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 sunrise 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 an 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

Faeder Lake Reflections, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

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.

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Responses

  1. I can only say this: Fantastic ! 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Beautiful!!! I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and used your first trip to the Canadian Rockies as inspiration for planning my own trip last summer. I was travelling with friends who were not as much into photography (or hiking) as me, so it was challenging at times but a beautiful trip anyway. Now that I’ve been there myself, it’s even more fun to see your photos of some of the same places. I found Wapta Falls frustrating at first as the waterfall is not that visible when you’re at river level. I finally found a place with a better view higher up – but it was a slightly scary experience on a very slippery track. Still it was worth it I think: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hanneketravels/19391901336/in/album-72157651724447263/
    Anyway, I am looking forward to the coming blog posts, and I think I might have to come back in autumn one day (I live in Norway though, so it’s not that simple unfortunately)
    Hanneke 🙂

    • Thanks very much.

      That’s a nice pano of the Wapta Falls area. I understand your trepidation about reaching the spot where it was taken; given the amount of mist the waterfall generates, everything in the vicinity is perpetually soaking wet and extremely slick…and the drop from the bluffs astride the river more than high enough to be lethal. Yes, Wapta Falls can be compositionally challenging due to the presence of what I term “the slag heap”–that giant rocky pile of detritus immediately below the falls.

      I hope you’re able to make it back to the area one day, though I understand the considerable difficulties involved in doing so, given your base in Norway. It’s problematic enough for me, and I’m in North America (albeit 2000-plus miles away).

  3. Gorgeous.

  4. I am so glad you had such a beautiful sunrise at Two Jack Lake. And I love the first photo from Wapta Falls. Sometimes it is hard to believe there is so much beauty in such a relatively small geographic area.

    • Thanks. My experiences over the past two autumns have indicated to me that it’s very difficult to go wrong in the Canadian Rockies–very difficult indeed.

  5. Gorgeous shots…I would say that along with skill it is so key to have a good deal of luck, and a great deal of patience to capture the best moment, the perfect light.

    • Thanks. No question about it, it’s impossible to overestimate the value of luck; all one can do is be in a position to take advantage of luck when it presents itself.

  6. Fabulous set of images. Several are really breathtaking, but I enjoyed all, including the text. Thanks for sharing these experiences!

    • Thanks very much!

  7. Kerry. Really. These are breathtaking. In fact, my husband glanced over at me several times because he heard “ohhh . . . . ahhh . . . . mmmm . . . ” Well, it started with the sunrises – so gorgeous! on to the Wapta Falls shots that looked like paintings rather than photos and ending with moonrise over the marsh. What a day you had and how lucky we are that you are willing to share this experience. You keep surpassing yourself. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words, Lynn. Even when ambient conditions are less than optimal, it’s tough to have a bad day in the Canadian Rockies. When the conditions are optimal… 🙂

  8. I’d say that once again, you made your own luck by knowing where to go and when to be there to take advantage of the lighting of the moment to shoot some of the best landscapes that I’ve ever seen. That applies to your booking three days at Lake O’Hara to be sure that you had at least one day of good weather.

    I have a question if you don’t mind taking the time to answer. I’ll probably be retired by the time I would try to tackle the Lake O’Hara trail. As you said in your last post, the trail is quite difficult. What would you consider to be the minimum equipment to take along for an old fart hoping to get a few good photos?

    • Thanks very much.

      You’re right, being prepared allowed me to take advantage of my luck, so perhaps I had some small role in making the most out of a fortuitous opportunity.

      I’m more than happy to answer your question. In fact, I’ve received several inquiries via e-mail about optimizing the Lake O’Hara experience, so I’m in the process of putting a lengthy post together–which I’ll have finished by early next week, I’d estimate–covering this subject. Part of the post will address your question directly, but if I’ve left anything out, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll rectify that.

  9. […] 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 […]

  10. FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC work, Kerry. I especially like your excellent B&W processing. Well done. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Frank!


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