“I got to the beautiful Lake O’Hara lying in a rainbow sleep, under the steeps of Mount Lefroy and the waterfalls of Oesa. And there I realized some of the blessedness of mortals.”
– J.E.H. MacDonald in A Glimpse of the West, 1924
Well again, I was lucky enough to have secured a spot in another trip organized by Patti Dyment. This time we were to paint at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Steph drove me up early so we could be at the parking lot for the bus ride by 10am. When I arrived, there were many cars in the lot and several excited adventurers. But what excited me the most was when I saw the familiar faces of Alice Satiel-Marshall and her husband Bill, Sharon Van Essen, and Sharon Lynn Williams and her husband Dave. Alice gave me a big hug and with smiles on our faces we climbed aboard for the 20 minute bus ride up to the Lake.
Well if I compare the way we got to Assiniboine and the way we got to O’Hara – a helicopter versus a big yellow school bus respectively – the helicopter wins out. There’s leg room on the helicopter (I’m not eight anymore) and your kidneys don’t end up where your liver should be. Oh, and I think I lost a tooth. You get a grand view from the chopper and a view of nothing but trees from the bus. Not even a hint of what we were to expect.
We pulled up to the coffee shelter called Le Relais, gathered our stuff and decided to head to the lake which was just to the left of where we stopped. What the bus and bumpy ride up had hid, revealed itself within 50ft from where we stopped. The very place where John Singer Sergeant painted his masterpiece in 1916. It was beautiful. Mountains that rose up, reflected in a lake of clear emerald glass. Patti and Jan Chalupnicek were there painting as they had arrived two hours earlier. Their work was wonderful and inspiring and made me want to get going.
We took our gear up to the Elizabeth Parker Hut, found or sleeping spaces (mine didn’t work out – more on that later) donned our paint gear and decided to head up to the Opabin Plateau.
When I say we, I mean Patti, Sharon Lynn Williams, Sharon Van Essen, Jan Chalupnicek, Gwen Davis and myself. Dave, Bill and Meg Nicks head off for a different adventure. The one Hour hike and 250m elevation gain from the Lake O’Hara Lodge was well – steep. It didn’t help that I had my studio on my back. Jan decided to stop half way up and paint the creek that the trail follows up to the plateau.
We arrived at some small ponds which are beside Moor Lakes and the group decided to set up there. By the time I got going (late as usual) I could see a veil of either rain or snow in the distance. I very slowly, squeezed out my paints, starting with White and then onto Ultramarine. I paused, eyeing the veil suspiciously trying to determine if it was going to pay us a visit. By the time I got to Yellow Ochre it made a final rush moving swiftly up and over the ridge. Snow was sticking to the back of my neck and the temperature felt like it dropped by 15 degrees. I was reminded how unpredictable and potentially dangerous mountain weather is if your unprepared.
We made our way back down to the lake and back up to the the Elizabeth Parker Hut. On and off showers but no snow or wind. I still had the need to get something down and ventured out of the hut to scout out something worthy of setting up. I found a small grouping of rocks about 2 mins from the hut and set up there, took some reference pics and began to paint. I was rained out after 30 mins but managed to get this on the board.
Within tradition, we ate a great meal and talked and sang well into the evening. Many of the group had done this before and again, I felt very lucky to be with such wonderful people. And what is also a tradition for me, I waited till all was quite, poured myself a night cap and sat out under the mountain sky and thought of the day and what tomorrow would bring.
I spent a very uncomfortable night on a bench in the dining area after I was crowded out on my bunk. What I thought was a comfy cushion turned out to be carpet on wood. I woke up several times during the night and when I saw the first hints of twilight I knew my suffering was over! I was glad to see the very early risers getting ready for their day of hiking. I got up and dressed quickly, made a cup of coffee and was happy to see Alice sitting at the table. We chatted and talked of where to paint but were somewhat dismayed that the weather was still not cooperating. Low clouds clung to the mountains and intermittent rain hung dismally over our creative verve. We had a second cup and some a third.
The damp seemed to stall for a bit and Gwen and Alice and I headed down to the Lake (Lake O’Hara as “The Lake” will now be known) to see what we could find for inspiration. Gwen set up fairly quickly painting the cabins on the lake and I headed off looking for – you guessed it – the promised land. During my venture I ran into Bill who said “Alice is here somewhere” and then we could see her purple coat at the far end of a small lake on the outlet side of O’Hara. I headed in her direction thinking she had found something worthy. Sadly, she hadn’t and I met her as she was making her way back.
To make a long story short, we painted very close to where Gwen had set up which was, where Patti and Jan had set up the day before and where Sergeant had set up 100 years ago.
I spent around 4+ hours trying to paint this scene with intermittent rain. I had my umbrella but it was too dark and I had to keep pulling it up and away to see where my values were. (I need to get a translucent white as an alternate) Overall, it’s not bad but was very much like “The Queen” at Assiniboine. LOTS of stuff to decipher and get down. I wasn’t massing and simplifying like I should have been. Ultimately, I finished, without being finished. My values were off and my colors muted. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t successful in my opinion for the amount of time I spent on it. I could blame the weather and the light… and you know what, I will!
Another night of food, drink and song is always a welcome end to a day of art and exploration. I again sat up with a light rain and this time sat under the eve of the Wiwaxy Hut which is a smaller hut beside Elizabeth Parker and in the stillness of the night, I could hear Patti sing a lullaby (probably a show tune) to the group in her cabin.
It was magical and I rested my head against the outside of the cabin and thought to myself that it’s moments like these that are like simple strokes of paint. Bits of recorded memory. We start with a blank canvas and with each stroke, each memory, some good and some not, we create a masterpiece of who we are and who we have been. From the underpainting, the adjustment of values and edges with some hard and some soft, and maybe even wiping some, if not a good portion of it off.- we are never finished until the end.
DAY 3 – The Hike
We awoke to a dismal day of gray and wet and the shuffling and quite clatter of hikers eager to get the day underway. The painters sat and looked out the windows at the gray dismal day and drank coffee and tea. Sharon Lynn Williams and I looked at a book on the Paintings of O’Hara and were very happily surprised to see a piece by Alice in the book! Gwen Day mentioned to me later that we were amongst some amazing talent in the group and I would have to agree.
After some discussion, the idea of painting was out as the weather did not appear to be improving and I needed to get to Victoria falls to take some reference pics as I had seen them in paintings many times before. That was my goal for the day and I had no intentions of going much past that. Many of the painters were in and I, as well as Patti, Gwen Day, Sharon Lynn Williams, her husband Dave and Sharon Van Essen headed up with common intent. Dave and Patti decided to split off and hike a different route which would intersect the trail farther up. It apparently is a beautiful hike but bypassed the falls.
Well, once I reached the falls I was struck at how much smaller they were from what I had imagined – but I could see why so many artists had tried to capture this beautiful whisper of what lay just beyond. After some pics I had to move on as I could see a ridge or plateau just ahead. Where there is more road, more trail, or running water has always said there’s something more and you better not miss it. This has been something I have come to expect from my wandering spirit. What is over that hill? Or around that bend? It has always driven me farther… the “what if” of driving up a logging road or hiking up a mountain trail. What if I turned around right now and went back…
If I had turned back having reached my goal of getting to the falls I never would have seen what was just over the ridge that was calling me onward. SharonLW was behind me and as I came up over the edge a mix of awe and elation pulsed through me, Victoria Lake opened it arms and wrapped me up and held me for far too brief a moment, dropping me to my knees. It was so beautiful and I was so wonder struck, I instantly turned to Sharon with a beaming smile and gave her a huge hug which she gladly returned having seen this before and knowing the experience I was having. Victoria Lake without a doubt, is one of the most beautiful places I had seen in my life. A smallish lake surrounded by pine and Larch trees in their beautiful fall yellow outfits. Another set of falls lay enticingly at the far end of the lake whispering that there was more to come. “Keep going” they said. “Keep going”
(I think a cabin would be nice. A bit of a trek in but soooooo worth it.)
We waited for a bit thinking Dave and Patti were going to meet us there but after consulting a map we realized the trail they were on intersected farther up. We headed up that way and after a short while the two hi level adventurers met us at the intersection and we were off for the very short romp to the shores of what had been calling to me – the magnificent Lake Oesa.
I – at this point am not surprised at how much beauty resides in such a relatively small area – Lake Oesa is no acceptation. An amazing geography of high mountains and cliffs, scree, talus, and snow all displayed two-fold in the reflection of an emerald mirror. We wandered around, took some photos, and had a wee bite, and decided to head over the Yukness Ledges which terminate at the Opabin Plateau. Needless to say, the traverse over this face was incredible. High above the plateau we could see Alice and Bill and some of the others where we were two days earlier. When we arrived at the intersection we marched on to the the majesty of Opabin Lake. I think I’m running out of adjectives to describe the sheer natural beauty of this place. It has re-invigorated my love for high alpine hiking. Through the barrier of the trees to open meadows filled with wild flowers, this vast open beauty will remain unseen by most city dwellers sadly and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to hike and rest in a place that plants the seeds for future exploration.
In the words of Robert Genn from his trip to the the O’Hara region…
“What a privilege to be with creative and observant companions past and present. To see and share an environment where sheer power and the delicate flower beg to be studied and honored. To be surprised and delighted at every turn of a path. To flirt with the gods of the larch forest and the granite mountains. To be in a place where human understanding is submissive to impression. What a high it is to be an artist. What a responsibility. How natural. How tragic it might have been to pass this one up. My complaint is that I almost did.”
And to think – I almost did.
The beginning of the Yukness Ledge hike to Opabin Plateau
Yukness Ledges looking back on Lake O’Hara
Opabin Plateau from the Ledges
Our hike out circled around some wonderful painting spots. Lots of reference was shot and there were moments where I wish I could have had all my painting gear and a moment to hunker down and dig in. We eventually ended up on the same trail we were on two days before but with much much better weather!
Again, the evening air filled with song and the scent of fine mountain cuisine. We even broke into poetry in which we agreed, next year, we all had to learn an epic poem. I started with Jabberwocky and Dave recited The Cremation of Sam McGee. We had table #2 (another group we were getting to know) singing with us at one point and Alice yelled over “Hey Table #2 – if you have wine we’ll pay top dollar!!!” I can’t remember his name but one of the other hikers came over with a flask filled with Fireball. It was so bloody fun! This night I had my last night cap sitting in the darkness of the hut save the glow of the fire, on the bench I had slept on two nights earlier and listened to my book – The Island of the Lost – by Joan Druett.
Next morning was a mixed bag of rain, sun, more rain, some blue sky and even more rain. The day was open but many of the party decided it was time. The weather had won and it was time to call it quits.
We thought it would be a good idea to take a trip down to the Lodge to see the artwork hanging on the walls which included one of my favourite artists Robert Genn. There where also photographs of J.E.H McDonald and Lawren Harris Painting in the area .
A few caught early busses out and a few of us stayed a little longer in an optimistic haze. Sharon set up on the dock and painted a view along the shoreline in her very characteristic very colourfully wonderful style. I was convinced (read hounded – ok maybe not hounded) to start something and decided on a 4×5” panel. I was only 20 minutes into it when time ran out and we packed up to get the bus. (I knew it!) 🙂
Sharon painting in the rain
Sharon painting in the rain
Lauren Harris and his wife Bess
Lake O’Hara Lodge
I had brought several of these small canvases down and after getting home, I thought it may be a good idea to start almost every painting with a very small gestural study. One that sets the values and colors in a format which does not allow for detail. I remember watching Jove Wang at the 2016 Plein Air Convention in Tucson and he did exactly this. Two separate pieces – A small colour study and a black and white value study to set the tone for the larger painting to come. He referenced these often as he worked on the larger piece.
Again, like Assiniboine, this trip was filled with friendship, great food, song, poetry, and best of all we had an opportunity to paint in an area rich in artistic history. What a wonderful feeling knowing you have painted where legends have painted before. The common factor being, no matter who, we all felt the same awe and incredible inspiration of a landscape born from nature, and we have tried to capture it………….
What a great group – What a great time.
Till next year!