Road Trip to Banff for Golden Larches and Fall Colors

The Enchantments Lakes Basin in Washington State is my usual Hiking to Fall Colors Larch Fest, but this year I put together a trip to the Banff area for some camping and Larch photography.  My friend and I had about a week to play with so I arranged some last minute camping at Lake O’Hara to start the trip.  From there we would head to Lake Moraine for Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.  I’d heard reports that the colors were glorious mid September and a bit of snow had freed up some of the reserved months in advance camping spots at Lake O’Hara.

We spent two days at the campground and did a bit of hiking up around Opabin Prospect to capture amazing views that finally cleared up a bit on our last evening.  I brought my Mountain Hardwear Trango Assault tent, Mountain Hardware Phantom Zero degree bag and Kahtoola microspikes, all of which I was glad to have and made the trip a lot more pleasant.  We were warm and dry in the tent, I was warm in my bag and the spikes made getting up and back down the icy trails a lot safer.

 

View of Lake Mary and O'Hara from Opabin Prospect Voigtlander 10mm

View of Lake Mary and O’Hara from Opabin Prospect Voigtlander 10mm

We came back down after two nights and headed to Lake Moraine Lodge for some photography and hiking around the Lake itself and then up to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.  Lake Moraine was spectacular as always with a dusting of snow atop the Ten Peaks that surround the lake.

The next morning at 5am, we set out to hike into Larch Valley and up up to Sentinel Pass.  We hoped to hit the golden larches around sunrise and found ourselves in a wonderland of fall colors as the sun rose.

 

Fall Colors Wonderland in Larch Valley Lake Moraine Banff

Fall Colors Wonderland in Larch Valley Lake Moraine Banff

Eventually we headed back down the now-crowded trail, catching even more glimpses of Fall’s splendor in the valley.

The next part of our journey took us to Bow and Peyto Lakes, before heading back to Seattle. Peyto was crowded and not its usual impressive self so we headed up the road to Bow Lake and waited for dusk  The dusting of snow on Crowfoot Mountain made for a dramatic reflection.

The next morning, we headed back west towards the border and on to Seattle. In two weeks we would be heading into the Enchantments Lakes Basin for 5 days of backcountry Cascades fall colors and beautiful tarns.

 

 

5 Days in Iceland – A Photographer’s Eden – Part One

iceland sheep photography

Some of the many sheep I would encounter on my Iceland adventure.

I think I had been resisting  a photography trip to Iceland.  It certainly was the “hot” place to go.  Photographers in a steady stream went and came back with spectacular images. Instead, I went off and did the Everest Base Camp Trek in February and visited Banff in June.  I was certainly more than than happy with the shots I came back with.  A non-photographer friend of mine did the layover in Reykjavik recently and reminded me how impressed he thought I would be with the country.

So I got a call from a client needing my services in London and requesting that I set up my own air and travel arrangements with about a week’s notice.  At that point the Iceland stopover option came up again.  I did some research and looked into renting a camper to go exploring for 5 days.  I gave myself 5 days, considering this a preliminary visit of sorts.  People pointed out to me that I needed weeks or a month even.  I went with 5 days and it felt right.  And at the end of those 5 days I knew I would be back soon.

Day 1

Arrived in Keflavik and gocampers.is, the rental company I had chosen, picked me up at the airport and took me to their office in Reykjavik.  They had a range of vehicles available, and I went with one of the most basic.  A panel van, 2wd, manual trans and a mattress in the back.  My new home for a few days also included cooking utensils, pots/pans, etc for camping.  They also had a nice collection of camping chairs, larger stoves, sleeping bags etc for rent.  I had brought my own bag, a 10 degree down bag I use regularly.  I signed all the paperwork and off I went.  I had brought quite the pile of snacks from home but was pleased to find a market around the corner for some fresh fruit and juice. An hour later I discovered my van had heated seats!

iceland camping van

This was my home away from home in Iceland for 5 days.

Driving out of town was easy, just find Highway 1 and head east.  Drivers were polite and courteous, something I found throughout the trip.  I decided my goal was to get to Jokulsarlon, the Ice Lagoon and then sleep.

The scenery down Highway 1 was a revelation.  I was struck by the broad expanse of it all.  The peaks, the coastline, the highway off into infinity.  The sheep! Everywhere! Along the side of the road, far off on the hillside.  They were a constant companion on my horizon.

iceland camping photography

Heading east on Highway 1 with vast expanses of lush green cliffs.

I continued driving, and eventually stopped at two well-known falls, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss.  You can see both coming up from the highway so they are hard to miss.  I felt these were very well photographed by others so I didn’t stay long.  In between them on the highway is the parking lot for the crashed DC3 airplane site.  No signage, just a full parking lot and lots of people heading off to the beach.  I decided to catch that on the way back.

Seljalandsfoss falls iceland waterfall

Seljalandsfoss’s long drop into wildflowers

waterfall iceland skogafoss

Skogafoss doing its thing

Continuing towards my goal, there was this long stretch of road, lined with lupine and volcanic remnants.  The vastness of it struck me.  The wind struck me too as I opened to the van door to take a look having pulled off at one point.  I recalled the warning at the rental office about the wind being able to take your doors off.  They weren’t kidding.  On the road you see a lot of cyclists riding around the country.  Its on these windy days, and the car wash rainy ones that would come, that you really get a sense of their dedication.

iceland lava landscape

Lush lava fields off into the distance

iceland road travel photography lupine

Vast meadows of lupine along the road

I reached Jokularlon later that evening.  Sunset wouldn’t happen until 1130pm and even after that it never got dark.  Sunrise was at 330am.  There are two main parking lots at the lagoon.  The northern one has bathrooms but no camping is allowed.  Across the road and next to the beach is where you can sleep.  I parked my camper and pulled out my bag and crashed hard. The beauty created by chunks of glacier falling into the lagoon and washing out to sea and onto the beach would wait until morning.

Heading up to Pinnacle Saddle for Sunset

I had heard that most of the snow was gone so I decided to head up to the Saddle to see.  Turns out there’s a bit still left but it should be gone in two weeks.  Flowers are starting to come on.  A bit of lupine and paintbrush around Paradise.  I packed an over night pack in case I decided to camp last night but didnt:

My overnight photography pack. REI Stoke 29 pack and
– sony a7r with Zeiss 50mm
– Zeiss 16-35mm
– Gitzo gt-0540 tripod, RRS clamp and BH25 head, remote, extra batteries
– Ten Essentials including Nitecore p10 800 lumens flashlight
– Pants, down jacket, pullover, extra socks, extra doorag
– One Black Diamond Ultra Mountain carbon pole for tent
– Two bottles of purple gatorade
– Bananas, pb/honey sandwich, powerbars, powergels
– Shires Tarptent Contrail and stakes
– MH Phantom 32 bag

Felt light, carried well and I didnt end up camping last night.  www.mikereidphotography.com

Rainier Sunset IMG_2493

Artist’s Point Sunrise Overnight

I had been meaning to hike up here for sunrise for quite some time.  By mid last week, however, I had exhausted my list of companions, so I went alone. Weather was supposed to be good;  Clouds clearing off and temps around 20 with winds gusting to 30mph.  I was also curious about some of my new winter gear and how it would perform.  So off I went to Heather Meadows parking lot.  No recent snowfall, and the snow on the ground was crunchy, so I went with my Sorels and no snowshoes.  My other gear choices:

  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 tent – I knew I would need something freestanding but didn’t think I would need my Mountain Hardwear Trango Assault.
  • Zpacks 10 degree down bag and Thermarest Xlite Xtherm pad.
  • Arcteryx Naos 55 pack
  • Mountain Hardwear Phantom and Ghost Whisperer Jackets with Transition Windstopper underneath.
  • Arcteryx Windstopper shell pants with Windstopper tights underneath.
  • Delorme inReach satellite beacon
  • Sony a7r camera and Zeiss 21, 50 and 100-300 lenses with Gitzo 0540 tripod.

Climb to Artists Point was uneventful, except maybe wishing they would open the road up with so little snow.  I’ve always seen the WSDOT as being a flexible organization.  🙂

At the top, the wind came on strong.  I tried pitching my tent in two spots and it blew itself inside out.  I lashed it to a tree while I looked for a better location.  Scouting around, I noticed a group of tents near the parking lot which was under several feet of snow.  I went back to gather my stuff to join them.  It turns out that seeing me, the guys camped there set out to come see if I was ok.  We met in the middle. They helped me with my tent aka wind sail and we camped together against a bluff that blocked the wind sort of.  They had used a sled to bring up an ample supply of Coors which we dove into.

With me in it, my tent was bending 20 degrees or so in the wind, but I eventually fell asleep.  I was warm enough, figuring the wind chill at about 0 degrees.

I got up early and got some nice shots of Baker with alpenglow coming on at sunrise.  I went back and thanked my new compadres and packed up.  As I was heading down, scores of skiers were heading up.  The new day looked spectacular.DSC03286 DSC03311_stitchsmaller DSC03397

Low Tide Blue Hour Light at Second Beach

Here’s how this trip came together. I’ve been watching the weather at certain locations and in this case, the tides on the coast. The tide tables… http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/locations/3230.html indicated an unusually low tide this last weekend. NOAA weather said it was going to be mostly clear and warm. I had the chance to rent a new lens I’ve been wanting to try out, so its on. Its about four hours out to the coast and dont underestimate the additional 14 miles plus hiking once you’ve left 101.

Second Beach Blue Hour Low Tides