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A landscape photograph of Mount Smutwood in the Canadian Rockies at sunset

Smutwood – 2023

A few weeks back, my friend Matthew and I went to the Canadian Rockies to do some hiking. After some scouting before the trip, this hike was the major one that we had planned to finish because there was a composition that I was excited about that included the moon. As the dates for the trip neared, the forecast got worse. A couple of days before we left, temperatures were forecasted to be -5 C with about 5-10cm of snow in the valley bottom (more at the elevation we were going to be). We debated whether to go, but I’ve been to the Canadian Rockies enough times that I’ve begun to understand the weather. If anything, it is variable, so we ultimately decided to try our luck.

For someone who just said he understands the weather in the Canadian Rockies, I made some poor decisions after we got there. Looking at the conditions, it was pretty clear that my moon shot would not happen at this spot, but I was confident that the light could be dramatic, so we started this big hike early in the afternoon. The first several kilometres were uneventful and unchallenging. The challenge began when we started gaining elevation. The trail was soaking wet from days of rain and snow, making hiking difficult. Every step forward meant sliding back down. As I anticipated, about halfway up, light snow started coming down. The larch trees were blazing gold by this elevation, and we were above the freezing line, the landscape covered in snow. Thankfully, the trail was still easily visible. My suspicion about the potential conditions was confirmed when we reached the ridge; the sky was clear(ish) in the west, and I knew the light could push through the inclement weather. The peak we were to summit kept coming in and out of cloud, so I went back down a little lower and found this composition. I set up, waiting for the light. It broke through gloriously for several minutes as I captured this panorama.

However, while photographing, I noticed that the snow that should have been moving away from us was instead moving toward us and was getting nastier. I briefly thought about waiting the hour it would take the moon to rise on that cold mountain peak, but after thinking about the treacherous hike we had to endure on the way down, we decided to leave. That turned out to be a better decision than going up in the first place.

No sooner did we get past the sections of the hike that resembled climbing more than hiking, did a full-out blizzard hit us. Sideways snow, 80 km/h wind gusts, darkness, and zero visibility all impacted at once. There were brief moments when I wondered if we might be stuck up on that mountain until sunrise. With big snowflakes coming down fast and strong, the trail was disappearing ahead of us. We were desperate to find the treeline (at least there, the outline of the trail is evident). After getting lost a couple of times along the top of the pass, we finally found where the trail entered the trees. We began to descend, but the wet trail proved difficult to traverse. Matthew slipped, breaking one of his poles while attempting to catch himself. Needless to say, we were extremely thankful to see the vehicle several hours later. And the best part was we had a nice, cozy tent in freezing temperatures to climb into back at camp around 1 AM. I think it might be a little while before I can convince Matthew to join me on another trip!