The Moraine Lake Challenge

July 25th, 2021

First of all, the people that we met up with on this trip will be mentioned below! Now, on to the post!

This day, was a planned shoot. We had decided to cross this off my girlfriend's Bucket List. A sunrise photo opportunity at Moraine Lake. She had never seen it in the daytime and had only been once before. That was with me back in October 2020, when it was a Full Moon. Which we should have planned for but didn't. The full moon illuminated the entire place to the point we really didn't even need lights. It made it very challenging to photograph due to the harsh shadows at even a 30-second exposure and bright moon. Probably the highest dynamic range photos I've ever taken.

Lesson learned.

This time, however, we planned to go on the New Moon. We packed our gear up, with a sleeping bag for my son for when he got tired of following us around on the Rockpile at Moraine.

As we drove out to Moraine Lake, we were driving past Canmore and noticed some lightning off in the distance. We talked about it and really hoped it didn't rain on our parade, pun fully intended. As we got closer, we were seeing more and more lightning. I was checking the radar on my phone to see where the storms were. There was one by Golden, and one by Field. They were close...

For those that don't know, Moraine Lake is just south of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Honestly, in my humble opinion, it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Nestled in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, you arrive coming south on the road from Lake Louise. It's a steep, winding road. Not much room on the two-lane road with the occasional pull-out for hikers and bikers to park on. But other than that, there's no shoulder and if you're headed back from Moraine Lake to Lake Louise, you're on the outside of this narrow, winding road. It's a lot of fun to drive, in my opinion. When you arrive, you'll enter the small parking lot. Drive to the end and the Moraine Lake Lodge is on your right (west) side. Here, in this parking lot, you'll catch a glimpse of Moraine Lake. But you won't be able to see the full beauty of it until you climb the Rockpile. You'll drive around a 180-degree corner and there will be more parking. If you don't arrive early, there will be no parking for you. In fact, the attendant at the turnoff for Moraine Lake will likely direct you to the overflow parking, where you'll need to park and either take one of the shuttles up the road or hike it. The parking lot at the lodge is typically full by 5 am or 6 am. After that, good luck.

We decided to chance it anyway. I mean, we were already almost 3 hours from home. So, why not? We got to Moraine Lake about 11:30 pm or so and headed straight up the Rockpile. We were still adjusting to the darkness and couldn't see if there were any clouds close by, but we brought jackets that would help keep us dry and rain gear for our camera bags. Boy, I hope we didn't get rained out when we were climbing around on the Rock Pile. That would have made things fairly slippery, and it's already a slightly daunting task climbing around on there at night, in the darkness, with just a headlamp.

We proceeded to head up Rockpile. Still seeing the flashes of lightning West of Effiel Peak. Which is West of Moraine Lake. We still weren't seeing the direct flashes, but we were seeing the light from them that bounces off the clouds. We hiked up the very short but steep trail to the top of the Rockpile. Then found a spot to climb over. Found a fellow photographer who happened to know my friends that were due to arrive later that night, so it was nice to catch up to someone close to our group of friends. Turns out I already followed him on Instagram as well. We had a good conversation with Dylon then decided to pick our way farther down the Rockpile, out of the way of the trees to see the entire Lake all at once. We were having some issues finding a spot when Dylon shouted over to us that there was a spot below him that we could check out. Turns out it was perfect! We set up shop there. Just below him on the SW corner of the Rockpile.

Things were looking good. Our vision had adjusted and we realized that there were no clouds or almost no clouds in the sky above us. The lightning had also stopped to the West of us. We later found out it had skirted us to the north. Now, facing south we had the glorious Milky Way to watch all night. Justin and Adam showed up later that night and decided to shoot with us. Now, Justin is the guy that made my Milky Way shots possible as he's the one that taught me how to take night photos over the last 2 years. I've also met Adam through Justin on one of our storm chases!

A timelapse of that Milky Way above.

I got it! I got the Milky Way over Moraine Lake on an absolutely gorgeous night! BUT. That's not what we were there for! We were there to check something off my girlfriend's Bucket List. Sunrise at Moraine Lake!

So? What next? Well, we maneuvered into our own positions to capture the sunrise. She moved slightly to the west. I moved further down The Rockpile, closer to the water. And we waited. We took pictures and we waited. And more pictures. And more waiting. I scoured up The Rockpile a couple of times to chat and see what she was getting, but other than that, we just waited. Sunrise was officially at 5:42 am. But, because of the mountains in the way, we would have to wait until after 6:00 am to see it ourselves. We were discussing how awesome it was that there weren't any clouds for the Milky Way. Unfortunately, that's not what we were hoping for when sunrise came along. We wanted just some nice, thin clouds that could show a little colour with the mountains. Not that we would be disappointed if they didn't show, but it would have been nice. This was our view at 5:44 am. A quick cell phone panorama.

Not really anything to write home about, now was it? 2 or 3 thin, wispy clouds that we could barely see. Pretty much the most we saw almost all night. But we were still anxious for the sun to hit those mountains right around 6:00 am. Without paying too much attention to the sky at this point, I turned my attention to the changing colours and the sun rising and just set my camera and basically forgot it and enjoyed the sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise. Fantastic, even. Then I looked up and noticed something... In the 15 or so minutes that I was watching, some clouds had very quickly rolled in. Gravity waves, which are a really cool phenomenon where waves of moisture creating clouds are moving through a stable layer of the atmosphere. They completed our trip! The photos look amazing and we couldn't have planned it better!

If you're ever looking to go up to Moraine Lake, you won't be disappointed. I've never walked away disappointed from there. Not once. Been many times and every time something looks different and it's always awe-inspiring. Enjoy the rest of my photos from there below.

- Brad

People we met up with.