Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Photographing the Tonquin Valley

The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake, Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake at dawn.
The Tonquin Valley is considered the jewel of Jasper National Park by many.  Located deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the valley is famous for its dramatic scene of The Ramparts towering high above Amethyst Lakes, and casting their beautiful reflection into the lake’s calm waters at sunrise.  It is truly a sight to behold.

Of course, I must qualify the above description as being season dependent.  The Tonquin Valley is best visited in late season.  By late August, the bugs are gone and most of the “swampy” areas have dried up.  Visit in July and you will be swarmed by mosquitoes and horse flies beyond belief, likely requiring a head net and full clothing as you negotiate through bug hell.  Amethysts lakes can be difficult to approach in early season due to wetlands.  Trails can also be extremely muddy.

The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake, Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake at sun
The valley is known for its abundance of wildlife, including caribou, cougars, wolves and grizzly bears.  During my visit, caribou were not present, while a new pack of wolves was.  It was widely believed that the wolves had migrated over from another valley, chasing the caribou away.  Fatal grizzly bear attacks have occurred in the Tonquin Valley in recent years.  While most hikers will not see a bear during their visit (I didn’t), it is very important to be prepared and aware while on the trail.

There are two approaches to the Tonquin Valley – the Astoria River trail and McCarib Pass trail.  Both are long.  While the Portal Creek Trail is longer (14.2 miles) and gains about 1,000’ more elevation as it climbs over McCarib Pass, it is much more scenic.  McCarib Pass is high, open country with views in all directions.  It should not be missed, even if it means a day hike from the lake to experience.  The Astoria River Trail is shorter (12.7 miles) and the quickest way into Amethyst Lakes.  I can’t compare the two trails because at the time of my visit, a massive slide off Mount Edith Cavell had closed the road to the trailhead, as well as the trail itself.

The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake, Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
There are two prime campgrounds in the valley, Surprise Point Campground and Amethyst Campground.  Both are very scenic and offer excellent views of The Ramparts above Amethyst Lakes.  Amethyst Campground is more popular, and in my opinion, offering the better view and composition.  Nonetheless, I have seen beautiful images from Surprise Point as well.  Maybe you will need to visit both!

The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake, Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake.
Morning is the time to photograph The Ramparts and their reflection in the lake.  Sunrise turns the rock bright pink, then gold as the morning progresses.  As long as the weather is stable, the water will be calm for the first few hours of the morning.
Getting to the lake from the Amethyst Campground can be tricky, outside the obvious trail from the campground.  This is because the rolling meadows are comprised mostly of wetlands.  For the most interesting foreground, I recommend hiking the main trail south for about ¼ mile, then aiming for the obvious rocks along the lakeshore.  This is a prime sunrise location to shoot from.

The Ramparts reflected in a tarn near Amethyst Lakes in Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The Ramparts reflected in a tarn in Tonquin Valley.
By mid-morning the sunlight will begin to hit the meadows of the valley.  I recommend following the obvious trail from the campground to the lake as it passes several interesting rocks and tarns.

If staying at Sunrise Point, the area near the bridge entering the campground offers excellent foreground as rocks abound along the shore and in the shallow water.

The Tonquin Valley is best suited for wide-angle lenses.  My 17-40mm was my most used lens, with my 24-70mm coming in second.  I also hauled in my 70—200mm for wildlife, hoping to catch a grizzly bear or caribou.  My only grizzly encounter was at the trailhead parking lot the night before while I was sleeping.  As mentioned above, with the new presence of a wolf pack in the valley, the caribou are believed to have mostly left.  I probably would leave the large glass at home next time in consideration of the weight.
The Ramparts tower above Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The Ramparts above Tonquin Valley.

You will want both a 2-stop and 3-stop GND filter.  I would also recommend a polarizer.  If you are into star photography, the Tonquin Valley is an excellent place for star shots as well as the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).  You might even have a wolf follow you back to your tent as I did!

If you are determined to carry heavy camera gear for your visit, there are pack guide services available that will haul your equipment for you for a fee.
I highly recommend spending a few days in the valley, with a full day on both sides for hiking in and hiking out.  Every morning offered different lighting and was a unique experience for me.  This also gives you time to further explore the area.
Enjoy your visit to this fantastic slice of heaven.  Life slows down here.  It’s okay to slow down with it.

To view more images of the area, visit my Canadian Rockies Gallery.

As always thanks for reading!

Friday, May 3, 2013

2014 Wall Calendars

2014 Mountains of Washington Wall Calendar.
I know it seems a little too early to be thinking about 2014 calendars.  Heck, we aren't even halfway into 2013 yet!  But in order to get such products on store shelves in time, planning and production must start early - often 2 - 3 years in advance.

Next year I find my work appearing in several wall calendars.  But the one I am most pleased about is the line produced by Smith-Western Co., a local company out of Tacoma.  I have worked with them for many years now, and have enjoyed an excellent relationship with them.

In 2014, I will have four images appearing in the pages and on the cover of their Mountains of Washington calendar, and one image in their Washington calendar.  The wall calendars are too large for my scanning capabilities, so you will have to settle for a picture of the pocket calendar version (same calendar as the wall version, only smaller)!

These calendars should start appearing on store shelves soon, if they haven't already.  In years past, I have seen them in Fred Meyer, Bartells, Rite-Aid, the Space Needle, and more.  Keep your eyes open and help support local business!

I haven't made up my mind yet whether I will sell these on my web site again.  The problem we run into is that shipping is so darn expensive - almost the price of the calendar.  I will likely have them available at my shows later in the year.

I hope everyone is having an excellent spring!