Backpacking the Iceline Trail, Whaleback, and Little yoho Valley

The Iceline Trail, Whaleback, and Yoho Valley trails make for a great two-four day backpacking circuit in Yoho National Park. Beginning at Takakkaw Falls, we headed up  Yoho Valley. The first of many sights along the trail is Laughing Falls. There’s a backcountry campground here if you wish to explore the area more before you continue. Seeing as it’s only about 3.5 kilometres from the trail head, we continued on.

We trekked up towards Whaleback after stopping at a few more waterfalls. Once we gained more elevation and climbed up the Whaleback, we enjoyed the view of Yoho Valley where we came from, as well as the view to where we would be going the following day, Little Yoho Valley and the Iceline trail. The Whaleback trail descends into the neighbouring valley where we would camp until the next morning. 

With an early start, we left camp at Little Yoho Campground just before sunrise in hopes of having a nice sunrise from the top of the Iceline trail. 

The hike from Little Yoho campground ascends fairly quickly out of the trees and into the rugged alpine. The alpine reveals a number of nearby glaciers and glacial lagoons immediately next to the trail. The trail continues alongside these ancient glaciers for about 7 kilometres before descending down into the valley below. The valley eventually spits you out just east of Takakkaw falls.

Photos and words by Ryan Richardson    

                                       

Backpacking Limestone Lakes in Height of the Rockies

Limestone lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial park is without a doubt one of the most incredible backcountry venues I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.

Limestone lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial park is without a doubt one of the most incredible backcountry venues I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. It’s remote and difficult to get to location also keeps the flocks of tourist and backcountry users at bay. For good reason, route finding and proficient gps experience is required. Moreover, it’s prime grizzly country. I experienced my worst bear encounter on this trip.

On day one we followed a trail about 10km to our first cowboy camp. The trail runs parallel along the adjacent river most of the way up the valley. Then second day we ascended above the tree line. There’s an option to navigate around a large ridge line, but w-e opted to gain the ridge and then loose elevation on the other side. We thought the views might be worth it, and we were rewarded for our optimism.

After a full second day of bushwhacking and navigating limestone cliffs, we finally arrived at the stunning lookout above Limestone Lakes.

We spent another two nights at Limestone Lakes. The extra time and lighter packs afforded us the opportunity to explore the area a little more. We spend much of the third day swimming in the lake and enjoying the sun. We lucked out with weather, there was hardly a cloud in the sky the entire trip. The fourth day we hiked back out of the alpine lakes area and descended back into the valley below. We opted to go around the ridge climb, saving our legs for the 25km trek back to our vehicle.

Photos and words by Ryan Richardson.

Michelle Lakes via Owen Creek to Pinto lake Backpacking adventure

There are few hidden gems in the Canadian Rockies yet to be discovered by many. Michelle Lakes is one of those gems.

There are few hidden gems in the Canadian Rockies yet to be discovered by many. Michelle Lakes is one of those gems. Upper Michelle lakes is only 11 or so km from the trailhead on the David Thompson highway in Clearwater County. The Michelle Lakes trail via Owen Creek is also part of the Great Divide Trail (GDT) which is a 1,130 km trail that essentially runs the length of the Canadian Rockies north to south, following roughly the continental divide.

The 50 km section of trail we tackled on this trip began at the Owen Creak trail head through Michelle Lakes, Pinto Lake, and ending at Norman creek Trailhead along the Icefields Parkway (highway 93n).

The elevation gained climbing towards Michelle Lakes is the highest point of the entire 1,130 km GDT. The altitude and it’s proximity to neighbouring icefields along the Icefields Parkway – not to mention Wilson glacier – makes for a really small hiking season here. Our camp fell to nearly -10 degrees the first night. We woke up to frozen puddles around our tents.

Michelle Lakes boats one of the most magnificent backcountry venues I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. Our small group of five were the only hikers there that night. We climbed over the unnamed pass the next morning and headed into the next valley before ascending and descending the next pass leading to Pinto Lake.

The hiking from Michelle Lakes to Pinto lake is all world class. Climbing up unnamed passes and in the shadow of some of the biggest mountains in the Canadian Rockies. We set camp at Pinto Lake for the night before eventually making our way out towards the Icefields Parkway where we had arranged a pickup.

There is another way to approach Michelle Lakes. The alternative route is a more gradual climb and apparently just as scenic. I’ll definitely be returning to Michelle Lakes again next summer and when I do, I’ll try it from the other valley over.

– Photos and words by Ryan Richardson

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.

Is Travel Photography dead? What I’m Doing About It

International travel is partially reopened. Depending on where you travel from and where you travel to, you probably have to quarantine when you arrive at your destination, as well as when you arrive home. 28 days of being stuck indoors is probably not an option for most travel photographers like me. So where does that leave us if this the new temporary normal?

Doubling down locally

This is probably a no brainer. However, there’s a good chance that before 2020, travel photographer were probably getting paid by companies of all kinds to fly into your hometown and photograph your stomping grounds. Why should a local business go through all the trouble of paying for flights, accommodations, food allowance, car rentals etc. when they could hire a local photographer?

Of course, if you’re used to excitement of world travel and epic destinations, this might sound like a drag. But one day, you might be happy you grew your local client community. Just imagine if you already had half of your business from local vendors rather than all of your business all over the world. You’d probably be pretty thankful!

The industry will change for a long time, maybe forever

Read that again. Things are different now. I do think that vendors all around the world will rebound and need media assets once again. I just think it’s going to manifest a lot differently than before.

Is that really such a bad thing though? I think most travel photographers are guilty of not having explored their own backyards enough. We’re always thinking of the next great destination. The next unbelievable travel experience. What if you didn’t really have to travel all the way to Asia, or Europe, or the Middle East to have life changing experiences?

How much time have you really invested in your own country? You can maximize this and see it as an opportunity to re-imagine what’s possible in your own nation. Ultimately, one day the boarders will open up, quarantines will be a distant bad memory. You’ll be able to enjoy a new country, but will you look back and be proud of how you pivoted? Will you be content with your creative efforts to try new things and overcome adversity?

I know I might not do everything right. And so far I’ve fallen on my face a lot this year. I know I’ll look back and know that I’ve tried and exhausted every last creative idea I had .

It might be time for that career switch after all

If you’ve been stuck in the travel bubble for a while now, what do you think about your lifestyle after being forced to slow down and be in one space for a while? Is traveling all the time really as great as you thought it would be? Or is the change of pace a blessing in disguise?

Travel photographers are some of the hardest working people I’ve met. We almost never sleep, and navigating airports and strange cities where no one speaks your language can really take a toll on you when you’re simply trying to do your job.

Perhaps there’s other avenues of commercial photography that you’ve never explored that you may find just as rewarding, if not more. Maybe there’s a way to better balance travel and work while still making a livable wage without all of the chaos of constantly being on the road.

You may be reading this and already know that you prefer the fast pace, high stress, quick turn-around lifestyle. That’s totally cool! Me too. I’m just learning that I also enjoy it from the comfort of my home occasionally as well.

Sometimes surviving is winning

Let’s face it. Unless you’re already a billionaire, you’re probably not getting rich this year. The thing is, if you can survive this time and be ready to pounce on opportunities once they eventually present themselves, you’ll be way ahead of the competition. A lot of people are going to be forced to tap out. If you can just survive this period of time, refine your skills, strengthen your ability to be patient, you’ll win in the long run.

This is where I think a lot of travel photographers will do well. Generally speaking, our overhead is very low. We travel too often to have an office. We likely don’t have many employees – I contract much of my work. We’re also extremely adaptable. It’s the nature of the job to thrive in uncertainty.

It’s time to dust off those old hard-drives and let you old photos make money for you

If you haven’t already invested some time into growing your stock photography library, now is probably the best time in your career. Instead of having tens of thousands of old photos sit on your hard-drives where they aren’t doing anything for your bottom line, it’s time to put them to work.

The pain with stock photography is that it takes a lot of time. Once you get to the point where you’re basically just adding shoot by shoot, it’s fairly low maintenance. The initial setup of going through your old images and selecting photos through thousands and thousands files can be time consuming. I can’t think of a better time.

My stock sales have increased about 50% since March. It’s still hit and miss but I believe stock photo sales will increase greatly by the end of this year and leading into next summer. There’s a really good chance a lot of people will be relying on stock photos to write blogs and post filler content on their pages. You don’t want to miss out on a huge potential surge of stock sales, you’ve already done the hard work of creating the photos. Now you just need to post them for sale!

Outdoor recreation is larger now than ever

People have been thriving outside. The mountains near my home have been busier this year than any other summer I can remember. People are just happy to be outside and exploring new trails and engaging with their friends in a safe environment where viruses are unlikely to spread effectively. That means there’s more new photographers than ever heading into the outdoors.

Are you taking advantage of creating helpful articles, creating courses, teaching? These new photographers are going to need to learn from somebody somewhere. Why not you? If you think you have a lot of experience and wisdom to share, why not invest some time into helping the emerging younger community grow in this time as well. It’s not just good karma, it’s good business karma.

One day you might be hiring a new assistant, or contracting more jobs, maybe you’ll be selling a new course bundle. You’ll benefit from investing into your community if you are intentional about it. Someone might even thank you!

Social media

I personally don’t like social media. It can be a huge time suck and it’s clearly awful for mental health. That’s why I spend most of my time of this blog instead of scrolling on social media. That said, it is a powerful tool. It’s a huge lead generator for a lot of people and businesses. Chances are if you’re a travel photographer, you probably have a pretty good handle on how to use social media.

A lot of companies are looking for social media managers and people who can help get organic engagement. I have had many existing photography clients happy to have me manage and grow their social accounts such as Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ve spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of those platforms for my own business. Why not help grow someone else’s business? The benefit of course is that it’s all completely remote.

Have a little faith

At the end of the day, things have to get better. Some resemblance of normality has to eventually work its’ way back into our lives someday. You can either choose to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and plan for it. Or you can succumb to the overwhelming darkness and just give up. The choice is obvious. Have a little faith, choose to believe things will be alright, the just might be.

This Camera Bag is a Chameleon Adapting to All My Adventures

This shapeshifting camera backpack can adapt to almost every adventure, no matter what I’m shooting or where.

I’m not much of a gear head. Some people love talking about gear. That’s totally fine it’s just not usually a huge talking point for me. Here’s why.

If I’m fixated on the gear I’m using and the equipment I do or don’t have with me, I’m probably not as focussed as I should be on creating. Thats why, for me, the perfect piece of gear is something you don’t have to think about at all. Something that adapts to you, your adventures, and your environment.

I’ve had the F-Stop Ajna 40L Camera Bag for about 7 months now. In the Rockies, that’s all 4 seasons ha! I’ve used it as my primary camera bag in a variety of settings. From glaciers in the dead of winter, to valleys in the middle of summer. I’ve used the Ajna camera bag on photo commissions, and video commissions.

My loadout is always changing from shoot to shoot. Depending on the primary goal, the trip type, the weather, the season, etc. I can think of almost no scenario where the Ajna wouldn’t thrive.

What’s in the Bag?

Camera Equipment

On a typical photo/video shoot I usually have two full frame camera bodies, a 35mm 2.8 prime. A 24-70 f2.8, a wide angle f4. Mavic 2 Pro. Ten spare batteries. A spare mavic battery. Two GoPros. a Rode shotgun mic. A Rode LAV set, and miscellaneous camera accessories like tape, cleaning supplies, microfibre cloths.

Outdoor Equiptment

On any given shoot, I will always carry a lightweight Gore-tex rain shell, and a down puffy. Weather is unpredictable and a rain jacket and insulation might be the only thing keeping you alive in an emergency.

I also always have lightweight gloves, two buffs, and a light wool touque. This might vary depending on the location or season. However I always include this when I’m home in the Rockies. It can be 30 degrees in the valley and 0 degrees on the mountain.

10 Tips For Shooting Into The Sun For Dramatic Images

In addition to that, I also have a first aid kit with essentials. Emergency gear repair kit. A small foam seat-pad (luxury among mountain people). Snacks or meals depending on my expected time out. 2-4L of water. As well as a map, compass, and emergency communications device.

Variations

Variations to this, or add-ons might include helmets, rope, a tent, hiking poles etc. This all really depends on the specific kind of shoot, and what I’m shooting.

What’s great about the Ajna camera bag is that I don’t have to have one bag just for climbing, another bag for snowshoeing, another one for backpacking, I can just change the way I load the straps gear straps and the bag just adapts to whatever it is I’m doing.

Limitations

The only limitations I can imagine for the Ajna – yet haven’t personally experienced – is the load capacity for multi-day winter objectives like ski-mountaineering, winter backpacking trips, or anything involving the need to carry winter camping equipment and winter layers.

In my experience, I wouldn’t ever be able to have all of my camera equipment and all of the extra insulation and camping gear fit into 40L. I would probably need something closer to 80L (mind you, I would only use about 70L of 80L – I prefer to have extra room for ease of access).

Visit my gallery to purchase prints and help support this blog

Photos and words by Ryan Richardson.

Life Outside Podcast: Jonas Beyer Wildlife Photographer

Today we chatting with wildlife photographer Jonas Beyer. I first met Jonas in 2018 in Northern Norway where we went free diving with orca and humpback whales. His approach to guiding and sensitivity towards wildlife was really special. I really admired Jonas’ awareness of the animal’s well-being. His sensitivity towards animals make his stunning images that much more impressive. Today we’re going to talk about what it’s like living in Greenland and what it takes to get some of those images.

Jonas Beyer is a wildlife photographer living in eastern Greenland. Regularly exploring his polar backyard where he photographs rarely seen arctic wildlife and shares his experiences online through social media. Jonas’ work has been featured in National Geographic and his respectful and gentle approach for photographing wildlife has earned him the opportunity to take clients on photography trips from around the world.

I first met Jonas in 2018 in Northern Norway where we experienced free diving with orca and humpback whales together. His approach to guiding and his sensitivity towards wildlife really made an impression on me. I really admired Jonas’ awareness of the animal’s well-being. They make his incredible photos that much more impressive!

How do you manage to work and explore during the polar night while living in the arctic over winter?

I wake up early, get to the gym for a workout. We work about 5 days a week, when the weekend comes around I try to get outside. During the polar nights, the stars and the moonlight, and snow is incredible. I still get out and go hiking a little bit, and just getting fresh air.

What’s it like exploring Greenland alone, aren’t you worried about the wildlife and Polar Bears?

Polar bears are definitely out there, and there is always a concern. However, it’s actually the musk ox I’m a little more worried about. The musk ox can actually be very territorial. I can usually tell if a polar bear will be a problem or not. If the bears are running away, that’s a good indicator they’re afraid of humans. If they’re too curios, if they haven’t run away, it’s probably too curious for me to be around them.

Tell me about Uganda, what’s special about Uganda?

The funny thing about me and planning those trips is, it’s never about the country, it’s about the animals. It’s the animals that make me want to go. I really wanted to see the silver back gorillas.

The gorillas are just so – I don’t know what it is about them. They’re so fascinating and so strong, and so… human-like. The way they sit down and use their fingers and peel back the sticks. They even roll their eyes the way people do.

What lights the fire in you and makes you light up when you’re shooting these animals, what is it about these particular animals?

I’m a total newbie in these environments, I’m an easy target for these animals. However, to have them accept me and let them take their photos and share those experiences, it’s definitely the biggest reason.

Even just the little hares in Greenland can just be so cute, and funny looking and fight with other rabbits. It seems so stupid, but when I get the photo I’m so excited.

When it comes to wildlife photography, not everyone puts the animals first. Some people can be really irresponsible. What is the best way to protect the animal’s interests?

Education and word of mouth is important. When I have my clients out on the water, I’ll teach them about the animals and why we approach the wildlife the way that we do.

Unfortunately not every tour operator does this. There are also some regulations and by-laws which help enforce these rules. I’m sure the government will continue to add more rules and regulations.

How do you find responsible tour guides or operators?

My first time out to Norway, I did a scouting trip to explore some of the operators and some of my touring options. A lot of them were great, but none of them were offering exactly what I was looking for.

Tourism is a big way to make money, but I would rather pay a little bit extra and have operators more focussed on the animals and respecting nature. I think it’s just a lot of research, what kind of photos they post on their webpage.

Word of mouth is also great. Having someone refer you to another friend when they know you’ll get along with the guide. You should definitely chat with operators and simply ask how they respect the approach of these animals.

What’s your setup like typically?

I normally buy a lot of extra luggage. Norway is really expensive because I have 5 luggages full of underwater gear, swimming gear, regular clothing, camera equipment.

I have three underwater housing units. I usually have a wide-angle on and ready to shoot. I have a zoom on a 1DX III on another camera in another house. I also use a Canon EOSR mirrorless for vloging and behind the scenes. I’ve been uploading to youtube for fun, it’s fun bring a few people on these journey’s with me.

I’ve also started using organizer bags with transparent lids for my camera bag. That’s helped me keep everything organized and easy to find when I’m searching for particular loose items in my camera bag like a GoPro clip or battery.

Peak Design just made a new travel tripod that’s also a game changer.

What’s one piece of advice you might share to an upcoming wildlife photographer?

Don’t be in a rush to take those great animal photos. Have a lot of patience, learn the in and outs of your camera and and the buttons. Go focus on one specific thing and get good at that. It’s easy to get distracted on Instagram.

Just do it, go out and shoot and get comfortable with your camera. If something really crazy happens in front of you and you’re not hitting the right buttons and miss the shot, it’s so frustrating. Know your buttons.

You can see Jonas Beyer’s work on Instagram, and his behind the scenes videos on his youtube.