolutely breathtaking, according to all accounts, and if I ever get back to the area (with a much smaller photo kit), I will almost certainly try several of them–I’m particularly smitten by the route to All Soul’s Prospect and its staggering view of Lake O’Hara, thousands of feet below, and the Wiwaxy Peaks to the north.

Among the two highlighted trails that I haven’t done–due entirely to lack of time–are those to Lake Oesa (#26) and Lake McArthur (#18 and either #10 or #14).  Lake Oesa is the shorter of the two (roughly four miles (6.4 km) round trip, with an elevation gain of nearly 800 feet (240 m) on the incoming route).  Lake McArthur is a roughly five-mile (8 km) round trip, with an elevation gain of a bit more than 1000 feet (310 m), depending on the specific route you choose.  (There is a lower approach to McArthur and a higher one as well; many hikers choose the lower one for the hike in and the upper trail for the hike out.)  As I mentioned earlier, these hikes are demanding–less because of the distance than the elevation change; remember, you’ll be hauling a pack of indeterminate weight and  dealing with high elevation conditions and potentially being impacted by inclement weather.  I’ve spoken to others at length about both of these hikes and they definitely sound well-worth doing.  (Had the weather been cooperative on my third day of access to Lake O’Hara this past fall I was planning on doing the Lake McArthur hike and, time permitting, I would have hit Lake Oesa that day as well.)

There are other, typically lesser followed, trails in the area as well, such as the one to Linda Lake (#13) and Cathedral Lakes (#30), which I know less about.  (Go here for Parks Canada’s descriptions of all the O’Hara area trails.)

The Opabin Plateau

The trail I’m most familiar with (I’ve hiked it, in full, three times) and that I unequivocally recommend is the Opabin Plateau Circuit, which can be approached from either the East Opabin Trail or the West Opabin Trail.  I received some very good advice before I ever attempted the trail in 2014 from Royce Howland–go up via the East Opabin Trail and down via the West Opabin Trail.  After I completed the circuit the first time I understand why he suggested doing it this way and I’ve followed this approach each time, despite the fact that the approach via the West Opabin Trail is a bit shorter.  (Virtually all written accounts of the hike that I’ve found describe going up via the West Opabin Trail.)  Both trails are very steep, but the west side is notably steeper (and far more exposed).

Opabin Plateau Outlet Stream, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Plateau Outlet Stream, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

To approach the circuit this way, take the Lake O’Hara Circuit trail from Le Relais (#25) in a clockwise direction around the lake; you will pass access to the Huber Ledges and Lake Oesa trails along the way.  You’ll climb over the rocky moraine that I mentioned earlier in this post and reach one of the long waterfalls (see above) that represent the streams that drain the Opabin Plateau into Lake O’Hara.  Roughly halfway around the circuit (not quite 1 mile, roughly 1.4 km) you’ll reach the head of the East Opabin Trail (#8).  From here, the climb through the conifer forest involves roughly 400 feet (120 m) of elevation gain in less than a kilometer (0.62 miles).  Yes, it’s steep.  Very steep.  There’s more climbing to do up on the plateau, but none of it is as anywhere near as lengthy or as steep as this portion of the circuit.  The hike up to the base of the plateau–where you’ll have your first encounter with larches–runs, for much of its duration, alongside one of the gushing O’Hara inlet streams, so you’ll have something attractive to look at if you feel the need to stop and catch your breath along the way.

East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

When you encounter the first side trail–it will head to your right as you ascend the East Opabin Trail–most of the climb is behind you.  That side trail heads in the direction of the Opabin Prospect–a rocky outcropping at the head of the plateau that provides of truly breathtaking view of the Lake O’Hara valley and the mountains beyond, and you can certainly head there if you like.  I always push on to the main part of the Opabin Circuit (#31, a.k.a. the Opabin Highline), and leave the prospect until later in the hike.

Moor Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Moor Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

If you stay on the main trail, you’ll soon reach some of the tiny Moor Lakes–shallow, crystal clear ponds with the potential for epic reflections (on no- or low-wind days).  Shortly thereafter, you’ll encounter Hungabee Lake–a larger body of water–to your right, and another side trail (the only one shown on the map) that cuts across the plateau and joins the east and west parts of the circuit below the Opabin Higline.  It’s worth noting that there are numerous small, interim trails on the plateau that aren’t marked on the map.  All of them are well worth exploring, as all lead to different small bodies of water and stands of larch and pine, providing different perspectives of the magnificent scenery that is endemic to the Opabin Plateau.

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Continuing on the main part of the circuit trail, from the eastern edge of Hungabee Lake, the trail climbs over a boulder field–there are trail markers–and up a slope to the highest point of the plateau (the Opabin Highline), near the edge of Opabin Lake.  (A couple of short spur trails will take you right up to the water’s edge.)  This highest body of water on the Opabin Plateau sits immediately below Yukness and Hungabee Mountains, Ringrose Peak, Mt. Biddle and Opabin Glacier.  This is, essentially, the midpoint of the Opabin Circuit Trail.

Opabin Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

From the trail, as it loops back around to the west, you have some jaw dropping views of the plateau, including Hungabee Lake and some of the smaller Cascade Lakes as  you face north.  Lake O’Hara isn’t visible from here and won’t be again until you reach the Opabin Prospect or begin the descent from the plateau on the West Opabin Trail.  This begins the journey into what is my very favorite part of the Opabin Plateau.  Don’t get me wrong–the east side is great, particularly around the Moor Lakes.  But the west side opens up access to an area so rich in photographic opportunities that I consistently run out of time before I ever run out of subject matter.  In fact, this is the reason why I spent two full days in a row shooting up on the plateau and, both times, had to rush down to avoid missing the final outgoing bus of the day.

Hungabee Lake and Cathedral Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake and Cathedral Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

You’ll begin by descending from the high point of the plateau back to Hungabee Lake, via a rocky “staircase,” though you’ll now be on the west side of the lake.  If it’s a calm day, the lake reflections will take your breath away.  The trail doesn’t skirt all that close to much of the shore, and you’re asked to stay on the trail–to avoid trampling the delicate ground cover–but if you pick your spots carefully you’ll be able to approach the shore by stepping only on some of the many rocks that dot the meadows and Hungabee’s shoreline.

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Hungabee, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Hungabee, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

By continuing on the western part of the circuit trail you’ll reach the northwest part of the lake and will begin to regularly see spur trails darting in multiple directions.  Take them.  All of them.  They’ll wind around through small lakes and ponds, countless stands of larch and in and near moraines and scree slopes.  With sufficient investigation and exploration of these trails you’ll discover hidden streams, cascades and waterfalls.  I spent a total of something like 10 hours over two days in this area last fall and I could have easily spent twice that without ever running out of drop dead gorgeous scenes.

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

You will almost certainly find yourself doubling back over some, if not all, of these spur trails.  Don’t resist the urge to do so.  As hard as you may try, it’s nearly impossible to keep looking over your shoulder to see what you might be missing behind you.  By taking all of these trails in both directions, it’s really not an issue.  And, it’s amazing how different the view can be, from the same spot, depending on what direction you happen to be looking at any given moment.

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Once you’re able to tear yourself away from this area, continue on the west part of the circuit trail.  On your right, you’ll see a spur with a sign noting the Opabin Prospect.  Follow the trail for a few minutes until you reach a rocky area; there will be no specific sign designating the spot, but you should catch a glimpse of a tremendous view of the valley to the north–including Lake O’Hara itself.  Climb out on the outcropping (be careful–there are no railings of any kind and the drop off from the prospect is hundreds of feet) and prepare yourself for a magnificent vista.

Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Return the way you came until you reach the circuit trail again and make a right turn.  This is the West Opabin Trail and this is how you’ll descend back to Lake O’Hara.  Don’t put the camera gear away, however, as the views from the early part of the steep, rocky descent are exceptional.  You’re looking at, generally speaking, the same scenery as from the Opabin Prospect but from an entirely different perspective.

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake, Lake O'Hara and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake, Lake O’Hara and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Despite the views, you are heartily recommended to keep your eyes on the trail during the descent.  If you want to admire the vista (and who wouldn’t?), stop and do so.  The descent on the West Opabin Trail can be a bit on the treacherous side, particularly if the trail is wet or icy (which it frequently is), so take care.  You’ll end up astride Mary Lake (to your left) and will ultimately find yourself on the southwest shore of Lake O’Hara.  From here, it’s a short, easy hike back to Le Relais via the Lake O’Hara Circuit trail.

Give yourself a full day to do the Opabin Plateau hike.  If you’re as entranced as I am, you’ll almost certainly want to give it two days.  Or more.

Considerations Regarding Gear (Photographic and Otherwise)

When you head up to Lake O’Hara, you have to plan to bring everything you’ll need for the entire day with you–and plan to carry it with you, all day long.  That statement applies to  photographic equipment, provisions and clothing.  You can purchase a few things–select food items and bottled water, for instance–at Le Relais, but it’s best to use this option as a fail-safe, not as a primary source.

With regard to photo gear, you’re probably going to want to do as I say, not as I do.  On my trips up to Lake O’Hara, I’ve taken a good-sized photo backpack filled with two DSLR camera bodies, 24-70/2.8, 14-24/2.8 and 80-400 lenses.  (And, yes, I did use all of these lenses.)  I’m also thoroughly equipped with a cable release, tons of memory cards, an extra battery, filters and cleaning supplies.  And a tripod.  (Always a tripod.)  This is very heavy, but I’ve proven to myself that I can handle all this and not be so weighed down as to ruin the O’Hara experience (or wake up the next morning unable to move).   Unless you feel 100% certain that you’re going to be able to handle this kind of heavy kit, you’re going to want to lighten the load.

Many photographers find that they can get by with something like a 24-105 or 24-120 lens, one (DSLR) camera body and a lightweight tripod.  And that probably will be good for something like 85% to 90% of photo opportunities for most photographers.  You will, depending on conditions, almost certainly want a polarizing filter (and graduated neutral density filters if you’re not into compositing and/or HDR) and be sure to add at least one extra battery and take plenty of flash memory.  (If you’re using a lightweight, small footprint mirrorless system, you can take a lot more in the way of equipment without weighing yourself down.)  The key is to avoid taking so much gear that it impacts your ability to make the hike in the first place.

In the way of provisions, take enough water to keep yourself going.  I typically limit myself to one half-liter bottle, but I’m camel-like in my ability to hike long distances with limited water.  For all-day purposes, many people find that they want twice this much.  For food, I’d normally take a couple of apples and a resealable bag of trail mix, all of which would fit in a side pocket of my pack.  Remember, you can always pick up something at the end of the day at Le Relais.  A good map of the hiking trails is a nice thing to have as well.  (They’re sold at Le Relais, among other places.)

When it comes to clothing, remember that the weather in the mountains is highly variable and can change in a flash.  (Consider the utterly unpredicted snow squall that I dealt with on Day 6.)  Dress in breathable layers and be prepared for inclement weather.  I always keep a collapsible umbrella in my pack, wear waterproof outer garments (including hiking boots) and am prepared for drastic temperature changes.  On the first two days that I went to Lake O’Hara this past fall, the temperature was below freezing in the morning and warmed up to nearly 60 F (15 C) in the afternoon.  This is not uncommon.  Virtually none of the trails in the Lake O’Hara area have any shelter of any kind, so if it starts to rain–and it rains there a lot–you’re going to get extremely wet in a hurry.  There are few things more miserable than being out on the trail, soggy and cold, miles away from Le Relais, weighed down by a heavy pack full of equipment.  The best thing you can do is be prepared for this not-at-all-unlikely contingency.

Lone Larch, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lone Larch, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Conclusion

When the conditions are right, the Lake O’Hara area–particularly the Opabin Plateau–is arguably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.  It’s difficult to gain access to in the first place (just a day or two ago I received e-mail notice from Parks Canada that reservations for 2016–the season doesn’t begin until the latter half of June–would open in January) and weather conditions are often far from optimal.  If you’re able to secure access and are lucky enough to get good conditions, you’ll see for yourself what I’m raving about.  If you’re properly prepared with equipment, provisions and background information you’ll have an experience you’ll never forget.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 4, 2016

The Canadian Rockies, Day 8: From Dawn ‘Til Dusk

Planning a photo trip expecting great sunrise and/or sunset opportunities is a fool’s errand.  When it comes to sunrises and sunsets, there’s simply too much luck involved to sensibly anticipate anything.  That’s not to say that I don’t plan sunrise and sunset shooting destinations and hope; you simply never know when everything’s going to come together to produce a spectacular event.

Over the first week of photography in the Canadian Rockies this past September, “everything” hadn’t come together once.  I’d had a few pretty nice skies–sunrise on Day 5, for instance.  But the copious wind that morning killed any chance at reflections.  Conditions were calm at Emerald Lake at sunset on Day 6, but the skies were only so-so.  The experience was similar at sunset on Day 1, when the light never quite materialized, and Day 3 at sunset, when the sky was very interesting but the windy conditions limited opportunities.  Even when I finally got an actual sunrise and calm conditions at Moraine Lake on Day 7, there were precious few clouds in the sky.  Such is the nature of sunrise/sunset photography.

I was, arguably, overdue for a special experience as Day 8 approached and I decided to make one more trip down the Trans-Canada Highway to Banff, to get another crack at Two Jack Lake.  Having already made the run to Two Jack from Lake Louise, I knew how much time was required to complete the journey and I made certain to give myself enough time to get there well before the light peaked.  Selecting Two Jake Lake as a sunrise destination this morning turned out to be a good decision.

It was cold but dead calm when I reached the Two Jack Lake parking area, which was deserted when I arrived.  I would have my pick of spots from which to photograph the sunrisee and, just to up the ante, the sky to the east already revealed signs of lighting up.  Mt. Rundle, ostensibly to the south, would eventually bask in a warm glow, but the earliest action was to the east.  Due to the configuration of the lake and the infrastructure around it, I pulled out the telephoto lens to capture the eastern skies at dawn.

Dawn, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Dawn, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Dawn, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Dawn, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

In a matter of a few minutes, the entire sky began to turn pink.  I turned my attention to the south, in the direction of Mt. Rundle.

Mt. Rundle at Dawn, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle at Dawn, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

My two-camera setup made it easy to rapidly switch back to a wide angle perspective.

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

After a week of sunrise/sunset frustration, it was all coming together–great light, terrific colorful cloud-filled skies, glass-like reflections and a location that would allow me to take advantage of all of this.  The colorful conditions lasted for several minutes, long enough to go back and forth between wide angle and telephoto several times.

Mt. Rundle Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Dawn, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ultimately the sun rose enough to catch the upper reaches of Mt. Rundle itself.

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

As the ambient light came up, I began to move around a bit, first north along the shore of the lake, to an intriguing–but difficult to leverage–spot I’d noted the first day.  A tiny island, with a small conifer, lies no more than about 20 feet off the shore of the lake, but there’s almost no flat spot on which to stand to incorporate the island as a foreground element.  There’s a steep slope that runs down to this location and, with some difficulty, I managed to prop my tripod (and myself) up on the hillside.  It was the difficulty of setting up that kept me from shooting at this spot at first light; I didn’t want to try to establish a shooting location on the slope in the dark.

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake at Daybreak, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake at Daybreak, Banff National Park, Alberta

Despite the difficulty of the terrain, I did feel the need to move around in order to optimize, to my eyes anyway, the composition.  A black and white conversion of the second comp is below.

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake at Daybreak Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake at Daybreak Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I then moved well to the south on the shore, to a spot that I’d scouted during my previous visits to Two Jack Lake.  There’s a larger island, with a substantial stand of mature conifers that can serve as a mid-ground anchor, and several spots from which this element can be incorporated into compositions.

Two Jack Lake Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

Two Jack Lake Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

When I finished at Two Jack, I headed back toward the main drive, but I saw a vehicle with its hazard lights flashing on the side of the road.  I immediately assumed that this was wildlife-related and, sure enough, as I slowly passed the stopped SUV, I saw a bear, less than 200 feet away, happily chomping away on a shrub.  The bear was utterly oblivious to my presence, or the presence of the several occupants of the SUV–a group of Chinese photographers, one of whom later showed me a video of the bear that he’d made using his phone before I arrived on the scene (the bear had walked right past their vehicle).  Using my car as a blind, I produced a couple of images.

Bear, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bear, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bear, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bear, Banff National Park, Alberta

When I left, the bear was still munching away.

From here, I decided to check the nearby Vermillion Lakes for the umpteenth time during this trip.  I thought that, since conditions had been calm at Two Jack, this might finally be my opportunity to photograph all three Vermillion Lakes in windless conditions.

Ha.

The First and Second Vermillion Lakes were a plethora of ripples when I drove by them.  But the Third Vermillion Lake was relatively calm when I arrived, so I stopped to take advantage of this rare (in my experience, singular) occurrence.

Sundance Peak from Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sundance Peak from Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sundance Peak from Third Vermillion Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sundance Peak from Third Vermillion Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was still quite cold at this point of the morning; areas in shade remained coated in frost.  I took this opportunity to investigate some intimate, abstract compositions, first among the tall grasses surrounding the Third Vermillion Lake and then in the rippled patterns formed in the First Vermillion Lake.

Frosty Grass Black & White, Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Frosty Grass Black & White, Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ripple Abstract Black & White, First Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ripple Abstract Black & White, First Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

After photographing at the Vermillion Lakes, I returned to the head of the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.  There’s an old, still technically functioning, airstrip here on the west side of the road.  The strip, which lies within the jurisdiction of Parks Canada, is only allowed for use in the case of emergency landings and the grounds are accessible to the hiking public.  A meadow, not technically part of the airstrip property, lies on the east side of the road.  I’d admired both of these areas from the road during earlier trips to the area and I decided to fully experience these spots.

Meadow Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

Meadow Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

After checking out the relatively small meadow on the east side of the road, I meandered over to the airstrip and began my hike.  It was turning into a very pleasant day, with temperatures now in the 50s (F) and climbing rapidly, projected to reach as high as 70 at some point in the afternoon.  The sun was shining brightly and a soft breeze was blowing.  I didn’t encounter a single person during my wanderings in this rarely visited part of Banff National Park.  It was a positively idyllic experience.

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

The area immediately past the airstrip is made up of a series of meadows, with clumps of aspens and conifers surrounded by and endless sea of tall grass.  The faint outline of several old trails wanders for a couple of miles (I discovered) through these meadows, ending near an active water pumping station for the town of Banff.  I took my time on the hike, stopping frequently, sometimes just to look around, sometimes to photograph, but always to soak in the experience.

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

While it might not have necessarily yielded my best photography of the trip, the Airstrip Meadows became one of the most memorable places for me of the entire two-week period.  There was something magical about this location that’s difficult to describe.  It had something to do with my affinity for meadows, something to do with the human void, something to do with the magnificent weather, and it all added up to a marvelous experience.

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

In all, I spent several hours on the (roughly) five-mile out-and-back hike, though it didn’t seem nearly that long, given how much I was enjoying the place.

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Airstrip Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was creeping into the later stages of the afternoon when I finished in the meadows.  I had decided that I was going to photograph at Wapta Falls, far away in Yoho National Park, before the end of the day, but on the trip there I stopped, again, at Castle Mountain for another quick grab of that edifice.

Castle Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta

I then continued northwest on the Trans-Canada, past Lake Louise and into Yoho.  Before taking the ride down the road to Wapta Falls, I stopped briefly at Faeder Lake, located far down the Trans-Canada, just a mile or two short of the Wapta Falls turnoff.

Faeder Lake Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Faeder Lake Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Faeder_Lake_9919_-2&-1&0&1&2_de-tc

Chancellor Peak from Faeder Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Chancellor Peak from Faeder Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

It was about two hours until sunset when I reached the parking area for Wapta Falls.  There were two other cars in the lot and I passed the groups of people belonging to both of them as they returned from the falls on the 1.2 mile trail.  Again, I had the place to myself, and what a magnificent sight it was when I first caught a glimpse of the powerful waterfall from the bluff on the south bank of the Kicking Horse River.

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

There are several overlooks of Wapta Falls as the trail descends to river level.  There’s a copious amount of mist rising up from the base of the waterfall, as you can see in the image immediately below.

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

When I got down to river level, I poked around for interesting foregrounds in the shallows of an arm of the Kicking Horse.  I found a few, amid the reflecting pools, driftwood and large rocks.

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Before I headed out, I pulled out the telephoto lens to produce a tighter, more intimate image.

Wapta Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I double-timed it on the trail back to the parking area because I wanted to photograph at Wapta Marsh–back up the road, about a mile from the parking area–before I lost all the light.  I hadn’t had a chance to scout the marsh, so I’d just have to make do with what I could access in real time.

Wapta Marsh, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Marsh, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I made it to the marsh access point just as the sun was going down.  I carefully maneuvered down a hillside from the road and into the marsh itself.  Since I wasn’t sure if there was any difficult-to-spot standing water, and I hadn’t wanted to take the time to change footwear, I was careful and didn’t stray all that far from the immediate access area.

Wapta Marsh Moonrise, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Marsh Moonrise, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The tree snags and the rising moon really caught my eyes and figured prominently in most of the compositions that I settled upon.

Wapta Marsh Moonrise, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Marsh Moonrise, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Marsh, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Marsh, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Even though I hadn’t had the opportunity to look the location over the way I normally do, I was happy with the images I made from Wapta Marsh before I lost the light completely.  In fact, the entire day had been a positive, though extremely long, one.  The next day would be at least as long and more or less as satisfying.

I’ve pulled no punches:  the single most important reason that I returned to the Canadian Rockies this past fall, after having spent roughly two weeks in the region during the autumn of 2014, was to rectify the disaster that was my one-day experience at Lake O’Hara.  If you read my account of that day in the rain, you’ll get a sense of my frustration:  I could see the incredible beauty of the area–in spite of the considerably less-than-optimal conditions–but I was unable to do it justice.  I was left, in effect, to merely wonder how spectacular the location might be under legitimately good conditions.

When it became clear to me that I was still wondering about this, more or less on a daily basis three months after the fact, I realized that I would do well to see if I could figure out a way to revisit the location.  It was that process that led to what ultimately turned into the trip I’ve been chronicling for the past few months.

Given the motivation, I thought it would make sense to reflect on the experience of scratching the itch, as I’ve put it in the title of the two entries covering my time earlier this year at Lake O’Hara.  (Those who have been paying particularly close attention will note that I had scheduled three days at Lake O’Hara during this trip but have described only two.  Spoiler alert:  the final day at Lake O’Hara, on Day 10,, was more or less a rerun of my 2014 experience–rain and wind and lots of both.  I’ll provide a few more details when I fully describe that day in the coming weeks, but suffice to say I nearly let my bus spot on Day 10 go and I did not spend an entire late morning/afternoon traipsing around in the rain this time.)

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

As I’ve outlined in my descriptions of Day 6 and Day 7, I had some truly terrific weather for much of the first day and all of the second, which essentially validated my decision to return to the area.

My 2014 experience and a bit of extended research proved to me that scheduling a single day up at Lake O’Hara is a very dicey proposition at best.  Even though autumn is the driest time of year in the Canadian Rockies, it’s not particularly dry in Yoho National Park, in which Lake O’Hara and its environs lie.  The odds of getting a dry day in the second half of September–when the larches are at their most attractive–are no better than 50-50.  The odds of getting dry and something other than entirely or mostly cloudy and windless…while the larches are at their golden peak…well, those odds aren’t nearly that good.

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

As a result, I deliberately reserved multiple days access to O’Hara this time around, under the theory that the odds of experiencing good–or, at least, not bad–weather conditions would be considerably improved.  I outlined the convoluted specifics of obtaining reservations in my write-up of Day 6.  To reiterate the key points:

This year, Parks Canada joined the 20th (if not the 21st) Century by establishing an on-line reservation system.  The only problems?  Parks Canada opened up every single day for the entire 2015 season (which runs from late June to the first weekend in October) at one time (9 AM, MDT, on April 20).  I didn’t learn of this new system until the day it debuted, about two hours after the site went public.  At that time, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to return to the Rockies this year.  By the time I was made aware of the site and checked it out, virtually the entire season was already sold out.  In a near panic, I managed to nab the final single spot on the 10:30 AM bus (the other departure time, 8:30 AM, was already completely sold out for every day in September) on three days–Sept. 21, 22 and 25.  By the time I had secured these spots, there were no more day trip access spots for any of the days in the month of September (the time I’d be going to the Rockies, if I went at all).  June, July and August were already gone before I even knew that the website existed; all that remained were a handful of spots on the final weekend of the season, in early October.

After obtaining those reservations, I went about the process of actually booking the rest of the trip.  I hadn’t planned on formally deciding whether to return to the Rockies until late May, but the experience with the reservation system in the second half of April pushed that decision up by five-odd weeks.

Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The choice to reserve multiple days obviously paid off for me.  And the natural assumption is that if I had the chance to return, I’d jump on it.  And if someone I knew was planning a trip to the region, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend Lake O’Hara as a “must do” part of any itinerary.  Well…

It’s not necessarily that simple or obvious.  The truth of the matter is, access to Lake O’Hara is so difficult to obtain and the regional weather conditions are so variable, any recommendation would of the “if you don’t mind the following issues” variety.

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Huber, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Huber, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Don’t get me wrong; the area around Lake O’Hara–and the Opabin Plateau in particular–is arguably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.  When the conditions are right, the scenery is truly of the jaw-dropping variety.  The problem with any recommendation, however, is essentially twofold and intertwined.

The first part, just to reiterate what I’ve noted above, surrounds the weather conditions.  You simply can’t assume, with any confidence, that you’re going to get favorable climatic circumstances up at Lake O’Hara.  Even in the short term the weather can turn, unexpectedly, in an instant.  Witness my Day 6 experience when a projected 0% precipitation day–with the prediction issued that morning–turned into an hour-long snow squall that very afternoon.

The second part?  Reservations need to be made so far in advance–many months–that guessing what the conditions will ultimately be like on the day of access is utterly absurd.  While in theory you can gain bus access to the lake each day, in practice, it almost certainly won’t happen.  And the long odds will get even longer on those days when the conditions are truly good.  (I’ve taken a bus up to Lake O’Hara four different times; exactly zero people without reservations hoping for an opening have been able to get on the bus on those four occasions, out of something like two dozen who have tried.)  Of course, you could hoof it up to the lake on a day when the weather looks good; there’s no restriction on the number of people who hike up to Lake O’Hara each day.  This assumes that you’re willing to haul yourself (and all of your gear, of course) roughly seven miles uphill…as a prelude to other long, generally grueling hikes once you actually get up there.  (Yes, this is the reason why there’s no need for a formal hike-in quota–not very many people do it.)

Hungabee Lake and Cathedral Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake and Cathedral Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

If it sounds as though I’m complaining about the limitations placed on access to the Lake O’Hara area, I’m not.  I wish that the reservation system was implemented a bit differently, but by every description, the area itself was being “loved to death” before access restrictions were put into place.  By all accounts, the stress level on the plants and animals that inhabit the area have declined dramatically since the limitations were implemented.  So the rules are not only okay with me, I fully support them.

But the practical implications of these rules simply have to be taken into account.  The strict limitations on access to the area have to be considered on a practical level; the rules do significantly impact establishing an itinerary for a trip to the region.

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The key to a positive experience at Lake O’Hara is understanding what you’re dealing with.

  • If I only had a few days in the region, I’d think long and hard about setting aside time for a spot with conditions as variable and unpredictable as Lake O’Hara.
  • If I couldn’t secure access months in advance via the reservation system I definitely wouldn’t try to luck out on the bus unless I was prepared to hike up to the lake (and if I was prepared to hike up there, I don’t think I’d wait until the time of the first bus anyway; I’d head up slightly before first light, just to maximize daylight time while up there).
  • If I knew that I’d be in the area for at least five days I would almost certainly do what I did this year–reserve multiple days (as many as I could, to be honest, ideally on the 8:30 AM bus).
  • I would prepare to spend the entire day up there (i.e. not heading down until the 6:30 PM bus), which means having enough food and water to carry me through, as well as sufficient clothing–undergarments, outer garments, footwear–to deal with the changing weather.
  • I would be certain that I was in good enough physical shape to handle many miles of strenuous hiking at elevations that start at roughly 7000 feet above sea level.
Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

My few visits to the Lake O’Hara area of Yoho National Park in British Columbia have led me to conclude that its beauty is well worth the trouble it takes to experience as long as you understand the difficulties and limitations incumbent on securing access and as long as you’re properly prepared for the terrain and atmospheric conditions that are present when you get there.

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 15, 2015

Canadian Rockies Day 7: Scratching the Itch, Part II

The Warm-Up:  Moraine Lake

With another trip to Lake O’Hara on the 10:30 bus on tap for Day 7, I knew I’d have to stay relatively close to Lake Louise for sunrise.  I decided to pay yet another visit to Moraine Lake.  This would be the fourth time this trip and the sixth time over the past two years that I hoped to get good sunrise conditions at Moraine.  It was also going to be, I’d decided, my final attempt on this trip.  I’d have up to four more sunrises while based in the Lake Louise area and there were too many other places I wanted to visit to keep limiting myself to Moraine Lake.  I’d either get a good sunrise this time around or it simply wasn’t meant to be.

The forecast for this day was excellent–partly to mostly sunny, all day long, no chance of precipitation (though my experience up at the Opabin Plateau on Day 6 made that more than a bit dubious)  and temperatures expected to rise into the 50s (F).  To top it off, winds were supposed to be very light.  It all sounded very promising, again, for Lake O’Hara but first I hoped that my experience at Moraine would be better than it had been the previous morning when the conditions had combined bitterly cold temperatures with a piercing wind.

The skies were mostly clear when I walked outside in the pitch dark; plenty of stars were visible.  The same was true when I arrived, 20-odd minutes later, at Moraine Lake.  I climbed up to the rock pile and while it was still quite cold–a bit below freezing–there was virtually no wind.  It was a massive, massive improvement from the previous day.

Moraine Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moraine Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Alpenglow kissed the Ten Peaks before sunrise and the few clouds in the sky lit up.  The lake surface was occasionally disturbed by a whisper of breeze, but for the most part things were quiet.

Moraine Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moraine Lake at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

There was some low-lying fog drifting in from Paradise Valley, which made for some interesting effects.

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

With the telephoto lens mounted on the camera, I took some time to play around with some unorthodox compositions, including the one you see below.

Moraine Lake Reflections, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moraine Lake Reflections, Banff National Park, Alberta

Before I left the rock pile, I spent some time photographing to the north–in the direction opposite Moraine Lake, looking in the general direction of Mt. Temple and Lake Louise.  There was some thick ground fog in the valley in that direction, which made for some interesting atmospherics during the hour or two following sunrise.

Sunrise Ridge, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise Ridge, Banff National Park, Alberta

Conifer Ridges at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Conifer Ridges at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Conifer Ridges at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Conifer Ridges at Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

The Main Event:  The Opabin Plateau and Lake O’Hara

After exhausting the opportunities at Moraine, I made the 30-odd minute drive to the Lake O’Hara staging area, arriving there about 10 minutes before it was time to board the bus.  The weather was already good and improving (because it was getting steadily warmer).  It certainly appeared as though I’d have conditions as good as or better than the previous day.

We arrived at Le Relais a bit before 11 AM and I made a beeline for the Lake O’Hara circuit trail, as I had the previous day, rounding the lake in a clockwise direction.  While I had obtained some marvelous shots from the Opabin Plateau on Day 6, some opportunities had been compromised–a combination of the early afternoon snow squall and the wind that had accompanied it.  I wanted to revisit those areas in more favorable conditions, so my plan was to head back up to Opabin this day.  If I completed what I wanted to do quickly, I could descend early in the afternoon and either spend the rest of the time shooting around Lake O’Hara itself (something I did want to do) or, if I was feeling particularly ambitious, perhaps make the trek to Lake Oesa, another high alpine lake located closer to O’Hara.

I didn’t pull out the camera for the first time until I was well up on the Plateau in the Moors Lakes area, following the grueling climb up from O’Hara.  There was still a thin layer of ice covering the small ponds and I took a shot of some of the submerged bubbles that I converted to black and white.

Moor Lakes Ice Bubbles Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Moor Lakes Ice Bubbles Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

From here, it was back to the Opabin Circuit.  Sure enough, as forecast the wind was just about absent as I meandered along the shores of Lake Hungabee, producing far better reflections than I’d seen the day before.

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

There was backlighting on the larches on the west side of Hungabee, which I took advantage of with an “across-the-lake” approach, using a telephoto lens.

Golden Larches, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Golden Larches, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The dazzling colors fairly burst through the viewfinder.

Golden Larches and Lake Hungabee, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Golden Larches and Lake Hungabee, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Unlike the previous day, when the snow squall moved in as I approached Opabin Lake, there was no sign of inclement weather as I climbed the hill from Hungabee Lake on the east side of the plateau.  The bright, sunny conditions brought out the full measure of turquoise in the glacially-fed waters of Opabin Lake.

Opabin Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

These were some of the spots that had been compromised by the previous day’s snow squalls so I hurried to capture them in the favorable conditions this early afternoon, first from the high point of the plateau, looking back in the direction of Lake O’Hara and Cathedral Mountain, then as I slowly descended on the Opabin Circuit to the west side of Hungabee Lake.

Hungabee Lake and Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake and Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake and Cathedral Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake and Cathedral Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

It was somewhere around this point that I started to recognize just how lucky I was.  It was probably around 2 PM at this stage, the light was getting better and better and what little wind there had been dropped to essentially nothing.  There wasn’t, I had become convinced, going to be any bad weather.  The skies were just about perfect with an array of high-flying wispy cirrus clouds.  The larches were absolutely at their golden peak.  The temperature had climbed well into the 50s and, for the first time while in the field during the week I’d been in the region, I removed my jacket.  I was experiencing this rarest of events:  a virtually perfect confluence of weather conditions and peak larch color, and I had several more hours to take advantage of it.

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Hungabee, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Hungabee, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

And so I did.  At this stage, I abandoned any thoughts of photographing at Lake Oesa; I simply hoped to get a little bit of time back at Lake O’Hara before I’d have to take the 6:30 bus back to the parking lot.  The rest of the time, it was clear, was going to be spent photographing on the Opabin Plateau.  I could tell that I wasn’t going to be able to pass up the countless photographic opportunities that lay ahead.  I was now on the back end of the Opabin Circuit, arguably the most visually varied and compelling section of what is, perhaps, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.  To make matters even more compelling, the area was in its finest dress:  peak larch color, snow coating all of the surrounding peaks and ridges, beautiful skies and glass-like water surfaces in all of the small lakes and ponds.  In short, here I was, experiencing what I’d scarcely ventured to dream this place might be like when I was trudging through the constant rain–a circumstance more the rule than the exception at this place, I’d come to learn–on my single visit the previous autumn.

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I naturally began to slow down–not that I’d been moving all that quickly up to that point–and really drink it all in and capture as much of the natural beauty as possible.  I was highly conscious of the probability that I would not have this opportunity ever again.

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

There are many marked, intermediate, criss-crossing trails on the Opabain Pleateau, that don’t appear on the official map that details the main circuit route.  I explored just about every inch of every one of them.

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Huber, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes and Mt. Huber, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I repeatedly found myself simply stopping and taking the time to slowly turn around, 360 degrees, to make sure I wasn’t missing a compelling perspective.  On more than one occasion, this paid off with a resulting decision to photograph scenes that I otherwise would have missed entirely.  This is a fairly rare thing, in my experience:  finding a place with 360-degree views worthy of attention.

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I very slowly made my way in and around the Cascade Lakes area, stopping frequently along the way to photograph, to the point where the West Opabin Trail descends back toward Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara.

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

West Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

West Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

During this time, I rarely dismounted my camera from the tripod and I seldom dropped my backpack.  I simply moved from spot to spot, found a compelling perspective (they were effectively infinite in number), set up, composed, photographed, moved along a bit, rinsed and repeated.

Cascade Lakes, Yukness Mountain and Mt. Hungabee from the West Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Yukness Mountain and Mt. Hungabee from the West Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lake Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lake Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

When I reached the point of descent on the West Opabin Trail, I remembered the many spots that had caught my location the previous day.  I hadn’t been able to stop after shooting at the Opabin Prospect on Day 6 because I was in such a hurry to get back to Le Relais and avoid missing the last bus out.  I had hoped that I’d have good enough conditions to take advantage of these spots on a subsequent day.  Again, I was lucky.  On this occasion, I knew I had time and I mined this area for everything it was worth.

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

In addition to the broad scenics, I stumbled across an intimate scene I hadn’t noticed the previous day–a huge icicle that was still very much intact, despite the relatively warm temperatures, hanging from a rock outcropping that is, at least at this time of the year, constantly in open shade.

Icicle Intimate, West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Icicle Intimate, West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Just steps from the spot where the icicle was in place, I scrambled atop a huge boulder to obtain another perspective of the valley below.

Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

With just about every twist in the switchbacks that make up the steep, rocky moraine that is the West Opabin Trail, I found another perspective just begging to be photographed.

Mary Lake, Lake O'Hara and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake, Lake O’Hara and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake, Lake O'Hara and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake, Lake O’Hara and Cathedral Mountain from the West Opabin Trail, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The trail runs down the northwest end of the Plateau, flattens out on the east side of Mary Lake, and then rejoins the Lake O’Hara Circuit trail perhaps 1/2 mile south of the Le Relais day shelter.  I found myself on the shore of Lake O’Hara a bit less than an hour before the bus was scheduled to depart and I tried to make the most of that time by finally getting some shots of the Grand Dame herself in the late afternoon light.

Lake O'Hara Canoe Dock, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara Canoe Dock, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O'Hara Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I made my way in the direction of Le Relais, on the shore trail, and eventually passed the shelter, ultimately reaching the lake’s outlet stream.

Lake O'Hara Outlet Stream, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara Outlet Stream, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I heard the bus pull up, gathered up my belongings for the final time, and made my way to the bus stop.  On the way down to the parking area on the half-empty bus I set my equipment on the seat next to me, leaned back, closed my eyes and replayed the events and images of one of the most satisfying days of photography I’ve ever experienced.

Epilogue:  Castle Mountain

Me being me (i.e. my personal philosophy being to let no light go deliberately unused when on a photo trip), and with 45-odd minutes of daylight remaining when the bus opened its doors back at the parking area, I decided not to call it a day just yet.   I made the decision to race down the Trans-Canada Highway to Castle Mountain for sunset.  While Castle Mountain is about 30 miles from the Lake O’Hara parking area, it’s a straight shot on the Trans-Canada and I was there in a bit less than 30 minutes, about 15 minutes before sundown.  To my surprise, there wasn’t another soul present.

Castle Mountain from the Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

I caught last light on the mountain and some decent color before the sun disappeared completely behind me.

Castle Mountain from the Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow River at Sunset, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow River at Sunset, Banff National Park, Alberta

Epilogue

As I made the 20-minute drive back to Lake Louise Village in the gathering gloom, my attempts to put together a loose itinerary for Day 8 in my head were  interrupted by constant thoughts of Lake O’Hara, the Opabin Plateau and my remarkably good fortune to have had the opportunity to experience the place under such ideal circumstances.  The resulting images, I was sure, would help make certain that it was something I would never forget.

In a place as naturally colorful as the Canadian Rockies in the fall, black and white imagery might seem to be the furthest thing from one’s mind.  There are turquoise lakes, rivers and creeks; there are golden aspens and larches; there are meadows exploding in reds, oranges and yellows; there’s deep conifer forest green seemingly everywhere.  If it sounds like a sensory color overload…well, it pretty much is.

Natural Bridge Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Natural Bridge Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Nevertheless, I found myself focusing on monochromatic treatments all over the place when I was in the Rockies back in September.  Granted, I did produce considerably more color than black and white images but I surprised myself by how frequently I found myself thinking “b&w” when I was in the field.

Athabasca Glacier Black & White, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Black & White, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

There are three basic scenarios that lead me to consider approaching a subject with a monochrome mindset when I’m in the field.  They are:

Lake O'Hara Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lake O’Hara Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Naturally High Contrast Scenes

When the light is relatively harsh and the elements of a given scene inherently lend themselves to a mix of bright whites and deep blacks, I immediately think about a monochromatic treatment.

Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I look upon situations like this as playing to the strength of the scene.  If you already have a lot of contrast present, adopt a presentation that allows you to emphasize that factor.  There is a far greater margin for error with black and white than there is with color.  A significant boost in contrast to a color rendering often appears garish, unreal and generally unappealing.  But with black and white, the viewer has to suspend his/her sense of reality to begin with; it’s much easier to push the boundaries of what’s effectively “reasonable” with a black and white treatment.

Rampart Ponds Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Rampart Ponds Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Scenes With Little Color

Scenes without much color are natural candidates for a black and white conversion.  It’s possible to take a scene that has relatively little impact in color and make it quite dramatic and daunting in black and white.

Beauty Creek Intimate Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Intimate Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

This sort of thing is fairly common with sectional stream and waterfall images.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Other images, including wintry scenes in a naturally monochromatic setting, can often benefit from a b/w conversion as well.

Snowy Mountainside Black & White, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Snowy Mountainside Black & White, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Scenes with fairly heavy doses of fog or mist can, sometimes, also appear stronger when rendered in black and white.

Wapta Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Patterned Compositions

Intimates that include patterns or shapes as the primary compositional thrust are frequently stronger when presented in black and white because color oftentimes mutes the recognition of the pattern–unless of course the pattern itself is a function of color.

Frosty Grass Black & White, Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Frosty Grass Black & White, Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

As a general rule, if something isn’t adding to the image, aesthetically speaking, it should be removed, and that includes color itself.

First Vermillion Lake Abstract Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

First Vermillion Lake Abstract Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Wide Angle Flat Light Scenes

While high contrast scenes are a natural for the black and white treatment, the other end of the spectrum–very low- or no-contrast scenes–work nearly as well.  This is particularly true for wide angle scenes in overcast light, with skies that are filled with clouds that have definition.

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

These types of scenes often have a rather “blah” feel in color, but resound with dynamism from the contrast boost that can be applied to a black and white conversion.

Mistaya River Oxbow Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Oxbow Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

When Color Obscures the Main Theme

As is the case with patterns, sometimes a specific visual theme can be obscured by color.  For instance, I was captivated by the sense of imposing dominance rendered by the towering edifice of Mt. Biddle looming above Opabin Lake, but the expression seemed stunted and more passive in color.  Without any distractions, I think it’s much more stark in black and white.  (See if you agree; I’ve included the color version for the sake of comparison.)

Mt. Biddle Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mt. Biddle Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mt. Biddle, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mt. Biddle, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

All of the images that I rendered in black and white were made amid the swirl of color that is endemic to the Canadian Rockies in the fall.  And, if you’ve been following this series, you’ve seen that I was frequently drawn to that color, more often than not in fact.  But not infrequently I was struck with the notion that monochrome was the way to go and, as I’ve processed the images in the weeks since I returned, I’ve concluded that my instincts have usually been correct…not always, by any means (some of these conversions have definitely fallen flat), but definitely the majority of the time.

Takakkaw Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Takakkaw Falls Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Bow River Outlet Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Outlet Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 1, 2015

Canadian Rockies Day 6: Scratching the Itch, Part I

The Early Morning

With a trip to Lake O’Hara via the 10:30 AM bus the headliner for Day 6, I chose to remain fairly close to Lake Louise for sunrise so, for the third time this trip and the fifth time over the past two years, I decided to see if I could see light on the Ten Peaks from the Moraine Lake rock pile.

It was bitterly cold this morning–the air temperature was less than 25 degrees (F) as I approached Moraine Lake and I could see clear indications of frost on the side of the road as I made the drive.  When I made it up to the rock pile I felt the wind; it was wicked, and blowing right in my face.  I would estimate the wind–which killed any chance for any meaningful reflections, regardless of the light–at a steady 25 MPH with gusts approaching 40 MPH.

Given the wind, I really shouldn’t have subjected myself to an hour or more up on that rock pile, but for some reason I did.  The skies were almost completely clear, so I finally did see first light on the peaks, but despite being prepared for the cold (heavy winter coat on top of multiple layers), it was truly an unpleasant experience.  And, with the unceasing wind, it was very difficult to obtain sharp images.  With the trees blowing like mad, white caps on Moraine Lake, and my hands frozen, I ultimately settled for some peak portraits, including the one you see below.

Ten Peaks Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ten Peaks Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

I descended the rock pile about 30 minutes after the light touched the peaks.  Given the strength of the wind, I assumed that it would be fairly windy just about everywhere that day, but when I got down to lake level, it wasn’t bad at all.  There was clearly something about the spot at the east end of the lake that turned it into a full-blown wind tunnel on this morning.

After leaving Moraine Lake I made a brief stop on the Bow Valley Parkway at Morant’s Curve, a well-known bend in the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  A clear view of the tracks and the Bow River highlight the vista.

Morant's Curve, Banff National Park, Alberta

Morant’s Curve, Banff National Park, Alberta

With more than an hour to get to the Lake O’Hara bus loading area, I decided to poke around at a familiar to me that lies relatively near the depot–the base of the Yoho Valley Road, which I’d examined on Day 2.  The aspens on the mountainside there, I estimated, would probably be near peak by now.

As I descended to valley level near the Kicking Horse River, I saw a massive band of fog, clearly produced by the meeting of the cold air and the relatively warm water of the river.  This created some fascinating conditions which I hastened to take advantage of.  I parked the car in an empty lot just west of the Cathedral Mountain Lodge and wandered around the immediate area, looking for ways to capture the dynamic conditions.

Foggy Aspens, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Foggy Aspens, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The whimsy of the fog, which lifted and sank like a buoy on ocean swells, revealed certain subjects, then hid them, then displayed them again.

Foggy Trees, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Foggy Trees, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Above the fog, it was a mostly sunny morning, and the sun’s rays had an impact on the mist as it climbed in the sky, particularly to the southeast, in the direction of Cathedral Crags.

Cathedral Crags, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cathedral Crags, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Below the peaks, in the valley cutouts still lying in deep shade, the wafting mist continued to settle thickly, swirling in and among the trees.

Foggy Trees, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Foggy Trees, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Enchanting as the conditions were I could have hung out in this area until the mist burned off completely, but it was mid-morning by now and I couldn’t afford to miss the bus to Lake O’Hara, so I somewhat reluctantly packed up and drove to the O’Hara dispatch area.

Lake O’Hara

Truth be told, by far the single most consequential reason for my return to the Canadian Rockies in the fall of 2015 was my experience at Lake O’Hara the previous year.  (For a full account of that debacle, go here.)

As a brief refresher, access to the Lake O’Hara area of Yoho National Park, just across the provincial border in British Columbia, is highly restricted.  There’s a daily quota placed on access.  The fire road that leads from the parking area to the lake is approximately seven miles long and is uphill the entire way.  The number of people who are allowed to hike in each day is unlimited–the hike itself is considered dissuasion enough.  There’s a (very expensive) lodge up there (a Parks Canada representative told me that the current rate is $900 (CN) per night, with a two-night stay minimum), a campground with a quota and a few scattered huts that require reservations.  A small number of spots for day trippers (like myself) that are driven up to the area on a converted school bus each morning are also available.  Last year, I’d secured one day’s access for myself via the antiquated phone reservation system established by Parks Canada.

This year, Parks Canada joined the 20th (if not the 21st) Century by establishing an on-line reservation system.  The only problems?  Parks Canada opened up every single day for the entire 2015 season (which runs from late June to the first weekend in October) at one time (9 AM, MDT, on April 20).  I didn’t learn of this new system until the day it debuted, about two hours after the site went public.  At that time, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to return to the Rockies this year.  By the time I was made aware of the site and checked it out, virtually the entire season was already sold out.  In a near panic, I managed to nab the final single spot on the 10:30 AM bus (the other departure time, 8:30 AM, was already completely sold out for every day in September) on three days–Sept. 21, 22 and 25.  By the time I had secured these spots, there were no more day trip access spots for any of the days in the month of September (the time I’d be going to the Rockies, if I went at all).  June, July and August were already gone before I even knew that the website existed; all that remained were a handful of spots on the final weekend of the season, in early October.

As problematic as the reservation experience had been, I’d managed, somehow, to satisfy my basic goal:  obtain multiple days’ access to Lake O’Hara.  (Had I not secured multi-day access to Lake O’Hara, I probably wouldn’t have returned to the Canadian Rockies in 2015.)  My previous trip had proven how important this would be–the weather up there is not only highly variable, but often very, very wet, even in the fall (the driest time of the year).  Despite what the cheery Parks Canada docents who serve as the lake’s liaisons to the public say, every day at Lake O’Hara is not necessarily a good one.  I’m here to tell you, in fact, that a rainy day at Lake O’Hara is a pretty damn crappy experience.  I had already determined that I wouldn’t even bother showing up at the bus departure area on a rainy day this time around; multiple days’ worth of reservations made it possible to adopt this attitude.

But, after five straight days of cloudy (and occasionally) rainy days in the region, this day–my first day of access to O’Hara–was forecast to be mostly sunny with zero chance of precipitation.  It appeared that I would have the opportunity to experience the area in something other than rainy conditions.

On the ride up to the lake I kept looking out the bus window to be sure; the sun was indeed out on the trip up to O’Hara.  It was still pretty cold, but getting warmer when the bus pulled up adjacent to the Le Relais Day Shelter.  I immediately hit the trail to begin my hike up to the Opabin Plateau and took in the beautiful wonder of Lake O’Hara and the surrounding peaks on this gorgeous sunny day.  Just before ascending to the Opabin Plateau via the East Opabin Trail, I reached the gushing outlet stream that drains the plateau’s waterways into Lake O’Hara from hundreds of feet above.  The cascade remained entirely in shade, so I stopped to make an image.

Opabin Plateau Outlet Stream, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Plateau Outlet Stream, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The East Opabin Trail is an extremely steep ascent through a conifer forest that climbs roughly 400 feet to the hanging valley that is the Opabin Plateau.  Emerging from the pine forest one spots the first larch trees that, at this time of the year, turn bright gold.  The larches were at absolute peak when I was in the area and I spotted them along the sides of a rushing stream.

Opabin Cascade, East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Cascade, East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

At the foot of the plateau the terrain opens up to a series of meadows and small, pristine ponds and lakes bordered by the talus slopes of the nearby peaks.

East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

East Opabin Trail, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

As it had been raining steadily on my previous visit to this area, I took extra time to look around and really absorb the incredible, breathtaking beauty of the place.

Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Moor Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Moor Lakes Reflections, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I stopped frequently to photograph, and slowly made my way astride Hungabee Lake.

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

As I slowly made my way up the moraine that contains the trail up to Opabin Lake, the mid-point of the Opabin Circuit, I turned and looked behind me…and saw–contrary to the day’s forecast–what appeared to be a snow squall blowing in from the west.

By the time I reached Opabin Lake, it had started to snow.  It was falling in the form of pellets, rather than flakes, but it was coming down hard.  The ground was too warm for it to stick, fortunately, but I was left, again, to shake my head at the incredibly unpredictable mountain weather.

Opabin Lake Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Lake Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Mountain, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Given the pellet nature of the snowfall, it was pretty dry–not at all like my experience with the non-stop rain the previous year.  Given the forecast for the day, I couldn’t imagine that the squall would last long, so I decided to wait it out up on the plateau.  Given my experience the previous year I’m not sure where my confidence came from, but I felt strongly that the snowstorm would blow over before too long.  I even produced a few images while the snow was falling.  Remarkably, there was one section of sky, to the southeast, that never clouded over, even when the mountain peaks back in the direction of Lake O’Hara were completely obscured by the storm.

Mt. Biddle, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mt. Biddle, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

It’s impossible to tell at this size, but when I look at the above image at 100% on my computer monitor I can see the falling “snowflakes” backed by the blue sky.

Yukness and Hungabee Mountains Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Yukness and Hungabee Mountains Black & White, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

The snow lasted, off and on, for about 45 minutes, but well before it stopped I could see a clearing sky to the west.  Once the clearing conditions reached the plateau, the weather was nothing short of outstanding for the rest of the day–the wind dropped and the sky was partly cloudy.

Lone Larch, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Lone Larch, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I slowly worked my back in the direction of the descent toward Lake O’Hara, shooting first around Hungabee Lake.

Hungabee Lake and Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake and Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

After descending from the layer of the plateau that includes Opabin Lake, I rounded Hungabee Lake and wandered around the small series of ponds that make up the Cascade Lakes.

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Schaffer Ridge, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Cascade Lakes, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Gradually, I reached the spot where Hungabee Lake drains into the small series of Cascade Lakes, via an extremely photogenic outlet stream.  The outlet stream includes a small waterfall.  I had photographed at this location in the rain the previous year, but this time I had better conditions and took the time to carefully lay out a couple of compositions.

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

It was getting late at this point–it was after 5 PM.  The last daily outgoing bus that departs from down at the Le Relais Shelter leaves promptly at 6:30.  If you’re at the Lake O’Hara area on a day pass, you’re in big trouble if you miss that bus.  I had to decide whether to take the time to photograph at the Opabin Prospect before descending the West Opabin Trail to Lake O’Hara.  I had to leave roughly 30 minutes to get back to Le Relais from the top of the West Opabin Trail.  The safest move, probably, was to wait until the next day to photograph at the Prospect, but the conditions were so nice at that moment that I decided to risk making my way to the cliff overhang (I’d been there the previous year so I knew the rough route), photograph there briefly, and then descend back to Lake O’Hara.  My thinking was, what if the next day’s conditions weren’t so good?  I might never get conditions like these again.  You just never know in this area.  The forecast for the next day was dry and mostly sunny, but that had been today’s forecast as well and it hadn’t turned out to be quite so simple.  I decided to take advantage of the situation while it was right in front of me.

Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O'Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

When I finished at the Opabin Prospect, I knew I had to hustle, and the West Opabin Trail…let’s just say that it’s not really conducive to speed.  The descent is quite steep and the footing is only so-so.  That precariousness was especially true this day, because the trail was icy.  Even though the temperature had risen into the 50s (F), this area had been in the shade all day long and evidently the ice was thick enough that it hadn’t yet completely melted.

To make matters more difficult, the views on various parts of the West Opabin descent are absolutely magnificent.  With more time on my hands, I would have stopped numerous times to photograph.  That would have to wait until the next day–hopefully.

I moved as quickly as I felt I could and I made it down and back to Le Relais about 10 minutes before the bus left.

The Remains of the Day

It was about 40 minutes until sunset when the bus reached the O’Hara parking lot and I decided to try to make the most of it.  The nearest spot that made for a good sunset location was Emerald Lake–the site of Day 1‘s sunset shoot.

It was about a 25-minute drive to Emerald Lake, and I got stuck behind a slowpoke driver, so it took me closer to 30 minutes to get there.  I made a beeline to the nearest area of lake shore to the parking lot and quickly set up.  The Day 1 experience saved me the trouble of wasting the good light while searching for good spots.

Emerald Lake at Sunset, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Emerald Lake at Sunset, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Emerald Lake at Sunset, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Emerald Lake at Sunset, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Emerald Lake Lodge at Sunset, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Emerald Lake Lodge at Sunset, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Michael Peak at Sunset from Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Michael Peak at Sunset from Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Mountain at Sunset from Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Wapta Mountain at Sunset from Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

When I lost the light at the lake, I packed up, returned to the parking lot, and left.  But on the Emerald Lake Road I caught a glimpse of a distant landscape, pulled off to the side of the road, pulled out my telephoto rig and composed the final shot of the day amid earthshadow dusk.

Yoho Peaks at Dusk from the Emerald Lake Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Yoho Peaks at Dusk from the Emerald Lake Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

And with that, I got back in the car and made the 30-odd minute drive back to Lake Louise.

It had been an immensely satisfying day–most particularly because of my experience at Lake O’Hara, which involved scratching an itch that had been festering for a year.  The best part was, it appeared that I’d continue to have the chance to keep scratching the next day when I returned to Lake O’Hara; even better weather was in store.

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 23, 2015

The Canadian Rockies Day 5: Adaptation

In recent years, I’ve been asked why, when I take a photo trip, I try to set aside so much time in one place.  The shortest answer I can give is:  weather is relatively unpredictable and it’s extremely unpredictable in some of the best landscape photography locations in North America, like the Oregon Coast and the Canadian Rockies, just to name a couple.  Simply put, the more days I spend in area the better my chances are of attaining favorable weather conditions for a variety of subjects.

If you’ve been following the day-by-day recaps that I’ve posted thus far from my September trip to the Canadian Rockies, you know that–other than the morning of Day 1, when I drove from Calgary to Banff National Park–the predominant weather condition for the first four days was cloudy.

Add another overcast day to the ledger.  Not only was the fifth day overwhelmingly cloudy, the afternoon of that day was punctuated by steady rain.  But first, there was this impressive sunrise…

I’d scouted Two Jake Lake, on the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive near the town of Banff, on the morning of Day 1, and was suitably impressed.  I’d planned to return.  The forecast was for–you guessed it–cloudy conditions on Day 5, but the best chance of a decent sunrise location was to the south–meaning, near Banff–so I decided to head to Two Jack Lake.  I gave myself about an hour to make the drive from Lake Louise, but I appeared to have miscalculated a bit as I started seeing an impressive pre-sunrise sky begin to unfold as I made the drive on the Trans-Canada Highway.  I reached Two Jack as early as possible, but there were two significant complications–a number of other photographers already populating my pre-scouted spots and a pretty strong breeze, which substantially disturbed the lake’s surface.

Still, the sky was so impressive, I actually began my shooting, with a telephoto lens, directly to the east.

Mt. Girouard at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Girouard at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Girouard at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Girouard at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

I quickly moved alongside another couple of photographers to incorporate the lake, disturbed surface and all, into the frame.

Mt. Girouard at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Girouard at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

I then changed spots, moving about 500 feet to the northeast along the shore, to photograph in the direction of Mt. Rundle.

Mt. Rundle at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle at Sunrise, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

That brilliant sky didn’t last long.  The anticipated bank of clouds, which was already dominating the western sky, rapidly drifted in and snuffed out the color and the sunrise itself.  The wind seemed to grow stronger, if anything, but I made one last image before packing up.

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle from Two Jack Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I drove the very short distance to Lake Minnewanka, which is connected to Two Jack Lake by a small waterway, in the now mostly cloudy conditions and focused my attention on a couple of spots that I’d taken note of when I’d checked out the location under mostly sunny skies four days prior.

Aspens Amid Pines, Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspens Amid Pines, Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Saplings and Tree Skeletons, Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Saplings and Tree Skeletons, Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park, Alberta

From here, it was only a five-minute drive to Johnson Lake–another spot that I’d scouted in harsh light conditions on my first day in the area.

Johnson Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Johnson Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

There was still a lot of wind and I was receiving what would be my final brief glimpses of sun this day.  Before I left the area, I stopped at a colorful meadow that had caught my eye, just a few hundred feet up the road from the Johnson Lake parking area.  This spot was relatively sheltered, so wind wasn’t a major problem.  I had to wade in through stands of trees and shrubs, but I found a spot, at the foot of an old downed tree limb, and set up.

Autumn Meadow Near Johnson Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Autumn Meadow Near Johnson Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

With completely cloudy skies now expected for the rest of the day, I had to decide what to do next.  I ultimately settled on a return to Bow Falls.  I had shot there briefly, in less than entirely favorable conditions, on Day 1, but the even light of overcast this day would be perfect for the subject.  I navigated my way through the town of Banff and reached the falls.  I then wandered up the Bow River Trail, which skirts alongside the canyon that constitutes the Bow Falls area, stopping whenever I found an interesting composition, which was frequently.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Every shot I made while wandering the Bow River Trail was produced using a telephoto lens.  I found the details of the rapids in the river above the falls to be particularly interesting.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

The farther I moved away from the parking area, the fewer people I encountered–which is a fairly reliable sequence of events–but four different groups of people asked me to take their pictures.  I was perfectly happy to do this as the light was even and I wasn’t in any particular hurry.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

There were several different spasms of light rain during my time on the trail, but none of them lasted very long and most of the time I was covered by the canopy provided by mature trees nearby.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Rapids Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Rapids Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

The trial moved upstream, gradually descending from the heights well above the water to something approaching river level.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Ultimately the trail paralleled a spot on the river that was above the rapids; at this point, I turned around and headed back downstream, in the direction of the falls themselves, and the parking area.  Looking at the river from a different direction produced a number of interesting perspectives that I hadn’t noticed on the way in.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I also found myself focusing on elements other than the rocks and water.  There were several interesting trees, for instance, growing right out of the rocky walls of the canyon itself.

Canyon Conifer, Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Canyon Conifer, Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Conifers, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Conifers, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta

With a few parting images of the rocks and water combinations I’d been so impressed with earlier, I returned to the parking area.

Bow River Rapids Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Rapids Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was approaching mid-afternoon by the time I reached the car and before I left the area for good I decided to visit Surprise Corner, on the other side of the river.  This required a drive through a couple of blocks of downtown Banff, and then up a steep road to a smallish parking area high above the same Bow River rapids I’d photographed earlier.  This location also offered up a wonderful view of the Banff Springs Hotel and I made my way down to a spot on the edge of the bluff so I could take advantage of the vista.

Banff Springs Hotel from Surprise Corner, Banff National Park, Alberta

Banff Springs Hotel from Surprise Corner, Banff National Park, Alberta

After photographing the hotel, I made my way upriver along the series of informal paths that meander atop the bluff.  Different perspectives of the Bow River rapids were available all along the way.

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I also finally discovered a wider view of the canyon that I found appealing.  The bright lichen-covered rocks and red leaves in the foreground really caught my eye.

Bow River Canyon from Surprise Corner, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Canyon from Surprise Corner, Banff National Park, Alberta

When I finished at Surprise Corner and made my way through Banff back to the Trans-Canada Highway, it started to rain…and it never really stopped until after dark.  I headed back in the direction of Lake Louise and spent the final few rainy hours of daylight scouting locations west of Lake Louise in Yoho National Park–Faeder Lake, Wapta Falls and Wapta Marsh.  That scouting would pay off several days hence when I’d have the opportunity to photograph all of these places.

But my attention now was focused on the next day.  This would be my first opportunity on this trip to revisit the place that had vexed me so heavily the previous year–the Lake O’Hara area.  Last year’s highly anticipated visit had been negatively impacted by all-day rain.  Despite the existence of the wet stuff on this day, the forecast for Day 6 was for mostly sunny conditions and zero percent chance of precipitation following cold overnight temperatures.  Would I actually have the opportunity to experience the O’Hara area sans all-day downpour?

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