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Lost and Found in the Canadian Rockies

I am chest-deep in a mountain of snow. On my back, a pack full of heavy camera gear. I can’t move. The temperature is below zero. My hands and feet are numb. Every attempt at climbing out gives way and my body is pulled lower into the freezing snow. I’m stuck, cold, and completely alone in a remote area of the Canadian Rockies.

Canadian Rockies

I remove my backpack, but I still can’t get up. I jab my tripod into the snow, but its legs keep sinking. I have to get over this hill to get back to my car, but everything I try is only making my predicament worse. My heart is beating faster, and I’m growing more anxious and scared by the second.

This happened to me during a recent week-long photography trip to the Canadian Rockies. Normally a tourist mecca in summer, when tens of thousands of visitors from around the world come to enjoy Alberta’s mild temperatures, miles of hiking trails, and turquoise-colored lakes, winter is a completely different experience.

Lakes and rivers are frozen. Campgrounds are closed. Roads are icy and nearly empty. Most people are skiing and staying warm in fancy hotels around Banff and Lake Louise, not stuck in the snow in a remote area like I was on this hapless day in January.

Eventually, and thankfully, I clawed my way out. I hiked back to my Jeep, climbed inside, leaned my tired forehead against the steering wheel, and placed my red, cold hands against the warm air vents.

I didn’t take a single photo.

Canadian Rockies Winter
Cold blue mountains

How did I manage to get myself into this mess? What made me think hiking through that area would be okay? Why am I even here?

To take photos? Really?

Aren’t there enough beautiful landscape photos in the world? Who cares about mine? I could be doing anything else right now, and yet here I am freezing, hungry, and tired without a single thing to show for it? Why?

I tried to remind myself that landscape photography is about patience, determination, and most importantly, faith. Faith that something incredible might be just over the next hill, my next photo might be my best, or if I wait just a little longer, the sun might hit the clouds and light up the sky.

Canadian Rockies Winter

But it’s also more than “getting the shot”. Landscape photography is about being present and connected with the environment. Quiet moments in which I’m acutely aware of light and sound. Feelings of being immeasurably small and inconsequential against the long arc of time. The satisfaction of finding a great composition, picking just the right lens, dialing-in the perfect exposure, and hearing the sound of the shutter click.

Thousands or even millions of photos may already exist from the exact spot I’m standing in, but it doesn’t matter. The value isn’t in the photo, how many likes it receives on Instagram, or how popular this story is.

Landscape photography is how I push myself to create, pursue new experiences, and purposefully place myself in unfamiliar environments. Don’t avoid failure and discomfort — embrace it — even it means plunging myself into a mountain of snow and struggling to escape when I could have easily stayed home.

The morning after my unfortunate arctic mishap, I again woke up at 4am, raided the hotel breakfast bar to gather food for the day, and drove off to give it another try.