Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Friends In High Places

Mountain PostcardsAs much as I enjoyed the impressive expanse of The Prairies, I was very much looking forward to being in the mountains again.

When I moved to Calgary with my kids, we spent a lot of time camping in the mountains. My daughter particularly loved being in the mountains, whom she referred to as her "friends". I thought by immersing myself in the extraordinary colours of the mountains, I could wean The Voices of their fixation with prairie skies and hopefully get some Postcards for her.

If you need to feel the mountains envelop you, but you can't go for a hike (I didn't have enough time), then the only solution is to drive the Icefields Parkway. This highway, part of a World Heritage site, runs from Lake Louise to Jasper. It is a drive like no other in the world. The best bit is north of Lake Louise, heading towards the Columbia Icefields. With restrooms and a cafe, the visitor centre at the Athabasca Glacier makes for a good turn-around point.

There are a couple of good spots along the road where you can get a good perspective of just how massive the Canadian Rockies are. I stopped at one, only to find it overrun with tourists from a charter bus.

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Elbowing the newbies out of the way, I took out my camera and woke up The Voices; after the exhausting work on The Prairies, they had napped during the drive up from Calgary. Slackers.

I wanted to show the size of the mountains and they suggested including the highway in the composition. If you look closely, you can see cars and trucks on the road. Tiny. To the right of the highway is the headwater of the North Saskatchewan River; the meltwater of the nearby Saskatchewan Glacier gives it life and its name.

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Mount Saskatchewan is on the right, its impressive bulk hiding the Saskatchewan Glacier from our view. If you go back to the shot with the charter bus, you can see it hanging in the "V" notch gap in the mountain that is viewed near the back of the bus.

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The Canadian Rockies are part of the same mountain chain as the American Rockies, but they do not look the same at all. While the American Rockies are a bit higher, their height comes from their high base and not from their vertical gain; the Canadian Rockies are taller base-to-top. They are also more rugged, largely due to heavier glaciation.

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The entire ecosystem is different, too. It is colder and much wetter in the Canadian Rockies. The extra moisture makes for more lakes and rivers, some of which are very interesting. Take this river, for example. Even as I write this, I can still hear the roar and feel the power of all that water rushing past.

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Despite the massive volume of water flowing in this river, it seems to totally disappear just a bit further downstream.

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And it does, in a fashion: it has carved a slot canyon into the rock and the only way to see the river is to look down at it from directly above.

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When you look at the entrance to the slot canyon, you can see how deep it is. The deepness of the canyon is what allows all that fast-moving water to disappear so quickly.

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Not all mountain water is rough. Much of it sits in tranquil lakes like this one.

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Here you can see the effect of a polarizer filter. When you turn 90 degrees to the sun, the saturation of the colours becomes intense when using one. In this case, I used a Singh Ray Gold N Blue polarizer for a touch more emphasis.

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The green hue of mountain water comes from rock flour. The water is bitterly cold and not much usually grows in it. When you look into a mountain lake you can usually see the bare rocks at the bottom. If you take a close look at the bottom of the above photographs,you will see what I mean.

I did noticed that these plants were making some headway and were starting to encroach on the lake.

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On my return back down the Parkway, I decided to stop at Lake Louise. There is a little sports store there that brings in very high-end gear for the tourists. Sometimes they overstock and I can score some deals at the end of the season. This time I came up dry.

Empty-handed, I was on the way out the door when I noticed a flyer for the Lake Louise Gondola ride. I had never been up the gondola in the summer, so I decided to check out.

Trying to eke out as much use of their ski lifts as possible, the Lake Louise Ski Resort operates one gondola during the summer to take hikers up Whitehorn Mountain. I had never been here in the summer and was surprised to find it looked very different from what it does in the winter.

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While the view in the summer is different (the air has a lot more haze than in winter which gives the mountains a bluish hue), it is spectacular in its own right.

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In this panorama photo, you can see the opposite side of the valley. Many a time I dropped the kids off at the alpine hill and headed over to Lake Louise to do some cross-country. We kept in touch by walkie-talkies and they would let me know when they were ready to pack it in for the day. I was always amazed at how clear the reception was, given how far I had to drive to get them. But as the crow flies, it's only about 1 km.

Lake Louise is on the right of the image above. It is barely visible as a small, blue area in a gap between two mountains. Using some rather heavy glass, I was able to zoom in on it.

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I enjoyed shooting from this perspective. I was able to photograph the mountain tops by shooting across at them and not up at them.

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I absorbed as much of the alpine greatness as I possibly could, but time was short and I had a flight out early the next day. So back down I went.

Park wardens had banned hiking down, as there was a bear in the area, so the lift was the only way down. Despite my acrophobia, I shunned the closed gondola and took the open chair. The open chair allows for much better photography because the windows in the gondola are often scratched too much to permit clear shooting. My only concern was about how I was going to shoot if I had my eyes closed.

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I was in the process of testing both the compression and torsion strength of the safety bar on my chair, when I noticed that there was a commotion in the chair ahead of me.

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Reluctantly releasing my death grip on the safety bar, I picked up my camera with its big lens to see what it was about. Zooming in, I could see the people in the chair pointing to something.

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Even the people in the chair ahead of them were going on about something in the woods.

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Since preparedness is the key to making great photographs, I quickly set my camera to "auto-everything" and waited. Then, through the trees, I saw a grizzly bear!

I raised my camera and fired off a long burst at 8 frames per second in a special and highly technical method called spray and pray. Maybe I didn't pray loud enough, because my autofocus thought I wanted to shoot the trees, which were closer to me.

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This is a great example of why I normally shoot "manual-everything": I don't like leaving decisions to what some engineer in a lab 10 years ago thought would be a good picture in the field today.

Somewhat disappointed, I headed over to Lake Louise for a final magnificent-alpine-ambiance-soaking-up exercise. While there were no steamships heading off into the sunset, I was able to capture the cliche red canoe for my closing photograph.

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I hope that these Postcards bring to my daughter lots of good memories of her friends in high places.

To see more of my blog posts from Western Canada and the U.S., click here. and use the "newer" and "older" links at the bottom to move through the posts.

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1 comment:

Jennie Mae Roy said...

These are breathtaking! Thanks for sharing Scott. Anne has wonderful tastes in friends ;)