September 30, 2008 Ice Age



We arrived at the trailhead late in the day, not knowing what we would find below Mount Edith Cavell in Canada’s Jasper National Park. A married couple from the USA–perhaps from Oklahoma or part of Texas by the twang–excitedly told us that this was the best area they had seen during their week in the Canadian Rockies!  So we got out our camera gear and started down the Path of the Glacier interpretive trail.

This snowy north side of Mount Edith Cavell was breathtaking (or maybe it was the altitude!), and it has always been a significant landmark in the Athabasca River Valley.  Three glaciers live on this side of the mountain:  the Angel Glacier, the Cavell Glacier, and the smaller Ghost Glacier.  All are retreating, as are most glaciers along the Rocky Mountain spine of Canada and the United States.  Blame climate change.  In fact, in a few short years Glacier National Park in Montana may have no glaciers at all.  What shall we change the name to at that point?  I know:  Glacier National Historic Park!  But I digress …

Mount Edith Cavell was named for a heroic English nurse who helped soldiers escape from the German onslaught during World War I.  When caught, she was executed by the Germans.  A genuine hero, she is celebrated in this Canadian outpost of the old British Empire by the mighty mountain.

The Path of the Glacier Trail meanders along a valley that was occupied by Cavell Glacier several decades ago, but has now been freed from the frozen grip of ice.  Conifers and a few wildflowers are starting to return to the valley, but the growing season is so short that it will be decades before the subalpine forest feels like a forest and not one of life’s most remote outposts. 

When we reached Cavell Pond, into which Cavell Glacier calves, it was near twilight.  The aquamarine lake was frozen, and numerous icebergs were stranded in the pond and along the shore.  It was a spectacular place.  We photographed until the light faded, then decided to come back the next day to see it again and to get closer to Cavell Glacier.



The next day, we hiked to the glistening face of Cavell Glacier and looked the ice age in the eye–then backed down, deciding the ice age was tougher than us and that we had no desire to live in the same terrain as Wooly Mammoths and Sabre-toothed Cats.We spent the rest of the morning photographing icebergs, ice details, pioneering lichens, and a pair of Common Ravens who had little fear of modern people.  Their distant ancestors undoubtedly interacted with ancient humans in this icy terrain, perhaps hanging around during the hunt in order to claim some bits of Caribou flesh–which undoubtedly would have been healthier for them than the Cheetos that some hikers tossed to the contemporary scavengers.



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The Poison Ivy Problem

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at

I have been approached by both National Geographic and National Geographic Adventure magazines this year, inquiring whether I had any photographs of Poison Ivy. I had some, but none that would meet their requirements for a story on how Poison Ivy is growing lushly in this era of global warming. So I have been on the lookout for good patches of this evil vine.

When I rolled into camp at Caddo Lake State Park at twilight, my van’s headlights illuminated a healthy Poison Ivy vine climbing a pine tree right in my campsite. It was late and I was tired, but I decided to try shooting anyway. The ground was covered with Poison Ivy, so I laid down large plastic bags to completely cover the plants so that neither my legs or the tripod legs would brush against the leaves. I set my digital camera to the highest ISO setting and placed the camera on a tripod. I wanted to look up the trunk at the sky, so I used a special 24mm tilt lens that allows me to get everything in focus from the immediate foreground to the top of the tree, plus I used small f-stop to achieve a greater depth-of-field. It was almost dark, so I “painted” the Poison Ivy using a flashlight during a fifteen second exposure. Then I went to the picnic table and downloaded the image to my computer to check the exposure. My initial guesses as to composition and exposure were good, so I then took two more photographs and called it a night. In the computer the only major change I made was to the light temperature, which I changed to a more daylight balance (the flashlight’s tungsten bulb was too yellow).

That is how I solved my Poison Ivy problem. I really like the resulting image, which shows the lush growth of Poison Ivy and actually shows stars in the deep twilight sky. Plus I only got one Poison Ivy blister, on my trigger finger!