The Voyage to Spirit Island pt. 2.

Engulfed in nearly complete darkness, I lifted the canoe onto the shore to simply drain it out with the internal plea that this wouldn't be foreshadowing to how the trip would go. Somewhat miffed about the sandy, wet seats, we uncomfortably got situated and kicked off from shore to begin paddling toward Spirit Island.

Overall the canoe ride was quite peaceful. We slowly zig-zagged our way along the perfectly calm water in hopes of not tipping over with our cameras. Since I was in the back, I had the responsibility of steering and all I could do to navigate was keep the faintly lit mountains to our right and left in those general directions. It was probably an hour or two into our ride when we started to notice flashes of light above us. We knew there was a chance for a storm in Jasper but after looking at a few sources we concluded it wouldn’t hit us. Another peculiar characteristic of this lighting is that it was silent and seemingly launching from cloud to cloud rather than towards earth. The flashes would momentarily illuminate our desired path but really just created a more eerie ambience. Total silence, complete darkness, motionless water, and aimless navigation all contributed to the sensory deprivation that could have calmed us to sleep if it weren’t for our monotonous paddling.

We eventually arrived at where we thought Spirit Island should be but really had no idea due to the lack of photons. Partially relieved and entirely exhausted we realized about 1.5 hours remained before sunrise. Unsure of what the area offered in terms of terrain or wildlife we decided to attempt sleeping in the canoe for a while. With ease, I managed to fall asleep as we lulled along in the water. If it wasn’t for the gentle knocking occurring from the canoe nudging the shore I could have slept a while longer. The first time it happened I paddled us out again and fell right back to sleep. Apparently, Elliot had to do the same thing but the third time it was just bright enough for us to see the outline of the trees and a dock. As soon as we glided into the dock I was internally ecstatic, knowing that the light was soon to come and I was about to get the image we put in all the work for.

It quickly grew brighter, which allowed us to start scouting out different compositions in hopes of finding something unique. Considering this is a location with millions of photos acquired while standing on the observation platform it wasn't likely that we were going to achieve anything groundbreaking but the pursuit is my favourite adrenaline rush. The light seemed to be optimal as it lit up the cliff faces in the background. In the one image I found a few rocks with intriguing cracks and used those as a foreground but what I really wanted was some of the warped driftwood off to the right. Unfortunately, the angles just didn't line up even after attempting to make it work for at least 45 minutes. Regardless of the light, we shot an abundance of images and I was just hoping that in my exhaustion I remembered to focus and use acceptable settings. I guess that's for you to judge by looking at the technical aspects of the images, yet I doubt many people actually care about that part and mostly focus on how the photos make them feel.

Feeling is an integral piece of photography and far too often ignored by the photographer in this somewhat technical art form. The magical, nostalgic, nuance, atmospheric sensation you are able to portray in a single frame is only half of the experience. Often photographers miss being aware of the emotions they feel while creating an image. Spirit Island is one of those places where I was nearly brought to tears by how wonderful the scene and experience as a whole was. Increasingly I force myself to make a mental note of how I felt at a location, whether I'm pulled over on the side of the road or have hiked multiple kilometres to a mountain pass, the image should erupt emotion from the viewer. This comes into play immensely when editing because it's at that point I can decide to punch you in the face with excess vibrancy and clarity or decide to have a more muted, soft presentation.

I've somewhat strayed away from the riveting story and fallen into photography philosophy so let's resume. After a certain amount of time you can only shoot so many images of the same tree island so I was looking around for different scenes. While Eliot and I were both walking down the path, in search of a new angle, I saw something emerge from the trees. Usually, I'm stoked to see wildlife but the common trend is that whenever I have my long lens I see nothing and when I don't everything seems to present itself. However, in this situation, I was immediately filled with trepidation because it was a bear! We slowly walked back to the dock where our bear spray was as it sauntered down the path towards us. Our gear was scattered all over so we didn't have time to pack it up but we managed to get the bear spray out and a leg in the canoe right as it reached the front of the dock.

Of course, I have to end it there this week. Thank you so much for reading and come back for the third and final part of our time at Spirit Island. If you're enjoying this story and images it would mean a lot if you could share it to social media or just with a friend. Have a great week!

The Voyage to Spirit Island pt. 1.

These images are from a scenery dense 48 hour trip to Jasper that was initiated by my friend Elliot. I had the time off and always wanted to experience Spirit Island. Uncharacteristically, my typical aversion to wild ideas and adventure seemed to be thrown to the wolves at the thought of this incredible location for sunrise. Of course millions of people have been there before on the large tourist boats that ferry groups out all day but only a select few have put in an effort to experience the grandeur of viewing light slowly, seeping over the mountains.

After a few short days of planning, I drove to meet up with Elliot in Jasper the day before so we could pick up the rental canoe and ensure we were still up for a seemingly unwise voyage. For those of you who have no idea where Spirit Island is, it's on Maligne Lake, (enjoy trying to decide how to pronounce that :p) which is about a 40-minute drive from Jasper, Alberta. Something you may not know about me is that when I’m nervous about things I like to show up to them irrationally early. The most inconvenient example of this is when I played soccer in Edmonton and before every game I would get dreadful anxiety that would just escalate during the 2.5-hour drive. Due to this angst, I wanted to be at every game 30 minutes before we even had to get ready and warm up. Anyways, the trend seems to continue because we grabbed our gear for the rental canoe and drove to the lake a solid 4 hours early to ‘scout it out.’ We also hoped to catch the sunset at the lake but that was a flop so we didn't really have anything do from 9:00 pm to midnight when we planned to kick off from shore. At this point, I was still a little nervous about Elliot’s canoeing abilities because I wasn't the most confident in my own. I’ve canoed plenty of times on lakes around my home, however in complete darkness and on a lake where the nearest people are a 40-minute drive away, changes that comfort meter just a few notches.

We decided to attempt at sleeping in the vehicle until setting out. I should have known I would n’t be able to fall asleep so I restlessly pursued the art of fast-forwarding time by reading, walking around outside, and even pondering the plethora of potential, problematic paths we may pursue. Anticipation built and so did the nerves. Whenever there is an activity forcing me out of my comfort zone, especially involving life-threatening elements, I look for anything that might allow me to opt out. Contrary to the desires of my buzzkill subconscious, there seemed to be nothing emerging as an escape. Three hours monotonously progressed to the time for me to wake up Elliot so we could pack our bags and grab the canoe. It was a gorgeous night with an unobstructed view of the stars above.

Once packed, we walked down to the shore to unlock the canoe we rented. Earlier in the day, we had checked to make sure our canoe was in proper condition to keep us afloat throughout the night. Both of us were extremely thankful that we had a canoe that wasn't tipped over or filled with water and sand because half of them were in an unfortunate state. We inserted the key, applied the appropriate amount of force to turn the key to only be obnoxiously met with a key that wouldn’t rotate. After fidgeting with the lock for a minute, we looked at the number and realized we were at the wrong number canoe, which conflicted with what we were told to take at the rental store. Logically, we found the canoe with the corresponding number. It was at this point we had a sinking feeling. Indeed, our canoe was one of the submerged.

Come back next week to continue reading more of our canoe ride, our wild encounter and view the rest of the images from Spirit Island. Following these posts, I'll continue with some images from Athabasca Falls. I hope you enjoyed the read!