“I stood beneath the vibrant night sky, watching Comet Neowise move across the horizon, a once-in-6,800-years event. To this day, I can hardly believe it: that night in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies seemed like a dream. It was undoubtedly the most incredible night of my life.”
My first try to see Comet Neowise didn’t go as planned. I hiked up a mountain to get a better view, but I only caught a brief glimpse before the clouds moved in and it vanished.
Comet Neowise before it was obscured by clouds.
After swapping Australia’s sandy beaches for the Canadian Rocky Mountains for a year and a half, my adventure was soon coming to a close.
In my final 11 days, my mission was to seek out clear skies from my basecamp in Lake Louise. I hiked up mountains with the goal of capturing a unique and one-of-a-kind composition of this rare astronomical event.
I didn’t expect much, given the less-than-promising weather forecast for the next 11 days in Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, and Banff National Park. However, after my initial disappointment, I was more determined than ever to succeed.
Aware of the rapid weather changes in the mountains, I examined forecasts for places up to a four-hour drive away. Kananaskis Country, around three hours from my location, seemed like a good option. After studying potential vantage points on Google Earth, I settled on Tent Ridge, which provided stunning views and excellent composition opportunities to the north.
The weather forecast predicted cloudy conditions until midnight, with the promise of clearing skies afterward. Despite the temptation of a warm, comfortable bed, I realized I had to seize the opportunity.
Upon quitting my regular nine-to-five job to chase my photography passion, I came to understand that the greatest risk in life is to avoid taking risks altogether. And so, I embarked on an adventure known as The Wicked Hunt.
Full of excitement and a touch of nervousness, I crammed as much gear as I could into my backpack:
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Canon 6D
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L III
- Rokinon 14mm SP f/2.4
- Sirui and Moman tripod
All this equipment, along with food, beverages, and warm clothing, totaled about 17 kilograms. I departed from Lake Louise after lunch, with the goal of reaching the trailhead before sunset.
The view from Tent Ridge just before I got to the top.
As I ascended above the treeline, a few hundred vertical meters up the mountain, the wind was howling. To combat the wind, I positioned my tripod as close to the ground as I could and anchored it in place with a few substantial rocks.
Colors radiating through a cloudy sunset.
Feeling both doubtful and optimistic about the clouds clearing, I configured my 6D to record a timelapse as the sun started to descend. It turned out to be a stunning scene, with the clouds enhancing the golden light in the sky. However, when I reviewed the timelapse a few minutes later, I noticed a peculiar green band on the horizon. I couldn’t quite grasp what it was – I suspected my camera was acting up, but then it dawned on me.
Could it be? The aurora borealis?
A surge of excitement washed over me.
As night fell, almost miraculously, the clouds began to disperse, revealing Comet Neowise in all its glory to the naked eye. Meanwhile, an unexpected display of purple, blue, and greenish aurora borealis hues grew more vibrant in the sky. Despite the relentless wind, my excitement kept me from feeling the cold.
First glimpse of Comet Neowise as a faint green glow on the right of the frame against noctilucent clouds.
And then, the next astounding event occurred. STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement), an atmospheric optical phenomenon that manifests as a ribbon of purple and green light in the sky, ascended high above me for a brief moment.
The aurora borealis, Comet Neowise and STEVE
Recognizing that the Milky Way was now discernible in the southeast, I grabbed my 5D Mark IV and commenced capturing a two-row panorama.
The aurora borealis, Comet Neowise, and the Milky Way
What an extraordinary night it turned out to be. I remained on Tent Ridge from 8:30 PM until 3:30 AM the next day. What commenced with a stunning sunset evolved into a once-in-a-lifetime experience, featuring the sighting of Comet Neowise, the aurora borealis, STEVE, and the Milky Way. To crown it all, the sight of the sun starting to rise over noctilucent clouds was the grand finale.
Photographers frequently become fixated on a particular objective – that one shot we aspire to capture. Through my years as an award-winning photographer, I’ve come to understand that although having a goal is valuable, we frequently contend with external factors that can disrupt our plans.
The sunrise from Tent Ridge at 3:15 AM
In the pursuit of our art, maintaining an open-minded perspective is crucial. Regardless of how thoroughly I prepared, I couldn’t have foreseen the breathtaking sight of the aurora borealis, the Milky Way, and STEVE. Just as in life, The Wicked Hunt is about the journey, not just the destination. Beauty surrounds us, and we must remind ourselves to pause and appreciate the world. It’s during those moments that we might capture an incredible photograph beyond our wildest dreams.