My experience at Abraham Lake
I never imagined being surrounded by millions of frozen bubbles full of methane, a gas that is 25 times more powerful than carbon monoxide and yet is in awe of its beauty. Just don’t light a match, right?!
In this post you will learn all about:
- Abraham Lake
- My Experience
- What is methane gas and how frozen bubbles are created
- Map where to find the best-frozen bubbles
- Best time to visit
- What to expect
- Exactly what I wore that kept me warm -20c + high winds!
- Where to stay
- How to photograph ice bubbles
- My camera gear
I had the opportunity to explore the famous Abraham Lake filled with millions of frozen bubbles during a six-day photography workshop exploring the best of Canadian Rockies with sought after Sony Alpha photographer Rachel Ross.
This place had an endless amount of compositions to choose from. It’s a photographer’s dream!
We visited twice, sunrise and sunset at Abraham Lake. I was like a kid in a candy store oohing and ahhing squirming all over the lake searching for unique clusters, lines and layers of frozen bubbles. My friend and I were the last ones on the ice BOTH days!
It was so exhilarating but also terrifying! Even though I could see ice thicker than 12 inches below my feet…I walked on the ice as if it was a sheet of paper! I’ll be the first to admit I am a… WUSS. There were moments when I was sitting on the ice and suddenly a massive laser beam boom would ripple underneath me. These are sounds of water moving underneath the ice and or cracking. It totally freaked me out even though I knew I was completely safe… I think.
Don’t let this beautiful sight fool you, the conditions can be very dangerous and you must come prepared which is why I made this guide for you! Read on to see why!
About Abraham Lake
Abraham Lake is a man-made lake created in 1972 during the construction of Bighorn Dam. The lake has glacier blue color similar to other lakes in the Rocky Mountains which is caused by rock flour, also known as glacial milk.
This is not a popular lake to hang out at during summer months however it’s become extremely famous during the winter months. People from all over the world come here to witness this rare phenomenon of multi-layered frozen methane bubbles.
What is methane gas and how are frozen bubbles created?
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It’s created from leaves, trees and animal matter that drop into the water. They sink to the bottom, get munched on by bacteria which then poops/farts out methane and escapes to the surface. Just think about that for a moment, bacteria farts. As the lake freezes over it creates a time-lapse of frozen methane-air bubbles in multiple layers shown here.
Once it begins to thaw out the bubbles fizz to the surface and escape into our atmosphere. You cannot see it with the naked eye however check out this video. A professor and his students poke one of the bubbles simultaneously using a butane lighter creating a massive explosion. This is a small bubble, now just imagine some reaching 3,000 ft wide trapped in the artic and various other places around the world.
Methane is a greenhouse gas, when it gets into the atmosphere it captures sunlight bouncing off the earth, traps that heat and warms us up. Too much methane in the sky means we get warmer faster. It’s really interesting, you can read more about this, here.
Could you believe something so unique and beautiful could also be so dangerous?
Where to find the best-frozen bubbles at Abraham Lake
This lake stretches nearly sixty square miles long so finding out where to go beforehand is a must if you want to save time. Thankfully, I went with a local to the best spot with a minimal amount of walking from the road.
We went to Preachers point, the most famous spot to visit. You can find the directions, here. You’ll be driving along the lake on H11. There are several areas along the lake where you can walk down and find your own spot. However, if you have a good eye there is an area where you can drive down to the lake and park. There may be a lot of people at Preachers Point but plenty of spaces to explore and find your own bubble formations.
Here is a map of other locations to photograph frozen bubbles from PandoTrip.
The best time to visit Abraham Lake
It’s really up to Mother Nature, however, the lake has been known to start freezing as early as October. There most likely won’t be bubbles though. Mid-January and February is when the lake will be most solidified. I went early January and it was completely frozen. I could see bubbles trapped over a foot of ice. Each year can be different so be sure to check out several locations. Ice begins to be “safe” at around 4 – 6 inches thickness, be sure to read more about ice safety here.
What to expect
Several bodies of water around the world have frozen methane bubbles but are typically covered with snow, so you never know they are there. Abraham Lake is extremely windy most of the time which helps keep the ice clear. If there was a good snowfall wait a day or two for it to clear. Again, up to Mother Nature to decide you may show up and it still covered.
People from all over the world are coming to visit this lake which means you most likely will see others. I saw about 50 people spread out at Preachers Point. There were more people for sunset rather than sunrise. However, plenty of space to find your own unique spot. If you see a lot of people you can drive along the lake and find your own area to explore or the other spots shared above. This spot is great for having the Canadian Rockies in the distance.
Expect temperatures ranging from 0 to -30C, that’s not including wind-chill. The ice is extremely slippery. I highly recommend wearing micro-spikes. It grips onto the ice making it much easier to walk.
It’s about a 3-minute walk along fist size rocks to the base of the lake at Preachers Point. Once you arrive, there most likely will be large broken ice chunks layered in all sorts of ways making it an uneven surface. This is when micro-spikes come in handy.
Expect eerie sounds below the ice. I heard cracking, shifting and the strangest sound ever… laser beam booms, you will know what I mean once you hear it! It’s very nerve-wracking and kinda freaks me out! Whenever I heard it I would just move to a different area. Rachel has been here 100 times and she still gets a little freaked out.
Pack a lunch, snacks and fill up gas. There are no services close by. Plan to spend at least a couple hours here. I could have stayed all day and night!
What to wear
It was -25C and extremely windy and I was SUPER WARM. You don’t want to ruin a once in a lifetime experience being cold, it sucks!
Many of you asked so here is a breakdown of EXACTLY what I wore. It’s super important to wear many layers.
- North face 550 down parka coat
- Ski pants
- Sorel Arctic boot – owned for 8 years I LOVE them
- Sports bra
- Smartwool Merino Long sleeve base layer
- Patagonia Fleece (so warm!)
- Smartwool Merino base later bottoms
- Battery heated socks (best $ I ever spent)
- Hand warmers (open 30 minutes before use give time to heat up)
- Feet warmers the whole pad not half
- Spider gloves (I liked thinner to use my camera. Whenever hands started to get cold put in my pocket and held warmer)
- Face, neck cover
- Micro-Spikes is a must
Where to stay
We stayed at Emerald Lake Lodge which was a great central place to explore several other National Parks. However, it’s a two-hour drive to Preachers Point. Aurum Lodge overlooks Abraham Lake, it is the closest to the lake. Make sure you book early during ice season since it’s a popular place. Airbnb is always a great choice as well. Here is a $40-off coupon code for your stay!
How to photograph ice bubbles at Abraham Lake
Typically, photographers rule is come an hour before sunrise/sunset to scope out your composition. Shoot before the sunrises (golden hour) and after it sets (blue hour). You can see the bubbles during the day, however, expect glare on the ice. Bring a polarizer filter to help with the glare. You do not need anything fancy, I have seen beautiful iPhone photos of this place just to capture good memories.
During our workshop, I learned what is called “photo stacking” and its a GAME CHANGER for all around sharpness! For example, I took three separate shots. One was focused on the mountain in the distance, midground, and foreground. I then stack all three in Photoshop and blend them together. If you’d like to know exactly how I was taught let me know in the comments below.
My Camera Gear for shooting at Abraham Lake
How excited are you to see this place yourself?! If you have more questions comment below, Pin, Share and subscribe to stay up to date on my latest adventures, tips and giveaways! PIN THIS!