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.

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Responses

  1. it’s an amazing place, and you showed its beauty in the best possible way! 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  2. It is hard to photograph that kind of grandeur, but you did a spectacular job…Your photos are so gorgeous.

  3. I’m going to have to think about something else to say than “Gorgeous photos as usual!” but that’s what always comes to mind. Well, second. First is something like “Daaaaamn. Now that’s purty.” But I’m not sure I want to expose that truth.

    • Thanks. 🙂

  4. Absolutely spectacular series, my friend. Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you, sir!

  5. These images do right by the natural beauty of the locations, but that could not be achieved without your ability to capture the very essence of what makes them so special. I am particularly partial to the Cascade Lakes area photos.

    • Thanks. I regard the Cascade Lakes area as the Opabin Plateau creme de la creme.

  6. I have to see some day these places. I have never seen air so clear !
    Very nice photos.

    • Thanks very much!

  7. Absolutely magnificent photography! I know that the scenery is breathtaking to begin with, but very few people are able to translate it into images as well as you do.

  8. Kerry, I’ve been following your blog (always beautiful, always informative) for a while but I’ve never seen photos like this before. Surrounded by 360º of beauty must have been a transcendent experience and lucky for us too, to be able to get a glimpse of what you experienced and captured. You continue to amaze me! Now I can’t wait to trek back through the previous posts, but I have a feeling that I will be coming back to this one over and over again. Bravo!

    • Thanks very much, Lynn; glad to have you back on the blog.

      There are many spectacularly beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies; only a few I’ve visited encompass the 360-degree phenomenon (I’ll be describing a return visit to another of these locales–the Kootenay Plains–in a post in the near future), but the Opabin Plateau, under the conditions I experienced on the day chronicled in this entry, is indeed a very special spot.

  9. […] 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 […]

  10. […] 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 […]

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. […] https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/canadian-rockies-day-7-scratching-the-itch-p… […]


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