Sunday, March 4, 2018

Canadian Rockies in Winter

Canadian Rockies in Winter

Since migrating to Canada I didn’t get any chance to pack my bags, take my cameras and start getting into wild again. Settling down in a new country, time, money - nothing was in my favour though the “Bug of Travel” was continuously biting me. So, when in the last Christmas I found a week-long leave in my new job place (P.S: I ended 7.5 years long association with my earlier organization, I joined a local company in Canada) I didn’t want to waste the holiday session this time. Canadian Rockies was calling me since I arrived in Canada, and I wanted to see the Rockies in Winter so I welcome this opportunity. While Rima took care of logistics, I carefully planned the areas to be visited, and which place could give us the most photography opportunities. One thing was very sure that we cannot expect the torques lakes of the Rockies in Winter which we see in calendars and greetings cards but at the same time, we were very sure this would be going to a different experience altogether.
On my request Rima booked Emerald Lake Lodge for our stays in the Rockies, which is not exactly in Alberta, rather the lodge was in British Columbia. There was a reason for booking this resort which I will reveal slowly.

Day 1 -  22nd Dec
Arrival at Calgary and then towards British Columbia
The day started very early in Ottawa because the outbound flight was at 7:15 AM. And the small jet took off us in right time from Ottawa International Airport with a temperature outside -15C. When we reached Calgary, the temperature dropped another few degrees, but it was a clear and bright day. We picked up our rental car and started towards our destination. The GPS bypassed the city of Calgary and soon we hit the Highway 1 aka Trans-Canada Highway. It was quite a long drive to see the first glimpse of the Rockies but when it started we jumped in joy.

Route Map from Calgary To Emerald Lake Lodge at B.C
Pic 1 - Winter Road; towards Emerald Lake Lodge
The drive was pleasant, and we found the sign of the Emerald Lake Lodge after 2 and half hours of driving. In last 1 hour of drive, the landscape has been changed completely from plain to Rockies, surrounded by mountains and plateaus. And in between we stopped in a Service Station and had some food.

The lodge has an outside parking from where the Lodge Shuttles pick up the tourists and transfer to the lodge areas. It was quite convenient to follow those steps and reach the entrance of the lodge. The first site of the resort was mind-blowing; it was a fairy tale set up in midst of the white nature. The lodge is exactly at the shore of the Emerald Lake and a bridge is connecting the lodge over a stream to the main road. Everything was frozen white at that time, but there was one area outside the lodge where I could see some amount of water. The reason could be the geo-thermal effect of the region, which I used later for one my photography purposes.

Pic 2 - Emerald Lake Lodge Entrance

We have been given a beautiful cottage, just on the bank of the lake. But in the winter, there was no point of being on lake shore while everything was frozen and covered in white layers of snows.

Pic 3 - Inside Emerald Lake Lodge

The rest of the day and the afternoon were spent in leisure and enjoying the awesome food cooked at the Lodge’s own restaurant. I was waiting for the evening as I had a plan to execute.

In Mountains, the dusk and evenings are very short – you will not realize when sudden darkness has arrived just from being afternoon at one point. I was looking for a time when I can get the cottage glowing in human made light but there was natural light too to capture the surroundings. So by 4-30 PM I left the warmness of wooden fireplace at cottage and I came down below the entrance bridge where I have seen a pool of fresh water while arriving.
It was bone freezing cold though I was well wrapped with couple of layers, caps, gloves and white glasses to protect my eyes. I walked down trail from the wooden bridge and started walking through the water trail.

Pic 4: The Venue which I selected for the Evening Lodge Shot. I waited for some time in – 20C.
The wait game started for the right time. This was not only the light which was decreasing fast, but the temperature too. And then, when I realized I finally get the right moment, I took 4 to 5 shots of the cottage with the hue of dusk and with the mountain in the backdrop.

Pic 5: The result of my effort. Evening shot of Emerald Lake Lodge with Reflection.

After spending some time, I knew I got which I wanted. And in this effort, while I started to look some different shots, suddenly I heard a small crack under my right foot and immediately I discovered myself submerged in thigh-deep water – the initial feeling was good because I felt the underneath water of the ice layer was warm, but the problem started as soon as I took my leg out of the water. In few seconds, I started losing all my sense on my right leg. To avoid frost-byte I didn’t have any other option but left the venue and rushed towards my resort with all my belongings. Tripod was giving then a good support of walking when one leg started losing its sense. The first remedy was to keep the leg in warm water after reaching the resort.
I was okay after the hot water treatment in half an hour. The day was started very early for all of us. So we didn’t make ourselves late for an early supper and went to bed early. I must mention one thing the sleep inside the cottage for next few days remains amazing with the sound of wood burning at the wooden fireplace which we don’t get nowadays from our advance gas burning fire places.
Pic 6: Enjoying Wooden Fireplace

Day 2: 23rd Dec
Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, Fairmont Hotel and Moraine Lake

Route maps for Day 2

We started our second day with an early morning sunrise view from Emerald Lake.
Pic 7 - Around the Emerald Lake Morning View

On Day 2 of our Rocky Diaries, before we set for Emerald Lake and Fairmont Hotel, I made a quick visit of my favourite spot of last evening’s small adventure and found that the stream has made a spot of water where I broke the ice. I strongly believe there was a Geo Thermal area which was making the water pond in – 20C.

Pic 8 - My Photography Location
After having a super heavy breakfast, we were ready to hit the road which was as usual clear and straight. There was no sight of snow, but bone chilling cold was accompanying us. Though we were travelling towards the most visited places of Banff – “The Fairmont Hotel”, I was almost enjoying a car free high way driving due to the peak winter season.

Pic 9 - Rockies Road

I stopped many places which was very usual for my photography adventure and took more than double time than usual to reach Fairmont hotel and Lake Louise. The lake became a solid Ice Bed in that temperature and was opened for winter activities. Due to our winter visit we couldn’t see the magnificent hotel on the bank of a turquoise lake but wondering on the frozen lake bed was a fun and it doubled up when we decided for a horse-sledge around the lake.

Pic 10 – Fairmont Hotel from the Frozen Bed of lake Louise
After a fun ride of horse pulled sledged we decided to head back to our resort as light started fading out and road towards Moraine Lake was closed. Moraine lake remains unseen in this trip so we decided to have a relaxed evening at the resort. We drove the same scenic road back to the hotel.

Day 3 - 24-Dec
Jasper National Park
On 24th Dec we started towards Jasper national park. Google Map was saying this should be 3 and half hours drive but it was more than 6 hours drive for us because of numerous stops we took. Jasper national park too is part of Canadian Rockies and is known for its pristine blue lakes and mountains. From the landscape perspective there was no difference between Banff and Jasper except what I experienced jasper is more forested, more remote and less hotel infested places compared to Banff. 

Map of Day 3 Travel

The road through the Rockies was as usual beautiful, but driving was slow due to winter condition of the roads. And we were not in hurry to miss any flight, so we enjoyed a pleasant drive through Jasper national park. Couple of times we saw few Mooses and few Elk deers roaming in the valley of the Rockies in search of food. In Winter, scarcity of foods forces the local animals either to go to hibernation or to roam a large area. Deer, Moose, Elk or Mule normally don’t go to hibernation though their activity in winter is limited, but we experienced quite a few times few groups of Elks and Moose especially wherever there was a sight of water due to the hot springs.
Pic 11 - Jasper National Park Landscape
Banff to Jasper was quite long drive and winter condition forced us to drive slow. So it was late when we were rushing towards Maligne Lake but I was stopping whenever there was a small opportunity to make some picture. Because of winter, the photography opportunity was very less so I was trying to get as much as I could at that time.

We were rushing towards Maligne Lake as day light was fading and I had few kilometers to reach the destination but at certain point in the bend of the road, it was so beautiful – a frozen lake, road blended towards the mountain and the last light of the day kissing the mountain range – I couldn’t resist myself to stop and to embrace the harsh cold outside from the warmness of the vehicle. It was so serene and so calm; I realized I didn’t see even a single vehicle, animal, bird, or people in this road minimum for 3 hours. 

And it was a secluded feeling that we three were the only living beings on that part of the earth at that time.

Pic 12 - On the way to Maligne Lake
When GPS was telling me Maligne lake was almost a bend ahead, and I was rushing to get the last light of the day, a part of the landscape drew my attention while we were crossing a small bridge. I was unaware of this location from my pre-visit study of the location. I stopped my vehicle and overwhelmed by a beautiful scenery in front of me while the last rays of the sun touching the peaks around the Maligne lake, there was an area of water in -20C where the reflection of the peak was stunningly beautiful. I assume same geo-thermal possibility would be the only reason to make some part of the lake not frozen in that well sub-zero temperature. However, leaving science behind, this was the time to enjoy the beauty of the nature and frame it through the lenses.

Pic 13 – Sunset at Maligne Lake from a not so well-known view point

Pic 14 – Opposite side of the Bridge towards Maligne Lake
And the Opposite side of the bridge was equally beautiful.

When we reached the parking of the famous lake, the sun was not visible in the sky and the last rays of the day just kissing the top of the mountain. I rushed, and after taking couple of frames I realized I actually standing on the lake bed to make the last picture of the day. 

Pic 15 – The last Ray of the Sun kissing the mountains. This picture was taken from the frozen Maligne Lake.

After taking these shots there was nothing much to do. These lakes are very popular destinations of summer. All the lakes in Rockies are full of activities like Kayaking, boating in the emerald waters but in winter handful of crazy guys like me and skiers were the only tourists in this frigid temperature.
It was again almost a 5 plus hours drive back to Banff which to be driven now in pitch dark. When I started my car, there was no one around me, a few tourists who were there earlier vanished. The driving was as usual through mountain roads, but this time with head lights on and the visibility was only with few feets. The sky was clear, we could see the milky ways but never dared to capture the night sky in that temperature.
There was no chance to stop anywhere, so a straight forward road was driven with utmost care due to winter situation and with very less visibility. And when we reached our cottage our clock was touching 11. We picked up some dry foods from a gas station outside of the Banff town, because at that time resort’s restaurant was closed.

Day 4 - 25th Dec
Breakfast Time – xmas celebration
On the day of X-Mas it was very special at the resort. Everyone was in festive mood. We had a lazy start and decided to see other areas of the national park. As soon as we touched the national highway 1 from the connecting road from the resort we noticed a group of Elk grazing down in the valley.   When we stopped our car to see their activities, suddenly the group started moving towards the highway and in few minutes started crossing the road one by one creating a traffic block for sometimes. No body mind though to be blocked but patiently wait till the last one crossed the road and vanished inside the alpine forests.

Pic 16 – Winter Road in Banff National Park

Pic 17 – Banff National Park
There was no destination to travel or visit on this particular day, rather we used the time in exploring areas in Banff National Park wherever we wished on that moment. The scenery around us was stunning everywhere.

Pic 18 – Banff National Park Landscape

We started towards Vermilion Lakes while sun already started moving towards west and after an hour drive we entered to the Banff town. The car needed fuel and we needed a small break. When we started we could say the light on the Rockies started being soft.

Pic 19 - Banff Town
Banff town to Vermilion Lake was mere 3 Km drive and honestly speaking in that frozen kingdom I hardly could understand the lake. It was all white so instead of finding the lake bed, my interest was to find out a good view point for the sunset.
In one point, which was being confirmed by google map that we were at Vermilion lake, we observed the beautiful light on the mountain.
My eyes was searching for a point where I can make some sunset photo but the dreading cold hindering to explore the area. To find a location I already took a turn from the GPS mentioned road and we were on country road and there I found some area of interest. There were places where all the water plants dried and frozen inside the knee deep ice and snow. It was a white desert feelings for me and for my lenses.  

Pic 20 - Sunset at Frozen Vermilion Lake

From Vermilion lake, we started towards Gondola site knowing it was already late. On the way the final light on the mountain forced me to stop for few minutes and to capture the last light on the mountains. So, when we reached Gondola site though it was open but there was no sun light in the sky. The temperature outside there was painfully cold that evening. So, in that cold without daylight we didn’t consider going for a Gondola ride. Though it was a wish to see the Banff from the top it remained untouched in this trip.

Pic 21 - Taken this image near Banff Gondola View Point
This was the final evening at Rockies of our first visit; and the night started arriving while we started driving down from the Gondola center towards our resort. We know we will go back to the city life and daily work again from tomorrow, but this was an awesome experience of X-mas vacation which Banff and Jasper have offered us. 

Some more pictures taken in this trip:
Pic 22 - Skating on a Frozen Lake

Pic 23 - Emerald Lake Lodge from the Frozen Emerald Lake Bed.
Pic 24 - Highway 1

Pic 25 - The Winter Wonderland

Pic 26 - Mule Deer

Pic 27 - Mule Deer crossing river
Pic 28 - Banff National Park

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Canadian Rockies in Winter

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