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A Sprint to the Bow Summit & Peyto Lake

As a photographer, I felt like I almost knew the Canadian Rockies even before I’d been there for the first time. Banff National Park often features in the “most popular” lists of various photo-based social networks like 500px and Flickr–particularly its lakes.

Swirling Clouds on the Icefields Parkway

The clouds were trying to part as we headed south along the Icefields Parkway.

On our way north through Banff and along the Icefields Parkway, we’d missed most of these lakes because we didn’t think the gloomy weather would do them justice (even though Lake Louise was still quite impressive in the rain). That gave us one more chance to see them as we drove south, and come hell or high water, I wasn’t going to miss them!

Now, it’s said that ‘only fools and tourists try to predict the weather in the Rockies.’ I clearly fell into one of those categories as my parents and I wended our way south through Jasper National park on the Parkway. The weather as we left Jasper was grim– albeit not quite as grim as when we’d left Lake Louise for our drive north almost a week before– and my hopes of getting the shot I wanted of iconic Peyto Lake sank accordingly.

Peyto Lake

The rain clouds that chased us down the Icefields Parkway parted for long enough to see this.

About 10 kms north of the lookout, the clouds that had persistently followed us down the Parkway, giving us only a fleeting few moments of sun at each of the many lookouts along the road, suddenly cleared. Hardly believing my luck, I quickly laced up my hiking boots when we arrived at the (surprisingly not full) parking lot for Peyto Lake at the Bow Summit. The path to the lookout led steeply upwards and trying to run full pelt up it quickly left me gasping for breath–so much so that a few of the people walking ahead of me actually turned around to see where all the noise was coming from.

All the attention I drew to myself was worth it when I got to the top and found one of the most epic views I’d seen in the Canadian Rockies–and one that was fully bathed in sunlight. The lake was an almost otherworldly colour. Even knowing that glacial silt suspended in the water gave it that colour didn’t make the view any less magical–or any less like it had been photoshopped by someone who really liked oversaturated colours.

Peyto Glacier

The Peyto Glacier perched on Wapta Pass.

To the left of the lookout was a view of the source of the lake’s colour–the Peyto Glacier, perched high up in the mountains and glistening white in the sun. This glacier is one of the outflows of the Wapta Icefield, which is a veritable playground for mountaineers and adventurers due to its relative ease of access.

The wooden platform that stands at the Bow Summit is a great viewpoint but even on the day I visited–a day where the parking lot was only half full and had no busses in it–it was quite a squeeze…especially when you factor in the people chasing chipmunks back and forth trying to get a perfect snap of their overstuffed cheeks.

Chipmunk at the Lookout

One of many chipmunks that chose to brave the lookout and the many photographers on it.

That and the fact that I wanted to get a slightly different angle for my photos meant that I followed a number of other visitors in jumping over the back edge of the platform–where there was the least drop–and onto the rocky outcrop below. I got the view and the pictures I wanted from there, as you can see in the photo below. However, if you’re planning on following in my footsteps in this regard, I have a few pieces of advice:

  • If you’re not wearing sturdy footwear or don’t feel completely stable on your feet, don’t go off the path. Now I know it may sound hypocritical for me to talk about being steady on your feet, since I’m the clumsiest person you’ll meet, but it’s true. The gravel is very loose and would happily take you with it if it could!
  • Be courteous. Everyone at the lookout wants to get photos too, and they don’t necessarily have the photoshop skills to remove you when you walk through the middle of their shot. I avoided that by moving to the right in front of some trees that blocked me from view, only stepping out when I got someone to take a photo of me.
From Below the Lookout

The view from below the lookout, with a slightly more prominent foreground and trees.

As I was climbing back onto the lookout, my parents arrived, having taken the walk at a slightly more leisurely pace than I had. No more than a minute later, the pesky clouds moved back over the sun, drastically changing the colour of Peyto Lake below. Talk about perfect timing!

What was something you were really looking forward to on a trip… and did it live up to expectations like Peyto Lake did for me?

Photographer’s note: Morning is the best time of day to photograph the lake. Not only can you see the mountaintops bathed in gold if you get there early enough, but you’ll also get the mountains in full light– unlike these photos, where the mountains are in shadow because the sun had moved too far across the sky.

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