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.
Moraine Lake is a beautiful location in the Banff National Park to visit. To photograph it often proves to be tricky and that keeps me returning. The winds run haphazardly through, over and below the Valley of the Ten Peaks stirring the water, pushing the clouds low then high and generally making unpredictability the only thing predictable. I love it but it continues to demand flexibility every time I go up. There are a number of images that I have visualized, or maybe just dreamt about, but have yet to realize. On my last visit with good friend and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude, the sky looked promising as we drove up from Lake Louise. Clouds were stacked along the peaks and the sky to the east was clear. As we climbed the rock pile which gives the lake her name, the wind came up, pushing the cloud off the cliffs. These slid eastward seemingly on a mission to block the early light of dawn. I stopped for a moment with my back to the lake to photograph these broken clouds as the pink sunlight brushed through them.
We scrambled into a spot with a view down the valley which seemed to still be sleeping. The wind was soft and the lake was calm, allowing for a beautiful reflection of the peaks and the sky above.
Around the valley the autumn colors were still hanging on while winter looked to be settling onto the mountains above the lake.
I spent the morning at Moraine Lake today. A cold front swept in last night and when I caught my first glimpse of the valley when I drove up, the snow line was visible amid the layers of forest, rock and cloud.
At the lake, daybreak started cold with a steady drizzle of rain. The blue water’s hue varied as the amount of light let through by the clouds changed. I enjoyed the morning with the whole valley changing steadily.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 2 seconds at f/22 on ISO 100
I enjoy photographing the landscapes around Moraine Lake and realized it had been almost a year since I went up and waited for sunrise there. I clambered up the moraine, the geological rock pile at the eastern edge of the lake, near the end of August and shared a beautiful dawn with a few other people spread out along the pathways.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 4 tenths of a second at f/11 on ISO 100
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 2.5 seconds at f/20 on ISO 50
On this visit to the Valley of the Ten Peaks, a cloudless sky to the east allowed the early sunlight open passage to the mountains above the lake. They did their part and caught the red ribbons wonderfully.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105mm lens: 1/13th of a second at f/11 on ISO 100
Even after the light had cooled there were still interesting images to be found around the valley.
Moraine Lake is one of the Canadian Rockies most iconic landscapes. I have been there many times and it continues to share new magic with each visit. I was up on top of the rock pile with a couple of good friends for a quiet evening and we returned a few hours later for a cloudy sunrise. Both times presented views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and the lake that I had not seen previously. I enjoyed them all immensely.
The evening watched as the clouds ran towards the horizon leaving open sky above the peaks that loom above the lake and curl west down the valley. The soft light near sunset looked beautiful where it touched the peaks and provided a very subtle contrast to the deepening blues and greens that ushered in the night.
When I was crossing the stream where the lake most visibly drains out, the bright colors in the landscape’s palette had been wrung out so I was drawn to the speck of orange upstream. I liked how this small information shelter’s log frame stood defiantly against the gloom. At this point, some great clouds had stretched out above the water and they provided an abstract mirror of the river’s folds as revealed in this 13 second exposure.
When we returned around 5am, the clouds had staked out all four corners of the sky. We watched breaks in the sky expectantly for more than an hour, taking us through sunrise without any light painting the peaks or the clouds curling around them. We were joined by a hopeful couple from Japan and two Chinese ladies on top of the moraine. Quiet chattering among the separate groups along with the occasional shutter click marking the time shuffling by. It was nice, not the dramatic alpen glow or early light that I have seen before but another interesting side of this valley.
Around 6:30 a large break in the clouds developed in the east and 15 minutes later the first shafts of sunlight hit the mountains. The light was still pretty warm and the drama I had been looking for unfolded for the next 45 minutes before the sun had risen too high for my landscape photography tastes. I enjoyed watching the color in the lake swirl and change as the house lights of the day came up. With stray clouds still wrapping peaks occasionally and the sunlight marching down the forest side of the lake, there was a lot to watch and to photograph.
Packing up, I retraced my steps down the path back towards the lodge. Crossing the river once more, I was drawn in again. This time the wet rocks were sparkling in the sunshine and I found the light on Yamnee (Mount Bowlen), Tonsa and Sapta (Mount Perren) particularly attractive. Breakfast was calling my friends (and me too – if I had been listening) and it was a good final image to complete this time with the lake, the valley and these wonderful peaks.