Posted by: kerryl29 | December 16, 2014

The Canadian Rockies: Day 8 – Athabasca Falls, Icefields Parkway Southbound, Sunwapta Falls and an Introduction to the Kootenay Plains

It was my last morning at Jasper and I decided to try and capture sunrise from Glory Hole–a location I’d visited in the afternoon of Day 7 that I thought would make a fine shooting location at first light, so I got up extra early and made the approximately 15-mile drive in the gloom to the location I’d recorded on my GPS the previous day.  I hung out at the spot for some time, but–though it got brighter–it was far too cloudy for there to be any sunrise that morning, so I grudgingly gave up and made my way back to Jasper with the intention of checking out of the motel and making my way down the Icefields Parkway in the direction of Athabasca Falls.

But while I was driving back toward the town of Jasper on the Yellowhead Highway, I noticed that the sky was doing some interesting things to the northeast.  It wasn’t sunrise light per se, but as I approached one of the Yellowhead Highway bridges that crosses the Athabasca River, I pulled off the road, made my way down to the river bank and captured the image you see below.

Athabasca River Morning, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Morning, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I made my way back to town, checked out of the hotel, filled the gas tank (very important, since the next gas station was at Lake Louise Village, more than 150 miles away) and began the trek south on the Icefields Parkway.  The first 50-odd miles covered terrain that I’d passed on the way to Jasper, back on Day 4, in the dark, so it was really my first look at this spot.  I didn’t make it all that far.

On a large bend in the road I saw a beautiful meadow to my right, and even though there wasn’t a pullout I stopped–well off the shoulder of the road.  I spent quite a bit of time at this spot, making the most of the stands of aspen mixed with pristine conifers and an attractive background of mountains and partly cloudy sky.  The light was soft and was a lovely complement to the setting.

Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

After shooting (relatively) wide I pulled out my second camera body with the 80-400 mm lens attached and spent some time working with tighter perspectives.

Aspen Trunks, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunks, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Monarch, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Monarch, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Once again I was left to marvel at the photographer’s paradise that is the region known as the Canadian Rockies.  Here I was at an unmarked, essentially unrecognized spot and I could have spent most of the day here making images, if I’d had the time.  All of the shots in this sequence were made without moving more than 75 feet from my parked vehicle.

Aspens, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspens, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

It was mid-morning by this time and I reluctantly got back in the car and headed back down the parkway.  My next stop was Athabasca Falls–a popular location for the many tour buses that zip up and down the parkway.  The falls area wasn’t too crowded when I arrived and after walking the short distance from the parking area to the falls viewing area I sized up the location.

Athabasca Falls is a gusher of a waterfall, but it’s difficult to obtain what I’d term a clear, full view.  Ultimately, I spent most of my time working on sectional compositions, most of which I subsequently converted to black and white, as you can see below.

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Sectional Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Sectional Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Abstract, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Abstract, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I then focused my attention on telephoto shots of the Athabasca River above the falls.

Athabasca River Rapids, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Rapids, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Rapids Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Rapids Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I gradually made my way upriver along a trail that skirts the bank, and worked my way over to a rocky shore for a wider perspective of the scene.

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

As I made my way back towards the parking area, I stopped on a bridge just below the falls which looks into the slot canyon that sits downriver.  There was someone in a kayak who was serving as a model for a group–I honestly couldn’t tell if they were preparing for a photo shoot or what (there was no equipment in place, but a lot of the talk among the participants sounded photo-ish)–in the rapids of the slot canyon.  The people up on the rim were occasionally trying to communicate with the kayaker, but he obviously couldn’t understand what they were saying over the roar of the waterfall, the sound of which must have been amplified by the echo bouncing off the canyon walls.  Regardless, the kayaker must have been highly experienced because he was holding his own under some rather gnarly-looking conditions.  I took a moment to pull out my equipment and capture the scene.

Kayaker in Slot Canyon, Below Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Kayaker in Slot Canyon, Below Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I had spent nearly two hours at Athabasca Falls and it was pushing noon as I moved along.  As had been the case on my northward drive on the Icefields Parkway several days prior, I found myself stopping frequently at the many pullouts.

Mt. Edith Cavell from the Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell from the Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Overlook, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Overlook, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

At one of these stops, a huge glacier was the main attraction.  At this location, I worked exclusively with a telephoto lens to compress the elements of the distant scene.

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

The river floodplain in the valley below also made for an interesting patterned shot, I thought.

River Floodplain, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

River Floodplain, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

I took a short road off the parkway to have a look at Sunwapta Falls, another gusher of a waterfall with limited views.  I couldn’t find a way to capture the falls in full without incorporating objectionable elements, so I worked the top of the falls, and the Sunwapta River above them.

Sunwapta River and Sunwapta Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunwapta River and Sunwapta Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

This was Upper Sunwapta Falls.  I wanted to hike the trail down the canyon to Lower Sunwapta Falls and photograph there as well, but it was mid-afternoon by this time and I knew that, between the round-trip hike (roughly 2 1/2 miles) and time spent shooting, I’d lose the better part of two hours and I had to be at the Aurum Lodge, for the start of the tour I was joining, before 5 PM.  From my current spot, if I drove without stopping, I’d probably arrive at the lodge after 3:30, and, really, given the scenery and my predilections, what were the odds that I wouldn’t stop again?  So I headed back to the car and resumed the drive.

Eventually I stopped at a location called Hilda Ridge, which provided interesting views of Hilda Creek on both sides of the parkway.

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Finally, I stopped perhaps 15 miles north of Saskatchewan River Crossing where low-hanging clouds were clinging to the mountainside, above the tapestry of aspens, east of the roadway.

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

I was still roughly an hour short of the lodge and it was approximately 3 PM.  I told myself–no more stops!–and I behaved.  I continued south on the Icefields Parkway until I reached Saskatchewan River Crossing and then took a left on Highway 11, exiting Banff National Park after a couple of miles.  This was my first look at David Thompson Country and I was impressed with the scenery and the emptiness of the area as I made my way 30-odd miles east toward the lodge.  There were almost literally no services or residences of any kind for the duration of the drive.  This was a remote area.

I reached the lodge at about 4:15, met one of my Aurum Lodge hosts, Alan Ernst, who got me checked in and settled.  I joined the other tour participants at around 5.  (For a more complete overview of the tour itself, go here.)  After some brief introductions and some words from Royce Howland, the tour leader, about what to expect, we piled into a couple of vehicles and made a 15-odd minute drive to the west–the direction I’d come from–on the highway for a sunset shoot at the Kootenay Plains.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

This became one of my favorite locations of the entire trip–not just the tour, the whole 13-day excursion, including my time on my own.  I’ll likely have more to say about this topic in a dedicated “thematic interruption” piece at some point, but suffice to say for now that I was as taken with the various meadow locations that I experienced in the Canadian Rockies as any scenic genre it was my pleasure to witness, be it the Hillsdale Meadows, the Opabin Plateau, the Bow River Outlet Trail, the Palisades Picnic Area or the unnamed meadow that I’d spent time in that very morning along the Icefields Parkway south of the town of Jasper.  The Kootenay Plains was as breathtaking a spot as any of these, perhaps more so given the incredibly open, big sky feel of the place.  There were stands of aspen and conifers in a broad, grassy pasture ringed by snow-capped peaks with fast moving cloud formations above and, quite literally, 360 degrees worth of spectacular views.  It was almost overwhelming.  Almost.

As the sun went down the cloud formations lit up, one-by-one.  The best locations to frame the views in different directions required a fair amount of movement.  I did some of this, but as I was brand new to the location, rather than running around like the proverbial chicken (without the proverbial head), once I sized up the place I confined myself, mostly, to one comparatively small area, best to capture the effects of the rapidly changing light.

Majestic Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Majestic Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I simply couldn’t get over how wonderfully the elements of this location naturally conformed to my compositional desires.  For someone as used to cluttered environments as I am, I was like a kid in a candy store.  It was almost as though I’d been given the opportunity to arrange the various elements of the scene in advance.

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett at Sunset, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett at Sunset, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Before we knew it, the blue hour was upon as us.  As if on cue, the moon rose, putting a cap on yet another extremely long, almost scarily memorable day of photography in the Canadian Rockies.

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As the last light dropped away and we prepared to leave, I asked Royce if we’d have the opportunity to revisit this spot before the end of the tour and he assured me that we would–which I was very pleased to hear.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies, Day 9 – Reflecting Pools and Further Explorations of Highway 11

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Responses

  1. I love Athabasca Falls. It definitely takes a wide angle to get the whole thing: http://blog.steveboer.com/2013/05/25/athabasca-falls/

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I had the lens to get everything (I go as wide as 14mm)–literally from the base of the falls to the top. I just didn’t care for the composition, so I went with something that focused on the top of the waterfall–much like what you posted on your blog (nice image!), but without including the riverbank (which had a fair amount of people on it).

      • Yeah it’s almost impossible to get the bank without people on it. You’d probably have to be there by sunrise, and even then it wouldn’t be a guarantee.

        • If it’s a very small number of people, cloning them out is always an option, but there are other potentially objectionable elements–a fence, a vehicle or two in the parking lot, etc. It’s always something when you shoot ultra-wide; the perils of having something creep into the frame that you’d rather exclude is a constant presence.

          I remember trying to find a perspective that would include the falls at the base of the frame and look upriver–essentially to the left of where I stood to get most of the shots that I ended up with–but I couldn’t find a location that gave a clear view of the falls and avoided containing a very large chunk of one of the retaining walls and its accompanying guardrail. C’est la vie.

  2. Beautiful work, Kerry.

    • Thanks very much, Scott!

      • You’re most welcome. 🙂

  3. What a place! Fantastic scenes and captures. Enjoyed everything, start to finish.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Beautiful. I miss the Canadian Rockies. I get to see Mt. Fuji on a regular basis, but nothing beats Jasper and Banff. Been so long since I’ve been to Athabasca Falls.

    • Thanks!

      This was my first trip to the region and, more than two months after returning, I still find myself mentally lost in the landscape of the Rockies.

      • I’m from Alberta, and I was lucky enough to go through the Rockies almost every year on a road trip to the west coast. Beautiful going through the mountains, even if I usually saw it from the back seat of my family’s car.

      • It is a beautiful place. I haven’t been there in 10 years, unfortunately.

  5. Absolutely gorgeous…Love the sweeping views.

  6. Now this was a productive day, I’d say! Wonderful light in all photos, but Hilda Creek From Hilda Ridge is a true show stopper; absolutely wonderful, Kerry.

    • Thanks, Tom!

  7. The rapids look crazy – Really good eye, gives me the travel bug to go out there!| 70+ #photography and #video #inspiration posts on https://coolstufffnet.wordpress.com !!!

  8. Gorgeous. I’ve been to the Banff-Lake Louise area a couple of times but haven’t made it to Jasper yet. It’s on my bucket list.

    • Thanks very much.

      Jasper’s terrific–it has a very different feel, IMO, than the area encompassing the town of Banff north to Lake Louise. The elevation at Jasper is lower and the valleys feel wider and, generally speaking, it seems considerably less crowded than the most popular spots in Banff/Lake Louise (though it’s not difficult to find solitude in B/LL–just go 100 yards down any trail 🙂 ). Regardless, I wouldn’t miss either general area, and I can’t recommend David Thompson Country too highly. Bottom line–it’s pretty difficult to go wrong in this region.

  9. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I absolutely love the images you’ve been posting from your trip, but I do hope that you get a chance to go back to the Canadian Rockies during a different season.

    Your images of the distant glaciers reminds me of the day that I spent hiking up one of the low mountains (it was more of a hill, but called a mountain) in mid-summer. The views were stunning, there were several glaciers feeding into the valley and river below, with numerous small cascades on the sides of the surrounding mountains. The top of the “mountain” was just above the treeline, and the fields of wildflowers and dwarf evergreens were amazing in their own right, but to top it off, flocks of mountain sheep came by to see what we were up to. That scene, of the sheep in the meadow colored with wildflowers surrounded by the taller mountains is etched in my brain forever! How I wish that I had your talent to photograph what I saw that day.

    The Canadian Rockies are one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and you have the ability and talent to capture that better than any other photos I’ve ever seen.

    • Thanks very much, and no worries–I understand what you’re saying. When I was looking through some of the ebooks for the area that I purchased earlier this year, before I ever departed, I was struck by many of the images that were clearly taken during the summer wildflower season–beautiful stuff.

      I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to the area during the summer or not. The downsides are pretty obvious and, unfortunately, significant–it’s the most crowded and the most expensive time to go, because it’s at the height of the tourist season; the days are also incredibly long at that time of the year, which sounds great but can really mess with you if you like to photograph in late or early light (as I obviously do). I dealt with a version of this when I was out in the Pacific Northwest in July, 2009–sunrise at 5:30 AM, sunset at or near 10 PM–and I got almost no sleep over the two weeks I was in the area. The upside to being there in the summer is that the temperatures are quite comfortable…but it’s also a comparatively wet time of the year. Autumn is the driest time of year in the Canadian Rockies, from everything I’ve read.

      Still…maybe some day I’ll get there in the summer. Your description of your memorable scene is awfully enticing.

  10. Wow Kerry, this is an absolutely incredible photo shooting day you had. The scenery is so stunning and you’ve captured it so beautifully. How I hope to grow up and be like you. Such an amazing post!

    • Thanks very much, Emily. There is something to be said for locational inspiration. 🙂

  11. You are right , I recognize these places or at least the essence of these places. You caught the season at peak colour and the sky sure co-operated with you-breath-taking wide angle shots.The B/W ones are inspiring too.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  12. […] first light on the first morning of the tour, but to a different spot than we had concluded the previous day.  This time, we accessed an area of reflecting pools, in a small wetland not far from the banks of […]

  13. […] I then wandered down a steep sand dune to the shore of the river itself.  Here, I found myself captivated by reflected light in the river, much as I had been on Day 6 in Jasper at the Maligne River  and then again on Day 8 at the Athabasca River. […]

  14. […] else crossed the road to the same area we had shot from during our first visit on the evening of Day 8.  I decided to hit the side of the road we hadn’t explored, having been attracted to a […]

  15. […] pulled off the parkway at Hilda Ridge–another place I’d stopped the previous year–to photograph a snowy Hilda […]

  16. […] photographed Upper Sunwapta Falls the previous year, on the morning of my trip down the northern end of the Icefields Parkway on my to David Thompson […]


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