In the Clouds 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 320
It was mid-July when I arrived in the province of Alberta, my first time to this part of Canada. But my adventure began weeks earlier, as I started scouring the internet for information on places to see, reading various blogs and looking through countless photographs. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the sheer number of scenic locations. While compiling a list of favourites, with maps of potential drives and walking routes, a quaint spot near the town of Canmore stood out to me. It promised to offer a magnificent view of the Three Sisters peaks and their mirror-like reflection in a small creek. Based on the lack of information on its whereabouts online, I figured this location was not well known among non-locals. After a thorough search, I finally managed to narrow it down and identify the approximate route leading to the little creek in question.
Finally, now in the town of Canmore, one late afternoon I embarked on a scouting mission to get familiar with the location, with plans to eventually photograph it at sunrise. I parked the car on a gravel patch just off the main road, sent a couple people a text with my current location, grabbed my gear and was on my way. As the walk would take me slightly out of town and through the forest, I ensured to pick up some bear spray, which I had clipped onto my belt. After crossing under a set of train tracks, I proceeded down a dried up river bed. It began as a wide and rocky trail, eventually narrowing and taking me through the forest. Surrounded by thick bush and evergreens, I continued on the trail as it meandered through the woods. Soon I saw light and a glimmer of water through the trees ahead.
As I stepped out of the forest, I found myself on the shore of a small creek. It was completely quiet, save for the sound of birds and the slowly moving water. I was standing on a small patch of ground on the edge of the water, with tall growth and forest surrounding it's shores. It was beautiful, but it did not quite appear to be the place I was looking for. The three peaks were to my left and mostly hidden behind tall evergreens. I started mentally retracing my steps, wondering if I had taken the wrong turn somewhere. Pulling out my phone, now showing low signal, I was able to access my GPS location, which showed me in the midst of forest, next to a pool of water. Small streams branched out from it, with the larger Bow River somewhere up ahead. I came to the conclusion that I haven't quite reached my destination, and started searching for possible paths further south, through the woods towards the river. As I gazed around, I noticed a narrow muddy path through some of the dense growth on the far side of the creek. Seemed odd that the path somehow started right at the edge of the water but I figured the water levels must have been higher than usual at this time - it was summer after all and it had rained over the last few days. The only way to my destination seemed to be straight across the creek and down the muddy path. Not ideal of course but I was determined to make it to the incredible lookout point I had read about and envisioned. I took off my shoes, stuffed my socks inside and stepped into the creek. The water was ice cold. Thankfully, it was shallow enough and the walk was short - I was across in less than a minute. Without hesitation, I started down the narrow path, leading straight into thick bush.
It wasn't long before the path ended abruptly at a stream. This one was flowing fast and was noticeably deeper than the creek I crossed to get here. Something didn't feel quite right at this point. I looked back. The creek I left behind was nowhere to be seen, only the path I followed here from its shore, leading back into dense greenery. I began to be slightly worried. But my determination and likely some degree of "continuation bias" swiftly took hold. What I'm referring to, by the way, is the cognitive bias to continue with the original plan despite changing conditions and growing evidence that you should reconsider - a dangerous thing in all kids of situations - something to be well aware of.
I proceeded to cross the stream. The water was just above my knees, flowing fast enough that it was hard to keep balance. I walked as quickly as I could through the ice cold water. Reaching the other side, I realized I was no longer in a place that looked like it had been traversed by humans. The dense bush now surrounded me entirely, with no sign whatsoever of a trail. I spotted a break in the growth and started in that direction, quickly reversing course after stumbling into larger trees. I paused to look around and listen. The glimpse of mountain peaks I had seen earlier was lost, as was my original path here. Sounds of flowing water were now coming simultaneously from two or three directions. I felt my body heat up as I was suddenly hit by a wave of panic - I was lost.
Perhaps another day I will return to look for this elusive spot, I thought, but now I needed to get myself back to where I started, as soon as possible. Knowing that I was presently in bear country, and alone, did nothing to calm my nerves and help me focus on getting out of here. Having completely lost my bearings now, I rushed back in the direction I came from, through the first break I could locate in the dense growth around me. Within minutes, I hit another stream - different than the one I crossed to get here. Hearing the sound of human voices somewhere far ahead, I pressed on. The now familiar and dreadful ice cold water rushed by my legs, splashing up to my shorts and camera gear as I pushed my way through towards the not-so-distant shore. After a few steps, slipping and nearly losing my balance, I was on the other side. Thankful for a brief moment to be back on solid ground, I looked back to see what was now behind me. The peaks of the Three Sisters were sitting tall above a sea of pines, on a canvas of blue sky, large fluffy clouds surrounding them. It was an incredible sight. For a brief moment, my somewhat dire situation faded from my mind and I threw my bag on the ground to pull out the camera and capture this pristine landscape.
The Elusive Peaks 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 320
After snapping a few shots, satisfied that I wouldn't return home with nothing, I hurried to pack up and continue searching for my way back - I had to be close now. Pushing my way through the greenery, toward the sounds of human voices, I eventually reached a sandy opening on the edge of what appeared to be the original creek I had first crossed. I yelled out to a woman I could now see standing across from it, who looked bewildered after seeing me come barefoot out of the thick grass. She motioned me towards her. Again, I stepped into the water. It was cold but calm. I practically ran across, with an enormous sense of relief pouring over me as I stepped onto the muddy shore, greeted by the lady, who had a camera in hand. Before I could ask what she was photographing, I turned around towards the creek, following the gaze of her camera. In front of me was the landscape I came looking for...
With sunset now only an hour away, but knowing I was within short walking distance of the car, I took a deep breath, set up my tripod, and enjoyed the incredible view.
The Reflection 8 sec, f/10, ISO 100