Photo Guide: Saddleback Pass Larches Hike

Here’s everything you need to know about hiking and photographing Saddleback Pass for the larches in Autumn.

It’s no secret that Lake Louise is the gem of the Canadian Rockies. It’s far from hidden though, so be sure to get up early for this one. Either that, or be prepared to go late and potentially make it back down in the dark. The parking lot here has been disgracefully busy these past two seasons.

The extra distance from the city, and fighting for a parking stall is well worth it though! There’s a reason everyone wants to be around Lake Louise in the Autumn. Especially hiking up to Saddleback Pass. There is literally no more suiting name for this pass. It’s beautiful during the summer but it’s just spectacular in the autumn. The larches are abundant!

Distance from Calgary: 2 hours 2 minutes
Hiking time (roundtrip): 3-4.5 hours
Elevation gain: 660m
Trail Distance (roundtrip): 8.2

The hike up to the pass starts from the west side of Lake Louise. There’s also a lot of trail right from the parking lot that intersect with the first few hundred metres of the Saddleback Pass trail. The trail is heavily trafficked. There’s no way to lose it the entire way up to the pass.

You gain quite a bit of elevation right away. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’re ascending up into the clouds on this trail. There are a few breaks in the trees where you can look out towards the bow valley and Ski Lake Louise on the other side of the highway 1.

I found the ascent to be fairly quickly and only needed to catch my breath maybe once or twice before reach the pass. The elevation it steep but I thought it was still fairly gradual. It helps that the trail is pretty wide and even.

As you climb higher towards Saddleback Pass, the golden larches will begin become more obvious. The orange and yellow needles will are a beautiful contrast from the other trees around. There were a lot of photo opportunities along the trail right before you actually gain the pass. The last bit of elevation before the plateau has endless compositions waiting to be captured!

Once you get up into Paradise Valley pass, you can see stunning views of Mount Temple. Mount Temple is incredible from any angle, but especially the angle from Saddleback Pass. There are tons of larches in this area too. The larches here make for great foreground before Mount Temple.

Being down in the pass is spectacular, however there is a trail that continues up Mount Fairview. There’s still quite a bit of elevation to gain from the valley, but if you have the time, it’s worth it! The views ascending up Mount Fairview open up to incredible views of the entire valley with countless larches below.

It isn’t even crucial to summit Mount Fairview. Even if you ascend just part way, you will have amazing views of Paradise Valley and Saddleback Pass below.

Photo Guide: Chester Lake Larches

Everything you need to know about viewing and photographing the stunning larches at Chester Lake.

Kananaskis Country is home to a handful of family friendly and approachable hikes to view and photograph the larches each fall. The larches only grow 1800m above sea level though, so you need to find hikes where you you can gain a lot of elevation. Luckily, Chester Lake hike trailhead starts at a fairly high elevation along the Smith-Dorrien “highway”.

Distance from Calgary: 2 hours 3 minutes
Hiking time (roundtrip): 2.5-4.5 hours
Elevation gain: 420m
Trail Distance (roundtrip): 9.3

Photographing the larches at Chester Lake is really quite beautiful. I would recommend avoiding the area on the weekends if you can. It’s a very busy destination for a lot of families. You should have the place mostly to yourself during the week.

If you’re limited to the weekends only, you might have clone-stamp a few people out of your photos along Chester Lake. I was limited to visiting during the weekend and had to get a little creative to select compositions that didn’t have too many people in the background.

The weather can be a little “touch-and-go” during autumn in the mountains. Be prepared to get rained on without notice. If you’re bringing all your camera equipment, be sure to bring some weather protection for your kit as-well.

From the trailhead, the heavily trafficked path gains a gradual elevation before eventually flattening out once you gain the plateau leading to Chester Lake. The path is very wide and obvious, there is no reason you should lose your way at any point. Once you get to a clearing in the plateau before the lake, you’ll begin to see the larches.

There will be more larches along Chester Lake once you arrive to the lakeside. Once you get to the lakeside you can choose to continue along the path to the left of the lake. This path will circle around the entire lake and affords a bunch of nice photo opportunities.

The detour is well worth the extra time on your feet and it won’t take you long to get around the entire lake. On the far side of the lake, there is an opportunity to gain a little bit of extra elevation. The view of the backdrop looking back towards Chester Lake is stunning. You don’t need to climb very high to see what I’m talking about.

Take the same way back to the parking lot. There is apparently another trail that runs parallel which is less trafficked. However, I was looking out for it and I didn’t end up seeing it.

My shots were all taken during the middle of the day. I had pretty spotty weather where I lucked out with nice light for some photos and had pretty flat light for others. It would definitely be worth going for sunrise or sunset. There are many bears in the area so be loud, groups are always encouraged, bear spray is not a luxury, bring it.

Getting The Shot: Episode 1 Alberta Ice Caves With Stevin Tuchiwsky

You probably haven’t seen this side of Alberta before. Stevin Tuchiwsky takes us on a journey into Ice Caves, behind frozen waterfalls, and on frozen lakes.

Stevin snowshoes his way towards the toe of the glacier in Jasper National Park where we hope to find hidden ice caves.
Ryan asking Stevin some questions about the glacier and what he hoped to find as we were getting closer to the toe of the glacier (seen in the background).
Stevin spotted an ice bridge that must have formed as the glacier receded during the summer months. This ice bridge was a sort of entrance to where we would later find some cracks in the glacier. As I walked under the bridge, Stevin snapped this frame as we went deeper into the glacier.
The shapes of the ice bridge from the other side were otherworldly. Stevin gained a little bit of elevation by climbing up the glacier to get a higher perspective. He then asked me to walk back and forth along the ice for his composition, giving a sense of scale.
Stevin spent a few minutes assessing the scene, looking for different angle and perspectives before we move deep into the glacier.
After shooting the ice bridge we began looking for ways to get inside the glacier. Stevin found little cracks in the ice then followed them down below the surface. This small crack in particular opened up into a massive ice cathedral.
Stevin climbed down to the bottom of the glacier where he set up his tripod, preparing for a long exposure photo. The light was so limited in the caves, he relied on slower shutter speeds to allow enough light onto his camera’s sensor.
The entire scene was backlit by a sliver of light that came in from the surface. Stevin used the sliver of light to light up the entire scene. Many of his frames were 20-30 second exposures. Asking me to stand in the frame for scale, I stood as still as possible as Stevin took multiple exposures.
Before leaving the ice cave, I snapped this photo of Stevin just as he was exiting the small crack towards the surface and towards the light.
On our way to Nordegg AB, we made a stop at Panther Falls in Banff National Park. Stevin had never been to the frozen waterfall in the middle of the night before. He had a vision for photographing the frozen waterfall. Stevin wanted me to stand in the middle of the frame with a headlamp. As I lit the backside of the frozen waterfall, he snapped a long exposure. The long exposure allowed the headlamp to light the entire frame.
As Stevin says in Getting The Shot Episode 1, “Sleep takes a backseat to everything when you’re a photographer”. We had a few hours of sleep before heading to Abraham Lake where we hoped to find interesting methane bubbles frozen in the Ice.
As the sun began lighting the sky, we realized there were more interesting subjects to photograph than the famous methane bubbles. Watch the episode below to learn what we found.

Glacier Running in Trail Shoes (VIDEO)

Glacier running is something I knew nothing about until a few weeks ago. Crossing a glacier without a rope, what kind of crampons would I even wear?

Glacier running is something I knew nothing about until a few weeks ago. Crossing a glacier without a rope, what kind of crampons would I even wear? All of my concerns would quickly disappear with the reassurance of navigating this terrain with the guides at Canadian Rockies Running Adventures.

Blue ice crunched beneath my feet as I carefully ran on the Wapta Icefield. Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, I feel as though I’m a character in some kind of alpine fairytale. Crossing a mix of solid ice and melting ice for the next 8 km. I fill up my now empty water bottle with the melt water pouring off the melting glacier as it heats up from the afternoon sun. I feel as though I’m sipping a piece of Canadian history.

There’s a group of 10 of us runners having the time of our lives, running with micro spikes on our trail shoes, jumping over flowing water and avoiding the occasional crevasse. The sound of the river systems beneath the glacier echoed so loudly it was as if we were standing next to the Niagara Falls.

So it’s Safe Right?

This area of the of the Wapta Icefield is unique because it’s a “dry glacier”. That means that if the conditions are right, there’s no snow hiding the otherwise dangerous cravasses. That means there’s no risk of falling into the glacier never to be seen again. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all though! That’s where the guides come in.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Canadian Rockies Running Adventures invited Ryan and I to come along on their Wapta Icefields Run. “Crossing a glacier? Don’t you need to be roped up for that?” I nervously thought to myself.

Don’t you need to be roped up for that?

Having this kind of glacier adventure without mountaineering experience is nearly impossible for the average runner and adventurer. However, My fears quickly disappeared in knowing that our friends and certified mountain guides James (IFMGA / ACMG MG) and Emily (ACMG AHG) would be leading the way!

Running alongside glacial pond.
The running group approaching the Wapta Icefield next to a glacial pond.

Running to New Heights

We started running lakeside from the edge of the Bow Lake. Bow lake sits along the Icefields Parkway in Banff NP. We ran around the lake and then up a relatively flat trail through the trees behind bow lake. We gradually ascended alongside the flowing melt water from the glacier that we would soon be running on. Leaving bow lake behind us, a beautiful scene down the valley began opening up. I had never experienced so much eco-diversity in such a small area.

Hopping over some rocky terrain, small streams, and tree roots. We reached the famous backcountry hut, Bow Hut. We stopped to have some lunch and take in the gorgeous alpine scenery. After a quick bite of gourmet protein bars, we continued to ascend up to the toe of the glacier beneath St. Nicholas peak. Bright turquoise glacial ponds formed right at the toe of where we would start our “glacier running” adventure. We spiked up and got ready to take on the Wapta Icefield!

Sedona’s Best Running Trails

Runners poses for photo on glacier.
Hailey is all smiles. Ice beneath her feet, and camera on her shoulder.

Glacier Running Across History Frozen in Time

The Icefields along the parkway are dwindling in size each year. The adjacent Columbia Icefield tracks the regression of its’ glaciers with great detail. The regression is shared with the public and shown by placing markers along the moraine with the dates at which the glacier still reached the markers, indicating the glacier’s retreat and the timeline at which it’s retreating.

Two runners running on glacier.
Our glacier running ACMG MG, James, runs ahead to assess the terrain and incoming weather.

The climate crisis can be overwhelmingly large and intangible at times. Spending time near glaciers and on glaciers is the best way I know how to get a “crash course” on our climate and the rate at which our planet is getting warmer.

Glaciers around the world are receding at an alarming rate due to our current climate crisis. It’s sad and sobering, however it’s a fact, and it makes me appreciate our time on the icefield, as it lives and breathes, even more special.

Scrambling Mount Edith in Banff National Park (VIDEO)

Man helps woman cross river.
The warmth of the afternoon sun caused the glacier runoff to engorge the rivers. James helps Hailey safely across to the other side.

How Glacier Running Helped Grow my Comfort Zone

It’s true what they say. When you do something outside of your comfort zone, your comfort zone grows. This glacier running adventure is a low risk opportunity to put that theory to the test. Having professional ACMG guides blazing your trail and upholding an uncompromising ‘duty of care’ ensures your well-being.

Having your safety looked after, you can focus on enjoying a brand new experience. Pushing your personal boundaries and exposing yourself to a brand new experience that might otherwise be unachievable or dangerous. After this glacier running adventure, I have become even more inspired to push my safely boundaries and personal development moving through the mountains. I hope to explore new and exciting terrain that before I thought to be unachievable or out of reach.