Canadian Rockies Fall Colors Highlights Part 2 Lake Moraine and Lake Louise

I had arranged things so that when we came out of camping in the backcountry around Mount Assiniboine, we would have some hotel time to recoup.  To me, the Lodge at Lake Moraine is worth the splurge to be so close to the lake.  Not having to worry about parking and the nice rooms help too.

So we spent the next two days exploring Lake Louise and Moraine around sunset and sunrise.  Both were crazy busy but we expected that.  At Lake Moraine, the Rockpile is an obvious attraction but so is the nice trail half way around the lake.  I got some nice shots from both, including a wedding party getting their photos taken.

Bride and Groom at Lake Moraine Fuji GFX50s

Bride and Groom at Lake Moraine Fuji GFX50s

Lake Moraine from the Rockpile at Dusk gfx50s

Lake Moraine from the Rockpile at Dusk

Lake Moraine Angles Reflected

Lake Moraine Angles Reflected

Lake Moraine Along the Trail

Lake Moraine Along the Trail

We also took a side trip down to the Vermillion Lakes for sunset and hopefully a nice Mount Rundle reflection.  It was well worth the trip.

Vermillion Lakes Fall Colors Canon 200mm f/1.8 and GFX50s

Vermillion Lakes Fall Colors Canon 200mm f/1.8 and GFX50s

Mount Rundle Dusk Light in Vermillion Lakes

Mount Rundle Dusk Light in Vermillion Lakes

The next morning we ventured up to Lake Louise and got the first parking spot by showing up before 6am.  Several hundred of our closest friends soon followed.  It was a great experience watching the peaks around the lake light up with golden sunrise light, all reflected in the aqua waters of the lake itself.

Lake Louise Sunrise Fire gfx50s

Lake Louise Sunrise Fire

Golden Light on the Peaks Arou gfx50snd Lake Louise at Dawn

Golden Light on the Peaks Around Lake Louise at Dawn

The next day we were set to camp in the backcountry around Lake O’Hara.  We had put the tent out to dry at the hotel but it was time to get some solid meals to get ready and to finalize our shopping and gear selection.  On to Part 3…

 

Canadian Rockies Fall Colors Highlights Part 1 Mount Assiniboine

So I decided to take a friend of mine who had never been up to the Canadian Rockies around Banff for Fall colors.  And a chance to try out the Fuji GFX50s medium format camera in this beautiful environment.

I put together a simple plan starting with two nights in the Mount Assiniboine area and Magog Lake campground.  I arranged for us to fly in from the Mount Shark helipad near Canmore and then set up camp and explore.  We got some nice light, met quite a few great people and did a lot of hiking to check out the fall colors in the area.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first visit to the area and was ready to compare to my Lake O’Hara experiences.  What I learned:

Lake Magog tent pads have very sharp rocks.
The water available is unfiltered.
It’s about a half an hour walk to the campground from the helipad.
The common cooking area is un-enclosed and unlit.

These are observations in comparison to the Lake O’Hara facilities and things to keep in mind when packing.  Beyond the camping, the surrounding beauty is unrelenting, especially in the Fall.

To get to the area, you can either hike 13 miles in or take a 10 minute helicopter ride:

Helicopter Pad Heading to Mount Assiniboine

Helicopter Pad Heading to Mount Assiniboine

Our Fjallraven Tent Ready for Anything

Our Fjallraven Tent Ready for Anything in the Lake Magog Campground

An abundance of Fall Colors around the Mount Assiniboine area.  Larches were turning and many more were ready to turn.

Trail Through the Larches Past Sunburst Peak

Trail Through the Larches Past Sunburst Peak

Golden Fall Colors Leading to Mount Assiniboine

Golden Fall Colors Leading to Mount Assiniboine

The main hike in the area is the climb up to the Nub to look back down at Sunburst Lake, Sunburst Peak and Mount Assiniboine beyond.

Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Peak from the Nub

Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Peak from the Nub

Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Peak Beneath Dramatic Skies

Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Peak Beneath Dramatic Skies

One morning down next to Lake Magog revealed a mist-covered lake that later cleared up to show Mount Assiniboine.

Mount Assiniboine in the Mist

Mount Assiniboine in the Mist

Mount Assiniboine in the Mist Golden Light

Mount Assiniboine in the Mist Golden Light

We spent two amazing nights in the Mount Assiniboine area.  We had to leave too soon for the next leg of our trip but hope to  be back next year for more amazing landscapes.

Visiting the Icelandic Highlands Landmannalaugar Fuji GFX50s Part II

If you are here, you have to hike a bit to see the surroundings.  So I did some research and found a vigorous loop that would take me around the area and provide amazing views from above.  One source recommended Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil, one of the longer hikes, but with a huge payoff.  I set out early hoping to be in the views around dusk.

The first part takes you up and over several peaks with incredible vistas in every direction.  Each peak seemed to be better than the last.  I largely had a place to myself, only running into four other people.

Hiking the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands

View towards Bláhjúkur, Brennisteinsalda and Laugahraun along the hike.

Lone Hiker Along the Suðurnámur mountain ridge, Icelandic Highlands.

Lone Hiker Along the Suðurnámur mountain ridge, Icelandic Highlands.

Hiking the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands

View along the Jokulgilskvizl between the Barmur Ridge in the Icelandic Highlands.

About an hour into the hike, I got hit by a strong rain squall.  Fortunately I had my parka with me and slipped into it.  There was enough wind that I figured it would pass, and it eventually did.  I talked to two hikers who said the rest of the way was sunny and clear.

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Two hikers I talked to about the weather…

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and Zeiss 100-300mm lens

Views over the ridge at Frostastaðavatn lake and beyond.

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Massive geological features along the trail and the lava fields of Graenagil to the left

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Golden light on the green landscape of Landmannalaugar.

The trail and its views were captivating.  I lost sense of time, except for the sunset coming on brought me back.  The rain had indeed passed.  I started to descend to the valley below, taking care going down the slopes slick with loose gravel.

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Trail to the valley below in Landmannalaugar

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lens

Tiny sheep on the golden hillsides of Landmannalaugar.

Views from the Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil in the Icelandic Highlands. Fuji GFX50s and 32-64mm lensIt felt good to be descending but I also missed the views from up on high.  More in Part III.

Visiting the Icelandic Highlands Landmannalaugar Fuji GFX50s

I have been enjoying my Fujifilm GFX50s camera since the moment I bought it last January.  I knew I had to get back to Iceland with it and see how it captured the fascinating landscapes there.  I also wanted to visit the Highlands around Landmannalaugar for the first time along with my many usual favorite locations there.  So I booked a sturdy 4×4, did a ton of research and off I went in early August.  I also packed two drones to capture the vast landscapes.

Drones and Luggage Heading to IcelandI got into Iceland and quickly heading along the Ring Road and then to the Highlands via F Road 208.  30 miles to Landmannalaugar it said.  How bad can that be?  Well its about 3 hours of rocky rutted road with 6-7 stream crossings deep enough you leave a wake.  Crazy but incredible.  The scenery began to change to wild hillsides of contrasting green and brown with occasional blue.  This was what I was after.  I put the drone up to see how it looked from above.

Driving to Landmannlaugar Iceland Drone Views

Driving to Landmannalaugar Iceland Drone Views

Driving to Landmannlaugar Iceland Drone Views

Driving to Landmannalaugar Iceland Drone Views

I reached the campsite area around Landmannalaugar and set about capturing some dusk light images of the area

Landmannlaugar Iceland Blue Mountain Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Blue Mountain Fuji GFX50s

Landmannlaugar Iceland Half Moon Rising Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Half Moon Rising Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Plains of Barmur Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Plains of Barmur Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Blue Mountain and Campground Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Blue Mountain and Campground Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Plains of Barmur Fuji GFX50s

Landmannalaugar Iceland Plains of Barmur Fuji GFX50s

There are many hikes in the area and I decided to take on the most rewarding but also roughest one. Suðurnámur mountain ridge and Vondugil is a 4-5 hour adventure with spectacular views in every direction.  I planned on doing it in the evening for the best dusk light.

More on that in my next piece.

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.

Everest Base Camp Trekking in Nepal – Part One

These posts are reflections and images from my trek to Kalla Patthar in Nepal February 2017.

I had some work in India along the coast and was looking for a side trip afterwards for photography.  I thought about the Maldives but decided that would be depressing to be the single guy amongst all the honeymooning couples.  Sri Lanka also came up but didn’t really move me.  A friend suggested I head up to Nepal and do the trek to Everest Base Camp.  So I looked into it.

Looking into tour operators is like walking out of the arrivals hall in a third world airport. Everyone wants to be your friend.  Following lots of research and emails, I started working with Gopal at Himalayan Nepal Trek.  Questions led to more questions, a gear list came together and a rough itinerary.  I explained that my main reason to go would be photography and this was factored into the route and timing.

Honestly, when I finished my work in India, I was ready for home.  Instead, I headed for Kathmandu.  Gopal met me at the airport and got me set up at a hotel in Thamel.  I met my guide, Badri, got in some time for local photography and ate a lot of MoMo, a local version of pot stickers.  Smooth going so far, I began to see myself hiking in and amongst the peaks of the Himalayas.

The finicky nature of getting to Lukla, the start of my trek soon revealed itself, however.  Weather cancelled our flight for two days.  With a fixed exit date, this was becoming concerning.  On day two, we decided to get a helicopter and get there by that means instead.  Our helicopter was met in Lukla by a group of Australians equally eager to leave but unable.  We swapped seats and my trek began.

trekking nepal, himalayas, helicopter, lukla

Swapping Helicopters Near Lukla

Our original porter we had planned on engaging was hung over from New Years, so we hired another and set off up the trail.  Our plan was an easy acclimatization schedule with slow going and a set plan of overnights to get me used to the elevation.  In Lukla, we were at 2800 meters and our goal, Kalla Patthar, was about 5600 meters.

Wandering up the dusty trail was a revelation of life in Nepal.  Teams of yaks and mules carrying propane and hay, other porters with huge loads balanced on their backs, groups of trekkers.  Stretches of trail broken up by little settlements.  Teahouses, homes, dusty trail, businesses selling supplies to trekkers.  We were gaining slowly in elevation, nothing too intense.  That would come later.

nepal, trekking, everest base camp, kitchen, teahouse, phakding

Teahouse Kitchen in Phakding

Our first overnight was in Phakding, a small hamlet about 4 hours up the trail from Lukla. Here I had my first teahouse experience.  Ordering from a menu I would see similar variations of throughout the trip, sleeping in a typical teahouse room, etc.  We were the only guests, its still the slow season coming out of winter.  The meals were excellent.  The room was seriously cold however.  I started to realize that I had made a wise choice in bringing my Mountain Hardwear Phantom Zero degrees F bag.  It was only going to get colder.  Speaking of gear, I was starting to work out what I would wear while trekking vs what I wore around the teahouse.  Trekking wear were light layers.  Arcteryx Rampart pants, base layer, windstopper pullover or light down jacket.  in the evening off the trail, I would slip into my Arcteryx Firebee parka for warmth around the teahouse.  I had been very happy with my Arcteryx Bora2 GTX boots and saw no reason not to bring them along.  The liners made nice teahouse booties at each stop along the way.  In the end, I hiked for two weeks with no foot issues, so my choice worked out.

street life, nepal, trekking, everest base camp

Nepali Boy near Phakding Nepal

By the second day, I had worked out a plan for photography.  The good light was of course in the morning and evening.  But sights still presented themselves along the way during the day.  I had brought two cameras, Sony a7r and a7r2, with four lenses:  Voigtlander 10mm, Zeiss 28mm Otus, Zeiss 55mm and Zeiss 100-300mm.  The 55 would be my walkaround, with iphone ready for quick snaps.  I didnt use the 10mm, with most of my shots spread around the other three focal lengths.  Badri did a great job of carrying my a7r2 with the 55 at ready.  I swapped on the 28 or 100-300 as scenes presented themselves.

nepal, himalayaS, everest base camp trek, photography

Morning in Namche – Taking photos

Our first major climb was the ascent into Namche the next day.  It began with a climb to the second of two suspension bridges to cross the Dudh Koshi Nadi river, which for most of the trip we were on one side or the other or crossing over it via suspension bridge.  I had been hydrating well, and adding Endurox R4 to my bottle for additional recovery support.  This first climb really wrung me out.  I began to see this was going to be a bit more intense than I thought.  Badri helped me slow down as my instinct was to get up the trail as fast as possible so I could rest at the top.  The length of some of these stretches plus the altitude was going to conspire against me quickly.  Donkey steps I began to call them. Slow and easy.  The people who got in trouble with the altitude were the gung-ho crossfit types who tried to go too fast.  I saw this happen to others later on.

yak, nepal, everest base camp trek

One of the Many Suspension Bridges to Namche – Yaks Have the Right of Way

Namche revealed itself soon enough and we settled in for two days there to acclimatize to the altitude.  I had my first hot shower in a few days which was mostly a warm trickle, teasing me but wonderful none the less.  I also finally had some choice of time and location for photos and got some nice sunrise/sunset shots of surrounding peaks, the town itself and of Ama Dablam in the distance.  Our teahouse accommodations had other guests as well and I began to get to know other trekkers who I would see again and again along the trail.  I found a local beer, Sherpa Ale to be quite refreshing, although Badri advised no more ale after this stop since it would mess with our acclimatization plan. More Sherpa would have to wait until we came back this way on the route down.

View of Namche and Kongde Peak in the Morning

View of Namche and Kongde Peak in the Morning

In Namche, I also began to learn how to evaluate teahouses.  Where was my room in relation to bathrooms? How was the food, ie. what was on the menu vs. what actually appeared?  How could I charge my phone and was the wireless free or not?  These were important questions and I learned to quickly assess.  Related to food, the menus were a mix of western and local favorites.  Ordering local was not a guarantee of good eats however.  As we got further up the trail, the freshness of ingredients waned.  It was obvious to me to stay away from the pizza and hamburgers however even from the start.  I remember drinking a lot of tea, eating a lot of momo, fried rice and french toast.  Oat porridge eventually became a mainstay with a wide variety of condiments, and on the last day, I had finally figured out to order toast, with peanut butter and honey, which I made into a great sandwich.

Next:  Part 2 – Onward and Upward to Tengboche and Dingboche

Schlepping That Beast – Zeiss 28mm Otus Goes to Europe

I sent a few photos from my trip to my contact at Zeiss.  Her response was:

“Wow, Mike. These are great.  You should get some badge of honor for schlepping that beast around with you.”

It didn’t seem like much at the time but yes the Zeiss 28mm Otus isn’t subtle.  I had planned my visit to London and Paris around my Zeiss deliverables, but you really have to carry it day to day to get the whole picture of its size.  It’s kind of like the Blazing Saddles Moment. “S’cuse me while I whip this out…”  On the other hand, most of my shots are handheld, so it’s clearly manageable.

The payoff of course is stunning image quality.  Shots that really stood out on my editing laptop really bloomed in vivid, contrasty detail on my home 34″ 4K monitor.  And clearly my editors at Zeiss are happy.  Now where’s my badge?  🙂 #zeiss

Liberty London Interior Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Pons Invalides at Sunset Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Palais Garnier Opera House Stairwells Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Palais Garnier Opera House Ceiling Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Dusk Notre Dame and the Seine Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Dusk Flower Shop Zeiss 28mm OtusParis Dusk Eiffel Tower Shadow Zeiss 28mm OtusTower Bridge View from the Tower of London Zeiss 28mm OtusThames Sunset Big Ben Reflection Zeiss 28mm Otus