After catching the first bus out of Lake O’hara, we headed straight back to Banff to return our camping gear before heading off to Jasper National park in a driving rain. We had been keeping an eye on the weather for the past couple of weeks, and while we were hoping for some clouds, we definitely did not want to get rained out…especially in Jasper. I traded off driving duties with Todd on the long trip up the Icefields Parkway and we finally pulled in to get settled into our respective hotels just before dinner. Todd and I again opted for the budget minded Maligne Lodge while Tom and Mark stayed at the Fairmont. We made a gallant effort at shooting sunset at Lake Maligne, but it was pouring down rain with no sign of a let up and we finally had to give up after briefly scouting the area for potential sunrise shots. Instead, we decided to grab some Canadian fare for dinner at the Downstream Lounge where Tom took up some sort of serious all you can eat challenge and won. I can’t recall what it was….something like eating the entire hind quarters of an elk. Whatever it was, Tom emerged triumphant and about 40 pounds heavier when we left.
It was still cloudy when I peered out the window the next morning at 4:30 AM, but at least the rain had seemed to let up. Todd and I picked up Tom and Mark and we set off rather hastily up Maligne Lake Road. I was taking the corners a bit too quick and right before we got to the lake we came face to face with the largest bull moose any of us had ever seen. He just stared at us, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we had almost totaled our van on his butt. We pressed on and hurriedly piled out of the van as the sky was just beginning to turn blue. Tripods and lenses flew in all directions as we grabbed our gear and headed down to the shoreline for the iconic boathouse shot with the sun coming up behind. We spent the next hour or so shooting like mad. Both Todd and Mark patiently worked one location diligently for almost that entire time while Tom and I flew up and down the shoreline greedily looking for more shots. After 30 minutes or so of shooting, we began to give up hope and figured that the sun was completely blocked off to the East. Just as all of us had given up, I glanced up again at the East and yelled “Color!” Sure enough, a faint glow was now creeping in to the clouds off to the East and a few minutes later, the sky began to light up.
I brought two camera bodies so I left one on a tripod in front of the boathouse, and once the sun came up, I was shooting seemingly from several directions at once. The sun only broke through once while we were there, but all of us tried to get in as many shots as possible before it disappeared for the rest of the day. While I was running back to my spot, I noticed the reflection in this puddle and pulled up short to get a shot.
At this point we had a big decision to make. We definitely wanted to get out to Spirit Island, but the only way out was to buy a ticket for the boat, which was $60 Canadian. We all looked at each other but we already knew what the answer would be. This trip was getting more expensive all the time, but it was slightly cheaper than what we were anticipating with the conversion rate, and when would we get an opportunity like this again? We unanimously decided to go for it knowing that the sun might disappear and that we could get rained out. While we were waiting, the skies darkened up again as we looked for more compositions around the perimeter of the lake.
After another 30 minutes or so, we headed back to get toward the front of the line. Ironically, as soon as we boarded, we took the seats farthest toward the back so that we could jump out and start shooting as soon as the boat took off. It was nice and warm in the boat, but the windows started fogging up as soon as we boarded. As soon as the crew had given their safety spiel, we all bolted out the back and began shooting. The lake was still glass like and while we froze our butts off, the lake was completely still and undisturbed. We took dozens of shots, but the on I took just as we neared the island is one of my favorites of the morning.
From what I read before our trip and what the crew of the boat told us, we definitely needed to be respectful while we were on Spirit Island as the First Peoples (Native Canadians) had long regarded this island as sacred. As we drew near it was easy to see why. Majestic cathedral walls of stone lined both sides of the blue-green lake. A hush fell over our group as we disembarked.
We were the first group on the island that morning and it definitely felt like we were intruding. The bummer about taking this particular tour is that we only had about 30 minutes on the island before we had to return. We could have booked a longer tour, but the price was a bit too expensive for us. We had read of other photographers who had camped at a nearby campground but the only way out there was by canoe. We were some of the last passengers to get back on the boat and as soon as we were on our way back, we decided that we definitely needed to find out how to get a canoe and to make sure that we would be in shape enough to paddle all the way out there. A round trip is listed between 5 and 8 hours, so it is not for the faint of heart. But we were certain, and we grudgingly got back on the boat, that we would definitely find a way to return there and stay longer on our next trip.
On our way back, the four crazy Americans were literally the only ones who continued to shoot as the temps were still in the 30’s and the wind chill generated from the boat certainly didn’t help.
It was already approaching noon when we got back to the van we still needed to check out. Most of the rain had let up by that point and it was time for the long drive back to Banff. We hoped to shoot several more lakes on our way back, and our tentative plan was to shoot the sunset at Emerald Lake back in Yoho. We were already behind schedule, but we figured we still had plenty of time.
How wrong we were. (To be continued)