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Hiking After Dark on Pocterra Ridge

Trip Date: September 23rd, 2017

Objective: Hike Pocterra Ridge from South to North

Looking north from the first "summit" of Pocterra Ridge, with the Tombstone Mountain on the far right, and the rest of the Kananaskis Valley directly ahead. 

It was mid September, and I had a test camera from The Camera Store. I was excited to use the Sony A7ii to shoot some sunsets, and hopefully some golden larches in the Highwood Pass area of the Kananaskis. I knew that snow had fallen the week before, but my head was still very much in "summer" mode. My biggest concern was the snow disturbing the larch trees, turns out I should have had more worries.

I set off, hitchhiking from the Little Highwood Day Use Area to the Highwood Pass. Within moments a lovely lady named Jessica picked me up; I love how friendly the hiking community is. After she dropped me off, I got my first hint that I wasn't as prepared I should be. There was a lot more snow at the Pass than where I parked. I was wearing approach shoes, not boots. Trouble. The wet snow covering on the trails was slippery, but I pressed onward.

 Hiking through larch trees on the way to the ridge.

Hiking through larch trees on the way to the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I finally realized my massive mistake: I didn't bring microspikes. The trail had become extremely icy and treacherous. I was relying on my hiking poles, not for balance but traction. The spiked tips were all I had to secure purchase on icy slopes. Moving took forever because instead of cruising the ridge, I had to traverse around the trail. The theory was to stay on stable snow instead of the playground slides that the trail morphed into.

Eventually, it got to the point where I knew that backtracking would involve having to attempt to hitchhike after dark, and that continuing on the ridge would be too dangerous. I spotted a potential decent route, and half hiked, half boot-skiied to the valley below. That's when I witnessed this great sunset! 

 The pitch black drive home (Don't worry, I stopped driving to take this photo!)

The pitch black drive home (Don't worry, I stopped driving to take this photo!)

Part of the reason I was testing the Sony A7ii was it's supposedly superb image stabilization. I thought that being able to take hand-held shots in the back country would be a great benefit, so I wanted to test how slow of a shutter speed I could go, and still get a decent photo. You can judge for yourself below. I braced myself the best I could and set the shutter for 1/40th of a second. On my old camera, anything below 1/60 to 1/80th was clearly blurry. This camera handled it like a champion! I love that all the cloud details going to infinity in the middle of the photo.

I had done a few sunrise hikes in the past, and hiking in the dark is something that I was comfortable with. Starting from the car with no sunlight, but with daylight just a few hours away means that if something goes wrong, I just wait a bit and daylight will arrive. There is something very unnerving about watching the opposite happen while still on the move. The comforting promise of a new day is a long, cold, lonely night away. This will not be my last sunset hike, but there is something truly unnerving about them. 

Eventually, with the sun gone and headlamp secured, the valley bottom led me surely back to my car.

Life's an adventure, and I won't be caught without micro-spikes again, that's for sure.

 "Pocterra Sunset"   Sony A7ii, Zeiss 24-70mm F4  25mm, f6.3, 1/40sec, ISO 100

"Pocterra Sunset" 

Sony A7ii, Zeiss 24-70mm F4

25mm, f6.3, 1/40sec, ISO 100

Matthew HuitemaComment