Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 9: Egypt Lake

Waking up at 6:00am is never easy, but when it's cold and you know you're going to be hiking in the dark, it's even harder. Nevertheless, I made myself get out of my nice warm sleeping bag, put on my long underwear and hiking clothes, strapped on my headlamp, and started walking up the trail. Cynthia had convinced me to buy the brightest headlamp in the store, and I was grateful for her persuasiveness. It was bright enough for me to see the trail, spot signposts, and certainly in the dark, I needed all the help I could get. I should have guessed that Hien was an exceedingly strong hiker, since with all my camera gear and hiking in the dark, by the time 45 minutes was up and the light was beginning to show, I was only at the Scarab lake intersection. I made a quick decision that I should just go over to Scarab Lake and take what I can get.

Scarab Lake was definitely nothing special, as far as mountain tarns go. However, the facing cliff walls were in perfect position to catch the mountain light. However, there was very little on the lake front that could act as foreground, and all my attempts there were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the photos turned out well (how could alpenglow pictures turn out badly?), with the use of an ND grad. filter to make the reflections work better.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

After munching on some breakfast bars, I decided to go up to Whistling pass as recommended by Hien. During the walk, I discovered that I had made the correct decision to stay at Scarab Lake, as the hike was fairly steep and trying to rush there would have been a mistake. Whistling pass was spectacular, as described. If I had had more time I would have tried to return there at sunrise, but judging by how I felt the previous day, I decided that I would need all my strength to hike back to the car.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Despite the sub-optimal light, I shot off a number of pictures, and then hiked back down, feeling hungry despite the breakfast. I arrived back at the hut to find that everyone else had gone, and I had the place to myself. I found a pair of ear plugs in the fire place, so now I knew someone had needed it in the middle of the night. Deciding that I was going to try to shoot sunset at Healy Pass, I decided that I would rather eat "dinner" at lunch, and then eat a cold dinner while shooting the sunset.

I didn't have much to do from 1pm to 4pm and no one to talk to, so I finally got some time to read on the trip. I finally felt like I was on vacation! At 4:00pm I finally got off my ass, packed up my camera gear, and started hiking up Healy pass. The descent the day before felt steep, but it turns out to be a fairly straightforward hike if you're not carrying a backpacking load. I did meet several campers coming into camp as I was walking up, one of which was a group led by a member of the Park service.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I got to the top and started hanging out and eating dinner. To my disappointment, Healy pass while pretty, is surrounded by tall mountains which would cut off my light pretty early. I had also forgotten to bring my long underwear (when climbing in the afternoon, I didn't need it). So sunset found me standing in behind my tripod and doing jumping jacks in order to stay warm. It is a truism that the amount of effort in photography has nothing to do with the results, and none of the photos I took that evening made it into my "final cut." Here are a couple of out-takes.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I started hiking down once the shadows got really deep, but still had to turn on my headlamp half way down the hill. I arrived at the hut at 8:30pm, to see that two other campers had arrived at the hut. A couple from Montana, they both worked in the outdoor industry in Montana, and were up here for a break. I need to take pictures of everyone I meet, because I very quickly forgot their names despite having a great conversation with them and getting some tips on where else in Montana to visit.

I went to bed again warning them about my snoring and providing ear plugs. They were skeptical that anyone could be so loud, but took the ear plugs just in case. I had decided that I would not get up at 6:00am for a change, and went to sleep while the fire still warmed the cabin.

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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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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 7: Banff to Lake Louise

I woke up at 6:00am on an unusually warm morning, and immediately drove up Norquay mountain, which was recommended to me as a potentially sunrise spot. Arriving at the view point, I saw that the area was clouded over, and the light would not be ideal: I would see the mountains lit from the side, and not from behind me. Further more, the high mountains behind me would obscure the sun for a long time, which would keep me from working the light for quite a while yet. I therefore quickly shot a nightscape of Banff and moved on.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I was reminded of Lake Minnewanka, which had several signs pointing to it, and which Eungshin had mentioned the day before. I drove towards it and when I arrived, saw that another photographer had already staked out the place. The light was starting to look pretty good, so I quickly parked the car and ran out with my gear next to the photographer, who turned out to be Bill Wood.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

The light was amazing, and we started getting some of the most brilliant alpenglow I had ever seen. I worked the light every which way and then suddenly saw a rainbow right in front of Bill!

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The rainbow never got very strong, and certainly had faded by the time I got out my polarizer, but I just could not believe my luck. 2 rainbows in one trip! I kept working the light, but one of the biggest penalty of the strong wind was that long exposures would lead to the trees blurring, which led to many a heart-breaking shot when I finally saw the resulting photos in light room. For instance:

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The light eventually faded, and Bill and I finally found time to introduce ourselves and chat about our experiences. We exchanged e-mail addresses and were about to leave when an acquaintance of Bill's showed up and showed us the full rainbow she had found in Cranmore while we were shooting here. Apparently the clouds were not as extensive up there and so the rainbow had lasted quite a bit longer.

Bill sent me a link to his PicasaWeb gallery which includes some of the best sky/cloud pattern pictures I've seen yet.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Bill drove off towards the highway, but I wanted to explore the whole loop, and besides, was looking for somewhere to eat breakfast anyway. Driving past Two Jack lake, I saw Johnson Lake and decided that it looked like a nice place. I made breakfast, which wasn't easy in the wind, but the water boiled in a reasonable time thanks to using the methylated spirits instead of rubbing alcohol. After breakfast, I walked around the lake, which was pretty in a very understated fashion. I even found a squirrel who let me shoot a picture of him eating his breakfast.


From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism




Leaving the lake, I saw yet more vistas with potential, if only the light was just a little better. I had plenty of time before meeting up with Eungshin, so I dropped by the Vermillion Lakes as well, but found them uninspiring. It had also started raining very hard at that time, so perhaps they'd be better if you were luckier with the weather.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I parked my car by the Safeway and started stocking up on food. I had plenty of freeze-dried food for up a few nights in the back-country, but given the amount of front-country camping I was thinking of doing, I needed more. I had also run out of chocolate.

I met with Eungshin and we went out to lunch at the local food court. I mentioned that I saw a rainbow this morning. "I haven't seen a rainbow since I came to Banff!" Seeing rainbows isn't just a matter of luck, it's a matter of optics. I racked my brain as to how to translate Galen Rowell's words "anti-solar position when the sun is below 45 degrees" into easier to understand sentences. I thought for only a few seconds before realizing that I was an idiot. I'm talking to an engineer. Math and Science are universal languages for people like us, so I drew a simple diagram showing the physics of rainbow spotting, and she got it right away. "We'll find you a rainbow this afternoon," I promised rashly.

We left some of my batteries charging in her apartment and then drove North to Lake Moraine, which was a much longer drive than expected because of the amount of construction on the highway. The weather was overcast while we were driving, and by the time we got to Lake Moraine it was raining and windy. We were astonished by the bluish color of the lake, but it was so cold we huddled in the gift shop with some hot drinks instead. By the time we were finished with our drinks however, it was pretty outside, and we could walk around the Lake.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Actually, you couldn't quite walk around the lake, as the path dead ended half way around the lake. Overcast days make for good portrait weather, so I broke out my 100mm/2.8 macro and showed Eungshin how many shots it took to get a good portrait. The number exceeded 10, but I'm also an unusually poor portrait photographer. My friend Jenny Yee could probably nail something in just a handful of shots. You'd hire her to do your wedding. You wouldn't (or shouldn't) hire me! I did take the time to show Eungshin how to use the DOF preview button on the camera. The little button used to be a bonus feature you could only get on high end cameras, but in recent years has migrated down to even the lowest end Canon body. Given that I consider a camera without the feature crippled, that's a good thing.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

By the time we were finished it was 4:00pm, and I told Eungshin that it was time to start chasing our rainbow. "The time for rainbow starts at 4:30pm." "How did you know that?" "I saw a rainbow pop out at 10:30am in Glacier. That's 3 hours after sunrise. I'm guessing that 3 hours before sunset, which is 4:30pm, would be also when you can start seeing rainbows." Lady luck is a fickle woman, but she had been smiling on me the entire trip, and thus fulfilled my rash promise at 4:30pm while driving down the Transcanada highway to Banff. The anti-solar point was on the left side of the car, so Eungshin got a good look at the rainbow. Unfortunately, the rainbow was also seen at the point of construction on the road, with no shoulders and no place to pull over, so despite all our desires to stop for a photo we could not do so. Eungshin had to settle for shooting from inside the car, which was not at all how you wanted your first rainbow shooting session to go. She also needed a polarizer and needed to know how to use it, which unfortunately since I had to have both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, I was in no position to teach her about at this point.

I delivered her safely back to her home, and got my camera battery back fully charged but my ipod only half charged because someone had unplugged it so he could charge his own device instead. A half charge was plenty though, so I was happy. We said goodbye to each other. As I pulled out of her driveway, my ipod played Don't Let Go by Canadian artists Bryan Adams and Sarah Mclachlan. I laughed at the irony, pointed the car North, and headed for Lake Louise.

Lake Louise at sunset was beautiful, but with the sun hidden back behind the mountains behind me, it was difficult to have good lighting. I ended up using an ND grad. filter in conjunction with a flash to properly expose flowers while retaining the background snow.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

With the disappearance of the cloud cover, the weather had suddenly turned very cold. I was shivering by the time I got back to the car after the sunset shoot, and drove down to the campground as described by the park ranger a couple of days ago. Driving around the campground left me uninspired, however, so I ended up at the youth hostel for the night. It was incredibly expensive for a hostel ($42.50), but it did have internet, and a warm place to cook my dinner. My dinner table was shared with a Swiss woman who was poring over loads of maps and information sheets. We exchanged information about where to go, where she was going, and when she told me she was Switzerland, I told her about my adventures this past summer. She told me I had to go to St. Mortiz next time for hiking, and gave me the names of a couple of small towns that was quite a bit cheaper than St. Mortiz itself, while retaining easy train access to St. Moritz.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I went to bed with everything else packed so that I could make a silent getaway at 6:00am tomorrow.

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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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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day 5: Waterton Lakes National Park

I woke up in the morning feeling great: it's amazing how nice you can feel after a shower after having camped out in primitive camp sites for 3 days. I drove out of Waterton Lakes to an area I had scouted out the day before while driving into the park: Maskinonge Lake. When I arrived, there was already another photographer there. I tried different positions, close to the water and further from the water, but with the wind, it was actually difficult to get good shots without the grasses moving and therefore blurring. Mike would deliberately set up the ISO rating on his camera to ISO 400, but as someone used to shooting Fuji Velvia 50 I always try exhaust all alternatives before dialing up the ISO.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

After the shoot, I drove back to Waterton Lakes, pausing to get in a shot of an Elk by the road side eating breakfast. I had plenty of time to make and eat breakfast at the campground before heading over to the village marina to purchase a ticket for the Crypt Lake hike.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

The hike was time constrained, since between the drop off at approximately 10:30am and the pick up at 5:30pm, we had to complete the hike, which was estimated at 6 hours. Since that was the case, I elected to leave the heavy equipment behind and just carry the point and shoot, hiking sticks, a couple of sandwiches, an apple, a hat, and first aid kit. The day had gotten only more windy, with spray coming off the bow of the ferry, "Miss Waterton", creating a nice rainbow for me to look at during the trip.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The pilot even missed the landing dock 3 times before nailing it, which cannot be usual for someone who did this trip every day. I would only get a good idea as to how much wind was in store for me that day later. After unloading everyone, "Miss Waterton" took off, and I went to look at the trail head while the majority of the hikers took off at speed.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Just as I got going, a couple behind me asked how far the hike was, and I replied, "6 hours, but it can't possibly be that long, since if they under-estimate it folks would probably complain." And that was how I ended up hiking the Crypt Lake trail with Hanna Kubas and Greg.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Both of them were swimmers with the University of Calgary, which is apparently a hot spot for Canadian swimming. Greg had graduated and was now training to go to the Olympics in 2012 (yes, I was hiking with a professional athlete!). Hanna was in her last year of school. I really enjoyed hiking with them, since the world of competitive swimming was never one I had ever encountered. The amount of training seemed to be intense, and the two of them enjoyed talking about how specialized swimmers were.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The walk rapidly took us through the forest on a gentle grade, and then steepened as we entered the exposed area. We got great views of waterfalls, negotiated a couple of stream crossings, and then finally way up high, saw the ladder and tunnel in front of us.


From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The ladder was fairly short (quite a bit shorter than the one found on the Steep Ravine trail, for instance), but it was also quite narrow. The tunnel was a bit of a pain. While I did not need to get on your hands and knees, it was short enough that stooping wasn't enough, so a sort of duck walk was necessary to keep my backpack from scraping.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

After emerging from the tunnel, we stepped down a bit and walked right into the cabled-section of the trail, where cables were provided so you could retain your footing while stepping on the narrow trail. Since it was dry the cables were not strictly necessary, but I could see how they would be very useful when the trail was wet.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

After that, a short trail led us to the Crypt Lake itself, where we sat for lunch. I was very amused that everyone else had brought along a subway sandwich. I was clearly not Canadian enough to know that subway sandwiches are the proper meal for the Crypt Lake hike.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Sitting down made us very cold, and soon Hanna was complaining about how cold her hands were. Her dipping her hands into the lake to feel the water temperature probably had something to do with it. I loaned her my gloves, amused that I was lending clothing to a Canadian swimmer! To warm up we walked around the lake, which was a typical alpine tarn, with mostly scree and stones up the sides except for the area near the feeder stream, which was lush and green.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

We then went back to the trail junction and followed the other trail to the falls, which we had spied from far below. The falls were large, and the spray, coupled with the sound of the wind and the water falling felt quite refreshing.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The descent along the cables proved to be tougher than the climb, but the tunnel for whatever reason felt a lot easier this time. While hiking down this out and back trail, however, we saw an unusual phenomenon: the Chinook winds were so strong that one of the waterfalls was being blown up instead of down! I shot a video, wishing that I actually had had a S95 so I could get it in HD.


On the way down, we took a detour to explore the Hell Roaring Falls, which was a nice side trip. We ended the hike with half an hour to wait for the return shuttle, happy for the unique experience this hike had brought us.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Once back on the mainland, I had decided that I wanted to go to Cardston to eat (and possibly stay) at the Cobblestone Manor, a restaurant with food so great that even though my family and I had already eaten a meal when we visited, we kept ordering food because it was so good! As I drove on the road to Cardston, however, I kept finding beautiful scenes to look at, which slowed me down quite a bit.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The kicker was the crepuscular beams right outside the town of Mountain View (yes, Mountain View Canada actually has a view of the rockies). I shot quite a few pictures there, congratulating myself for being lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time (with an ND grad. filter, of course).

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Arriving at Cardston, however, I was disappointed to find that winter hours were in place: the restaurant was closed Sunday and Monday! The local hotels and restaurants were all quite expensive ($80/night), so I drove back to the Waterton Lakes park, watching the scenery around me with an eye to finding a different location to shoot the sunrise the next day. I didn't find any restaurants that looked good, but the Weiners of Waterton Lakes caught my eye, and I walked in to find myself chatting with the co-founder, Matt.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The place had been opened only this year, and it was apparently going gangbusters. "I could have gotten an office job, but being here in the park is far more appealing," said Matt. We had a nice chat, and I enjoyed both the dog and the sweet potato fries. I had a shower and went to bed, feeling that meeting Matt and chatting with him had made up for the disappointment of the Cobblestone Manor being closed.

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