Photo Expedition: Wilcox Pass Epic

We spent another pandemic weekend in the mountains, playing the social distanced tourist in our own province, not crossing any borders, wearing masks, and staying six feet away from others whenever humanly possible.

In some cases, we stayed much more than six feet away from others, such as when we took on an eight klick round-trip hike up to the top of the Wilcox Pass just south of the Columbia Icefields Glaciers, with a view of the same.

I dragged multiple cameras up for the hike, but the best pics by far were the dSLR photos.

With my other cameras I captured some video (the GoPro) and some sweeping panoramas (with my iPhone) which I use for desktop backgrounds on my multi-screen desktop computer setup.

The lighting was nearly perfect for a stretch of over an hour, and the vistas (and the speedy gait of my hiking companions) made for multiple opportunities for expansive, epic shots with a view yet still a contemplative subject staring off into the scenery.

Photo Expedition: Mountain Waterfalls

One more photo set to share from our recent mountain mini-vacation comes in the form of a quick opportunity I had on an evening hike our first night away. After checking into the hotel we had a quick dinner then drove to a nearby trailhead where (after a cute and safe encounter with a black bear) we hiked three klicks into the woods along a largely flat path (with a small climb at the end.)

Troll Falls is named for the bottom-most of a series of step-like waterfalls down a gradual mountain slope. The creek decends from somewhere above, starting at the Olympic ski hill (1988 Olympics) Nakiska into a wooded area below the parking lot. If that doesn’t sound pleasant or romantic, understand that I had to look on a map a few days later to realize that we were a few hundred meters from a ski-hill parking lot … so it didn’t exactly stick out while we were there.

Above the main falls, the falls most people hike up to see, photograph, and then wander back to their vehicles from lays a stretch of roughly one kilometer of winding, steplike waterfalls. An ascending footpath follows this to yet another grand water feature. So at each twist and turn of the trail, there is yet another opportunity to step a meter or so off the beaten path and crouch beside a gurgling stream to capture a photo of a lush bit of cascading water.

Photographing a nice waterfall is rare locally.

By contrast, the rivers and creeks within walking distance of my house are slow prairie water courses blessed with a rich chocolate brown hue. Sparkling blue and green waterfalls, dripping down the sides of mountains are hours of driving away, usually followed by hours of hiking and require a special balance of light to capture just right (without a backpack worth of filters and tripods at least.)

A few years ago we were in Iceland and I had an hour or so to muck around with the camera settings as I aimed at various waterfalls, camera steady on a tripod. The trick (which I’ve read too many places to reference here) is a small aperture and a long exposure. When these basics are combined, the image of the flowing water blurs to give a soft, lacy appearance to the water while the background is crisp. Iceland provided me a dozen opportunities to test this, and I nabbed a few great shots because of the tip.

I leaned against a tree, steadied myself with a few deep breaths, and held the shutter button for a half dozen shots hoping that I could avoid too much visible blur from my tripod-free 1/8sec shutter speed.

Photo Expedition: Mountain Macros

Our recent vacation brought us into the wilderness more than once, exploring short(ish) hikes of the kind where you’re back in the car within a couple hours … and also carrying a couple of nice cameras is not overly burdensome.

On one hike specifically, I found myself distracted by the filtered sunlight shining on the variety of miniature flora and fungi on the bed of the forest. Some of that inspiration is wound up in this creative tangent I often find myself following towards a background magic-type faux-history of nature, a place where little sprites or creatures dwell in a hidden microcosm of the world: tiny trees, rolling mossy hills, nooks and crannies in the trees and stone.

I wasn’t using a macro lens, per se. My general purpose 24-105mm has a lot of flexibility in closer quarters and the low perspective combined with a tight focal approach created a small collection of otherworldly textures and shapes from a few steps off the beaten path of the forest.

We were hiking our way up to a small mountain cirque, where a crystal lake was nestled into the round at the base of a small rocky valley a few hundred meters up the side of a range. For most of the time, the mid-morning sun was beating down on our backs through the gap in the path. Off to either side, a lush alpine forest, a mix of poplar and fir, was growing from a bed of flowing mosses and various small fungi. Stones protruded from the green, punctuating the seemingly-manicured landscape.

I walked and snapped, and paused and stepped a careful-not-to-disturb pace into the shade to snap some more. The result was a small collection of curious pics in a blend of greens, browns greys and yellows, so different from the blues and forest greens of the landscape photos I’d been snapping all weekend.

Photo Expedition: Spray Lake

One of the core inspirations for this site, something I (surprisingly) haven’t written much about in the last few months since launching it, is photography. In fact, arguably, one of the reasons I paid for hosting on this site rather than taking the approach I’ve taken with other sites of self-hosting on a home server, is that I wanted the larger bandwidth of a hosting package to post more photos. (I avoid that on my other sites so that I don’t overwhelm my home connection!)

Of course, insert pandemic lifestyle changes here… and I haven’t taken many photos lately. In fact, when I pulled my camera out to prepare it for the short (local…ish) vacation we took last weekend, I still had pics from last summer’s European trip to remove, a small repair to one of the dials to make, and the camera clock was still set to whatever timezone Dublin is in.

Needless to say, I dusted the dSLR off and took it to the mountains for a long-long weekend vacation.

I’ll post a small handful of pictures over the coming days, themed into collections, starting with this small set from part of a day-trip we took from the hotel-base.

Our trip was set in the mountain resort area around Kananaskis. The lake pictured is actually a dam reservoir, and many of the lakes in this area are … well … the result of human intervention that took place a generation or two ago. I used to visit this place as a kid, and it hasn’t changed much since the early 90s. So, despite our changed societal appreciation for reshaping the landscape of these beautiful mountain parks and how we think of that today, years ago that was not the sentiment. It is what it is, and now they are protected areas with abundant beauty and wildlife.

These photos, unedited from my camera, were snapped at a picnic stop along a 60km gravel back-road route connecting Peter Lougheed Park with the town of Canmore. A little roadside stop, a two minute hike, and a beautiful day. The reflection on the water was nearly perfect and the colour and symmetry that I was able to capture was only spoiled by the fact I didn’t bring a tripod and was manually levelling my camera through the viewfinder against a jagged horizon line.

One of these pics is also now the desktop wallpaper on my iPad.