Misadventures in the Canadian Rockies with a side of Punk Rock
Assiniboine Pt III
The final sunrise alarm rang, I had been lying in bed waiting for it and my feet hit the floor in an instant. My new polite dorm mates were treated to an equally polite Llisa as I changed out of my pajamas in the dark and quietly grabbed my bag, I snuck out the door far more gracefully than the morning before. After another breakfast of sugar and sugar coffee I took the short hike towards the lake while vowing to never eat another cereal bar in my life. I had scoped out a few compositions at Lake Magog on my first evening in the park and I confidently strode down to the shore in the hour before dawn to set up my camera. The smoke had somewhat cleared over night, and I could see faint clouds in the sky. I waded in the water carefully with my camera, I’d managed to go the entire trip so far without some sort of water related mishap, and I wasn’t about to start on my last day.
Across the water Assiniboine rose towards the sky, commanding the view and I happily drank it all in. A handful of fish rose to the surface of the lake leaving rings in the glasslike reflection of the water, I had met a number of fishermen in the previous days but surprisingly, none of them were around to throw flies at the fish.
It wasn’t as if I had been expecting there to be hordes of people lined up to take in the views like you might find around easily accessible locations around Banff, but I certainly hadn’t expected to have these locations entirely to myself, especially not every single day. It wasn’t until I had returned to the hut and begun packing my bag for the long trip home that I ran into people that morning. Still, the moment I left the hut and set off towards Wonder Pass, I was alone again. I didn’t mind the lack of company for the first few hundred metres of my trip, until I passed the place I had spent hours the evening before. Some time in the 10 hours between leaving Gog Lake and passing by on my hike home the next morning, the resident Grizzly bear had visited and subsequently passed a rather large bowel movement on top of the spot I had been photographing the night before. I felt insulted, as if the bear had deliberately shat on my photo location and therefore my heart, but the feeling faded quickly with the realization that I now had to hike this stretch alone, knowing the resident Grizzly was around.
Nice gentle slopes to fall down
Finally, I hobbled up to Bryant Creek, dropped my bag and stuck my poor feet into the water. The campsite I had booked was a mere kilometre away, but it was only 1 pm. I nibbled on some lunch and pondered my options. It was Saturday, and between excitement, cold temperatures and general hut life, I hadn’t managed to get a good night’s sleep since the previous Monday. I had little hope of getting any more sleep in a tent. The thought of my own bed, and actually being able to sleep was enough to forego any further pondering. I removed a set of insoles from my boots to give my toes a bit more room, repacked my bag and gingerly stepped away from the river bank. While I was resting, another swarm of bees had surrounded me. What is it with these bees? With the insoles removed, the boots felt a little better but the damage to my toes had already begun and a single toenail on each foot had begun to blacken. Knowing that I would have day light until at least 10 pm, I made a plan to hike slowly and take a rest to soak my feet at every major creek crossing, I also took the liberty of soaking my shirt to stave off some of the mid day heat. I kicked myself for not thinking of it three days ago, although I had obviously started the hike with a bit more dignity than I was finishing it.
Feet go in here
Besides the pain in my feet, the long hill I had descended on my first day of hiking was now also weighing heavily in my mind, as I needed to get to the top of it in order to get home. With every passing kilometre, the uphill sections never seemed quite as bad as I had imagined and I started to believe I might have exaggerated its significance. At the final creek crossing, I believed I was going to get away with avoiding going up the long hill altogether, and then I reached the bottom of the hill. The path that stretched before me was far taller and far steeper than anything I had climbed in the days prior. At the top of the hill, and seemingly in a very un-scenic and arbitrary location, sat a bench. I decided that when I reached that bench, I was going to sit on it, and so I began the longest 100 metre uphill section of the trail.
After far too long, I reached the top of the final hill and the bench came in to view. I mercifully collapsed on to its surface. It was at that point that the rain forecasted for the day began to catch up to me. What the forecast had failed to mention, was that the rain was bringing with it a great deal of wind and lightning. I had barely sat down for my preapproved rest, when I was so rudely spurred back on to my feet again with a sense of urgency. A storm had appeared from behind the mountains and was fast approaching me. The last four kilometres of trail that I had to travel on was on a fire road sorely lacking in cover, with lightning in the distance and my person covered in a fine assortment of lightning rods, I needed to get moving.
My normal 2 kilometre an hour pace quickened to 4 kilometres an hour. Fat rain drops began to pelt my face. The 4 kilometre an hour pace was increased to five kilometres an hour. My toes screamed at the pain as the wind picked up. In the forest next to the trail, trees began to sway wildly. The jolting crack of a tree breaking in the wind made my heart jump into my throat as my pace quickened to 6 kilometres an hour. The bear spray hanging from my shoulder strap pelted me in the face as I speed waddled down the trail. The time between the flash of lightning and the clap of thunder lessened as the storm grew near, every piece of me screamed to slow down, to rest. I chuckled at the thought of emerging unscathed after 70 kilometres of solo hiking, often in the dark, over the past few days only to be wiped out by a tree or a lightning bolt a mere kilometre from the truck. Finally, the parking lot came in to view again and I leapt in to the truck, moments later the storm hit with full force and pelted my windshield in a down pour, “Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?” I texted Mr. Bastard, a full day ahead of schedule “I could really go for a burger and a beer”.
All for this
Solitude At Its Finest
Canada Day long weekend, in theory, one of very few times a year that we can camp comfortably. It seems every other long weekend in Canada involves snow. Not surprising then, that it was the weekend Mr. Bastard chose for his back country trek from Ribbon Lake to Lillian Lake in Kananaskis, a 30 kilometre adventure with one of his best friends. I wasn't invited. Neither was the dog.
Mr. Bastard and our friend returned a few days later to tell their tale of hiking mountain passes through whiteout blizzards in a kilt, decommissioned trails, a depressing amount of rain, and a legendary (albeit hilarious) hangover. But they aren't the writer of this blog, so you will have to track them down in person for the story. Not wanting to feel left out of the fun, I chose a more glamorous way to spend a few days in the mountains, and parked our RV in a car accessible campground. Moments after I had declared my camp to be set up, ominous clouds tumbled through the valley and it soon became apparent that my choice of accommodation would be the more comfortable way to spend the weekend. It rained. A lot.
It rained enough to keep all but the most stubborn people out of the mountain playground. My kind of people. The Kananaskis valley, normally crawling with recreationalists was eerily quiet on the most popular camping weekend of the year. The majority of the people who opted to stay home didn't know what they were missing, to be entirely truthful I didn't know either, but with a 5 minute commute it was silly not to have a look.
The luxurious 4:30 am alarm clock brought me out of a dream, a nice change from the midnight alarm clocks as of late. The sky was already light enough that I didn't have to struggle to find my matches to light the stove. The sound of coffee percolating in the twilight was about the happiest noise I could hear as I readied myself for the day ahead.
Creepy dog, buried somewhere underneath a fleece blanket and two feather duvets, didn't even budge as I tip-toed out of our mobile abode. Despite the forecast, the sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue in the early morning light. I cursed the sky. I had been expecting dramatic clouds that follow a rain storm. I made my way to Wedge Pond, shouldered my camera bag and gave a meek call in to the forest. The call was met by silence. I took a few steps away from my vehicle and called again, this time with force "GOOD MORNING!" My call was met with singing birds and the chattering of squirrels. I confidently strode down the path towards the water and gasped at my good fortune. Although the rain had ceased for a brief reprieve, the wildly popular location for sunrise photography was deserted, save for a few deer that quickly vacated the area.
Mist rose from the water creating an enchanting atmosphere, and as luck would have it, some clouds had begun to form above the mountains. I dropped my camera bag and snapped a shot, light can be a fickle mistress and I daren't miss a shot for taking too long setting up a composition.
With a single frame already captured, I speed walked along the shoreline in search of a second shot. Within a hundred metres, I located the solitary piece of driftwood I had launched years ago and shuffled it into place. I had been photographing this log for years, it would be a shame to forego the tradition on a morning like this. I scurried along the shoreline again to gather my things. It's amazing how much mess I had managed to make the moment I had a place to myself. It took a few trips up and down the shore to collect everything, but soon the coffee, camera bag, a few filters, tripod and camera were consolidated next to my foreground interest.
With driftwood and camera in place, I settled in with my coffee to watch the light dance with the clouds and flirt with the mountain faces. The stress of the week prior melted in to a sea of forest green and sunrise pink hues. The camera clicked, a few shots here and there and in between shutters I stood with jaw agape at the scene before me. I silently crowned myself the title "Llisa the Ready, Grand Duchess of Stubbornness , Drinker of Coffee, Holder of Cameras" as I sipped my coffee and watched the mist rising in the dawn. So far the name hasn't caught on. I think it might be too short.
I always wonder what makes a photographer drag themselves in to the wilderness before dawn just to watch a sunrise. It is a wholly meditative experience to witness the play between atmosphere and light, an experience that one would think should be reserved for the spiritual or religious. Instead, Nikons are raised in salute to the sun, capturing a moment in time so peaceful that if we could convince the world to wake up early enough, perhaps we would live in a more harmonious society. It's truly a shame more people don't make an effort to greet the day this way, still, I don't mind the solitude.
The Big Island Part II
The ocean lured me closer with every crashing wave, and with pants rolled up I waded through warm tide pools, illuminated by distant street lights and the glow of my headlamp. In the dark, I could hear the tide thrashing into a small band of cliffs with a thunderous roar, occasionally spilling cool water over the top and into the pools I was occupying to lap at the bottom of my pants. As twilight began to form silhouettes of compositions for me, I set my bag down and made my way through the labyrinth of pools, anemone and rocks to set up my camera. This is the life.
It just wouldn't be a proper vacation, without returning home feeling completely exhausted, in need of a 3 day nap and a hot shower. In that regard, Hawaii was a complete success. That's not to say there wasn't a good deal of relaxation and downtime, there was. While Mr. Bastard and I were there, we sampled more than our fair share of local beer, Kona coffee and a lifetime of Spam in flavours I didn't know existed - the finer things in life. But more often than not we just weren't content with a day of lounging around on a beach. Our days were full of hiking, snorkelling and exploration. On top of that - photography, the most exhausting hobby I could have possibly fallen in love with.
It seemed strange to continually drag myself out of bed at 4 am to take a cold shower (Note to self: next time book a hotel that has hot water...) while on vacation. Leaving my peacefully sleeping husband behind in the cool air conditioned room to walk out in to the stifling heat, alone, in to a city I was not familiar with wasn't an easy thing to do, but the reasonable sunrise and sunset times were too hard to resist and with only a week to capture as much as I could, I was determined to make the most of my time on the island.
I consider myself lucky, either that or extremely persuasive, in that Mr. Bastard agreed to join me on a rather ambitious sunrise excursion. I had been up for an hour already by the time Mr. Bastard's alarm clock rang around 2am, signalling our time to hit the road. With eyes open just enough to make it from the hotel door and into the front seat of the car, he quickly fell back asleep while I drove through the night, drinking cans of cold brew coffee like it was my last day on earth. As we neared the summit of Kiluea volcano in the dark, the glow of the crater could be seen on the horizon and I quietly lost my mind. Mr. Bastard slept peacefully in the passenger seat unaware of the sights before us, as I began to swear a string of curse words under my breath that continued relentlessly for the next thirty minutes.
Finally, we pulled in to Volcano National Park and Mr. Bastard began to wake up. I could hardly contain myself, and the moment I knew he was awake I let my curse words bubble to the surface like lava. I won't repeat them here, but they sounded like "roly duck" except a lot louder, a lot more of them and I may have forgotten to breath in between words.
We parked our rental car at the summit of the crater, I let out the last of my "roly ducks" as I grabbed my camera bag, and then joined the few but dedicated pyjama clad tourists in awed silence. Nobody spoke but to whisper to the person next to them as the glow of the crater battled starlight and sunrise for attention. The lava, miles away, hissed, and bubbled and roared at our silence. Had I not been intent on capturing the glow of the crater in the night, it's likely we would have opted to stay in bed only to visit during waking hours. Twilight at the Kiluea crater was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid my eyes on, and I'm grateful my camera made me do it.
The Big Island Part I
I have never been to a tropical location before. Every vacation I have ever taken has been safely in the Northern Hemisphere, far, far away from the sun where a comfortable summer day is a balmy room temperature. I take Vitamin D supplements in lieu of seeing sunshine for all but three months of the year. The three months in Canada that we see days above 20 degrees Celsius, I'm generally complaining about the heat. The thought of spending a week close to the equator made me very, very nervous. Six days before the flight was scheduled to take off from the depths of Canadian winter and deposit Mr. Bastard and I into our first tropical vacation , I realised I did not own three crucial items. Sunscreen, sandals and a hat.
This blog post is really so I can show you my family vacation photos. Sorry if you're not into that.
Having heard horror stories about vacations ruined by the pain of something called a "Sunburn" sunscreen was on the top of my list. Surprisingly, it was procured with relative ease, and Mr. Bastard and I each packed a bottle of the most waterproof, S-P-F-iest sunscreen money could buy. We may be the only two Canadians who returned from the beach with skin as pasty as when we left. I consider that a great success.
The shoes were a little bit harder. I ran through every shoe section in every store I could find. I knew what I wanted, I wanted a cross between sandal and hiking boot, an oxymoron in shoe form. I was pretty sure what I wanted existed, but after efficiently spending one minute or less in every shoe store in South Calgary I determined that what I wanted definitely was not in stock.
Eventually I admitted that I should have been more prepared, and shopped for summer items in Canada when it was still summer. Sandals aren't exactly a big seller when wearing them out of the store means certain frostbite. Eventually, I gave up on finding the perfect sandals that I wanted and took a chance ordering them online. With 6 days to spare, I placed my order and the perfect pair arrived at my door step approximately 36 hours before we left for our trip. I like to live dangerously.
You know what's awesome in Hawaii? Lava tubes, they are cool and I can walk through them without sweating.
Finding the hat however, was a lesson in retail hell. Not because I'm picky. Not because it's winter and toques outnumber sun hats 10 to 1. Not because I have a tiny head. But because I have a tiny head, I'm picky, it's winter and toques outnumber sun hats 10 to 1. It. Took. Hours. I still don't know why or even how Mr. Bastard kept up with me. I tried on every hat in every store in every department in Southern Calgary. Kids hats fit better. Ladies hats look better. Why don't they make this hat style, with that material, in this size and that colour? Eventually, and after many, many, many trips to the mirror, I found a hat. It wasn't perfect, but it was the material I wanted, it mostly fit and I had been dragging Mr. Bastard through store after store for hours. I bought it, and was happy that my head and face would be protected from the sun. Mr. Bastard was also happy.
Have I mentioned the sun makes me nervous? I'd never been to a warm place, ever. I have never had a reason to really fear the sun, but some days in Calgary it can be 30 degrees Celsius, and wow. That is hot. My brain turns to mashed potatoes. I get fatigued. I hate the heat yet here I was about to embark on a tropical vacation, but I was armed and ready. I had sunscreen. I had sandals. I had a hat.
Within 16 hours of arriving in Hawaii, Mr. Bastard and I had picked up our car, checked in to our hotel, slept, woke up, procured breakfast, driven across the entire Island, found a very cool waterfall to explore and I immediately lost my hat.
We then spent four of our seven days in paradise searching for the perfect replacement....
The replacement. I did not lose this hat.
The Greatest Adventure
When I pointed the jeep toward the mountains after work, I didn't expect the biggest adventure would take place miles away from the hike I had planned. With Creepy dog quickly bored of the passing scenery and settled into her bed, and a mass of camera gear, hiking boots and a comically oversized back pack occupying the entire back seat, we throttled toward the trail head. But first - I needed to eat some dinner, and not just anything would do. I wanted a burger. Something that would fuel me for the hike ahead but would be fast to pick up and eat. I would sooner starve than miss out on some good light.
In my haste to beat rush hour traffic however, I had chosen a route void of fast food options. As I ventured out of city limits, the burger options dwindled, and soon became mere cows dotting the landscape. I pointed the cows out to Creepy and she immediately jolted out of her slumber and stared in the opposite direction I was pointing. Creepy loves cows.
I wasn't worried about the lack of fast food options though, I was approaching a cluster of small towns located in some of the finest farming and ranching areas in the province, surely, I would be able to find a burger. And I did.
I walked up to the trailer window to look at the menu while Creepy dog sniffed around the patio for leftovers. My first thought probably should have been "Why am I the only one here during dinner time?" or "The granola bars I packed will probably be good enough" or even a simple "Food poisoning is bad for you" but instead I went with "Oh! Well that sounds good!"
I placed my order and watched as the cook slapped a great deal of meat onto the grill. This wasn't going to be as fast as I thought it would be, and I took Creepy dog for a walk around the block. When I returned, there was a parcel waiting for me on the counter. I peeked inside and discovered it was my dinner. I decided I would dig in once I was on the highway again to save time, and loaded the parcel into the jeep. Once in the drivers side again, I noticed the burger occupied a great deal of the dashboard space and created a slight blind spot. I did my best to keep my eyes on the road ahead while Creepy kept close watch over the burger.
Back at cruising speed again, I retrieved the parcel from the dashboard and peeled the packaging slightly in order to contain the burger . I attempted a bite and came out with a mouthful of lettuce, paper and regret. I had greatly underestimated my road food capabilities. The burger was placed back on the dashboard and I began a 67 kilometre decision making process.
Do I pull over and just eat?
In the sweltering heat, I visually inspected the burger. It was a mass of bun, meat, other meat, and a pile of vegetables. I opened my mouth as practice, I wasn't entirely confident the burger would fit. I rotated the burger 12 degrees clockwise and opened my mouth again. It just didn't seem like it would be physically possible to get a bite with a good bun -fixin's- burger ratio without causing myself physical harm. I longed for a table, a plate a knife and fork and maybe a cheerleader or two for moral support. As I studied the burger and packaging, deciding on the best course of action, Creepy dog stared intently at me from her seat next to mine. Creepy loves cows.
Finally, I threw caution to the wind and took as big of a bite as my jaw would allow. Immediately, the burger exploded within the confines of the parcel, and the sauce made it's way through the bottom of the packaging and onto my lap. I placed a napkin on my lap to catch the drips, but the sauce soon began creating a precarious jalapeno flavoured time bomb in my crotch. I panicked. One hand punched the burger out the open driver's side window, sauce dripping down my arm and into my armpit. In the other hand, I scooped the napkin up and flung the sauce out the window, dripping it down the side of the jeep. There is a slight chance the sauce permanently discoloured the driver side door paint of the jeep, my armpits, however, survived unscathed.
This was messier than expected.
I stretched my body up against the steering wheel and strained to reach my face out the window to match my dinner laden fist. I tried to take a bite, my upper torso leaning out the driver's side window but I was just too short to make it work. Defeated, I slumped back in to the driver's seat, my left hand slowly became saturated with sauce as it held my dinner just out of my reach. When the flies began to buzz around, I shook my hand to drive them away and lettuce flew out of the burger. A fly, caught in the crossfire struggled on the windowsill, covered in combination of lettuce and sauce, much like I had done moments before. I desperately looked around for a solution, there had to be a better way.
I spotted Creepy's portable hiking water dish, unfolded it and placed the dish daintily on to my lap, like the classy lady that I am. I centred the burger over top the 3 inch diameter target, and rolled up the window to keep out the flies. This burger had put up a good fight, but I don't lose fights to food. It was getting uncomfortably hot in the jeep, and I just wanted to get this ordeal over so we could get moving again. With Creepy on standby to pick up the pieces, I tore in to the burger and somehow wound up with an entire essay about it.
I will spare you the most graphic details of the burger consumption, I'll just say that by the end, my sunglasses were so greasy, I was unable to clean them enough to drive safely. Fortunately, I had a spare pair along with me. The greasy sunglasses may have explained the butter I found on my eyelid later, but what confuses me is that 3 hours passed by the time I noticed I'd been wandering around with a buttered eyelid. To complete my burger ensemble, I found chunks of onion and lettuce on my left shoulder - I'm going to tell you that I don't know how that happened, but truthfully, I was probably trying to fan myself with the burger in an attempt to cool down. As I sat there, about to finish eating and move on, some fishermen appeared across the highway. The fishermen looked at me, and smiled pityingly as they climbed into their trucks and drove away. I still wonder how much they had witnessed.
Once I was sufficiently marinated in hamburger fixings, Creepy dog and I went for a solo sunset hike in the alpine. That seems like that's where the adventure should begin, but I had already tackled the greatest challenge of the day and succeeded. A solo walk into grizzly country would be a piece of cake. As delicious as I must have smelled, not even a raven disturbed the peaceful valley we hiked into. No passing cars or distant sirens, no ringing cell phones or chatter, not even the sound of a plane passing overhead. The only sound was from my boots steadily gaining distance on the trail, the water trickling down the valley from unknown sources and the wind whirling clouds above me.
But that's not what's important here, the important thing is that I ate that entire burger without any help from anyone. I'll admit, it wasn't always pretty but a little recognition would have been nice, like a polaroid on the wall and a plaque with my name engraved on it next to the cash register. I don't ask for much.
Creepy and I scrambled up the creek for a better vantage point so I could watch the last light of day leave the mountains in the Elk Range. With so much empty and beautiful space laid out in front of me, the sense of isolation left me feeling both utterly terrified yet completely elated. It was a strange and wonderful feeling. I felt full, and I don't think it was because of the burger.
The clock read 10:43 pm as I set my alarm to ring at midnight, a mere hour and seventeen minutes to fall asleep and wake up again. "Photography is a stupid hobby" I muttered to myself, and shut off the bedside lamp. Instantaneously, the "It's 12:30, you're late, you should probably skip the shower" alarm rang and I bolted out of bed before I had the chance to protest. Not this time Llisa. Not this time.
Approximately 30 minutes prior, at the ringing of the first alarm, I had somehow convinced myself that I was definitely awake and was only going to rest my eyes for a few minutes before getting out of bed. I had accomplished this by placing my left foot on the ground and promptly falling asleep. The memories of the incident are hazy, but the outcome was clear - I had fallen for the oldest line in the book. The morning's objective was to be in the mountains and well above tree line before the sun rose, I did some mental math to calculate sunrise minus drive and hiking time and decided to ignore the alarm clock for a second time that morning. Despite the warning on the alarm clock to skip the shower, I turned on the bathtub faucet and stepped in to the tub. I figured cleaning the dirt off could only help a person become more aerodynamic, and I could use all the help I could get now that I was behind schedule.
The familiar drive from Calgary to Canmore, punctuated by dots of light on the horizon from approaching cars, was made more interesting by making up the life story of the occupants. What kind of crazy person would be out driving at this time of day, I wondered as I daydreamed my way West. In a flash, I pulled in to the trail head parking lot. The drive had flown by, yet somehow, I was still 30 minutes behind schedule.
Normally, my pre-dawn-pre-hike routine starts by cracking the door of the truck open an inch to let some reality in, followed by the talking into or out of what I have planned, carefully weighing pros (sunrise photos) and cons (might miss the sunrise and this will be a waste of time, death) The culmination of the talk can end one of two ways, either the door is flung open and a pair of hiking boots hit the ground, or the door is carefully shut, ignition key turned and I retreat feeling a little bit sheepish. On this day however, the schedule was too tight for pep talks, and my boots hit the ground before I had a chance to properly consider my options.
Having hiked the Ha Ling trail once before, in the daytime, two years ago, with a horde of fellow hikers, I was fairly confident in my ability to hike it again, in the dark, alone. I reached the obvious monument marking the beginning of the trail with ease and I commended myself on my excellent route finding abilities as I stepped into the forest. The glow of my headlamp illuminated the gnarled tree roots exposed by thousands of boots, and I picked my way over every tripping hazard, slowly forging upward. Occasionally, I would find myself in a grove of bushes, and once, I found myself with toes toward a rather intimidating cliff overlooking the valley. Each time I would use my superior deduction and route finding skills to figure out that wasn't part of the trail, turn myself one hundred eighty degrees, and follow my flashlight towards a safer, more easily travelled path. My underwear was clean, but it wasn't emergency room clean and I wouldn't want to embarrass my mother like that. Not today Llisa. Not today.
If there's one thing I have learned about hiking over the past few years, it's the importance of pace. My own pace is an embarrassing rate at which to travel. It's not unlike an octogenarian's epic journey toward the bathroom light at 2 o'clock in the morning. I move forward a mere six inches at a time, my feet barely crossing in front of each other, at turtle speed. I'm painfully aware that I look like I might keel over and die at any second, but oddly enough, with my old man mountain shuffle I can now complete hikes in a fraction of the time they used to take me, without getting too tired. It's doubly satisfying to shamble past hikers who previously left me in their dust on their numerous breaks, but that is a daytime hiker's game and there was nothing on this trail to race except the quickly approaching dawn.
It could have been my old man mountain shuffle that brought me above treeline well ahead of schedule, or perhaps it was my freshly shorn legs and lusciously shampooed hair cutting down on wind resistance. I set my camera bag down right in the middle of the saddle between Ha Ling and Miner's Peak, not only before sunrise, but with enough time to spare to change into some warmer clothes, brew a cup of instant coffee and settle in for the show. The wind howled high above Canmore, and I teetered around with my tripod for stability, bracing myself against the force. I found a little bit of shelter behind a boulder and observed tiny specks of hikers far in the distance, giving scale to the immense rock walls below them. I silently saluted their insomniac insanity, and snapped a photo.
As the sun rose in the East, it lit up the mountain underneath my feet in an orange glow and I marvelled in every direction. The warmth of my blue speckled enamel coffee mug touched my lips and I drank it all in, both the coffee and views. The camera was poised and ready, but I ignored it for a moment in order to fully appreciate the scene unfolding before me as the clouds turned a brilliant pink and the first rays of sun touched my face. I always thought it was a shame that more people don't put the extra effort in to witness the sun rise, but as I stood there beaming back at the sun, I didn't mind the lack of company. Maybe photography wasn't such a stupid hobby after all.
A Dirty Mind
The landscape of my psyche could probably be best compared to a dive bar bathroom. Unapologetically messy, a little bit dark and littered with tips about where to go for a good time. Unfortunately, just like the scribbled notes written on the wall of a bathroom stall inside a dive bar, there's also a lot of half formed ideas and misinformation thrown into the mix. This misinformation occasionally makes it a bit difficult to decipher where I should actually go for a good time, and where I should go if I just want to wind up feeling kind of dirty and wholly unrewarded.
Of course, I'm talking about landscape photography locations. Rather than poorly translated phone numbers scribbled on to napkins, there are notes strewn around my house with tales of mountain faces, lakes and other assorted neat looking things to point a camera at. But just like a randomized ten digit number, not all of those scraps of paper are a sure thing. In fact, lately I've been striking out seemingly every time I head for the door, a real dry spell despite my penchant for coming home soaking wet after standing around in various pools of water.
Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's bad timing, the wrong location or some cruel combination of the three. Maybe it's the camera gear or heaven forbid that human located behind the lens.
Maybe my standards have risen beyond my capabilities for the time being. It happens from time to time, a necessary part of growing, but damn if it doesn't start to get a little bit discouraging after a while.
Whatever the issue, it's made for some long, cold, boring photo shoots these last few months.
Just the other morning, I spent nearly two hours fidgeting in a muddy puddle along the side of the highway waiting for the sun to rise. I rearranged rocks along the side of the ditch. I shuffled my feet, sometimes dancing to poorly hummed music, but more often silently to stay warm. I pointlessly narrated every lens change, every filter change every shuffle of the tripod to my audience of birds. I knelt down in the mud and stirred all the ice in the puddle with a stick until it was broken up into tiny little pieces. At one point, I even spent a few minutes imitating the initial wash cycle of an old top loading clothes washer, twisting my torso back and forth with rubber arms and letting inertia wrap them around my body. Limp, spaghetti arms flailing from side to side to side to side to side. Still, the sun would not show itself.
If you're getting into photography so you can tell your friends about the glamorous life you lead, you have two options: Don't get into landscape photography, or lie.
The Distortion 10 Year Party
The team at Calgary's haven for live music, Distortion (affectionately known throughout it's four locations simply as "The D") recently celebrated their 10th anniversary of entrepreneurship. I've attended many shows at the club in it's current location as well as the Distillery locations in the decade before. Like most of the family that frequents the space, the memories we've made over the past ten years are cherished. For myself, I played some of my first gigs on bass at it's 5th Avenue location, got married in the Ballroom location and photographed my first wedding at the third location. Most importantly, and a common theme among it's patrons, I made lifelong friends under it's roof.
The party to celebrate those ten years of memories was, considering the venue, appropriately chaotic. With performances from some of the city's best long time running bands, reunion shows, freak shows, dancing girls and more, I came home bruised and grinning from being in the mosh pit like I was 20 years old again. With a beer in one hand and a camera in the other, I tried my best to balance documenting the night and toasting those who have spent the last ten years not only building up a business, but tirelessly cultivating a community in the process.
Here's to another 10 years Distortion.
Sleeklens Review -
I'll be the first to admit, I suck at editing photos.
I'm impatient, slow to learn new techniques and generally an old fashioned curmudgeon when it comes to editing photos. I don't like to go too crazy in Photoshop on an image, partially because it's kind of boring to sit around on a computer, but also because I spent a bunch of money on camera filters to get things right in camera (And then watched them bounce 100 feet down a cliff face. Thanks Mt. Yamnuska) So when Sleeklens recently got in touch with me and offered to send over a sample of their Adventure Landscape photoshop actions to review for them, I was a bit hesitant to say "yes." However, I am a HUGE fan of free things, and so I found myself with a new toy to play with and a review to write.
I've never used Photoshop actions before and I was a bit relieved when Sleeklens also provided some foolproof youtube instructions on how to get started along with their loot. I watched a few seconds to get the basic idea because I'm impatient and then with barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, hunkered down to dig out some photos to edit.
What have I gotten myself into?
Finally, I added a few Photoshop actions to finish the image up. You can see the ones I used on the right side of the screen cap, below, although I found myself bringing the opacity of each action way way down. The basic adjustments the actions are set to are, in my opinion, overpowered. I prefer to keep things at least semi realistic and it was easy to get completely out of control. I hope I managed to keep the final image within believable range.
I did really enjoy choosing the "Enhance" actions, likely because of my odd internal monologue repeating "Enhance" in a robot voice any time I clicked the play button and then giggling madly to myself when it actually worked.
Final image: Sleeklens workflow. Enhanced.
Start off slow, I'm only enhancing what was already there. Maybelline style.
Maybe I'll push it a bit further, see if anyone will notice....
That's when my inner Jeff Goldblum shut me down.
As it turns out, you can do quite a bit with this little set of Sleeklens Photoshop actions. Given my grumpy old lady stance on editing photos, I don't think they're the be all and end all of photo editing, but that's totally fine. It's good practice to start with a solid image worth putting time into, and not rely on Photoshop to go on a recovery mission. The images I edited that I thought sucked to begin with, still sucked after throwing some Sleeklens actions at them. Garbage in, garbage out.
I would like to see these actions improved upon in the future with more options for using layers and layer masks, I like to have a safety net to fall back on when I'm editing and a lot of the processes tend to have you working on the background layer which makes me cringe and hit undo a lot. Even as they are now I'll likely be adding them to my arsenal of "Photoshop things that I know how to do" in the future, it's nice to have a new little tool in the kit, and they are useful tools if you take the time to learn how to use them.
Another Trip Around the Sun
I recently spent the weekend nestled in a cabin in the mountains between Banff and Lake Louise to celebrate another trip around the sun. I could have happily stayed out there forever, but Creepy-dog was a bit concerned that we lived there now, and spent every night crying to go home. Sleep deprived, I was determined to make the most of my time and set my alarms to make sure I didn't miss out on any good light to point a camera at. As I sat at the kitchen table in the dark at 6 am, nursing a precious cup of coffee and calculating how long I could nap before the sun rose, I was painfully aware that only a few years ago the annual celebration would have seen me awake from dusk to dawn with only a fraction of the effort and only self inflicted pain. I finished my coffee, scrutinized the dark circles under my eyes, grabbed my camera bag and hobbled out the door, wondering if the local wolf pack would accept a cute new member by the name of Creepy.
The week before, I had unsuccessfully scouted a location near Lake Louise for a potential sunrise photo, losing a pair of hiking poles in the process. After trudging through the snow for a few hours, I determined that the best views were in fact, at the trail head parking lot. Fortunately the scouting trip wasn't a complete waste of time, I had noticed a far more accessible location earlier in the day, and upon returning a week later, made it my first stop for sunrise.
I kicked myself for choosing an East facing range to focus on with such an explosive sunrise behind me, but just as I suspected, the first light of the day lit up the peaks of the Massive Range to the West in a brilliant display of alpenglow. I tried my best to steady the tripod on mounds of ice over the open water, failing often but occasionally succeeding.
Mr. Bastard struggled up some of the trail at Marble Canyon while I lagged behind him, bragging about my grippy yak-traxed hiking boots and breezing up the snow packed hills. Unfortunately, my grippy boots couldn't save me when, to the delight of Mr. Bastard, I fell into a snow covered hole and did a dramatic slow motion face plant into the snow. I shut up about my boots after that...
(Mr. Bastard would like to state for the record, that despite his non-grippy boots, he didn't fall, not even once)
My eyes darted nervously as I gripped my bear spray, looking for the squeaking pack of ravenous wolves. They must be famished if they can only muster out such a pathetic squeak. My hands trembled as I started to move my camera gear back towards the bag to pack and make a hasty exit. The tripod legs brushed against the bridge railing, squeaking as they folded in. With solid evidence refuting my hypothesis about a pack of ravenous squeaking wolves now laid before me, I still required a few deep breaths to calm the nerves and steady the camera.
"It's only the tripod" I muttered to myself.
2016 Favourite Moments
My first photography outing of 2016 was on the coldest day of the winter, I’d left the house without a clue where to go and had been aimlessly driving around the city for hours, feeling completely uninspired. For me, trying to capture a photo I’m happy with before having at least a location in mind is usually a recipe for disaster. With the sunrise only minutes away, the morning’s effort to crawl out of bed, go out in frigid temperatures and commit the rest of the day to exhaustion was soon to be a massive waste of time. On track for disaster, something finally clicked and I had the idea I’d been waiting for.
Red Rock Coulee has been on my radar for ages, my birthday gift to myself this year was a luxurious car camping trip in the middle of January where I spoiled myself with a $4 pack of cheese strings and some warm premade caesars. I had to cut my trip short due to a winter storm, which made me really want to see the place in the summer. 6 months later I returned for another attempt at seeing a nice sunrise, instead I got more than I bargained for when I woke to find myself in the path of a wild prairie storm. Being completely alone on the prairies, surrounded by lightning was an unforgettable experience, although a tad bit nerve wracking.
Lake Agnes is high on the list of favourite places of mine. I love to visit in the early hours of the morning before the sun and the crowds arrive. However one of the highlights of my year was spending a night above the lake during the summer solstice to watch the sun go down and wait for the stars come out. Even better was the leisurely downhill hike for sunrise.
When we made the decision to wander down Highway 22 early in the New Year, our plan was to pick random roads heading West to see what we could find for a nice Saturday afternoon drive. We found some lovely areas tucked away in the South West corner of Alberta, but eventually we also found some trouble.
The deeper we got into the mountains, the more snow we found and eventually we were driving in some ruts in the hard packed snow. Twenty kilometres away from anything, out of cell range, on a steep mountain road with a cliff on one side, the hard packed snow gave way. The jeep sunk. We were stuck. We had unknowingly ended up driving the jeep on a snowmobile trail.
With darkness falling quickly we debated what to do. Do we stay the night and walk out in the morning? Do we try to keep on going and try to make it to the next town? Could we get the jeep turned around without going over the cliff? Though we had supplies packed in case we had to spend the night, our adrenaline was through the roof and our normally hyper Creepy-dog cowered in the back seat of the jeep.
With the help of some shovels and some rather tense manoeuvring, we managed to dig our way out and get turned around. This is the triumphant Mr. Bastard and Rambo (the jeep) posing in a freezing cold wind tunnel shortly after returning to solid ground. It may not have resulted in the best photos, but it was definitely a memorable moment for us in 2016.
It’s not often I get to hang out with my little brother, it’s even less often I can convince someone to wake up at 3 am and start walking up a mountain with me but I got to do both at the same time with a sunrise hike up Abbott Ridge in Glacier National Park. The opportunity to watch the sun peek over Mt Sir Donald while sipping a cup of hot chocolate with my little brother ranks as one of my favourite moments this year.
My most memorable moment of 2016 - Rawson Lake at Sunrise
I have attempted to get here for sunrise on multiple occasions in the past few years and failed, most of the time due to the fact that I find hiking 4 km alone in the dark more than a little terrifying. Rawson Lake seemed to be the unattainable location and I had built the place up in my head a little bit. A dangerous thing to do, as I could have been setting myself up for a major disappointment.
Happy New Year everyone, thanks for following along.
Nate Trash's Birthday Show
Select photos of World Class White Trash, Bogue Brigade and Snakepit at Nate Trash's birthday party.
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