Moraine Lake: The Heart of the Canadian Rockies

Moraine Lake: The Heart of the Canadian Rockies

 

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I remember my first experience with this place very distinctly. It was a rainy day in late spring of 2012. The winding 14km road from Lake Louise was cracked from the effects of the bitter cold of the past winter. It was still wet from the early morning rainfall and had just recently reopened after its annual closure for the long winter months. The rain was still falling lightly against the windshield despite the forecast promising calm breezes and blue skies.

Due to avalanche and ice risks, Moraine lake stays dormant and closed to the public from late October to late spring, leaving only a small window of opportunity for tourists and locals to see one of the most beautiful sights in the Canadian Rockies. Despite being a local myself, this was my first trip up there. The rain was worrying me, but all I knew was that I had to get there before the tour buses rolled in.

Anyone who has been to this place will probably remember the moment when they come around that sharp bend and were faced with those glorious ten peaks, perfectly placed, perfectly stacked, hidden behind a layer of trees and often, poking through a layer of fog. The road curves and twists ahead of you, eventually disappearing from sight, but the scene takes your breath away. Not many places have given me that sensation, but this is one of them.

The winding road before reaching the lakeside (left). View from the rock pile (right)

The winding road before reaching the lakeside (left). View from the rock pile (right)

Your surroundings feel almost like you are in an epic adventure film. The road twists and winds around the base the mountain until suddenly you find yourself in a clearing and all you can see is miles and miles of trees and rock. I grew up in this country, but i was still amazed at the glorious sight before me. I remember feeling rather crumby that day, I had lost my closest friend earlier in the year, and for months i’d been struggling with a deep rooted sense of loneliness. A trip to the mountains seemed to be the perfect remedy for this, while I felt lonely.. I knew a bit of solitude in a place of quiet would probably do me some good.

When we are hit with tragic circumstances, the feeling of indifference is often a preferable alternative to the journey of pain and recovery ahead of us. Indifference says “let me make you forget how it feels”. It presents itself as an option, and we grasp tightly onto it in desperation, hoping it lifts us clear out of the pain we are struggling to cope with. Looking back, I view it as a selfish viewpoint, but what I actually felt at the time was completely helpless. I remember distinctly that this place was the breaking point, the first step in making room in my heart for something other than my own grievances. I’d forgotten to remember my creator, to appreciate my family, to notice the little things, and to be thankful for all sorts of weather. But let me get back to the experience at hand;

 

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Moraine Lake- After heavy rainfall, September 2015

Moraine Lake- After heavy rainfall, September 2015

As I pulled into the parking lot on that wet and moody morning, I was shocked at how quiet it was for a Saturday. I parked and got out, abandoning my coat and opting to just take my camera with me as I walked briskly towards the rock pile trail. It wasn’t raining anymore, but it was still misty and i tucked my camera into my shirt as i ascended, hoping my faulty D5100 shutter wouldn’t jam again like the last couple times i’d taken it outdoors. It was only about a 10 minute walk to get up to the top and there was not a single soul in sight. Trust me when i say, that’s unheard of here! This place is unbelievably popular in the spring and summer.

Once I reached the viewpoint, I understood why this place was so iconic. By this time, the clouds had separated and the blue skies were poking through.. it was nearly 8am and the light was reflecting off the 10 peaks softly. Even as I veered off the trail, I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene before me. I sat down on a cold, wet rock and fully took it all in. Here is what I saw;

First Panorama i've taken of Moraine Lake

First Panorama i’ve taken of Moraine Lake

“The lake really was that blue”. That’s the caption I had read on nearly every photo on Instagram. I sat there and snapped away, finally getting to experience it for myself. It really was as blue as the pictures showed it to be. For the first time in a long time, feelings of joy and amazement trickled back into my heart. It felt like my senses were alive again, the air was so brisk and cold.. the only way I can describe it is that it felt organic when it reached my lungs. Raw, harsh but revitalizing. I could hear the sound of the water lapping gently against the waters edge, even up close, that water still reflected a vibrant shade of blue. The air smelled like pine needles and damp earth from the early morning rain and I watched as a hawk gently soared over the treetops, its cry echoing across the valley every so often. I felt something reawaken inside of me.

Gratitude.

THIS is what life is meant to feel like. To experience this place without the hordes of tourists and the chattering of families out on canoes was an overwhelming experience, and not one that i think many people are likely to have. I hadn’t felt grateful in a long time it seemed, because in that moment it felt oddly emotional. I spent a long time sitting there, pondering and revisiting some of the past experiences that i’d been squashing down for the past year or so.

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This world already has so much pain, grief and suffering for us each to bear, that often we miss out on those moments of joy and serenity that can bring us to a better understanding of how to cope and how to deal with tough circumstances. Once you have the ability to truly see beyond yourself, and acknowledge the blessings in your life, it is much easier to move forward. This doesn’t mean forgetting, or “moving on” as many people seem to assume, it just means accepting the present for exactly the way it is and learning to be resilient through it.

The view looking the opposite direction from the ten peaks, still breathtaking

The view looking the opposite direction from the ten peaks, still breathtaking

Once I heard the air brakes of the tour buses echo from the parking lot, I got up and went back to the car. The reflection in the lake had disappeared as the forecasted breezes rolled in and unsettled the glassy waters. I went home that day feeling as if my spirit had been renewed. Since that initial visit, i’ve visited that lake over a dozen times now, and each experience has brought different experiences, different friends and different weather conditions. The images featured here were from all of those trips. They all carry a unique set of circumstances and weather conditions with them resulting in some of the most profound and meaningful images in my portfolio. If you ever wonder why I feature it so much in my IG feed, it’s because this place carries a special reminder of healing, a reminder to let go and be okay with a little vulnerability. Once the snow disappears and summer makes its return to the Rockies, I will be out there with my canoe, making some new memories and appreciating those precious life experiences.

Autumn at Moraine (left) Summer canoeing (right)

Autumn at Moraine (left) Summer canoeing (right)

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Comments ( 12 )

  • Speck.of.Sand

    Would love to explore that place ‘one day’, but till then thank you for describing it so nicely along with the pictures.

  • OkayCJ

    Gah, such gorgious photos.

  • Jared White

    Thank you for sharing those pictures and also for sharing what that place means to you. Moving thoughts and beautiful photos.

  • Maria Acker

    Most beautiful place on earth!

  • Carolina

    I fell in love with this place thanks to your breathtaking photos on IG!!! I am currently living in Sweden but Montréal is my home, and when I go back, my fiancé and I have a planned roadtrip to Banff ❤
    Thanks for sharing your story and these beautiful photos!!!

  • Ash Gervin

    Chloe, this is AMAZING! im headed to Banff in a few weeks and i was wondering if you could give me some insight to weather conditions and expected shooting conditions? You are by far my favorite photographer and i hope i can capture Moraine Lake like you have! Thank you for being such a huge inspiration to myself and many others!

    • Chloe Hibbert

      Certainly! First its important to be aware that AFTER Canadian thanksgiving the road will be CLOSED to moraine lake, you can definitely snowshoe the 14km it if you like, but if you arrive later than that, it’s likely the area won’t be accessible by vehicle. Personally I like shooting in the morning between 7:30-9am before the tour buses arrive. I find the light is really soft and pretty around that time. Lake Louise was dumped with snow this past week so it will be quite chilly. Lake Louise is accessible year round and is only a 15 minute drive from Moraine lake. Both very iconic places. The hike up to the lake agnes teahouse is well worth it, and not too long. Take the Bow valley parkway back to banff and do the johnston canyon hike, lots of opportunities for long exposure waterfall shots. Sulphur mountain gondola is a great stop for pretty views without spending a day on the trail. Have a wonderful time!

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