Nature’s Fireworks: 15 Images of Auroras Over Banff National Park (July 15, 2012)

In an effort to view the much anticipated northern lights event of July 15th in complete wilderness, two friends and I decided to make the trip into the remote Scott Duncan Hut on the Waputik Icefield. As a keen nighttime photographer I knew that, if the skies cleared, the hut would provide a perfect viewpoint to take in the display, with its views opening to the North towards the endless, stunning Waputik and Wapta Icefields. If the clouds decided to get in the way, however, I would be in no position to get to a different location. It was an all-or-nothing aurora watching situation!

At first our luck seemed to tip towards the “nothing” end of things. After dragging the camera gear through flooded meadows above Sherbrooke Lake and up 1,200 metres in elevation we were greeted at the edge of the Waputik Icefield by an intimidating thunderstorm. An hour of glacier travel later we arrived at the hut, completely soaked and in dwindling visibility. So much for a great light show above the icefield.

Even though I am well aware that weather changes quickly in the Canadian Rockies, particularly along the Continental Divide, I was still blown away by how rapidly the weather turned around at sunset. A red glow illuminated the western sky and the clouds magically parted overhead and northwards. Within 30 minutes we had gone from low ceiling to stars shimmering above, and then it was a matter of such conditions lasting until darkness so that we could take in Mother Nature’s best act.

It was not even dark yet and one could already see green curtains dancing against the dark blue sky. A sleepless night loomed for me. I had spent the previous night awake at Peyto Lake waiting for northern lights that never materialized and was already a little sleep-deprived, but I knew this could turn into something special. And did it ever. For hours the lights danced, taking on many different shapes and colours. Not just to the North but directly overhead. At one point, half the sky was lit up. The cloud-free window was never huge, but it stuck around until dawn. Later on, upon returning to Banff, I learned that very few people in Alberta witnessed the display that night. We had been very fortunate to watch the show in a place as prone to harsh weather as the Icefields.

Here is a sample of what I was able to capture over four hours of stumbling about among boulders, right on the divide, happy as a clam. The aurora is always special, and so are the icefields of Banff and Yoho National Parks. Blending the two was out of this world.