Thursday, April 20, 2017

Photographing Monica Meadows, Southern Purcell Range

Mount MacBeth above fall larches in Monica Meadows, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Mount MacBeth above larches in Monica Meadows.
For many people, when they think of mountains in Canada it is typically the Canadian Rockies.  And why not?  They offer some of the most impressive scenery in the world and are one of my personal favorites as well.  What some people may not realize is that they have some pretty cool neighbors also competing for your attention.

The Purcell Range are a north-south trending range in British Columbia, just to the west of the Rocky Mountains of Canada.

A particularly famous section of the Purcells are the Bugaboos.  The Bugaboos are a spectacular collection of granite spires rising from massive icefields, and a world-renowned alpine rock climbing destination.  Bugaboo Provincial Park receives significant attention from the climbing, hiking and photography community, and is probably the most popular destination for visitors.  I wrote about my recent visit here.  Most other locations in the Purcells are far more remote and undeveloped, offering beauty and solitude to the adventurer willing to take on their challenge.

Mt. MacBeth above fall larches in Monica Meadows, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Mount MacBeth above larches in Monica Meadows.
The biggest challenge can sometimes be road access.  Roads are subject to washouts and can take time to be repaired.  You should always check the latest conditions when planning you trip.  In the case of my visit to Monica Meadows, a bridge was washed out and only scheduled to be repaired toward the end of my trip to this region (maybe).  As it turned out, it was only repaired the day before my arrival.

Much of the Purcell Range can be accessed from Highway 95, which runs north-south along the Rocky Mountain Trench.  This highway runs parallel along the eastern side and offers many logging, mining and forest road access that extend deep into the heart of the Purcells.

Mt. Monica reflected in a tarn surrounded by fall larches in Monica Meadows, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Mount Monica above a tarn in Monica Meadows.
On the west side of the range, access is more remote, and often requires ferry travel.  No worries, they're free and a fun experience!

Monica Meadows is such a place.  Located near Lardeau, BC, this fantastic destination competes with the likes of Jumbo Pass and MacBeth Icefields.  While the drive can be challenging some years, the trail is rather easy - 2.5 miles and 1,900' gain to some amazing meadows, especially in fall when the larches have turned golden.  This is typically toward the end of September.

Mt. Monica above fall larches and a lake in Monica Meadows, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Mount Monica above a lake in Monica Meadows.
The drive to the trailhead is mostly on pretty good road.  However, some years it can get adventurous towards the end.  Especially with the bridge that is subject to washouts.

The views from the parking lot are amazing, and only get better as one begins up the trail.  After a series of steep switchbacks, the trail traverses around a ridge and into a basin where camping is available.  Please don't camp above this as this would scar the meadows.  Also, remember this is grizzly bear country and appropriate precautions should be taken.

Mt. Monica above fall larches and a lake in Monica Meadows, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Mount Monica above a lake in Monica Meadows.
The meadows are beautiful and offer endless wandering.  If the larches are in season and you have camera in tow, progress along the trail will be slow.

At a junction, you can turn right to find a couple of lakes, or continue straight to pass a small lake before climbing to a ridge with incredible views west to Mt. MacBeth and other nearby peaks.  Of course, the view of Mt. Monica immediately before you is also nice.

Photographers:  While beautiful images can be had at any time of season here, I personally recommend fall.  The larch show is spectacular.  As with any destination, I recommend backpacking in to take full advantage of sunset and sunrise.  I was nursing a knee injury on this trip and was forced to limit myself to the weight of a day pack.  Wouldn't you know I missed one of the best sunrises of my entire trip!

Mt. MacBeth above fall larches and a lake in Monica Meadows, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Mount MacBeth above a lake in Monica Meadows.
My predominant lens of choice was my 24-70mm.  I do not believe my 70-200mm ever left my pack.  I know my 17-40mm didn't.

GND filters are important to have, unless you plan on digitally blending back at the computer.

For the larches, this is an evening photography destination as there is a tall ridge directly to the east, blocking morning light.  However, light on Mt. MacBeth across the valley could be spectacular in the morning hours!

I hope to have these images added to my website soon.  As always, thanks for looking!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Ramparts and Amethyst Lake

The Ramparts reflected in Amethyst Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Jasper National Park is the northernmost of the four famed national parks of the Canadian Rockies (the others being Yoho, Banff and Kootenay).  One of the most iconic settings in this park is The Ramparts above Amethyst Lake - truly a spectacular place to visit, especially in the fall.

Getting there is no easy task, however.  It requires a 12.7 mile backpack up the Astoria River, or a 14.2 mile and 2,400' climb over Mccarib Pass to get there.  I did the latter, as the Astoria River trail was closed due to washout.  It was a beautiful, but slow and tedious trek in on sore feet, having just hiked out from Berg Lake the previous day.  My feet were hamburger!

On this trip, I endured a grizzly bear swatting at my vehicle in the middle of the night as I slept at the trailhead, startling me out of a sound sleep.  The scratches from its claws can still be seen on the window of my vehicle.

I also had a cougar follow me back to my tent in the middle of the night after star photography, circle the tent, and then swat at it as I lay there silent with one hand on my headlamp and the other clutching my bear spray.  I didn't know it was a cougar until the following morning when saw its tracks, as there was also a pack of wolves in the area.

Some photos require a lot of hard work and perseverance just to get in position to be successful.  This is one of those images!  Fortunately, the images I captured from this area with have been quite successful for me.  This particular image was recently licensed for web use to a design and publishing firm in the UAE.

You can see more images from this area and more in my Canadian Rockies Gallery, if interested.

As always, thanks for looking!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Photographing Bugaboo Provincial Park

Hound's Tooth and the Anniversary Glacier above fall larches in Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Hound's Tooth above fall larches.
I first visited this area in the fall of 1997 while the larches were at peak, and had the entire area to myself.  This included a night in the Conrad Kain Hut (already shuttered up for the season) and Applebee Dome.

Today, this area is much more popular amongst hikers, climbers and photographers.  In summer months, reservations are strongly encouraged.

To get to the TH for the Conrad Kain Hut & Applebee Dome, drive to Brisco, BC and turn west at the Bugaboo Provincial Park sign.  Continue around the saw mill and follow Bugaboo Creek Road for 30 miles on a good gravel road to the parking lot at the end (there are a couple of spots near the end that can be muddy after recent rainfall).  This parking lot will be full of cars with chicken wire wrapped around them!

Fortress of chicken wire!
Warning:  Porcupines will eat the tires, hoses and anything else rubber on your car for the road salt.  The park service provides chicken wire and wood at the trailhead to protect your car with.  Have doubts?  Sleep in your vehicle overnight at the trailhead and listen to the critters trying their best to get through to the goods - all night long!

The first mile of trail is an easy walk along the valley floor, with some boardwalks in places to get over some marshy sections.  Then the trail begins its steep ascent up switchbacks, large slabs of rock, steps made out of concrete, wire cable hand holds, and yes...even an aluminum ladder!  Above this you follow the trail up a steep moraine to the Conrad Kain Hut.  Views across the valley are stupendous through this entire stretch of trail, which allows a good excuse for the occasional rest break.

The Conrad Kain Hut below Eastpost Spire, Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Conrad Kain Hut in Bugaboo Provincial Park.
Depending on the time of year and your intentions, you have choices on where to stay.  The Conrad Kain Hut can be VERY busy in the summer months and reservations are strongly encouraged.  During my visit in late September, I shared the hut with a couple dozen people for two nights, which wasn't bad at all.  I had reservations, but most visitors did not and there was plenty of room.

The hut offers the convenience of a strong shelter, heat, cooking amenities and socializing.  It offers a huge convenience factor.  The hut is named after a legendary mountain climber and guide, Conrad Kain.

Snowpatch Spire above fall larches in Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Snowpatch Spire above fall larches.
If it is solitude you are looking for, continue past the hut and descend a trail about 1/2 a mile into the woods to a campground.  There isn't much in the way of views here, but it is quiet and well sheltered.

For the biggest bang for the buck, continue on up past the hut 1/2 a mile to Applebee Dome, where the views are to die for.  For this reason you won't be alone, and will likely share it with many rock climber who have their sites on the spires towering above you.  This area is very exposed to storms and can be quite cold, especially in the fall.

A cascading creek below fall larches in Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Fall larches above a creek near the Conrad Kain Hut.
There is photography to be had everywhere.  My purpose was to photograph the larches below the spires, which are found around and below the hut.  So I elected to stay there.  Above the hut is a world of rock and ice - not much vegetation.  More on that later.

Below the hut is a creek that can be fun to photograph in a mostly open basin with larches above.  A very shy black bear frequented this area during my visit, but mostly stayed on the distant slope.

Snowpatch Spire is the dominating spire looming above the hut, and a wonderful sight to see.  As you would guess, it is distinguished by a permanent patch of snow on its shoulder.

Also dominating the scene is Hound's Tooth and Anniversary Peak to the southeast - my personal favorites.  The seracs on the Anniversary Glacier are mesmerizing.  Hound's Tooth can be photographed both morning and evening.  Most of the spires in the upper basin are best photographed in the morning only.

Morning alpenglow on Anniversary Peak in Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Morning alpenglow on Anniversary Peak.
My first morning I awoke in darkness and left the hut to ascend to the upper basin with headlamp.  The sunrise that unfolded as I climbed the steep trail was nothing short of amazing!  It turned the entire sky to the east pink and seemed to last an eternity.  I was surprised at how many different compositions I was able to compose during its duration.  As most photographers can attest to, these moments are usually very quick and if you blink you might miss them!

It was a wonderful morning.

Snowpatch Spire reflected in a small tarn in Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Snowpatch Spire reflection.
The climb from the hut up the moraine to Applebee Dome and the upper basin is steep for much of the way.  The path is well marked and there are lots of places to explore.  At the junction with the climber's route, turn left a short distance for some interesting roaming and photo opps (but only experienced climbers with proper gear and knowledge of how to use it should venture onto the glacier).

Otherwise, stay right and follow the path on up to Applebee Dome for the grand views.  Look back down on the tiny hut and surrounding area, and across and up to the likes of Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboo Spire, and more.  Follow one of many paths over a small moraine to Bugaboo Lake below its namesake spire.  Continue on a path around the lake and up and over a pass to a set of small tarns if you wish for added exploration.

Clouds can roll in and out of the upper basin, continually changing the light and adding dramatic effect.  I was lucky to experience such during my most recent visit.  Likewise, storms can move in with little or no warning, so always be prepared.

Snowpatch Spire in Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Snowpatch Spire.
While some evening photography can be had, morning offers the best.  My advise is to awake early for sunrise, and even shoot into mid-morning in the fall.  Then spend the rest of the day exploring and scouting for the next day. 

I mostly stuck to my trusty 24-70mm lense, but did break out the 17-24mm in the upper basin.  There isn't much wildlife to be had outside the local rodent population, so you can probably leave the big glass at home.  I did bring it and used it (once), so if you are motivated...

Dramatic sunrise in Bugaboos Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Sunrise from above the Conrad Kain Hut.
GND filters are very useful here, unless you plan to blend later.  A polarizer is also highly recommended, but in small doses so you don't turn your sky black.

There are other fanatastics trips in this immediate area as well.  Cobalt Lake and Black Forest Ridge are high on my list to check out (go ahead, do a Google image search).  Also, Chalice Ridge looks enticing.

If you are toying with visiting this scenic area, I highly recommend it.  Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have for your planning.  I am always happy to help.

To see more of my photography, please visit my website, Mountain Scenes Photography.  I hope to have a Purcells gallery up soon.

As always, thanks for looking.  Hope to see you on the trail!