Monday, November 7, 2011

Mountain Adventure

My sister, Lynda, and Chris arrived last week for a brief visit.  Both are avid photographers so we made plans to drive out to Johnston Canyon near Banff.  We've done the hike to the Upper Falls (2.7 kms) many times (see A Weekend in the Mountains blog) when we stay in a nearby campground.  It is an easy walk with self-guiding plaques educating you on the beauties of the canyon (and yes, Glen reads them each time).

Lynda had been to the area before (see Photo Shoot blog) but we didn't hike the trail that day.  This time, despite nursing a healing, broken shoulder, she was determined to photograph more than just the creek near the parking lot.  But first, we wanted to take pictures of the mountain bathed in early morning light.  The crack of dawn was 8:30 am so we actually had a chance to sleep in on Saturday before taking off.

We drove Highway 1A to Cochrane then continued along it to Exshaw (where Canadian actor, Bruno Gerussi grew up).  We'd never been down this highway which parallels the TransCanadian but on the other side of the Bow River.  Due to its lighter traffic, Glen could stop whenever Lynda or Chris wished to take photos.  The first pause was for some horses near the road.  While L&C checked out the horses, I spotted what I thought was a deer in the valley near a conspiracy (flock) of ravens.  I caught the scene with my 300 mm lens.  Upon returning to the car, I saw a wolf leaving the scene.  Later, I discovered my 'deer' was really a wolf and the ravens were feeding on its kill.

Our next stop was McDougall Memorial United Church near Morley, Alberta.  Originally a Methodist church, it was constructed in 1875 as part of mission serving the Natives in the area.  It is significant to the history of the region as it was also the site of the first permanent homestead in southern Alberta.  Reverend George McDougall and his son, John, were instrumental in preparing the way for other settlers to southern Alberta.

The lighting was perfect for photographs and Lynda, Chris, and I went nuts (Glen read the many plaques telling of the building's history).  We all tried to capture the essence of the site through our camera lenses and returned with three completely different sets of pictures.  It always amazes me how each photographer sees a scene and adds their own personality to their photos of it.

Near Exshaw, we came upon a herd of Rocky Mountain, or Bighorn, Sheep.  We weren't the only ones stopping to photograph these animals.  At this point, the secondary road ended so we returned to the main highway.  We'd pick up Highway 1A again just beyond Banff and take it to Johnston Canyon.

I always love the mountains when they have snow upon them as it brings out the cragginess of the rock faces.  Too much snow and this contrast is lost.  Last week, the snowfall was perfect and Lynda captured it beautifully with her shots from the car.

However, this dusting of snow also blanketed the road into the canyon.  Our snow tires were in the garage awaiting installation so we did a bit of sliding before reaching the parking lot.  We then ate our picnic lunch before heading up the trail.  It was chilly in the shadows of the trees and the snow well tramped.  This led to some very slippery patches.  I even did some boot-skiing along the cement walkways.

Our grumbling about the icy conditions vanished at the first waterfall where shimmering icicles bracketed the tumbling water.  Snow sat like marshmallows on rocks and logs and the sun peeking through the pines created a beauty that was magical.  The hike which we knew so well changed into a wonderland reminiscent of a Christmas card.  I was sure I had enough photos of the canyon but every bend in the river brought a new aspect to the creek and its rocky walls which I had to capture.

We weren't alone on the trail as it is a popular one.  From babies in strollers to grandmothers hobbling along on high-heels, everyone enjoyed the brisk mountain air.  We helped an Australian solve a problem with his camera and laughed with a gaggle of girls who had tumbled onto the snowy path.

The Lower Falls were spectacular in their wintery garb and the Upper Falls thundered through the ice, its canyon walls dripping with icicles.  Whiskey Jacks and ravens flew through the forest and chickadees serenaded us as we walked.  Cougars had been spotted on Sulphur Mountain but we saw no evidence of them here.

By the time we returned to the car, the afternoon was waning.  I had hoped to do a letterbox in Canmore but decided that could wait for another day.  We were all pretty tired from our adventure so the trip home was quiet except for the periodic clicking of Chris's shutter as he caught the mountains bathed in afternoon light.

To see our photos, click here for mine and here for Lynda's.  Chris's are pending.