Posted by: kerryl29 | October 26, 2015

Day 3: Winging It

As I mentioned in the previous entry, the plan for sunrise on Day 3 was to head to the Bow River Outlet–about 20 miles south of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway.  There was only one problem:  upon arrival, we couldn’t find the trail.

It’s not nearly as ridiculous as it sounds.  The trail to the Bow River Outlet emanates from the western edge of the Icefields Parkway, but it isn’t visible from the road.  In fact, it isn’t really visible until you’re actually on it.  The trail begins down an embankment and it’s indicated at the roadside by a couple of pieces of marking tape that are tied to one of the the branches of an otherwise unremarkable shrub.  I found that marking tape last year, in broad daylight, fairly easily–I had the rough GPS coordinates for the trailhead, which was an absolute requirement because the trailhead doesn’t emanate from a roadside pullout.  The trail itself, in fact, isn’t an “official” trail at all, so it’s not maintained.  (It’s used as an access point to a route all the way up to Crowfoot Pass by some of the locals.)  But in the pre-dawn pitch darkness, we couldn’t find the tape, despite headlamps and copious searching (we spent at least five full minutes looking, in the freezing temperatures).

I figured that we’d better settle on another nearby location, and quickly, or we’d miss any sunrise light that we might be lucky enough to experience that morning.  So, I suggested that we check one of the Bow Lake viewpoints, just down the road to the north.  And so we did.  After taking a quick look at the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint, we zipped over to the northern edge of the lake, near the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge parking area.  The light was just beginning to come up as we reached the lot…and it appeared to be almost entirely cloudy.  (So much for the sunrise light, we thought.)  But the ambient light indicated that the Bow Lake Meadows, bordering the lake to the north, were a beautiful tapestry of fall color–unlike when I saw them the previous year, when they were badly picked over.  So that’s where I decided to place my focus since there was far too much breeze for there to be any reflections on Bow Lake itself.  Ellen and Debbie wandered down to the lake shore; I settled myself in the meadow and waited.

Bow Lake and Crowfoot Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Lake and Crowfoot Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta

To my surprise, the clouds parted just enough to produce some very nice–albeit isolated–light, before too much time passed.

Crowfoot Mountain at Sunrise from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain at Sunrise from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Things were even more promising–very, very briefly–180 degrees away, even if the composition was far less compelling.  Still, I managed to turn around and capture the scene behind me during a moment when the light in the sky was at–or at least near–its best that morning.

Northeast Sky at Sunrise from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Northeast Sky at Sunrise from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

When the light cooled–which happened after a short period of time–I pulled out the long lens to make a couple of peak portraits.

Cirque Peak at Sunrise Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Cirque Peak at Sunrise Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Jimmy Simpson Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Jimmy Simpson Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

When we wrapped up at Bow Lake, we headed north on the Parkway.  Despite the momentary light show at sunrise, it appeared that clouds would dominate the day, so the goal was to spend some time at Mistaya Canyon.  Located just west of the parkway about 20 miles north of Bow Lake, this slot canyon, through which the Mistaya River flows, is filled with compositions, almost all of which benefit from even (read: overcast) light.  So that’s where we decided to head.

On the way, we made a couple of stops.  First, we looked over Obervation Ponds, an unmarked marshy area across the road from the approach to Bow Summit.  We didn’t photograph the ponds–wind was causing considerable rippling of the water–but I noted the spot for possible future reference.

Then we went in search of the Mistaya River Oxbow, about 1o miles south of Mistaya Canyon.  There were a couple of false starts finding the oxbow–Ellen had been there only once and I’d never been there at all but we eventually found the right spot, with the assistance of the GPS coordinates.  The oxbow is accessed from an unmarked pullout on west side of the road and since the river isn’t directly visible from the road, or any of the pullouts in the area, finding the correct one involved a little bit of trial and error.

Mistaya River Oxbow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Oxbow, Banff National Park, Alberta

The marshy area in the foreground of these images is a reflecting pool of water in the wet season (i.e. June), but even during the relatively dry autumn there are reflections that can be mined.

Mistaya River Oxbow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Oxbow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Then it was off to Mistaya Canyon.  But when we arrived and made the short walk from the parking area to the canyon itself, we were greeted with an undesirable sight:  photographers everywhere.  It was obviously a workshop, and a huge one at that.  Ellen and Debbie mentioned to me that they’d run into a workshop participant back at the Bow Lake shore, a few hours earlier–and this was that same workshop.  It had 20 students and three instructors and they were covering the entire area.  I sought out the instructors and eventually found one–and asked how long he thought they’d be there.  I told him that we didn’t want to get in their way; this was true, but the other half of the story was that they’d be in our way–constantly.

He said that they’d be moving on in roughly 30 minutes, but he encouraged us to jump in whenever we saw fit.  We decided to use the 30 minutes to have lunch.  When that time was up, the workshop participants were still in place, so I suggested we work in among them and focus on tight scenes.  Within a short time, I reasoned, the workshop would leave on and we’d be able to broaden our sights on wider landscapes, only dodging the occasional tourist who saw fit to wander up the glacially fed river.  And so we did.

Mistaya Canyon Intimate, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

One of the things we quickly noticed about the workshop participants–they acted as though they’d never photographed with a group of people before, as they were continuously getting in one another’s way, and they appeared utterly oblivious to the fact that they were doing this.  I lost count of the number of times I saw one or more of these folks just blindly wander up river and walk into the frame of others.  It was ridiculous.  And it made evident just how absurd it was to have a workshop with anything approaching 20 participants.  This was a constant subject of discussion for Ellen, Debbie and myself for the remainder of the day.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Banff National Park, Alberta

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

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

Long after the workshop left, I slowly retreated downriver, closer to the trail access point, where the canyon thins dramatically, creating the slot for which Mistaya is best known.  Access to the canyon, both above and below the bridge that crosses the river, is wide open; there are no rails or fences.  That’s wonderful for photographers, but it does require care on the part of visitors as potential dangers lie everywhere.  The river, particularly as it runs through the steep canyon, is a raging torrent and woe be to anyone who falls in.

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Nevertheless, by exercising a degree of caution and a modicum of common sense, marvelous compositions lie, seemingly, everywhere, just waiting to be discovered and captured.

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon & the Mistaya River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon & the Mistaya River, Banff National Park, Alberta

We probably could have spent the rest of the day at the canyon, but after a few hours we moved on, heading south on the parkway, back in the direction of Lake Louise.  We stopped back at the trailhead to the Bow River Outlet, and in the daylight we found the marking tape easily.  We’d been at least 500 feet north of the correct location in the dark that morning; no wonder we hadn’t found the trail!  (This time I logged the exact spot on my GPS unit.)  As long as we were there, we decided to head down the trail and, even though the conditions weren’t the best, we spent a bit of time photographing.  The trail runs roughly 2/3 of a mile to the spot where the Bow River flows out of Bow Lake and, as I had my waterproof boots on, I climbed into the river shallows for the below image.

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

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

I spent the rest of the time while we were on site using a telephoto lens to pick out details on Crowfoot Mountain, located across the lake.

Crowfoot Mountain Sectional from the Bow River Outlet Viewpoint, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain Sectional from the Bow River Outlet Viewpoint, Banff National Park, Alberta

At one point, Debbie noticed an avalanche on Crowfoot Mountain.  She had a wide angle lens mounted and couldn’t photograph it, but I had my long lens on my camera and managed to nab this shot, at 400 mm.  The phenomenon only lasted for 15 seconds or so, and had the appearance of a distant snow waterfall.

Crowfoot Mountain Sectional from the Bow River Outlet Viewpoint, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain Sectional from the Bow River Outlet Viewpoint, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier, perched high up on the mountainside, is also visible from the Bow River Outlet viewpoint, and I zeroed in on it.

Crowfoot Glacier Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Finally, I photographed to the north, down Bow Lake itself, during a moment when the winds were relatively light, providing some semblance of reflections.

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

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

We decided to put a wrap on the day by photographing sunset at Vermillion Lakes, near the town of Banff.  It was a fairly long drive down there and when we arrived, there was significant wind, which made for virtually no reflections at all.  But, due to scouting a few days earlier, we knew that the best chance for a sheltered spot was at the far end of the last lake in the string–the Third Vermillion Lake.  Indeed, when we got there, we found a sheltered reflecting pool, mostly devoid of wind.  We decided to hang out here and wait for the light.  We were encouraged by the fact that the clouds appeared to be thinning shortly after we arrived.

Before heading down to the water’s edge, I noticed an intimate scene that I felt compelled to photograph.

Fall Color Intimate, Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Fall Color Intimate, Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Then I headed down to the water.  I caught sight of an old tree stump, near the edge of the pool, surrounded by reeds.

Vermillion Lakes Intimate, Banff National Park, Alberta

Vermillion Lakes Intimate, Banff National Park, Alberta

I decided to use the stump as a foreground when the light peaked.  But before that happened, we had company.  Again.  A bus pulled up and disgorged the same group of workshop participants that we’d seen at Mistaya Canyon…and Bow Lake before that.  We collectively groaned.  Fortunately, we’d arrived on the scene first and they had to work around us…though not without an unhealthy dose of the same group obliviousness that we’d witnessed at Mistaya.  One of the participants walked right in front of where Ellen was already clearly set up and waiting for the light.  This person began unpacking her own things, apparently completely unaware of Ellen’s presence.  When this was objected to, the workshop participant stepped aside–momentarily, then asked “are you done?”  Incredulous–since it was nearly sunset–Ellen had to explain that she was “going to be here for awhile.”

Once again, the lack of seemingly basic understanding of group photography etiquette on the part of these workshop participants made us shake our heads.  Had these people never photographed when anyone else was present?  And hadn’t the workshop instructors–who knew that they had 20 participants, after all–discussed this with their attendees?

Fortunately for me, I had set up in a spot where no one could get in front of me without getting good and wet.  Before the light peaked, I made an image that I intended to convert to black and white; that image lies below.

Mt. Rundle from the Third Vermillion Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle from the Third Vermillion Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Eventually, the light reached its apex.  The sunset wasn’t of the epic variety, but we did have a few moments of very nice light before it faded into the blue-gray of twilight.

Third Vermillion Lake Sunset, Banff National Park, Alberta

Third Vermillion Lake Sunset, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle at Sunset from the Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle at Sunset from the Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle at Sunset from the Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Rundle at Sunset from the Third Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

That ended another lengthy day.  The next one would be every bit as long and nearly as productive.

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Responses

  1. I am a little jealous of your fall colours, because, as you know,I did not get to the mountains until October. Your wide scenes show we need not scoff at overcast days.I enjoy the colour and light in these. As for crowds, you have my sympathy and see it often , especially when I am using my long lens. The other thing that gets me is when a fellow enthusiast sees me taking a shot, and they come over to “talk” even trying to show me the photos they have taken on their camera-“uh, excuse me , but I am actually trying to get a shot here.” All that aside, I have been inspired to look more consciously at my compositions and in B/W thanks to you.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      Yes, my timing for fall color last month was fairly fortuitous. It was pretty much dead on in and around Lake Louise. It was initially a bit early around Banff, but by the end of time in the immediate area color had more or less peaked there as well.

      I, too, have had the experience of others–including other photographers–wanting to talk while I’m in the process of photographing. That can be extremely annoying.

  2. I’m sorry that I never was able to comment on your last post, I have had Internet connection problems for the past week which I was finally able to correct this weekend.

    After reading about the difficulties you had with the workshop group, I hope that you asked what their itinerary was for the next few days and planned accordingly. People can be so clueless that it’s hard to believe at times, other times, I think that they do what they do on purpose. Yesterday, I had a father and two sons who chose to move their football lessons to whichever way that I pointed my camera, I finally gave up and moved on.

    But, despite the weather and the workshop, once again, your photos leave me at a loss for words. I’d say that you bring the area to life in your photos, but I don’t think that the expression goes far enough. Your images capture the magic of the area better than any that I’ve ever seen!

    By studying your images, I’m finally starting to get some depth to my humble attempts to improve my landscape photos, so once again, thank you for all that you’ve helped me with.

    • Thanks very much, Jerry–and, please, don’t worry about not commenting last time around.

      I found out enough about the workshop to determine that it had two more full days (and part of a third) to run. Since I’m sure that they were varying their in-field itinerary depending on the weather conditions, I never would have been able to know exactly where they were going and when. Spoiler alert: I did not run into them again, though this wasn’t my last experience with people getting in the way. In the worst example, it wasn’t obliviousness; it was total disregard for me and what I was doing. But that’s a story for another day.

  3. Your photo series, all of the images, are absolutely stunning. Such a wonderful nudge to get our and get hiking again.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Lovely captures! This area offers endless opportunities for photos – I love travelling here. I especially like you photos of Mistaya Canyon – I haven’t it there just yet but think I will have to go soon based on you awesome captures:)

    • Thanks! Once you have the opportunity to visit, I’m sure you’ll greatly enjoy Mistaya Canyon.

      • We might even try it this weekend. Hopefully not too many people there😀

        • The majority of tourists who visit Mistaya Canyon–and it’s a pretty popular spot on the Icefields Parkway–go no farther than the bridge, do the Chevy Chase head nod, and return to their vehicles. Essentially, as long as you don’t run into a photo workshop (extremely unlikely this time of year), you should be fine. 🙂

  5. Truly marvelous! If I had to pick favorites it would be the intimates, but Third Vermillion Lake Sunset (the one after the B&W) to show location. I think autumn is the perfect season in the mountains with the clouds and changing foliage.

    We’ve talked about the crazy photo workshops and it sounds like you experienced the ultimate nuisance. Twenty paying customers! Give me a break! It seems to be getting increasingly more insane, but then again it also seems that everyone with a smart phone is a Photographer these days. 😦

    • Thanks, Gunta! Autumn in the Canadian Rockies has been great the past couple of years.

      Re the workshop…one of the bizarre things, to me, was that this particular workshop implied in its promotional material (we found them online) that the large number of participants (20) was a positive. I’m still trying to get my head around that concept and why anyone pondering whether to attend would view it that way. For me it would be a complete non-starter.

      • Perhaps they charged less than usual? (I very much doubt it!) Then again some folks seem to like mobs. Part of the herd mentality (maybe?) Non-started for me, too.

        • The price of the workshop was, relatively speaking, pretty reasonable, so by any conventional assessment, they weren’t trying to gouge anyone.

          Regardless, I just can’t imagine, when considering a workshop with an in-field component, thinking “oh great, there are going to be 19 other participants.” That’s utterly counter-intuitive.

  6. Absolutely stunning photography!!

  7. I read this and looked at the images when it was first posted, but didn’t comment. Had to come back (as I often do to your blog posts) to revisit it. All of these are beautiful, but my favorites are from Mistaya Canyon. That is such a special place and you really have once again captured its essence.

    • Thanks, Ellen. Yes, Mistaya Canyon is indeed a special place; it doesn’t hurt that it’s far more accessible than all of the other slots I’ve visited in the region.

  8. Great photos, as usual! How high of a fall do you reckon that little avalanche was?

    • Thanks. I’d guess that avalanche represented a drop of 50-75 feet.

  9. We might say that in this case “trial and error” was also “trail and error.”

  10. […] the subject matter was completely different, this sort of gestalt was present at Mistaya Canyon the previous day as well.  I find this kind of artistic exploration/experience more gratifying than any other when […]

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. […] 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 […]


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