My flight to Calgary from Chicago arrived at nearly 4 PM on September 15, and I still had to clear customs and pick up my luggage and a rental car. (The last part ended up being a bit of a problem, but it was resolved before too long.) I stayed in Calgary that night, rather than make the 2-3 hour drive to Lake Louise. But for some reason, I woke up at about 4 AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. After tossing and turning for another 90-odd minutes, I gave up at 5:30 or thereabouts and not long after 6 AM I had checked out and was on the road, in the pitch dark. I saw the sun rise–it looked like a beauty–around the time I reached Canmore, about 10 minutes shy of the town of Banff.
I’d spent absolutely no time photographing, or even scouting, any of the attractive locations around the town of Banff when I was in the area last year, but my plan was to rectify that omission this time around, beginning with the first morning. I was going to scout the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive sites–particularly Two Jake Lake, Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka itself, then move on to the Vermillion Lakes area.
The light was still nice when I hit the drive, and before I reached any of the lakes I planned to scout, I stopped the car at a pullout to make an image of the iconic Mt. Rundle.
I worked my way around to Lake Minnewanka, a deep, man-made lake created by a large dam. I saw some images that I might be able to obtain under different conditions, but did grab the one you see below.
From here, I drove the short distance to Two Jack Lake, which was my primary destination that morning. As the lake initially came into view I was immediately impressed by the evident photographic possibilities and, even though the light was becoming fairly harsh, I couldn’t resist the urge to pull out the gear and produce a few images (working around some of the crowds that are disgorged from the tour buses that frequent the area).
As I wandered around, I identified three or four primary shooting spots along the accessible southern shore of the lake and immediately determined that I would return to this location for sunrise at least once during my 10 days in the general vicinity.
After moving along and scouting (but not photographing) Johnson Lake, I returned to the Trans Canada highway, but stopped to look over some extensive aspen groves that surround the old Banff Airstrip. The aspens appeared to me to still be a week or so short of peak color, but I filed this spot in the back of my mind for future reference.
Then it was off to the Vermillion Lakes, only five-odd minutes away. There are three Vermillion Lakes that extend roughly east to west. Mt. Rundle and Cascade Mountain loom to the south. A low-speed road, approximately three miles in length, runs along the northern shores of the lakes and provides ready access. I stopped to explore on several occasions as I moved from the First Vermillion Lake to the Second and then the Third. There were seemingly endless compelling compositions at each of the three lakes. Unfortunately wind was causing significant rippling on all three bodies of water; this would prove to be a recurring them. But after going all the way to the end of the road, I spotted a small outlet stream, at the northwest end of the third lake, that was sheltered. It took some doing to get down there and to find a spot with a compelling view, but I managed to do it.
Before I cleared the area, I drove through the center of Banff–not something I really wanted to do–so that I’d have the opportunity to scout Bow Falls–a truly impressive waterfall and series of upstream cascades on the Bow River. The area was quite crowded when I arrived and the light wasn’t really ideal for waterfall photography, but I did set up for one image, after adding a neutral density filter to my polarizer. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to deal with the drive through Banff again, but figured that if I was in the area later in the trip on an overcast day I’d revisit the spot; the number of quasi-abstract compositions was evident.
When I finally finished with my time around Banff, I decided to scout the southern half of the Bow Valley Parkway, a location that I’d visited on my first day in the area the previous year. I took a quick swing past several of my favorite spots from last year’s trip–the Fireside and Muleshoe Picnic areas and Hillsdale Meadows. The aspens in the former two spots were still short of peak by a few days, I discerned, though the latter location was pretty much at peak. At one point during the drive along the parkway I stopped to photograph the Sawback Burn, an area covering a prescribed burn that was conducted by Parks Canada more than 20 years ago but still has a palpable impact on the forested area.
After scouting a few more spots, I left the Bow Valley Parkway at Castle Junction and took the Trans Canada the rest of the way to Lake Louise–a distance of roughly 20 miles. By the time I reached my hotel it was approximately 3 PM.
One of the things I wanted to do during this trip was hike the Larch Valley Trail–a steep trail that emanates from Moraine Lake and heads up into the larch-covered high country near Sentinel Pass. The valley is most photogenic during the early fall when the larches turn bright gold in color. The problem is that the area around Moraine Lake has a lot of bear activity in the autumn and Parks Canada routinely institutes hiking restrictions on the trails; groups of four or more are required to hike the Larch Valley Trail during this time of the year.
Fortunately for me, several of the people who were involved in the photo tour I took part in last year expressed an interest in doing the hike if I returned this year. Over the spring and summer I corresponded with some of those folks and we were ultimately able to put a group together. One of the other tour participants, Ellen from southeast British Columbia, wanted to participate and to help reach the minimum number of four, brought a friend of hers, Debbie. Both Ellen and Debbie are outstanding photographers and they drove up from B.C. the same day that I drove to Lake Louise from Calgary. The Larch Valley hike would be the following day (more on that experience in the next installment).
As we were all arriving at roughly the same time, we’d informally arranged to meet and seek out an afternoon/sunset shooting location. We’d settled on the Emerald Lake Road in nearby Yoho National Park, just across the provincial border in British Columbia. Ellen had photographed in this area before, but Debbie and I had not, so Ellen took the lead.
With the skies now a mix of clouds and sun (there were a couple of brief periods of rain), we reached the Emerald Lake Road in the late afternoon and explored the area around the Natural Bridge–a spot on the Kicking Horse River where the water plunges through a kind of hole in a rocky edifice–the natural bridge.
The area above the plunge was interesting, but inundated with people when we showed up, so we followed an unofficial path downriver a bit to explore a few spots along the Kicking Horse.
The crowds had thinned somewhat when we headed back upstream, so I took the opportunity to work the area just above the plunge.
As you can see, the river is a gushing, tumbling torrent at this point and it demands respect.
When we were done at Natural Bridge, we moved along to the end of the road–Emerald Lake itself. This is where we planned to shoot sunset. There’s a trail that circumnavigates the entire lake and we ultimately explored pretty much the entire northern half of it, beginning with some spots relatively close to the parking area.
I discovered some canoes that had been hauled up along the shore and used one for foreground interest.
At some point, someone else who was photographing in the area, decided to throw a huge rock into the water, to photograph the ripples. He did this without a hint of warning to anyone else, which was none-too-pleasing to those of us who were hoping to retain the pristine reflections for awhile.
We decided to relocate and before long came to an area which provided some excellent views of Mt. Burgess, across the lake.
We moved along the lake trail and eventually reached a spot with some very attractive reeds in the water. I decided to hole up here. In between sightings of loons and geese, I produced an image or two.
Ellen and Debbie had moved a bit further along the trail and I eventually headed in that direction to see what that perspective held.
The light ultimately faded, blocked by clouds on the western horizon, so after waiting for some time to see if we’d receive some aplenglow (we didn’t), we packed up and headed out.
Considering how little shooting I had expected, it had been a fairly productive day. The plan for the next day was to photograph at Moraine Lake at sunrise and then join the rest of our party for the Larch Valley hike which we expected to take up the bulk of the daylight hours. I’ll cover all that in the next post.