Posted by: kerryl29 | March 14, 2016

Canadian Rockies Day 14: End Notes

It was the final day of the excursion and the photographic aspect had to conclude at a reasonable hour, because the literal part of it had to come to an end at an airport hotel in Calgary.  My flight back to Chicago departed late the following morning.  I had a rental car to return, I had to clear customs (U.S. customs, I’d learned the year before, had to be cleared at the Calgary airport, not upon arrival back in the United States) and clear security, so I knew I needed to be at the airport at least two hours before the flight.  I also had a lot of repacking to do, to make sure that my bags adhered to the weight limit and that all the critical carry on items would fit in their designated places.  So, I knew I had to be back in Calgary by around sunset.

This would dictate the day’s plans, eventually, but I still hoped to photograph sunrise in Jasper.  That, of course, assumed that there would be a sunrise, which didn’t appear likely, based on the forecast.  Still, I decided to go for broke, so to speak, and hauled myself out of bed extra early to make the 45-minute drive up to Cavell Lake, to photograph Mt. Edith Cavell at first light.  It takes 10-15 minutes to get to the road to Mt. Edith Cavell.   From there, the drive to the lake is on a very windy, two-lane road, so even though it’s not a great distance–about nine miles–it takes a while to make the drive.  I’d been up at this location twice during my time in Jasper in 2014, so I knew what to expect and where to go.  Good thing, since I was heading out in the pitch dark.

It was cloudy when I hit the road, though I held out some hope that I might be able to climb above the clouds by ascending the Cavell Road, which gains quite a bit of elevation.  When I arrived at the parking area closest to the short trail down to the lake, the car thermometer read right at the freezing mark.  I knew, from experience, that it would be icy near the like, so I made a mental note to watch my step, and dug out my head lamp to help me spot any slick spots.

There were some fast moving clouds visible when I got out of the car, but I could see some clear patches of sky, which boosted my spirits a bit.  And the setting moon, with a distinctive halo, popped out from behind a cloud bank.  I decided to try to photograph it, via the assembly of a nine-exposure blend.

Halo Moonset, Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Halo Moonset, Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Then I wandered down to the deserted lakeside and waited for the light.

Gradually, it came, but there wasn’t a hint of sunrise light anywhere.  Apparently the gaps in the clouds I’d seen when photographing the moon had been fleeting.  Eventually, I could see the mountain, or at least some of it, and its reflection in the mostly still lake.  The sky was doing the scene no favors, so I omitted it from the image you see below.

Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I converted the above image to black and white because of how much more of the reflection I was able to pull out with a higher contrast monochrome rendering.

Cavell Lake Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Cavell Lake Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I was pondering my next move–given that there would be no sunrise–when it started to rain.  It wasn’t pouring, but it was steady.  Given how cold it was, and how essentially unflattering the light was–and given that I had a long drive and many stops I intended to make on the way (conditions permitting) I decided to call it quits.  I had to go back to Jasper and get my belongings and check out of the motel which, given the length of the drive back, would take more than an hour, so I wouldn’t have been able to stay all that long at the lake anyway.

The rain continued on and off all the way back to Jasper and was an occasional nuisance as I began my drive south on the Icefields Parkway.  Just south of Jasper, I stopped at a bridge over the Athabasca River for a parting image of the view north.

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park Alberta

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park Alberta

From there, I drove without stopping for nearly an hour, until I reached the Studfield Glacier Overlook.  The majesty of this spot captivates me; I couldn’t help stopping there in 2014 and, though I didn’t necessarily intend to stop this time, I couldn’t help myself again.

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

There’s something about this spot–the arching, intersecting lines of the slopes beyond the Athabasca River floodplain, the snowy peaks, the sporadic dotting of dwarf conifers on the riverbed, Studfield Glacier itself…I can’t quite put it into words, so I’ll let the images try to speak for me.

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Floodplain, Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Floodplain, Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Conifer Patterns, Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Conifer Patterns, Studfield Glacier Overlook, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Just south of the glacier overlook lies Tangle Falls.  You may recall that I stopped at this spot on the drive up to Jasper on Day 11; I certainly had no intention of stopping again.  But as I drove by the waterfall–which is adjacent to the road–once again, I couldn’t help myself and zipped into the empty parking lot.

I’d photographed Tangle Falls from below on Day 11.  On this occasion, since there was no one around for me to obstruct, I decided to follow the footpath on the south side of Tangle Creek and climb up near the falls themselves.  The view from below is quite nice, but relatively limited from a compositional viewpoint.  Up top, there are almost countless possibilities, and I set about taking advantage of some of them.

Tangle Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Falls Intimate Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Falls Intimate Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Creek Intimate Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tangle Creek Intimate Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I might have lingered longer at Tangle Falls, but I was mindful of the time limitations and the other places that I would undoubtedly want to visit, so after a little while I moved on.

My next stop was at a parkway pullout just south of Athabasca Glacier.

Mt. Andromeda & Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Andromeda & Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I then moved up the road, less than a mile, to stop at another pullout, and took out the telephoto lens for a more intimate investigation of the mountain ridge lines and glacial ice and snow.

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Intimate Black & White, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Intimate Black & White, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Intimate, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Intimate, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Intimate, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier Intimate, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Athabasca & Athabasca Glacier Black & White, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Athabasca & Athabasca Glacier Black & White, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Darwin Wiggett’s Icefields Parkway ebook mentions a way to access an appealing part of Nigel Creek–about 12 miles south of the Athabasca Glacier pull0ut mentioned immediately above.  There’s a parking area for the Nigel Creek Trail, but the access point of interest is about 1/8 mile north of that parking area on the east side of the parkway.  I had actually scouted this spot on Day 11, when the sun was out, and made a mental note to return here on the return trip if it was cloudy.  It was, in fact, mostly cloudy so I stopped at the trailhead parking area, grabbed my gear and wandered along the shoulder of the road until I saw what I’d found three days earlier:  a very pleasing scene, incorporating the creek below me.

It was a very tight shot.  From my perch high above the creek, on the shoulder of the parkway, I framed the scene at 400 mm, which was just barely narrow enough to avoid encroaching tree branches on both sides of the frame.

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

I wanted to see if I could get a closer look, so I kind of half-slid 50-odd feet down the steep, gravelly embankment–I could tell before I went down that I’d be able to climb out of here with little difficulty by accessing a more gradual, grassy area about 500 feet farther downstream–to a mostly flat area, enshrouded by conifers.  The question was whether I could find a way, between the trees, to walk out on one of the huge boulders that fronted Nigel Creek, for a better look at this enchanting stream.  With a bit of investigation, I did indeed find a route out onto a dry, rocky ledge.

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

This was another one of those spots–as in other access points to Nigel Creek that I’d visited on Day 11, or at spots along Beauty Creek–where discretion was the better part of valor.  There were, obviously, no railings in this area.  I was perched about 15 feet above the creek, which–if not quite a raging torrent at this spot, certainly wasn’t a place anyone would want to fall in.  So I very carefully negotiated myself into shooting positions, and made certain that everything was stable before setting up my tripod and camera…not to mention myself.

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Nigel Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

After climbing back up to the parkway and returning to the car, I headed back down the road and stopped again at the access point to Panther Falls.  I had been to this location, as you may recall, both in 2014 and on Day 11.  But on the quick visit here a few days prior, it had started to snow, so–in my haste to clear the area, I’d abandoned thoughts of photographing the waterfall.  This was my opportunity to make amends.

When I’d visited Panther Falls in 2014, I’d photographed the waterfall from a ledge roughly at eye level.  But I knew that there was a spot the waterfall could be photographed from, more or less, at mid-point in the drop of the water.  I hadn’t had time to check for that spot in 2014, so I made my way there on this occasion.  It’s a short hike:  perhaps 1/3 mile to the location.  The thundering water can be heard as you approach a rocky wall that blocks your view.  And you feel the waterfall–as the moisture is blown downstream–before you see it.  I can plainly recall clearing the rocky impediment and being face to face with the waterfall, with the spray blowing in my face.  Within seconds, you’re covered with a fine mist.  There’s absolutely no avoiding it; there’s no place down there to take cover without retreating on the trail, out of site of the waterfall.  I backtracked on the trail to a spot that was dry, laid down my backpack and tripod, and returned without equipment to look at the waterfall and see if I could find the best spot to photograph Panther Falls.  I did this, and took special note of how slippery the rocky ground was.  Then I retreated to my gear.

The question was, how could I actually go through the process of photographing this waterfall and keeping the front lens element dry in the process?  Frankly, I wasn’t sure it was possible, there was so much mist, but I endeavored to try.  My plan was to head back to my prearranged spot–I’d marked it with a small branch that I’d found on the ground–and set up, with the lens cap firmly in place.  I would then make my best guess as to how to align the camera.  I’d already set the polarizing filter, and manually preset the exposure based on a test shot out of site of the falls–doable since the light was even–based on a 1/15 second shutter speed, since I wanted to showcase the waterfall’s power–before returning to the spot.  I would then remove the cap, trip the shutter with the cable release, and immediately put the lens cap back on.  The lens hood would, I hoped, mitigate any mist.  I’d then check the composition on the LCD panel and, as necessary, rinse and repeat.

That’s exactly what I did.  When I checked the exposure–which was, as expected, spot on, I was surprised at just how close the composition was to what I wanted, given that I’d established it nearly blindly.  The camera needed to be tilted down ever so slightly and I needed to zoom out just a bit.  I made the adjustments and repeated the process.  This time, I got exactly what I was looking for and didn’t need to make a third exposure.

Panther Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta

Panther Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta

I returned to the dry spot–where I’d left my backpack–and used a towel that I’d brought with me to dry off my camera, lens and tripod.

Panther Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Panther Falls Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

While I was on the trail back to the parking area, I took the time to make an image of Bridal Veil Falls, snaking its way down the distant slope to the east, across the valley.

Bridal Veil Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bridal Veil Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was now approaching mid-afternoon and I still had a drive of nearly four hours to get back to Calgary, but I had one more stop I wanted to make.   Just a mile or two down the parkway the road makes a huge–roughly 270-degree–curve.  This “Big Bend” has a parking area on one side of it, and from that parking area, if you hike about 1/4 mile you enter a narrow slot canyon, from which a creek emanates.  Entering the slot, a somewhat dodgy trail will take you through trees and over and around rocks to an impressive unnamed waterfall.  The waterfall is interesting, but getting a good position to capture it photographically is a challenge.  Remember what I said about Nigel Creek above?  Well, this spot makes that seem like a proverbial walk in the park.  There’s almost no way to prop up a tripod–and a photographer behind that tripod–to produce a pleasing perspective, but I worked and worked at it and finally came up with something that I felt was passable, if not exactly phenomenal.

Unnamed Waterfall, "Big Bend," Banff National Park, Alberta

Unnamed Waterfall, “Big Bend,” Banff National Park, Alberta

And that image, the so-so shot of the unnamed waterfall, was the last photograph I made in the Canadian Rockies.  I drove straight back to Calgary from there, arriving at the hotel right at sunset.

It feels like a bit of an anticlimax to me; kind of a sour way to put a cap on such a majestic trip.  And so, I’ll probably post an epilogue, of sorts, to this series, in the next week or so.  Maybe I’ll try to capsulize what my experience in this region means to me and what, if anything, it’s helped me learn about landscape photography and my relationship to it.  I hope you’ll hang in there for that final installment.

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Responses

  1. Can’t say I had the time this morning to read the post….hopefully will at some point…but the phiotos are beautiful. Love your work! M:-)

    • Thanks very much!

  2. I’ve loved your whole series. I’ve been up to Banff a couple of times and love that area. I’m going back in May but will only have 1 week. We plan on spending a couple of days in Jasper. I can hardly wait – but I wish I had more time to spend up there.

    • Thanks!

      And, have a great trip. Any chance that you’ll be sharing your experiences on your blog? I’d be very interested to read about them–and to get a sense of your experiences in the region in the spring.

      • I am sure I will be doing several posts on my trip. That area is a photographer’s paradise.

        • Great! I’ll be on the lookout.

  3. You are amazing, my friend. By the way, how come you get to go all the great places? Just kidding! It’s a real pleasure to view what you’ve accomplished. Keep it up! We’ll be waiting.

    • Thanks!

      Everything’s relative. To me, it feels as though I rarely go anywhere. (Twice a year I leave the region, and that’s it.) But the way it comes across on the blog…I’m sure it seems as though I’m gallivanting all over the place. 🙂

  4. What a great final day to your trip…Nigel Creek, Tangle Falls, Panther Falls, and the unnamed falls at Big Bend…now that’s a special day in anybody’s book. The photos really do it all justice. I’m always in awe of your approach to getting the perfect shot.

    • Thanks very much, Ellen!

  5. Would love to go up to Jasper for at least a week.

    • The longer the stay, the better. Seriously, if you do get the chance, go…even if it’s just for a few days.

  6. Viaggio fantastico, che meraviglia!!

  7. Amongst a stunning array of images the first Nigel Creek shot stands out for me as being what we go into nature for, just to know something like this is out there is wonderful. Thank you for such a comprehensive and beautiful series.

    • Thanks for taking the time to weigh in.

      There are so many beautiful locations in the Canadian Rockies–be they sub-alpine lakes, towering peaks, dense forests, open meadows, rushing rivers and creeks, crashing waterfalls–that it’s difficult to know where to start. My point is, there are marvelous places there, literally almost everywhere you look.

  8. I’m thoroughly impressed at the ‘blind’ shot of Panther Falls, though I was holding my breath that you’d make it safely. But honestly? I love the colors and patterns of the last shot best of all! What a fantastic trip. You bet I’ll be hanging in for the wrap-up. (Though STILL coughing my head off!)

    • Thanks, Gunta. Sorry to hear that you’re still under the weather. It wasn’t until yesterday (a full 2 1/2 weeks after I was first afflicted) to completely overcome the symptoms from my most recent cold. Nasty stuff.

      • I’m just hitting the two week mark, so perhaps there’s hope of some end to the tunnel? Extremely nasty stuff indeed!

        • I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you’re on the tail end of the malady.


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