Winter is beginning to win the hearts and minds of the mountains in Kananaskis Country. After the sunrise at Wedge Pond, I hiked around the Upper Kananaskis Lake for a little while. There are some lovely yellows and golds in the trees reaching up along the lower flanks. With a few days of cool weather the patches of snow have knitted together and trekked down the slopes to meet, and pass through, the forest.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600
There were two beavers working at Wild Rose yesterday. My daughter was thrilled to see them swimming around. She had never seen one before so two was double perfect in her words. This one was working hard ferrying tree branches back to their lodge.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens (at 17mm): 13 seconds at f/22 on ISO 400
With most of the aspens having turned gold in the lower reaches of Kananaskis Country around Bragg Creek, I was excited to get up to Wedge Pond to see how the colours were around the water and up towards Mount Kidd. It was a cloudy morning but for a few minutes at dawn the sun broke through in a couple of places. A strange, soft purple-pink glow illuminated the whole scene fleetingly. I doubt I will ever get tired of visiting this place.
I was up in Kananaskis a few days ago to explore the recently opened stretch of Highway 40 up to the Highwood Pass. Leaving home in the dark, I arrived at Wedge Pond just as light was creeping into the eastern edge of the sky.
We had several days of rain preceding this visit so I was unsure what the weather would be like in the mountains. The reports called for partly sunny with showers. From experience, that can mean anything from empty blue skies to heavy, wet gray clouds. I don’t mind either so I was happy to head up and find out. That morning the mist was swirling above the pond and rising up to meet the low hanging clouds that were stuffed into the valley. I trotted down to the water’s edge and moved along keeping an eye on Mount Kidd. The mountain catches the early pre-dawn Alpen glow and can be spectacular right through sunrise. The view over Wedge and up to Kidd whispered of something good that might come and I was happy to move around, watching and waiting.
Seven minutes later, pink light was hitting a few of the higher clouds. The lower clouds were breaking up and it seemed like a clear view of the mountain was coming forward.
It didn’t – the clean view was swallowed up by the clouds as the rich colours on Mount Kidd came in. I didn’t mind at all as a few fleeting openings afforded beautiful views of one or two of the peaks for the next couple of minutes.
I have not had such a dynamic encounter with the weather up at Wedge Pond and I had a great time. It was fun to play around with the moodiness under the clouds balanced (and thrown out of balance) with the sunrise opening above. I’m enjoying the late resurgence of summer we are enjoying but I found myself looking forward to the fall colours that always look so wonderful in this special place. I will be there and would be very happy if these clouds returned then too.
Since the floods, I have been eager to drive up Highway 66 which runs in and out of the valleys where the Elbow River unwinds out of the mountains. A few weeks ago, the road reopened and I have been back into this quieter side of Kananaskis Country a couple of times since. On the first trip I went straight to Elbow Falls to see what remained. Rumours through June and July ranged from the Elbow Falls being reduced to a set of rapids through to vast swathes of land disappearing, replaced by river rock spread over the lost forest area. The former is not true – the falls remain, as seen in the image here from that first visit after the floods, and are still beautiful. The latter is very true in many places – many favourite spots, including the winding river path above the falls, have been drastically reshaped.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 17mm: 2 seconds at f/22 on ISO 200
I have spent a fair bit of time hiking and travelling around Kananaskis Country. That said, I have only seen a small amount of its beautiful landscape. It is always wonderful to find a new place. On the weekend, I was revisiting a few favourite spots that I had not been able to see since the flood. Along the drive between two such spots, up Highway 66, the morning mists and fog were slowly rising up in the warming air in a small meadow I have passed by many times but never explored. I stopped this time for a few minutes to photograph the light and shadows playing with one another. There was a roar of water nearby but it was hidden deeper into the forest and I had another spot on my mind so I headed on.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 81mm: 1/400th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 135mm: 1/200th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400
On my return past the same place an hour later, I pulled off and set out for a little exploration. I found a trail that led down from the meadow and into the woods. Following that for a few minutes, I walked up to the top of this small waterfall. It was the source of the roaring heard earlier. The water drops only a few metres but it falls into a narrow bowl of rock which intensifies the sound significantly.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 17mm: 6 seconds at f/22 on ISO 50
A bit of mountain goating saw me step and then jump down into the bowl. Water vapour was heavy in the air which played a little havoc with the front of my lens but it was nothing a couple of cloths couldn’t handle over the time I was down there. I stayed for more than an hour – at one point just sitting down and enjoying this wonderful little place.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 23mm: 5 seconds at f/22 on ISO 50
The stream is only a metre wide above and below the falls. At the base, the pool opens up to a few metres across. There were some signs of recent high water activity but it seems the flow was not enough to damage the trees and bushes that overhang the channel.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 19mm: 2 seconds at f/16 on ISO 50
I believe this stream falls into the Elbow River but I’m not sure if it, or this waterfall, have their own names. I have to find out from a few of the locals who know Kananaskis Country in a way I hope to some day far down my path.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 39mm: 5 seconds at f/22 on ISO 200
So, for me at least, this waterfall remains unnamed. In truth, I like it that way for now. I really enjoyed that narrow wedge of rock and water below the forest and will be returning there soon.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
Note: For this first image, I removed the wireless transmitter in the bear’s left ear which you will see in the subsequent images. I don’t normally remove tags and such but this bear was so beautiful I had to share an image where the distracting antenna was erased.
On the weekend I drove along Highway 40 into Kananaskis Country where I had planned to head up to the Highwood Pass to see about the bighorn sheep that herd up there at this time of the year. That did not happen as #40 is closed past the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park junction due to damage from the flood. I was turning around at the gate to head down into the provincial park when I noticed a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) shuffling through the grass just off the road.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 800
This was one of the most beautiful grizzlies that I have ever seen. A young brown bear that I would guess is three or four years old, with a lovely blonde coat and an energetic bounce in her step. I believe the bear was a female although I could not confirm gender conclusively. I was reminded of a pair of blonde cubs I photographed in the fall of 2011 about five miles away from here. However, I cannot say whether this was one of these two bears as neither were tagged then and I did not find any references online to her tag number.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
She was busying herself digging up rocks and snacking on what was found underneath. Amid the tall grass, I did not get a clean look at what she was eating but I assume it was mostly insects. She appeared to have little interest in the wildflowers surrounding her, as I only saw her stop to lick a few of the blossoms, but I loved having these colours to frame her with!
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
After about 15 minutes watching her from the far side of the road (being able to stay far away but photograph closeup is one of the nice benefits of long lenses), she started moving uphill and I thought she would head off shortly. As it came to pass, that was hastened along only a few minutes later. I had been the only person watching the bear at first but within 10 minutes there were a couple of other cars that had stopped too. I was happy to see everyone stay in their vehicles and give the bear space. We all watched for a while, then a couple more cars showed up so I pulled away from the gate, crossed the road, drove about 200m past the bear and stopped to have a last look. Shortly afterwards, a conservation officer pulled up. I was curious to see how he would approach this situation so I waited for a bit. He stayed in his truck for a few minutes and then decided that was enough bear watching. He stepped out with a shotgun in hand and fired a couple of bear banger shells while yelling at the bear to get going. Startled by the loud noise – it did.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
Banff National Park’s officers handle bears a bit different from what I have seen, and in a manner that I prefer, in that they usually do not interfere with bears unless people are being stupid or the bears show an interest in the people watching. In my opinion, neither was true at that time. However, this officer probably knows this bear by sight and he is there almost every day so I have to trust that he made the call as he deemed appropriate. I would have liked to seen him take a little more time to let the bear continue, and potentially finish, grazing but keeping a bear from becoming habituated to humans is a thin tightrope to walk on. It is easy for those watching to think they could do better.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
Nonetheless, with the first loud noise, the bear sprinted halfway up the hill before slowing down and glancing back at the officer.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
With the second shot, she galloped further up and kept on towards the edge of the forest. I thought of the running fox that I photographed last month as I watched the bear run – though spurred on by different antagonists, they both can move very fast. Seeing how much of the meadow it covered when it was sprinting, I was reminded just how quick, deceptively quick, these massive animals can move. With the bear moving into the woods, I headed onwards.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
A heavy blizzard blew through southern Alberta on Sunday. The snow fell throughout the day with the wind keeping pace alongside. The trees on the edge of Kananaskis Country caught pieces of the storm and twirled the snow around the branches in the evergreens.
As the moon waxed towards full this weekend, I spent an evening at Elbow Falls to photograph the landscape at night. The clear air allowed stars to shine even with a relatively short exposure and small aperture (10 seconds and f/8.0, respectively). Always a bit lonely sitting out there for a couple of hours but the stars are really good company.
The 6400 ISO and the bright moonlight allowed for some of the great details at this magical place in Kananaskis Country to show in the image. I am impressed with the improvements in the dSLR’s low-light capabilities over the last couple of years. A couple of years ago I spent another evening up at these falls. At that time I was using a Canon 1D Mark III and when compared with the image above and others where I used a 5D Mark III, the detail, structure of the noise and the color are all vastly improved. The technology is less and less of an obstacle to realizing the images I want to make. I like that a lot.
There are significant pressures on the forests that extend from Bragg Creek through Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis has sixty parks within its borders which protect two-thirds of the area. Kananaskis was set up as a multi-use area which would address the “needs of industry, ranching and tourism are still balanced with the mandate to preserve the animals, plants, and processes that keep the Kananaskis Country ecosystem healthy” (history). The current plans include a clearcut of roughly 700 hectares west of Bragg Creek around the Moose Mountain area. I was asked to pull together a gallery of images from West Bragg Creek and Kananaskis that could help show what stands to be lost if plans like this are acted upon. Click on the image below to link to this gallery if you are interested.
Clear-cutting scares me. I grew up in the Kootenay Valley in British Columbia’s interior and my father had a logging operation along with several tourism based businesses. His crew harvested forests by employing selective logging, they didn’t clearcut. The areas which were clearcut in the valleys there, and here in Alberta, often do not recover well. The topsoil washes away, new trees planted have challenges taking hold and then there are the animals. Obviously they can’t stick around once the cover, their homes and their food is lost. The impact is severe for most species and I hope the efforts made to change the current plans are successful. The Bragg Creek and Kananaskis Outdoor Recreation group has their finger on the pulse of this issue. For those who are interested there are things we can do to be heard and help to influence the decision makers. If you are interested, please visit their website for information on the proposed logging and what is being done. Sustain Kananaskis is another group that is working very hard to raise awareness and change the current plans. I do not have any direct connection with Sustain Kananaskis but their website has a lot of information and I agree with everything that I see in their mission statement.
A storm threatened to cross over the western ridges in Kananaskis yesterday when I was in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The ridge above caught my eye and displayed the tension high up on the mountains.
Jeff and I were driving back from the Kananaskis Lakes in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park when we saw a coyote trotting along the side of the road. We pulled over, set up some long lenses and watched it approach. As it drew closer, it neither sped up nor slowed down. It cast a few glances our way but seemed to have some other place to be.
This animal looked to be in good health and did not look to be stressed as it carried on. We were both very curious where it may have been heading.
After a few minutes, with the tail bobbing up and down with its bouncy stride, the coyote went out of sight as it rounded a corner further up the road.
My friend and fellow photographer Jeff Rhude and I made it up to the reflecting pools which provide a beautiful mirror for Mount Kidd while it was still dark. While dawn was still only a bit of light to the east, I used an exposure just a bit over two minutes long to see this early morning.
The wind was blowing in short blasts as we were waiting and once it was brighter I took an opportunity to show a bit of that in the blurred water.
The rain fell hard up in Kananaskis on Friday morning and it served to make this deer almost glow in the wet forest. There were a couple of coyote encounters and a beautiful sunrise that preceded this moment but this was really nice.
(please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
The Bighorn sheep were in a few small groups scattered on either side of the Highwood Pass at the end of the week. These were a few of the photographs from when I saw them throughout the day. At the lower elevations, fall is still in control and I had some warm, colourful backgrounds to work with.
Higher up, around the summit of the pass, the snow that fell earlier in the week was still on the ground and presented an alternate landscape to photograph the sheep in.
There were a good number of lambs within the larger groups. I hope they can put on a few more pounds before winter settles in but they looked to be in good health.
For the most part, the sheep were not very interested in me. The young one below gave me a heavy sidelong glance that made for a good image.
The salts are attracting the sheep, same as always, to the middle of the road. Most people give them a wide berth. This sheep was suggestive of the location they often take along the highway.
The rut is starting now so I hope I can see some good horn collisions the next time I’m up there. The last ram I saw was scrambling up the Rock Glacier and provided a good photographic opportunity in one of the more interesting geographic locations along Highway 40.
The morning got bright quickly when I was at a set of reflecting ponds just west of Wedge Pond and the Galatea Trailhead in Kananaskis. I met a fellow Calgarian photographer, Graham McKerrell, along the water’s edge and we watched the most promising cloud slip behind the mountain just a couple of minutes before the sunrise hit the face. The early light was still beautiful on the rock of Mount Kidd and its reflection. I really had fun once the morning sun was well established as I switched from hunting warm light to thinking about the sun and shadows for black and white images as seen here.
(please click on the image to link to a larger, higher resolution version)
These ponds are a beautiful location to welcome the morning, I hope to get out there once more this season.
The small lake in Wild Rose, west of Bragg Creek, has been a great place to enjoy photographing birds this summer. I have spent a number of mornings along the strip of land that divides the pond. Several of these mornings have been spent with a few different Common loons. These are a few of my favourites from these times.
Driving up to the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis this black bear ran across the road a few hundred yards ahead of me. I pulled up where it had climbed the bank and saw it looking at me from the forest’s edge. A quick look and then it ran into the woods.
That reminded me of a slightly longer encounter I had in the spring near Radium with another black bear. The dandelions that spring up in thick carpets on the roadside fields draw the bears and this one was not deterred by a steady downpour.
The wet fur provided a great sheen and defined the coat well.
On the same trip through the Kootenay National Park in early June, I saw a second black bear grazing in another meadow. This one was a beautiful ginger colour – really beautiful. I’m hoping to get back into the mountains to enjoy the autumn season and see a bear or two soon.
(please click on any image to go to a higher resolution version)
The morning was cold as I walked down to Wedge Pond on Friday. No frost, but very chilly under the clear skies. I woke early so I was there before the skies had started to brighten. The only sounds were the splash of the occasional fish jumping and bull elk bugling challenges nearby in the forest. It was a special moment to take in. In the darkness the exposures ranged up to five minutes to show the pre-dawn scene as below. The slowly lightening sky to the east reflected on the upper flanks of the mountain.
As the sun approached, the birds started chattering and a few other photographers showed up for the alpen glow and then first light on Mount Kidd. Kananaskis lived up to expectations again. It was lovely to be on the lake’s shore for the morning with the autumn colours coming in.
(please click on this image to link to a higher resolution file)
Clouds blocked the early pink light at down this morning but as the color went to gold, nice breaks higher off the horizon let the sunlight in. The light reflected on the water and the look of the rocks under the water made a very pretty scene.
(click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
The Bews are a ranching family and the youngest generation is following that well-worn path. When I was photographing them at the ranch Mady and Katie showed their ease in the saddle and proved to be very good sports while the shutter clicked away.
Katie was learning to trot and she seemed to master it over the course of a few crosses of the overgrown field during the morning. Mady practiced her roping which made for some great photographic opportunities.
While the girls rode, their grandmother Rosemary, grandfather Tom and his brother Joe alternated between time in front of the camera, tending to their horses and chatting. Very good people with lot’s of room in their hearts for their family, their animals and their land. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them.
Joe Bews in the morning leading his horse up with his partner by his side and later running through the dry creek bed.
Tom taking a break from the saddle
The last image I took up at the ranch was of the Bews family as they headed back for the trail back down to their farms. A warm thank you to them for coming out on a cold morning which became a hot afternoon. And, thanks to Julian Ferreira and his team at The Camera Store for arranging for a great day in the High Country on the edge of Kananaskis.
In fact, Julian stood in as a cowboy model in the cook shack and played the role exceptionally well.
Yesterday, I was hiking in Kananaskis Country, west of Bragg Creek, morning along a trail that winds through the forest. The trees are often well spaced out and allow a lot of streaming sunlight to reach down. The highlight of the trek was finding a small herd of White-tailed Deer that were moving slowly towards the hills.
I stepped off the trail and shadowed their progress for a few minutes. I waited for one deer to step into a shaft of light and then tried to create an interesting image.
There were a couple occasions where everything lined up and I got close to what was in my head. In these pictures, I like the sense of the forest and the magic of sunlight.
I was enjoying the stroll in the woods when I was alone, save for the birdsong and angry squirrel reports, but crossing paths with these deer made it a very memorable day.
The mountains around the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country were holding onto a blizzard for most of Sunday morning while I was up there hiking and driving on the lookout for wildlife. My regular spots were empty of creatures, apparently they didn’t think too much of the snow and sleet blowing around. A couple of hours went by before this coyote came trotting along the ditch beside Highway 40.
He took scant notice of me as he passed and I was so surprised by his nonchalance that I enjoyed watching him without taking any pictures. I soon corrected that, as I turned my car around and followed him for two kilometres as he headed up the road. As I followed, he spent most of the trip trotting along in the snow but came onto the road a few times. Maybe he likes having his picture taken.
Regardless, he dug out three rodents while I watched. Fascinating to watch him listen, wait and then pounce. I was impressed as he stopped only for a moment and then came up with the prey without fail. A couple of bites, swallow and carry on. I think he was happy for the snow providing the cover above the mice. Very efficient.
When we reached the turn off to Elpoca, he followed the side road into the valley and I turned back down and headed for home.
I spent three hours photographing four Grizzly bears in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Sunday morning. My parents were hiking there the day before and had seen the small troop digging up a meadow to get at small roots in the soil. I followed their directions and found the mother with her two cubs and a lone sow. The mother was protective of her cubs and the other bear kept her distance.
A couple of times mother bear chased the other one away either because she had strayed too close or momma wanted to graze in the loner’s spot. I have to say, watching a bear run is incredible. It is a shuffling gallop that doesn’t look fast but when you look at the ground covered you understand exactly how fast bears are. One of the charges sent the lone bear running towards me which got the adrenalin going. The image of the lone bear running away below is a bit blurry as the light was pretty soft but it illustrates some of the power these animals carry in their movements (and look at those claws).
The meadow is a narrow strip about two hundred meters wide which is lined with trees on both sides. I stayed along the forest’s edge but made sure the bears knew I was there when I was more than a few hundred meters away. I took almost an hour to get to my final photographing spot. Trying to watch for any signs of agitation, particularly from the mother. She looked my way a couple of times but did not stop grazing other than to chase the other bear. The cubs noticed me too but went back to their digging without any concerns.
The lone female seemed curious for the first few minutes but then settled back to the big dig. She would watch me whenever I moved but once I set up in a new spot, she would tend to her hunger. By mid-morning I was close enough to see their faces clearly through my lens but I was wishing I had longer glass than my 300mm lens and extender. A 500mm lens would have been perfect but no complaints.
The berries were late this year and I wonder if these roots are a fallback option that the bears look to late in the season to top off their bellies before hibernating. I left them as I found them, shuffling around and burying their heads in the piles of dirt, and headed back up the trail around noon.