It’s been close to two years since I have written a blog post. Although I have had a couple of short trips and shooting opportunities, there was not much to share for the last couple of years. It was neither my detachment with wilderness nor developed disinterest in photography. In fact, it all started during my last backpacking trip (that I posted below) to 20 Lake Basin. During that trip prep, I saw nice cabins near Lundy Lake, just on the other side of Tioga Ridge from our trail. It has been a dream to have an off-grid mountain cabin, far from civilization, close to an alpine lake that one can reach only by hiking to; to stay for a couple of weeks in the cabin every year, indulging in nature around oneself and nothing else. After I came back from that trip, I searched for land to build the cabin of my dreams. Although, I didn’t find the place that I envisioned, I found land near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, near Pine Mountain Lake. It’s not complete wilderness, but it’s close to my beloved mountains and my second home, Yosemite. Two of my like-minded friends and I bought land and started building a cabin. It took six months to cut through the red tape and break ground. For last 18 months, I dropped my backpack and camera and picked up power tools, and my friends and I have been working on the cabin tirelessly every weekend since.
As the cabin coming up in good shape, I was really longing for some mountain time. The Canadian Rockies were in my list for a long time. The Rocky Mountain range spreads over 3000 miles between Canadian British Columbia to New Mexico in the United States. The Rockies in Alberta, Canada, are especially photogenic. The rugged mountains complimenting the glacial fed, turquoise-blue rivers and lakes are really treat to watch. Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks are adjacent to each other and offer a great Rockies experience, with many activities and hiking trails. July is the peak season for visitors, but I couldn’t hold my yearn to get out into mountains. After wading through Air Canada delays, we reached Calgary on July 12th. The town of Banff is about 130 kilometers from Calgary. It’s a nice little resort-town surrounded by Cascade mountains: Mt. Rundle, Mt. Norquay, and Sundance mountains. Bow river with its blue waters meanders through the town.
As we drove into Banff late at night, I did not see the landscape at all. My first morning in Banff, I got up before sunrise and drove up to Hoodoos viewpoint for sunrise. As twilight came up, it just blew up my mind. Mt. Rundle stood graciously in the distance. The blue waters of Bow river meandered through small meadows. Pine forest carpeted the landscape. As the sun rose, light played its magic. Moments like this are idyllic in life; they bring a smile and the assurance of hope that the world is still so beautiful.
We stayed two days in Banff. The gondola ride over to Sulphur mountain is a nice family activity. Short board walk between Sulphur and Sanson peak offer great views all round and gives bird’s eye view of the Banff town. If you are lucky, you may have glimpse of small herd of Big Horn sheep that lives on Sulphur mountain.
Cascade Ponds just outside Banff town is an excellent place for sunrise and sunset pictures. Mountains around the ponds makes it possible to compose great pictures in many directions based on clouds and lighting conditions. There are nice picnic grounds around ponds for a family picnic.
Continuing on the same road takes you to Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. Two Jack Lake picnic area offers great views of Mt. Rundle towards the south and Mt. Inglismaldie towards the east. Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in this area. Pursuit operates boat rides in lake Minnewanka. It was a nice, but overpriced. I’d rather take a boat ride at Lake Maligne in Jasper, and trade the boat ride in Minnewanka for kayaking in Two Jack Lake if weather permits.
When I laid down on boulders at Lake Minnewanka, this Golden Mantle ground squirrel came very close to me. I thought it was trying to beg for food, but it was very aggressive. No burrows were around so it’s unlikely it was protecting its nest and potentially off-springs. But it was funny that it thought with its growling and chattering, it could intimidate me. Whatever its fuss is about, it gave me nice close-up shots. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pay remuneration to my model. Feeding squirrels is very dangerous, as it creates behavioral problems and makes them aggressive towards humans. Please restrain from feeding wildlife.
The approximately 2 miles hike from Banff Town (Banff Ave) to Bow falls is very nice. The falls itself is not very tall, but the rushing waters of Bow river with small elevation loss creates dramatic turbulence.
Vermillion Lakes outside Banff are a great place to shoot/enjoy sunrise and sunset. Mt Rundle and Sanson peak of Sulphur mountains are visible across the lakes. There are three lakes adjacent to each other. From Banff town, on Mt Norquay road going towards Tran Canada Highway 1, take Vermillion lake drive on left just before highway ramp.
Johnston Canyon is another fantastic place in Banff area. Take Bow Valley Parkway (HyWy 1A) to Johnston Canyon. This route is alternative and much more scenic drive between Banff and Lake Louise. Johnston Canyon Trail is mostly a steel catwalk attached to canyon walls. Walking along the deep canyon walls with the rushing blue waters of Johnston Creek below, with the occasional small waterfalls is a fantastic experience. Johnston Creek is tributary of the Bow River that drops significantly twice along the trail. Lower falls is about 0.7 miles and upper falls is 1.6 miles one way from the trail head. Busy days, parking is kind of limited, so I suggest visiting this place in the morning. There is a nice restaurant at trailhead for lunch.
Our next stop was Lake Louise. We stayed in Lake Louise Inn in the village. Lake Louise is a relatively small lake, but one of the most beautiful lakes in the area surrounded by Fairview mountain (looking from the shore near Fairmont hotel) and Mt. Lefroy, Mt. Huber, and Mt. Victoria in the back, and Mt. Whyte and Beehive in the right. Lake Louise might have been a lagoon near Victoria Glacier tongue once, but the glacier receded back quite a bit. You can rent a kayak at Lake Louise Boat house. There is hiking trail around the lake. Another trail takes you to Lake Agnes Tea house. It’s about 2.2 miles one way with ~1300ft elevation gain. It’s worth hiking up to have a sip of tea next to Lake Agnes.
Moraine Lake is another gem in Lake Louise area. Moraine Lake is one of the lakes with a deep color. The blue color of these lakes comes from the light reflected of silt that is suspended in the water. As glaciers move, they grind stones beneath them. The Canadian Rockies have a lot of quartz, which is grinded by glaciers into fine silt. Silt is carried by glacial waters into lakes. Grinded powder is so fine, it will not sink to bottom. It will suspend in the water and reflect off the light. Moraine Lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. From the far end (right of the image) to these near peaks are Neptauk Mountain, Deltaform Mountain, Mt. Tuzo, Mt. Allen, Mt. Perren, Tonsa Peak, Mt. Bowlen, and Mt. Babel.
Parking at Lake Louise and Moraine Lakes is really troublesome. During the summer months, starting from 7AM to around 6PM, parking is restricted at both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Parks Canada run shuttles from overflow parking on Trans Canada Highway 1, about 5 miles from the Lake Louise Village. I went to Moraine lake around 4AM and walked over to rock pile. I was lucky to have low hanging clouds and a spectacular sunrise.
From Lake Louise, we took Ice Field Parkway (HyWy 93) towards Jasper. Herbert Lake is the first lake on Ice Field Parkway. The following image was made during sunset. When I started from hotel, it was hopelessly raining. But if the weather changes, these are the ideal conditions for great sunsets. Just a few minutes before sunset, the rain stopped and the clouds started to clear. It took a few more minutes for the lakes to calm down for great reflections of Mt Temple, Fairview Mountain and Mt. Saint Piran. Herbert Lake is a good spot to photograph sunsets and sunrises as well.
Our next stop was Bow Lake. We stayed at historic Simpson Num-Ti-Jah Hotel at Bow lake for one night. Bow lake is a beautiful lake at the foot of Crowfoot Mountain and Crowfoot glacier. We haven’t explored this area due to rain, but I’ve heard highly about the trail that leads to Bow Glacier falls.
Peyto Lake is another strikingly beautiful lake. Small hike from parking lot off of Ice Field Parkway takes you to viewing deck, from where you can see Peyto Lake at foot of Caldron peak (north-east face). I went twice to photograph Peyto, but both times, I was invited with rain and wind.
Next stop was Water foul Lakes. Its excellent place for sunset. But I couldn’t stay for sunset ( sunrise). I realized, staying in hotels is not convenient way to photograph the Rockies. You need to rent a small camper/RV and stay close to your location such that you can reach right time to the right location.
Mistaya Canyon is a hidden gem that many people miss out. It’s wonderful place to sit back and enjoy rushing waters that disappear into deep canyon. View of Mt. Sarbach is great with foreground of rushing waters of (what I think…some correct me, if incorrect) a tributary of Saskatchewan River. This is great place for shooting sunrise and sunset.
Parker ridge is one of the best hikes we did in this trip. It’s 2.8 miles round trip from trail head, which is located about one or two kilometers before Columbia Ice Field Center. Total elevation gain of the trail is just about 900ft. Once on the top of the ridge, views of Saskatchewan Glacier and head waters of Saskatchewan river are gorgeous. It’s exceptional panoramic view. Waiting for a sunset at this location will be definitely be rewarding. I couldn’t wait until sunset. But I made a promise to myself to return one day to shoot sunset here.
On the trail, we saw Spruce Grouse. Poor mom stressed out with disobedient chicks roaming all over without fear of visitors.
Columbia Ice Field Center comes about a miles from Parker ridge. Across the road, you can see spectacular Athabasca Glacier. Receeding year by year, but still magnificient. Surrounded by Boulder Mountain, Mt. Athabasca, Mt. Andromeda, Snowdome and Mt. Kitchener. Athabasca is actually a glacier tongue of Columbia Ice Field. The Ice Field is on triple continental divide. Waters from the glacier formed into three different rivers and eventually flows into three different oceans. Pursuit offers Glacier Bus Tour. These are special vehicals can drive on ice. Its unique experience to walk on glacier with hundreds of feet ice beneath you.
You will find Tangle creek Falls as you drive few miles from Columbia Ice Field Center towards Jasper. It’s nice a cascades.
Photography wise, I liked next two falls on Athabasca River (or it’s tributary Sunwapta River). Sunwapta upper falls is spectacular. Before the drop, Sunwapta river splits in two and re-converge as it plunges down 60 feet. Small Island that is created by the river before the drop is unique feature of this falls. With mountain backdrop and gorgeous water color, this is picture perfect place. It’s good for both sunrise and sunset. Falls can be viewed from the bridge across the river right opposite to falls. But river is not completely visible from this location.
Those background trees are not displaying autumn colors. That is dying pine forest. Pine Beetle infested Jasper National Park and 90% of the forest is dying right now.
Athabasca falls is small but spectacular falls. Before the drop, river cascades small steps, which is great foreground subject compliments with Mt. Kerkeslin in background. This location is great for sunset.
We did not explore much of Jasper other than Maligne Lake. Pursuit runs boat rides on Maligne Lake, which take you to Spirit Island. It’s great place. Spirit island itself is not anything special in it’s appearance, its background settings is splendid with grand mountains both sides of the lake. Unfortunately tour boat does not stop more than 15 min. there…let alone taking sunset pictures. The only way to get to this place by ourselves is by kayaking. Kayaking one way takes at least 6 to 8 hours, according to a ranger that I spoke. Motorized boats are not allowed in the lake. However, she told me that one can get battery operated motors that can be attached to Kayak to make things easier. I would one day really want to Kayak up there and stay for couple of days.
Entire trip, my eyes were wandering around to spot mountain goats, but no luck this time. But we were lucky to see many black bears up close. This is prime time for them to munch on buffalo berries.
Alberta is known as wild rose country. Although, I have seen these wild roses in Sierras in California; Rockies have more abundant. Some other wild flowers bloom at this time of the year.
We have visited only two places in Yoho national park. Takkakaw Falls and Emerald Lake. Both are reasonably close to Lake Louise area. I'm particularly very impressed with Emerald Lake. The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains. Based on the could cover, sunset/sunrise pictures can be taken literally from any direction.
Visit my online gallery at www.llmswamy.com for recent pictures