Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 8: Lake Louise to Egypt Lake Back-Country Hut

It was really cold in the morning when I got up to Lake Louise. A group of photographers were standing with their tripods out and with their cameras at the ready. Someone who looked like an instructor was going between them looking at their work. In tricky lighting situations like what we're about to encounter, it's very easy to tell the difference between the advanced photographers and the ones who aren't playing the same game: the advanced photographers have ND grad filters out and ready to go.

I shot a few photos at the obvious place. They required the use of my android phone as a stop-watch as the exposure time was well over 30s. I was grateful that my battery was fully charged, since long exposures drain the camera's battery as the sensor has to be powered during the entire duration of the exposure. I then ran around to the location I had scouted out the evening before and started jutxtapositioning the flowers with the glacier at the far end of the lake.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

The light show went on for a good long while, but as I walked back towards the I ran into Nicole from Confetti Wedding Films shooting footage for a wedding. She was having a frustrating time, since every time someone stepped into her frame she'd have to go back and re-shoot that take. I noticed that she was shooting with the 5D2, and asked her about it. She said that they had sold all their expensive video cameras in favor of the 5D2, which she considers the best camera for HD video. Looking at her results I can't disagree, not that I'm about to climb the learning curve so I can learn how to shoot video.

Someone came to me and handed me a Canon Rebel camera for a snapshot of his family. Usually, people come to a serious photographer with a point and shoot and it's frustrating because the expectation is that this "professional" will magically make the crap point and shoot produce decent pictures. Most point and shoots are so badly designed that you can't even turn on fill flash if you want to, so I just get annoyed by such requests. This guy however handed me a decent camera! I looked at his camera settings and smiled. I flipped the mode dial to Av, tweaked the aperture setting to f11 (cheap consumer zooms have to be really stopped down to produce decent pictures), zero'd out the exposure compensation (he had set it to some obnoxious number guaranteed to produce washed out pictures), turned on fill flash, and then shot both a horizontal and vertical frame of his family. I handed the camera back to him to check the results, and he scratched his head at it wondering if it was the same camera that produced over-exposed pictures for him. "Wow, these are really good!" I walked away with a big grin on my face.

I drove down to the visitor's information to get a back-country permit and a hut reservation for Egypt Lake hut. I remembered the hut system from 14 years ago when my brother and I used it in the height of summer. In the fall and with the temperatures from the last couple of nights I really would rather be indoors somewhere. I got to the office just 5 minutes too early, but an interpretive guide was there early as well. She and I chatted and she told me that if I took the shuttle bus up to Sunshine village that would turn the hike into a loop hike rather than an out and back. That made the trip even more attractive to me, so when I spoke to the ranger that's what I asked about. She wasn't sure if the shuttle would stop running while I was at the hut but since I wasn't planning to use it for the return that was OK. She did talk me into staying at the hut for two nights rather than one night, since she said that there was lots to explore. I was thinking that if I went light and fast I could explore everything in one day since I was relatively fast, but she said that the place was so pretty it was worth hanging out. I did a quick calculation and realized that I had enough supplies for 2 nights, so I agreed.

I drove down to the Sunshine ski area, and started packing for my trip. No tent was necessary, but I still needed my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. I packed food, stove, fuel, and long underwear. For camera gear, since I did not want to lose more than a day of shooting, I brought my 5D2, my tripod, my ND grad. filters, a polarizer, some spare memory cards, a cleaning kit for the lens, and just one lens. The backup camera was of course the S90. Laden down with gear meant that I needed both hiking sticks, and I had been told to bring boots for the muddy section. It took me most of an hour to pack all this gear out of the mess that was the back of my mini-van, but now I was ready to go. I hopped onto the shuttle bus after paying the $15 one way fee. The bus ride was surprisingly long for such a short distance, but the women behind me were experienced hikers in the area, and told me that the larch forests this time of year were really pretty and I would be surrounded by them. "Egypt Lake is just a place to stay. The highlight is Healy Pass."

Indeed, when the bus arrived we were surrounded by orangy-yellow pine-looking trees, which were the larch trees. After a quick lunch, I hiked out along the designated path and found myself alone in the wilderness. My pack, which didn't seem so heavy in the parking lot started to feel heavy as I climbed into the forests and into better and better views.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I hiked along a ridge which then descended down to a stream that connected with Simpson pass, which did not feel like a pass at all, since the trail kept going up past it! A downed tree blocked the trail at one point, but it proved easy to bypass by backtracking just a little bit. The trail was very wet in places, and I was glad to be wearing hiking boots rather than trying to do the trail in running shoes. Finally, as I approached Healy Pass, I started meeting day hikers, one of whom told me that there was someone staying at the hut, so I would not be there by myself tonight.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

As promised, Healy Pass was superb, with a lake view, and views in both directions. It was so pretty that even though I usually don't bother with pictures of myself in a locale I had to get a couple who were hiking through to shoot me one.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

By this point, however, I was quite tired from the amount of work, and looked forward to the downhill. It was only 3.3km, but what a long 2 miles that was! It went on forever, and it didn't help that with all the big hills and large trees nearby I was soon in shadow and could no longer see the destination. I eventually came upon a shelter, but upon examining it discovered that it was the park service shelter, not the public shelter. A short walk, however, took me across a bridge where I met Chris Ludowicy who told me that the hut was not more than 100m away. I got to the hut and laid down my pack in relief. Not long after, Hien showed up, and we introduced ourselves. "Chinese?" she said, "讲国语?" "是的. 你呢?" "My mandarin is terrible. I speak mostly Cantonese." "Oh, in which case we'll have to speak English, because my Cantonese is even worse than your mandarin." Hien was Vietnamese Chinese, and came to Canada when she was 8 was a refugee. "My dad wanted a country as far away from any wars as he could get, and so he picked Canada." Hien looked tough, and she had been everywhere. When she told me that she'd been drinking out of the stream with no filtration, I was first impressed at how clean Canadian streams were. Then she told me that she never got sick from food, no matter where in the world she was, be it India or China. She had just come back from a hike and was busy using a shovel to clear out the fireplace. I realized that I was exhausted because I did not even feel like standing up to help. I asked her if she needed help and she waved me away. I asked her if she would like to share some chocolate, and she said, "No, I don't like chocolate." This is my year for meeting people who don't like chocolate.

It was nearly 5pm, and given how I felt, I decided that I should eat dinner. Hien told me to go to the bridge to get water, so I walked down there and met Chris, who was nursing an injured knee. Chris was German, had recently graduated and was spending a few months traveling before he started work. He had been hitch-hiking around Alaska, and had met up with a Swiss woman with a car and was now traveling with her. He seemed to be having a great time despite his injured knee, but wondered why my girlfriend wasn't with me. "She'd rather work," I said. "I've never heard of that!" We laughed. While I filtered water, Hien walked past and told us that she was out for another walk, since she was not tired from all the work she had done around the hut.

I went back to the hut after filtering enough water for dinner and to get through the night, and started making dinner. Chris came with me and started preparing his stove as well, but he wanted to wait until Evelyn came back. By the time Evelyn came back, my stove was going but since the MSR whisperlite is much faster as a stove, we ended up eating dinner at around the same time. I made the mistake of trying to blow out my stove after my tuna can snuffer failed. The result was hilarious (hint: it's not a good idea), but led to Chris & Evelyn saying, "We are not letting you light the fire!" as they laughed. I was OK with that.

After dinner, Evelyn started lighting the fire while Chris cleaned his stove and washed up. The hut came with a wood fireplace, and pre-chopped wood for you to use! There was even a note that if the wood ran low to inform the park office. For $6.80/night, you definitely got a luxurious camping site. The wood, however, seemed to be some special Canadian wood that was very hard to set on fire. Evelyn tried tinder, pages from a book, toilet paper, but nothing ever caught on fire! "How do kids burn down a house when it's so hard to start a fire!" Evelyn was in the middle of a job switch and hence was spending 2 months traveling before starting a new job. "He must think I'm an idiot. It's 20 minutes and I still can't start the fire!" "He's German. He thinks everyone else is an idiot." She snorted with laughter. "I love making fun of Germans but I really do like them." "Same here. Hien was telling me that she used fuel. Maybe we should try that." "I'm not taking fire starting advice from you!" Evelyn did like chocolate, which was a good thing, since I think they take away your Swiss citizenship if you don't like chocolate.

Chris came back and started working on the fire as well. It took him another 30 minutes to get a fire started, but soon the fire was roaring and it started getting warm. Hien came back and put her kettle on the fire so she could make dinner rather than light a stove. Did I tell you that she's tough? It looked like she didn't eat very much at all! We exchanged stories about travel, what was good to explore. Hien highly recommended Whistling pass, but didn't think much of Scarab and Mummy lakes. "How long do you think it'll take to walk there?" "About 45 minutes." I decided that was long enough I did not need to change my usual 6:00am start time. Before bed, I offered ear plugs to everyone who had to share the hut with me, but nobody took me up. I showed everyone where I put the ear plugs just in case.

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