Icy blue

This week’s Throwback-Thursday theme is ice. Perhaps my favourite topics in physical geography is glaciology (volcanoes and meteorology come a close second) and so it was with some delight that I realized I could get close-up views of glacier while hiking in BC and Alberta. I had visited Chamonix for a conference (wow – 20 years ago now!) and had enjoyed seeing the snowy icecap of Mt Blanc and the Mer de Glace, but they were still quite distant. What I wanted was to be able to touch that blue ice, without necessarily getting into mountaineering. I found two ways to do just that.

1. Scale. A lucky shot, these 2 photographers were packing up as we got to this viewpoint. Taken in Aug 2009.

Our third trek into the Canadian Rockies and our second time stopping at the Athabasca Glacier. In 2008 we’d taken the coach tour out onto the glacier, which gave us the chance to step out onto the ice and even sample the delicious cold meltwater. A year later we spent a few days exploring along the Icefields Parkway, stopping off at the Athabasca Glacier once again, this time just walking to the toe past all the signposts marking its position in recent years.

As we turned to leave, I noticed these two just beginning to walk away after taking a few photos. I changed to the telephoto lens and quickly captured them against the freshly-revealed ice in the background where a chunk had calved off, leaving behind a sheer blue cliff. It remains once of my favourite glacier photos because it lends scale to the immensity of the ice.

2. Wedge Glacier, getting further away each year.

By the end of our first summer of hiking in Vancouver, we had improved our strength and stamina sufficiently to tackle the steep hike to Wedgemount Lake, the site of perhaps the most accessible glacier in the area. That day, our turnaround point was the campground next to the lake, though I now wish we had continued on to the glacier on account of it being much closer than it was in the above photo (taken in 2015). I never expected to witness glacial retreat in my lifetime let alone in just a decade of hiking in BC. I was shocked when I revisited in 2013, and even more so in 2015 where the combined effect of a mild, low-snow winter and a warm dry summer had led to a huge retreat in the Wedge Glacier.

Where only 2 years previously the glacier terminated in an ice cave and a small pool, now the glacier’s snout ended in a much larger lake – indeed, a new glacial lake forming. Still impressive to be so close to this river of ice, but sobering to witness its retreat.

3. Wedgemount Lake, always a stunning place to be.

Lastly, a wider shot of Wedgemount Lake looking towards the Wedge Glacier, again taken in 2015. On our first hike here in 2005, the glacier extended to the obvious rocky outcrop visible near the end of the glacier. In the 1970s, the glacier calved into the lake itself! And that colour – always such a treat to see.

For sure the lake and its surroundings look spectacular on a sunny day such as this. But one of my favourite visits was on a misty, cloudy day in 2011, the rocks dusted in their first skiff of snow. The lake glowed a sage green being the only colour in an otherwise mostly-monochrome scene. A beautiful sight! The other highlight of that day was seeing a mountain goat. πŸ™‚

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Reflecting mountains

Mt Chephren reflected in Lower Waterfowl Lake. After I posted my third photo last week, I thought I was done with this view. Not so! I found yet another photo, this one taken the morning after the previous sunset shots. But I think this​ is definitely the last πŸ™‚

No sooner had I posted my photo last week, and declared it my last of Mt Chephren, I found myself poring over the photos from that same 2009 trip to the Rockies only to come face-to-face with yet another picture of this mountain and the lake. It’s pretty obvious why I took it – a mirror-calm lake and morning sunshine on the mountains. Postcard material really.

One thing that doesn’t come across in any of the photos of Mt Chephren is its scale. With the camera at its widest viewing angle (equivalent to 28 mm), the top of the mountain and the tip of its reflection don’t quite fit into the frame. And of course there’s nothing else in the photo to lend a sense of scale. That’s the frustration with mountain photography. All too often you get a lovely photograph of some scenery, but without a sense of really being there, or an idea of how imposing the mountains are.

I think of photos of Garibaldi Lake in particular. When you’re at the lake, the mountains and glaciers on the far side look impressive, despite their distance. But not a single photo of them really captures that feeling. Thinking about what that has in common with the photo above is the fact that they’re mountains on the opposite side of a lake, and those photos are inevitably taken at lake level, reducing the mountains to a two-dimensional backdrop as the third dimension into the scene is compressed.

So what can you do as a photographer? It’s hard to get a human out in the middle of the lake, at least not without ruining the reflection πŸ˜‰ Getting some height over the lake often helps as it expands the depth of the scene. Or just accept them as they are, and treat them as being the view from a comfortable chair by the side of a lake.

Chephren the Third

Mount Chephren the Third – a calm, clear summer night at Lower Waterfowl Lake for the last of my 3 photos of this view.

Taken half-an-hour later than last week’s photo of Mount Chephren, the sky begins to turn indigo as night falls while the north-western sky still retains its post-sunset glow. For this reason I really enjoy summers in the Rockies. Being a bit further north than Vancouver brings longer days, while, on top of that, the mountains are near the western edge of the Mountain time zone so sunset occurs at a “later” time than expected for that time zone. (See this page for a demonstration.) Since I’m not a morning person, I don’t miss the corresponding lack of daylight in the early hours, but at that time of year it hardly matters.

Chephren at dusk

Take 2 for Mount Chephren, this time at dusk. We were making our way north away from the rain around Banff towards clearer skies in Jasper and the campground at Waterfowl Lakes was the perfect overnight stop for our first dry night in several days.

Another view of Mt Chephren, actually taken before the one I posted last week. Back in 2009, we spent two weeks in the Rockies, the first spent exploring the Mt Assiniboine area, and the second for us to do some touring and day-hiking. The weather had been mixed; we finally got fed up of the rain down in the Banff-Lake Louise area and noticed that things looked better in Jasper. Destination Jasper, then!

We took our time heading north on the gloriously scenic Icefields Parkway, stopping off at the viewpoints and fitting in a quick hike to Helen Lake. Along the way we cased out a few campgrounds before settling in for a comfortable and – more importantly – dry night at Waterfowl Lakes. The clouds drifted away, the skies cleared and sat outside for the first time in what felt like ages!

Photogenic

Mt Chephren looking very photogenic above Lower Waterfowl Lake. Or should that be Lower Waterfowl Lake looking very photogenic below Mt Chephren?

A classic Rockies scene: a beautiful glacial lake and a striking summit. This photo was taken in 2011 on our tour of Banff and Jasper with my parents, and I think it may have been my Mum’s favourite spot. We had lunch at a picnic table in the campground with this view in front of us. Just beautiful…

I have two more versions of this scene that I’ll post for the next couple of Mountain Mondays.