Two years ago I lived one the best experiences of my life when I traveled solo across Canada and visited the Canadian Rockies for the first time. The trip was a turning point for me: I discovered the life-changing power of nature, which is ridiculous coming from Costa Rica, one of the richest countries in biodiversity. I guess sometimes you need to break away from what you know and venture into the unknown, you certainly never know how much it can change you. There, I decided to become a professional landscape photographer and I swore back then that I would come back. Now, two years later and working full time as a landscape photographer, I returned.
Land of Blue
Mountains, forests and lakes, all intertwined in this privileged land of pristine beauty and saturated blues. 10 days of exploration ahead of us and our cameras ready.
My friend Alvaro, renowned Costa Rican wildlife photographer, joined me on this adventure. Our purpose: to capture the landscapes and wildlife of the Canadian Rockies as best as we can. When my photographer friends Katie and Sarah heard that we were going, they also decided to join us for a couple of days. The team was set.
The weather was bipolar and ever changing, typical of June at the Rockies. We experienced lots of rain, overcast landscapes and short nights with little to no stars, the bright moon followed us throughout the trip. But that didn’t stop us.
We visited all the usual but stunning spots: Banff Town, Banff Gondola, Vermilion Lakes, Minnewanka Lake and Loop, Two Jack Lake, Mount Norquay, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Glacier and even further away spots like Athabasca Falls, Marble Canyon, Numa Falls and Kananaskis Country. One day we even went on without eating for more than 13 hours, we were too caught up driving and taking pictures, the beauty of the Rockies had too much power over us.
We spotted and photographed several black bears along the road, but the girls brought us some luck and we were able to see and photograph a mamma black bear “cinnamon”, with her cubs. The cubs played with their mother, with each other and climbed trees, it was an awesome experience. They were definitely a cute family! We were also able to photograph many species like the funny Ground Squirrels, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Elk and Canadian Goose.
Sunrise was at around 5:20 am and sunset at around 9:30pm, so we were pretty much sleep deprived during our entire trip, trying to shoots sunrises, sunsets, or wildlife early in the morning.
We decided Moraine Lake was worth getting up at 3:00am to start the drive up to the lake and arrive in time for sunrise. Thankfully we did, only a few more photographers there, no tourists, and the awe-inspiring, jaw dropping landscape of Moraine and its reflections. The moodiness of the scenery was sublime and we even got a little alpenglow before sunrise. We were happy.
The trip was coming to an end and the girls had to return home, Alvaro and me still had one more location to experience: powerful, untamed Mount Assiniboine. We were going on a camping trip! We are not experienced campers so we were scared of how it would be and we had no idea what to expect from Lake Magog campground. We rented all our camping stuff in Banff and began the drive to Mount Shark, our helicopter ride was waiting for us. We were excited and anxious.
The helicopter ride was absolutely impressive, it’s one thing seeing the Rockies from below but seeing them from above was a whole new experience. We got to the lodge and they pointed the way towards the campground, we had no idea where we were going.
Hiking with a huge rucksack on the back with our clothing, food and camping gear plus our camera backpack and gear on the front, is less than ideal. We felt unbalanced and tired walking the trail to the campground. We finally got to a nice spot and set up camp. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.
After 24 hours of being soaking wet, confined to our tent and cooking shelter, the rain stopped and the clouds dissipated enough so we began exploring the area and doing some hiking. Bear alerts everywhere, so we were walking through the woods somewhat scared and doing all sorts of noises to warn any nearby bear that we were close, bears hate surprises!
The weather finally improved enough and we had a rainless night. So at 2.30am we got out of our tent, and began the hike to Nub Peak. Hiking up in the darkness was surreal and scary. At some point we were almost running. Our bear spray on our hands and the grizzly bear alerts on our minds. We were super cold, extremely tired and scared, but we did it, we climb all the way up to the Nublet, finally a clear view! The stunning views of the lakes and Mount Assiniboine in all its glory. The dramatic sunrise light was nowhere to be found but the scenery was impressive nevertheless. One of the most amazing views I’ve seen in my life so far.
After Assiniboine, the Rockies had one special treat left for us. We drove for 4 hours on our last day in search of wildlife but with no luck. Feeling exhausted we decided to head back to our hotel. But then, a bear sighting! And not just any bear, a mamma grizzly and her cub, just walking along the side of the road in Kananaskis. What a beauty! Stunning creatures with their powerful size, the gorgeous color of their fur and the love they had for each other. We stood there for almost an hour admiring this little family, inside our car of course! The Rockies had done it yet again.
The sheer scale of it all, the pristine beauty, the feeling of accomplishment. I think when achieving a photograph requires us to suffer a little bit and give something of ourselves in order to capture it, that photo becomes far more valuable, holding within itself the feelings we felt when we took it and the overall life experience. This is what I strive for and what I try to accomplish through my work. Not empty beauty, but a visual journal of powerful emotions.
Luis Solano Pochet
Founding Photographer & Director
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
– John Muir
Until the next adventure!
This post is dedicated to Álvaro, Katie and Sarah. Life brought us together in the most random ways, but our shared passion for photography joined us, chasing epic landscapes and now epic wildlife 🙂 Here’s to future travels!
Check out their stunning work: