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The Icefields of Canada

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Weather it is Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe or anywhere else, I’m sure most of us have a particular few places or even one that we believe to be the most beautiful. For me, while I have seen all the above and many other places and they are magnificent, very few are as beautiful as that of the Icefields of Canada. The first time I heard of the Icefields, I had this vague image in my head of somewhere rugged in a faraway land like Siberia or Mount Everest. I also knew at the same instant that it would be a place I would have to see for myself and that I would be adding to list of places to visit in Canada.

To give a very clear picture of what the place is really like, situated between Jasper, British Columbia and Banff, Alberta, the Icefields are a portion of the Rocky Mountains you can drive through that also includes the tallest peak in the range, Mount Robson, at 14,000 feet tall. Here, glaciers cap the jagged peaks and plateus can be seen year around and even walked upon, such as the Columbia Glacier. There are also numerous waterfalls, glacial lakes and scenic hikes. It can be said that the general impression of Canada’s beauty is that the further north you go, the more rugged and intense it becomes, the awe inspiring scenes ever increasing. Coming from the farmland and fields of California, this is particularly true for myself and the Icefields to me are the absolute best embodiment of that impression. However, with the peak of the tourist season falling between spring and summer, most of the people that visit the ice fields are only lucky enough to see the Icefields in their most tame form, absent of the snow and chill that comes along with winter.

My most recent trip to the Icefields was in early October. On my way up, the weather had called for overcast skies and weather in the 40’s. My plan had been to drive across in two day’s time and arrive in Banff the following morning after the second day. Due to a last minute change in my schedule though, I ended up spending an extra day in Jasper and at the same time, the weather too also changed, the forecast coming to call for the first real snowstorm of winter. While most people would’ve decided to skip making the trip across the Icefields and that the weather just wasn’t for them, I went on anyway. The end result, along with me adding an extra day along the way, was that most of my first day played out with fair weather in the 40s before the snow started to fall and continued to do so intensely through the second day before breaking on the third.

In that whole 72 hour sequence I was able to see so many different views and sides of the Icefields, from the quaint, tame facade most people experience in the summer and spring to the intense and frigid rendition of winter and late fall that far fewer are able to see in person. Those three days were also where some of my best photos from the whole trip I was taking to Canada in that time came from. While I slipped and fell on my ass on the snow more times I could count, struggled to stay even remotely warm against the cold, and had to face so many challenges driving across from Jasper to Banff, the beauty I saw that produced those aforementioned photos made it all worth it. I also came to understand that with extreme the weather becomes that this rare side of Icefields most people do not get to see was a rarity of an experience that I may not ever see again in my life either.

Of all the places I saw on the Icefields and all the grand moments I had, my favorite came in the later of evening of my third day in the fading light of sunset. On an ice plateu of a little known lake, I stood and watched as the sun setting behind the towering peaks set fire to the horizon line in a glow of purple. Then, as the purple glow began to fade and the sun set fully, the moon began to make its only rise only minutes later and its lunar glow mixed with the purple glow that remained to create a twilight I had never seen before in my life.

Out there in that quiet and peace, the serenity of the moment was absolute magic and it highlighted to me the benefit and importance of determination and perseverance. If I had just given up and decided not to cross the Icefields like others, I would’ve missed that moment. If I had decided the cold was too intense and the weather just not worth the effort, it would’ve have passed without me knowing just like so many other great moments I had along the way on my crossing. Really, it’s only in the past tense after we’ve done something that we are able to look back and understand what happened and what we did. Most of the time when we decide not to do anything for any number of reasons, it’s very hard if not impossible to know you end up missing out on as well, you simply didn’t do it. That is why, if you really believe in whatever it is you’re doing or what you’re interested in, I am a huge advocate of not giving up, quitting. Whenever you decide to quit, what could be becomes never at all and or worse, if you find in some fashion what you missed about it or you just come think about it anyway, it all becomes just what could’ve been.

With photography like in life, anything truly spectacular is hard to achieve and is going to require a lot of effort of your part. Specifically with photography that means getting up before the sun rises, staying up long after it has passed, shooting in any elements and weather that are present, being faced with the reality that whatever you are shooting or planning to do may simply may not pan out, typically spending may days out in far flung places and trying again and again when things do not go as planned. In all these aspects, determination and persistence underpin them all. Before that last afternoon on the Icefields, I wasn’t really aware of just how important or how much of a cornerstone they were to myself and what I do. But since then, I’ve become very much more aware and now I can’t help but share their importance with others, as I am here in the tail end of this blog post.

Persistence and determination, these two very simple facets can make or break so many possibilities and probabilities. I believe the majority of us have these qualities ingrained in our character to some degree, but it is so easy to stray from them and forget about them. Regardless, there will inevitably be many moments in life where the absence or degree of them involved can have quite the impact and effect. I now have them sewn onto the insides of my camera bags and as stickers on my equipment cases. As well, I have begun to try to lead the rest of my life with these two facets as reoccurring themes in all I decide to do. No matter where you are or what you do, I think it can be said without any real debate that living a life cornerstoned by persistence and determination is one that will come to bare many positives and benefits as a result.

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