Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Photographing Mount Robson

Evening light on Mount Robson.
Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at over 12, 972'.  It's a majestic mountain, especially when viewed towering above Berg Lake or from the Robson Glacier's lateral moraine below Snowbird Pass.  It attracts hikers, climbers and photographers from around the world, and it's easy to see why.

While Robson can be viewed from Highway 16 and the Visitor Center, the best views of the mountain are from the opposite side, requiring a 13 mile hike or helicopter ride (restricted to certain days) to Berg Lake.  From there, day trip options abound for more vantage points.
Evening light on Mount Robson.
While it is common to see people day hiking up to Berg Lake, it is better done as a multi-day backpack for photography.  The reason for multiple days is due to both the number of places to visit each morning and evening, as well as weather considerations.  Robson is notorious for bad weather,  or so I've been told.  I've been lucky in my trips I guess!

Kinney Lake is an easy 4.5 miles from the trailhead.  It offers excellent campsites with with tent pads, some right on the lake.  Kinney Lake holds a beautiful reflection of the surrounding peaks in the morning (and possibly evening).

Suspension bridge over Robson River.
From Kinney Lake the trail climbs over a rib, descends back down to cross the Robson River, and then switchbacks up to another crossing of the Robson River over a suspension bridge at Whitehorn Campground.  From here, views up the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls present themselves.  There isn't much photography to be had here necessarily, but all that is about to change.

Whitehorn Campground is a popular stopover for hikers wishing to establish a base camp for day hikes to Berg Lake and other areas.

From Whitehorn Campground, the flat trail continues up the valley a short distance to another crossing of the Robson River and a dramatic view of White Falls.

On the other side, the trail begins its steep ascent to Berg Lake, passing views of Falls of the Pool, Emperor Falls, and numerous other waterfalls along the way.  You will need a strong telephoto lens to capture these.  Due to the steepness of the valley, shadows wreak havoc in mid-day sunshine.  Morning and evening finds them in shade.  Of course, slightly overcast days would be best for nice even lighting.

After climbing above Emperor Falls, the trail passes through Emperor Falls Campground before traversing a hillside along the river on its final approach to Berg Lake.  Marmot Campground at the beginning of Berg Lake is reached after crossing a series of creeks, courtesy the Hargreaves Glacier.  Photographers will want to continue on to Berg Lake Campground a mile further along the lake shore.
Berg Lake Campground is perfectly situated above the lake shore near the lake's north end and offers postcard scenery practically from your campsite.  You have arrived!

The Berg Glacier above Berg Lake.
The photography options here are numerous.  The classic composition is to simply walk down the shore and compose the mountain across the water, hopefully with icebergs floating in the water for some added interest and depth of field.  The icebergs are present all year long, but are more numerous in early to mid summer.

Mount Robson draws both morning and evening light, so you will want to spend time at both here with camera on tripod.  The amount of light is dependent on the time of year.  By fall, evening light just barely kisses the summit rock, turning only the very top brilliant pink.  Blink and you might miss it.  Morning offers more light.  Both times are attractive and worth your time.

Reflections can be had in the pools created by the braided streams on the lake shore in late season.  Early morning and late evening when the temps are cold are best.

Don't forget to bring your telephoto lens to isolate sections of the Berg Glacier across the lake.  The ice seracs provide beautiful texture, and compositions are endless.  For added drama, include floating icebergs in front of the glacier where it meets the water - you know, the chunks of ice your heard calving off the glacier all night while in your tent!

For larger views, grab your headlamp and hike a short ways up the Toboggan Falls trail to a bench - yes, as in park bench!  It is situated in a clearing offering unobstructed views of the mountain and lake.  You can tell everyone how you had to hang precariously over a ledge to get your shot.  I won't tell.  Honest.
The Toboggan Falls trail offers excellent opportunities to photograph many waterfalls and cascades if you find yourself clouded in.

The Robson Glacier from Mumm Basin.
For even larger and more expansive views, hike up to Robson Pass (short, flat hike from Berg Lake) and follow the trail through the Robson Campground. This trail climbs steeply from the campground up to the incredibly scenic Mumm Basin. At a large cairn on the edge of a ridge, enjoy views down to Berg Lake, across to Mount Robson and the new view up the Robson Glacier towards Snowbird Pass, unseen from Berg Lake. From Mumm Basin, you can traverse south to the Toboggan Falls for your descent back to camp, or you can continue on to Hargreaves Lake for a longer loop back.

Mount Robson and the Robson Glacier.

 If I could recommend one hike from Berg Lake, it would be to Snowbird Pass.  It's not for everyone though.  It's an extremely strenuous hike with many exposed sections of trail. Oh, but the rewards!  As you climb the steep moraine, the Robson Glacier rests at your feet.  Soon the beautiful glacier bowl of Robson is revealed - a world of rock and ice.  The best view is at the very top of the moraine, though you won't be convinced of this until you get there!

Mount Robson from Snowbird Pass.
From the top of the moraine, the trail climbs up to a beautiful hanging basin of tarns, streams and meadows.  The rolling meadows seem to stretch on forever.  Snowbird Pass can be seen up ahead and it seems so close.  But every time you think you are almost there, you come over a rise and realise there are more meadows to traverse and streams to cross!  Finally, the trail reaches a rock slope where it is defined simply by cairns, and the final climb commences - up to some of the best views in all the Rockies.

Look over your shoulder back to Mount Robson and the Robson Glacier (I mean, its not like you could ever get tired of looking at it).  Ahead at Snowbird Pass proper, find a spot to shed your pack and be amazed.  Ahead of you to the north is the expanse of the Reef Icefield and Coleman Glacier in Jasper National Park.

The Reef Icefield and Coleman Glacier from Snowbird Pass.

The Reef Icefield is huge, encompassing miles of ice.  Goat trails abound, and the animals can often be seen on the glacier (or maybe above you on the rock).  You're in a different world now, one that is hard to peel yourself away from on a nice sunny day.  Enjoy it and don't forget to bring the memories back on your camera card.
Dramatic clouds at sunset over Berg Lake.
I think all lenses come in handy here.  I used my 17-40mm lens to capture the above reflection shot of Robson in the pool of water.  I also used wide angle to capture most of the Robson images above Berg Lake, and the pano from Snowbird Pass.  The trusted and true 24-70mm was a workhorse as well, also used at Berg Lake, on the Toboggan Falls trail and Mumm Basin.  Finally, I hauled my 70-200mm and 2x teleconverter up for wildlife opportunities and the chance to zoom in tight on the glacier.  Of course, there is a huge weight consideration with this last one, and many may elect to leave it at home.  Cost vs reward is a viable argument!

The standard line of filters are recommended for this trip - polarizer and both 2 and 3-stop GND filters.  I always like to carry an enhancing filter as well.

If you are considering visiting during the summer months, I recommend you consider reserving a permit.  Changes have been made for 2013, and reservations will start being accepted January 2nd.  More information here.  If you plan to visit during the fall, reservations are not necessary.  When I visited in mid-September with a bluebird forecast, Berg Lake Campground was 1/2 full at most, Whitehorn, Rearguard and Marmot had just a few residents, and Kinney Lake was empty.

I hope you get the chance to visit this wonderful place.  I would budget 4 days minum in favorable weather, more if questionable weather is forecast.  Unless you elect to fly in via helicopter, it's a long haul in with most of the elevation gain at the very end.  Stay a while.  Enjoy it.  You earned it.
I hope to have these images and more up on my website very soon.  Thanks for visiting.

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