Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 6: Waterton Lakes National Park to Banff

I woke up again at 6:00am and immediately headed out towards Cardston to the spots I had found the night before to await the sunrise. It was just as windy as before, which made foreground leaves blurry, but I don't mind the effect too much and so just lived with it.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Unlike previous days, I got a pretty lengthy sunrise this time, with enough time to go from point to point and still get good lighting. Even after the light was gone from the mountains, I could still drive along to the Bison loop to look for Bison, but they were too far to get decent shots of, so I ended up driving out of the park completely towards Pincher Creek and Banff. As I exited the park, I saw some more good scenery and stopped and shot the last frame depicted above. There I met Jack, who was on a road trip of some sort, and also headed towards Banff. I told him that I could use someone to share a campsite with in Banff, and since he was heading there we could keep in touch. He asked a bit about my point and shoot, and took notes.

I was hungry and hadn't had breakfast, so I pulled into Pincher Creek and headed for the diner, Denise's Bistro. The service was slow even though I was the only person in the bistro, but that was OK by me since I was really paying for both hot food and the privilege of charging my batteries. After I was half done with my meal Jack showed up at the same bistro and ordered breakfast as well, so we had a nice long chat about life, what we were doing, and what our experience had been so far. He was determined to drop by Calgary on the way to Banff, and I had to do laundry, find some real fuel for my stove, and resupply with food, so I was much more time constrained.

Driving on 22 towards Banff, however, the scenes were so beautiful that I should have stopped and shot. Instead, I drove it straight, and I should keep in mind that just because it's mid-day doesn't mean I couldn't get a few decent pictures to document my trip. Nevertheless, I drove on and made Banff by about 2:00pm, which was enough time for me to drop by the information center to talk to the park rangers about backcountry trips, get my laundry done, eat lunch, find methylated spirits and loc-tite, and finally, get some wi-fi and e-mailing done. The park rangers gave me a few ideas about where to stay and where to shoot the sunset, chiefest of which was Tunnel mountain.

After getting a campsite at the campground, I sent an SMS to Jack in case he wanted to join me, and then set off to hike Tunnel mountain. What I saw at the base of the climb blew me away. There was a layer of clouds over Banff and in front of the mountains ahead of it, but there were holes in the clouds which allowed corpuscular rays to come through. I quickly strapped on my Mini-Treker and tripod and started hiking up the hill at my best possible speed. The entire hike went by as if a blur, as I felt as though I was racing against time, hoping against hope that (1) at the top there would be a clearing relatively free of trees so I could shoot, and (2) the prevailing light conditions would not disappear by the time I got to the top.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

There was definitely a space at the top with only one tree blocking the view. And fortunately, the light conditions if anything, were an improvement over when I started the hike. In fact, the light show would get better and better as time went on. The wind was very strong, however, and I was at a loss as to how to stabilize the camera until I realized that I could splay open the legs of my tripod and shoot leaned over on one side. It was a very uncomfortable position to shoot, but the camera was rock solid as a result.

I shot frame after frame, marveling at the light. When it looked like it was fading a bit, I ran down to a lower position in the mountain to see if the other side of Tunnel mountain had good light. When I discovered that the answer was "no", I quickly ran back to the top and resumed shooting at a slightly different position. To my surprise, the light show had gotten even better. I got a few final frames before the clouds shifted and the light went away all together.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

All through the shooting, I had various people come up to me and ask me about my filters, tripod, or camera equipment. By this time, the wind and gradually darkening skies had driven most of them away, but I still held out against hope that I could get one final burst of light. There was a woman standing behind me, though, and from her gesture I could see that she was using her phone as a camera, and also regarding my activities with interest. I grinned at her, and gestured at a spot beside me in case she felt sociable. To my surprise she smiled back and sat down beside me as I fiddled around and shot a few more frames.

She was Korean, and on a working holiday visa in Canada for a year. She had been in Banff for several months, and was about to leave for Toronto in the hopes of getting better work. "What sort of work did you do in Korea?" "I was a programmer." "Oh wow. I used to be a software engineer as well!" We laughed and she told me that today was her birthday, and that she had a birthday party later this evening. Despite her time in Banff she had not explored very widely because she had no car, and didn't have a driver's license and so could not rent one. "I thought I should get a driver's license since I was coming to Canada, but I didn't get around to it and now I regret having been lazy," she said. She also aspired to be a photographer, a cyclist, and a hiker/camper as well. "Well, since I am all of those things, there's no reason we shouldn't be good friends! I have a car, so if you want to join me on a morning shoot let me know." "Ah no, I rarely get up before noon." I asked her name, and she said it was Lilly. I did a double-take at that point, because not only was my brother's ex named Lilly, they looked pretty darn similar as well.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

It was quite clear that the light show wasn't coming back, so I started packing up the gear and we started walking down the mountain. She told me that the youth hostel would be almost as cheap as the campground if I was a member (I was not), and that in a pinch, one can sleep in the parking lot of the youth hostel and use the showers/toilets in the youth hostel. Since I had already paid for my campground, this was moot, but I filed away the information for future reference.

"Have you been to Lake Moraine?"
"No, I haven't. It's my first night in Banff."
"I want to go there, but no buses go there."
"Well, since it's your birthday and I have a car, I can take you there tomorrow if you like."
"Really?"
"Sure! After my morning shoot I'll have time to scout and be in between shoots."
"We can meet at noon."
"How about at the tourist information center?"
"I can do that."

At this point, we had arrived at my mini-van. We exchanged phone numbers, and I offered her a ride to wherever she was walking to in town, but she declined, saying that it was a mere 5 minutes walk anyway, and it wasn't so dark. I drove back to the campground, made dinner, took a shower (Canadian campgrounds are so civilized), and went to bed, setting my alarm clock for yet another 6am start.

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