In December while my son was in snowboarding lessons at Nakiska, I drove further into Kananaskis Country. At Spillway Lake, along the Smith-Dorrien Trail, I found the sun laying low above the silhouettes of the forest and the mountain ridge lines.
I’ve been lucky to enjoy a number of great mornings (here, here and here) in the mountains as summer has wound down. Last weekend I went to Kananaskis to see how the autumn colors were coming in at the higher elevations. I went to Wedge Pond ahead of the sunrise and waited for the darkness to lift. Soon enough it did, and quickly, revealing the larch along the shoreline were starting to turn but there were more lime greens than yellows and golds. I’ll be back again in a week or two to try to catch the stands of gold before the needles fall and the leaves blow away.
I was not disappointed in any way though. The mist swirled across the calm water, drawing a line through the middle of the mountains and their reflections as the early morning blue gave way to the alpenglow.
Last weekend I spent two mornings waiting for, and then watching the sunrise, on Moraine Lake. The two days were definitely not alike. On Saturday morning, the clouds hung low obscuring the tips along the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The color palette was decidedly cool. It was reminiscent of the night before after the sun had set at Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The next day welcomed clear skies in all directions. I would have welcomed a few clouds above the mountains to catch the alpenglow but the peaks down the valley soon did. And that was beautiful to enjoy. It had been a couple of years since the valley had shared this particular scene with me.
Watching the peaks glow red is stunning and I love watching that light spread down mountainsides, racing against the golden sunshine’s imminent arrival. The transition is very fast with the alpenglow lasting 4-5 minutes before the sunshine blends in and the red disappears from the rock faces.
On my way up to the mountains this weekend, the sun continued its struggle with the smoke from the wildfires. In the early evening I made my way along Highway 40 and stopped several times to watch the clouds and sun in this unusual scene.
I ended up on the shore of the Upper Kananaskis Lake about an hour before sunset. It was a warm night which I was grateful for – even in summer the wind can blow hard and cold across the lake at anytime. Over the next couple of hours a loon, a few people fishing and one large, extended family came and went. I moved down the shoreline slowly, taking photographs of the sun’s descent towards the jagged silhouette of the mountains the curve around the lake.
The smoke acts like a neutral density filter and drops the intensity of the sun’s light considerably. That allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring how the atmosphere, the sunlight and the landscape could be composed. All three changed in appearance and shape as the sun descended.
When the sun drew close to the mountains, the colors deepened and the silhouettes of the mountains were fantastic against the sky.
The fiery hues disappeared quickly once the sun fell behind the mountains. That left cooler tones to quietly take hold. At that point, I was alone on the shore and the tranquility held me there for a long while.
Before the sun rose over the Fairholme Range, the scattered clouds stacked up in layers over the mountains. They fought to catch the early splashes of pink and peach as the day approached. The chaos of these splashes of color across the broken sky were beautiful to watch.
The moon was scribbling on the surface of one of the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park on the weekend.
After a long night of spectacular auroras which I enjoyed from the western shore of Lake Minnewanka (one post here and the other there), I went to nearby Two Jack Lake to catch the sunrise. The clouds, the sun and the mountains all conspired to present an amazing start to the morning. The wind was a bit mischievous as it blew softly but steadily over the water breaking up Mount Rundle’s reflection in the image above and Mount Girouard’s in the one below.
At one point a Canada goose entered the water and I liked the way she showed up in this image blurring slightly during the 1.6 second exposure as it paddled by.
The goose carried on to the far side of the lake. Later a paddle boarder followed the goose’s lead and went out for an early tour around the lake. She was there with a photographer for a shoot – a pretty great morning for that. I liked being able to add in a shot of her gliding across the water.
I packed up the tripod as the colour in the sky started to fade out and with the boarder making several passes in front of the scene which kept the water rippled. I stopped at the overlook above the lake about twenty minutes later and made this last image of the paddle boarder silhouetted against the sunlit mountains reflecting in the water.
Last weekend when fog stretched out across Calgary, I spent the morning photographing along the western edge near Springbank and east of the city around Delacour. The density of the fog changed constantly which was great fun to play with in the images I made.
At times the sun would break through the haze. Some of those moments were incredible just to watch as shafts of sunlight pierced the fog and were then quickly absorbed.
I returned to a weathered old truck that I’ve shot over the years. The fog’s isolation allowed for some new images of this charismatic vehicle.
Much like the train tracks above, I loved how the road disappeared – there is an ethereal quality that is lent to these images by the fog.
The trees that dot the prairies individually and in small stands drew my eye throughout the morning. Sometimes the fog hid them and sometimes it isolated them as with the truck above. Often they were just beautiful scenes to enjoy and shoot before they changed into something new.
I spent a lot of time on the prairies in December. These days started early in the morning so I was able to enjoy watching night give way to day. And several hours later, watch the principles switch as the short daylight hours ran out.
When I set up my gear on the shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes, it was cold and dark. I wanted to be there early to catch Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky before it brightened too much. The pair, with Mars less visible to the left, were directly above Mount Rundle’s peak when I arrived.
As the horizon brightened the stars faded while color started to creep into the clouds. The lake was frozen with a thin cover of ice which gave abstract reflections of the sky and the silhouettes across the water.
(Please click on any image to see a higher resolution version)
Early sunshine brought a cloud to life as it stretched and broke up over Mount Rundle. Before long, bright pink strands hung above the Bow Valley. It was a beautiful morning and I loved watching it build from darkness into light.
The pink softened quickly and pastels held the sky until the sun blew away the soft hues of the early morning.
After a chilly night photographing and then sleeping at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier, I shook off the cold with a cup of tea before getting out of my sleeping bag and taking a look around. It was about 5:30 am when I was up and the blues and whites in the sky and on the mountains were lovely as they waited for the sun to light them up.
The image above was made at 5:47 am and less than 10 minutes later, the pink sunlight of dawn was splashing the upper reaches of the mountains on either side of the glacier. It was beautiful and I took turns between watching the light move across the slopes and trying to remember to photograph.
I started where the light first reached along Parker Ridge and Hilda Peak on the western side of the Sunwapta Pass, then worked to the right watching as Mount Athabasca and Mount Andromeda were hit with shafts of light here and there.
I panned across the Athabasca Glacier towards the Dome Glacier and saw the light show unfolding there a couple of minutes behind my location. I ran to my car and drove to a viewpoint where I could see up the valley to the glacier and up to the peak of Mount Kitchener (the first image in this post). It proved to be a good move and I was able to watch the sunlight as it transitioned from pink into gold.
When the golden hue started to drain out of the light, I packed up and headed north towards Jasper. A couple of kilometres down the road, I noticed this peak still basking in beautiful light. I stopped and made this last image of a fine morning in the Rocky Mountains.
An early morning east of Calgary near Strathmore looking for Snowy owls came up with only one shy one isolated in a field. This allowed time to see the prairie landscape. And, as it has turned out, one of the last days before the warm weather of the past couple of weeks came and melted all of the snow. While I’m not missing the bitter cold, I did enjoy the icy air and snow-covered fields when I was out then.