Touring the Rockies: Part II

Panorama of Peyto Lake

On the way to the wilderness of Jasper National Park

Day 4 marked the halfway mark of our tour, meaning we were ready to strap in for a long ride out of Banff and into the more secluded Jasper National Park. Seeing as none of us really loved the idea of being boxed into a car seat all day, we made sure to make several stops for the scenery. We made quick stops at Crowfoot Glacier (a once magnificent sheet of ice that has now receded, quite a lot), Bow Lake, and a full hour at Peyto Lake. 

Peyto Lake feat. a proton arc aurora!

Peyto Lake is a little bit of a hike to get to, but worth the view. It's just magical and grand. Just be careful not to take a tumble. Last year, Paul got some killer shots at both dawn and at night, and managed to capture a rare and mysterious kind of aurora called a "proton arc". Amazing. As part of our venture into time lapse photography, I think one of our best came from this location. It reminds me of when I saw the Grand Canyon with the clouds rolling in, casting shadows over the rock formations. Check it out. Oh, and we went for a couple selfies.

After a journey northward, it became obvious we were somewhere different. The roads were going up up up, and the surroundings became bare. We were on the Icefields Parkway. And we were scheduled to ride by snow coach onto the Athabasca Glacier of the Columbia Icefields. 

Walking on the Athabasca Glacier

And it was awesome. A bit chilly, but nothing too extreme. It was really cool to be that close to the these massive ice sheets, and a little sad to know they'll be gone soon enough. Our tour guide was explaining how far this one had receded - about a mile over the last 125 years. I highly recommend watching a documentary called Chasing Ice to really understand how rapidly these natural formations are disappearing - I think it helps put where we are in perspective. Regardless, it was a cool experience getting to see a glacier up close, as well as the streams of ice melt. 

Storm over Patricia Lake

We made a road stop at Tangle Falls just down the road for some photos, and before we knew it we were at our next hotel: Lobstick Lodge. I think everyone (especially me) was really excited for scrambled eggs and bacon the next day. Mmmmmmm. We had made it to Jasper - the only civilization for miles. It's definitely a town meant for skiers, hikers, and adventurers and it's not nearly as crowded as Banff. I wish we could do a whole week in Jasper itself. 
Even though we had already had a full day, out appetite for photos had not yet been satisfied. So about half the group ventured out to nearby Patricia Lake, with the promise of dramatic storm clouds - and, we were rewarded with dramatic photos, and time lapses!

And then came day 5, with a morning at Pyramid Lake, where were greeted with mountainous reflections and colorful rock for interesting landscape photography practice. We also stopped in the Aspen groves - which are ripe for interesting compositions and black and whites. Aspens are similar to birch trees, but have a Northwestern forest flare. This was also the point in the trip where one of our students, Jean, nearly had a panic attack because her SD card was corrupted and she thought she lost all of her images (she was able to recover them). Just a word of warning to all photographers: always be prepared. Back up your data as often as possible, and always carry more than one SD card, just in case. (And always make sure you understand how to use cloud services and programs like Time Machine if you have it - it can truly be a lifesaver if you ever experience hard drive issues)

Shooting the Aspen Groves

Shooting the Aspen Groves

After some hotel-room SD card recovery work, we made our way to Athabasca Falls, where we practiced using ND filters on the fast flowing water, and saw the interesting canyon stairways you can probably recognize from travel photos you've seen in the past. Then, we visited Sunwapta Falls, a site where the thundering water separates into two bends that surround a little island, which makes for an interesting composition. If you're daring enough, you can get some pretty cool portraits by sitting on the edge of the falls. Or, you can capture some great photos or video from a safer spot. 

The next day we took a casual hike as a group through the Valley of the Five Lakes - a loop hike that wasn't too strenuous. And yes, we saw five lakes, each unique with their own colors; one of which was a pure green. On this trail, the squirrels come out to be fed; they might even crawl on your feet. 

Then, Maligne Lake for a photographer's boat cruise to Spirit Island. Spirit Island is one of the most recognizable places in the Rockies, since it is just so photogenic. On the way, we spotted a Bald Eagle in the trees, and a Loon that was singing for us. Usually, you can hear these birds but not see them, or you see them but don't hear them. We were lucky to experience both. Sandy, one of our students who specializes in wildlife and bird photography captured some amazing photographs here. As for the island, unfortunately, it was pouring rain by the time we arrived, but our students toughed it out anyway. I think our guide for this trip was impressed, actually. We also shared some delicious wines and cheeses on the boat - I think that makes up for it. 

(This is a shot from last year's scouting trip)

Check back soon for Touring the Rockies: Part III to read about the end of our adventure in Canada, and what to look forward to in 2017! Or, rewind and read Part I.