Telephoto Landscapes

Cool ice and Mount Deborah.

Cool ice and Mount Deborah. Taken at 200mm.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I rarely use a wide-angle lens for my photography. I prefer to work with a 70-200 lens, in fact, over 80% of my images are with that lens.

A wide-angle lens generally needs a close foreground subject that anchors the image or directs the viewer to another object in the distance. This is often referred to as a near-far composition. The foreground is the often main subject, while the distant subject establishes the environment or sets the mood. Sometimes the foreground is just a guide, that leads us to a more dominant background subject.

Beautiful mixed light, Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Beautiful mixed light, Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range. Taken at 400mm.

Using a wide-angle lens effectively is much harder than one thinks. Wide-angle photographs often include more of the scene then what we want. Including too much in our photographs is possibly the most common error that leads to disappointment in our work. I was once given the advice: “Once you composed the perfect image, to move in 20% closer.” I continue to encourage my workshop students to do the same.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river. Taken at 70mm.

It takes practice to really isolate “what” we like from a scene. When we realize what is really attracting us to a particular landscape,we can use a telephoto lens to “reach out” and grab the elements in the scene that we had been seduced by.

A telephoto lens compresses a landscape, creating layers of land and light that appear close to each other, even though they could be separated by miles and miles. Light and shadow are major elements in a telephoto landscape, they add depth to a scene that has been smashed into a two-dimensional image. Deep, long shadows and bright, dramatic highlights are the best for telephoto landscapes.

Sy and Chris descend through the upper Kahiltna Icefall, Mount Foraker is in the background, Denali National Park and Preserve

Sy and Chris descend through the upper Kahiltna Icefall, Mount Foraker is in the background, Denali National Park and Preserve. Having people in this images gives a sense of scale and really completes the image.

A telephoto landscape can bring out the graphic, abstract qualities of photography, light and the landscape. That is usually a good thing, but sometimes, its more powerful to have a small object in the frame, like a person or a tree, which adds a sense of scale to an image. So next time leave your wide angle at home and try and photograph some landscapes with just a telephoto, you will amazed by the results.

 

Into The Wild West

The Angel, Revelation Mountains. Taken in 2006.

The Angel, Revelation Mountains. Taken in 2006.

I am now in the planning stage for next year’s expeditions. My main focus is the west end of the Alaska Range. Remote, isolated and difficult to access, few have explored its secrets.

The dominate mountains in the west/south-west end of the Alaska Range are the Revelation Mountains. The Revelation Mountains are becoming more popular in the climbing community because of the exploits of my friend Clint Helander. For the past few years, the Revelation Mountains have been his obsession. He has made numerous first ascents in this land of wicked steep peaks, inspiring others to follow in his crampon points. With that said, the Revelations only see an average of three expeditions a year, all of them aimed at climbing new, difficult routes. There is plenty left to discover in the Revelations and I look forward to returning to them.

In between the Revelation Mountains and the mighty Tordrillo Mountains is a land of  unknowns. During the early explorations of the Tordrillo Mountains, the hardy mountaineers would look west from the frozen summits and see a large cluster of jagged peaks, tucked behind the Todrillos and in front of the Revelations, they called them the “Hidden Mountains”, they have continued to stay that way, hidden.

Unnamed, unclimbed mountains, Hidden Mountains, South-West Alaska Range.

Unnamed, unclimbed mountains, Hidden Mountains, South-West Alaska Range.

On the north/northeast ends of the western Alaska Range are two small pockets of peaks, the Terra Cotta Mountains and the Teocalli Mountains. The fame Iditarod Trail runs through these hills. At the far south are the Neacola Mountains, which create the southern anchor of the Alaska Range as its crashes into the Aleutian Mountains.

Only a couple of the mountains have names on the USGS maps. The most obvious one in the Hidden Mountains is Snowcap, which is actually on the wrong peak (that is also a problem in the Revelations Mountains, certain maps have names on the wrong peaks.) The true Snowcap Mountain (ca 8,350′) was visited in 2010 by legendary climber Fred Beckey along with Alaskan Legend Richard Baranow and Zach Shlosar. Beckey did not make the summit but Richard and Zach did.

Less than a handful of climbers have tried to push into the Hidden Mountains from the closet access point, Merrell Pass near Gold Pan peak. Outside of that, there has been little activity in the area, especially by an explorer or photographer. In fact, the only photographs I can come by (outside of the Revelation Mountains) are photographs taken by large, mineral extraction companies, looking for alternatives to the Pebble Mine.

The western Alaska Range is one of the toughest terrains I have travelled through. Access is limited, the glaciers are moraine strewn and busted up, so ski planes have few options. There are no large lakes to land a float plane on. That leaves access to far off strips on the fringes of the area or by expensive helicopter.

There is nothing but bogs and forest beyond the western Alaska Range, all the way to the Bering Sea.

There is nothing but bogs and forest beyond the western Alaska Range, all the way to the Bering Sea.

Needless to say, this will be the most demanding season of expeditions. It is also the last season, so it is extremely important that I reach these areas. This will also be the most expensive season.

If you would like to support the project please consider buying a print, this a great way to get some great mountain art for your house or office and at the same time support the project. Here is the link to my holiday print sale.

If have back-country skills and would be interested in joining an expedition, feel free to contact me (read this post first).

Cheers,

Carl

 

Mountain Profile: Mount Deborah

I took this photo of Mount Deborah in 2006. Its taken from the south as I was flying over the Clearwater Mountains. We will be landing on the other side, under the super steep north face.

My first time seeing Mount Deborah up close. I took this photo in 2006. Its taken from the south as I was flying after a trip in the Clearwater Mountains.

My obsession with Mount Deborah began after reading the classic mountaineering book, Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative. In it, David Roberts describes an epic journey through a remote Alaskan Wilderness, full of failure, suffering and enlightenment. Undoubtedly one of the great books of mountain literature.

Mount Deborah was named in 1907 by James Wickersham for his first wife, Deborah Susan Wickersham. Its first ascent was in 1954 by mountain legends: Fred Beckey, Henry Meybohm, Heinrich Harrer, via the South Ridge.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah. This is the impossible North Face. Taken from the Gillam Glacier.

During rare clear weather, Mount Deborah can be seen in all its gory from the Denali Highway. To reach Mount Deborah though, involves a grand journey through some of the Alaska Range’s roughest and most isolated terrain.

I attempted to reach it by skis from the Richardson highway in 2004, but was turned back by miserable snow conditions. I attempted again in September 2013, but the weather shut us down. So in April 2014, I cheated and flew right to the Gillam Glacier, at the base of the north face.

Mixed light and the north face of mount Deborah.

Mixed light and the north face of Mount Deborah. The vertical gain from the Gillam Glacier to the summit is over 6,000ft of steepness!

Mount Deborah is one of Alaska’s most beautiful and intimidating mountains. It is a mountain of myth and legend. I hope that some day, it, along with her surrounding neighbors, will get the protection and celebrated wilderness status they deserve.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah. The beauty of the Eastern Alaska Range rivals any place in Alaska and deserves to be protected and celebrated just like other mountain regions in Alaska.

 

Alaska Range Print Sale

North ridge of Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve

Everyone needs some mountain beauty in their lives! Mount Russell.

Next year is my final season of expeditions into the Alaska Range. My focus will be on the “Wild West”, the most remote and most difficult area to access. It will cost a whole lot of cash to get out there, three different times!

So I am offering a holiday print sale to help raise some funds to cover the cost of flying into the some of the most isolated mountains in all of Alaska.

Each print is printed by me and achieves the highest archival standards. They are printed on cotton paper, the most environmentally friendly paper available (yes, friendlier than bamboo papers.)

I will be selling them for half the gallery price through November. So if you need an awesome holiday gift, you have a lonely wall that needs some mountain beauty, or you just want to support the project, here is your chance.

Follow this link to my main website to browse the selection and order:

http://www.photographalaska.com/prints.html

Thanks for your support,

Carl

Mountain Profile: Denali

I am starting a new little series on the blog, short mountain profiles from the Alaska Range. From the famous to the nameless, unclimbed to overrun, I will try to cover a variety. Some mountains I have many images, others only one. First up, the most famous mountain of them all, Denali.

Denali reflection, taken from the south.

Denali reflection, taken from the south.

Denali needs little introduction. The tallest mountain in North American, it is the most sought after peak in North America, by climbers and tourist alike. Its official name is “Mount McKinley”. The quickest way to show someone you’re not from Alaska is to call it Mount McKinley instead of Denali. The word Denali is Athabaskan and roughly translates to “The High One” or “The Great One”.

Not only is Denali the tallest mountain in North America it is also one of the largest on Earth with a vertical gain that rivals most mountains in the world, surpassing Everest by over 4,000 feet.

This image is taken from the north and highlights Denali's massive size and the wicked Wickersham Wall.

This image is taken from the north and highlights Denali’s massive size and the wicked Wickersham Wall.

The first ascent of Denali was in 1910 when two Alaskan prospectors—Peter Anderson and Billy Taylor—from a party of four reached the summit on summit on April 3. They climbed 8,000 feet from their 11,000-foot camp to the summit and returned to camp in 18 hours. The Sourdough Expedition team were climbing novices who spent 3 months climbing to win a bet with a bar owner who said it would never be climbed. They wore homemade gear made mostly from caribou fur. On summit day, they carried doughnuts, caribou meat, 3 flasks of hot drinks, and a 14-foot-long spruce pole and an American flag. unfortunately, they climbed the North Summit, not realizing that the South Summit was taller. Many of the old-time climbers that I know still give them credit for the first ascent.

The first ascent of the higher South Summit was on June 7, 1913 by Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum from an expedition led by Hudson Stuck. They climbed the Muldrow Glacier route.

Wild weather on Denali. The mountain is notorious for terrible weather.

Wild weather on Denali. The mountain is notorious for terrible weather.

Is Denali shrinking? It was originally surveyed at  20,320 feet (6,194 meters) above sea level, which was established in 1952. However, a survey conducted in 2010 using modern technology pegged Denali’s elevation as 20,237 feet (6,168 meters), shrinking it by 83 feet (26 meters). Many people reject this new height.

Denali is a tough mountain to photograph. While it can be seen from many vantage points from around south-central Alaska, it is hard to find something unique. If you get too close to the monster, it becomes a shapeless mass, it is better to capture it from a distance, which helps highlight its massive size.

Denali is often capped with a cloud. Denali creates its own weather and tourist have about a 30% chance of a clear enough day to see the mountain's summit.

Denali is often capped with a cloud. Denali creates its own weather and tourist have about a 30% chance of a clear enough day to see the mountain’s summit.

Chasing the Fall Colors in the Alaska Range

Skull and fall colors, north side, Hayes Range.

Skull and fall colors, last year’s trip to the north side of the Hayes Range.

The fall season is short in the Alaska Range. The shoulder between Summer and Winter only last a few weeks at best. I have often had snow cover the fall colors right at their prime.

This is my last chance to capture the brief, fall display for the book (all photographs need to be to the publisher by August of next year). The last two years I have flown in to a remote section of the Alaska Range, with limited success. It is very difficult to predict when and where the colors will be at their prime. Everyone has their theories on why the colors change when they do, but I have yet to find any reasonable way to predict when and where, all one can do is search.

So this year I will be approaching it differently. Generally, the alpine colors on the north side of the Range change first, followed by the south side tundra, then the lower shrubs and trees on the north…etc. I have found the alpine tundra turning red as early as the last week of August and is late as the second week of September!

Rumor has it that the alpine tundra on the north side of the Alaska Range is already beginning to turn. The goal is to drive until we find the colors and hike in, spend a few days and then move on to the next display. I am not a fan of roadside photography, but it may be the only way to find those elusive colors when they are at their best.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

The holy grail of Alaska fall colors is when you find the alpine tundra and the lower shrubs and bushes changing at the same time. This was the last day of last year’s trip. The tundra had just turned and the lower shrubs were almost there, I just missed it!

 

Alpine Flora of the Alaska Range

“He who can take no interest in what is small, will take false interest in what is great.”  -John Ruskin

Bear Flowers and Stream, Clearwater Mountains

Bear Flowers and Stream, Clearwater Mountains

The mountains of the Alaska Range command a visitor’s attention. It often takes days to allow oneself to look beyond them, or more accurately, below them. I just returned from a trip into the Clearwater Mountains. My goal was to focus on the more intimate side of the mountains, to see beyond the grandeur.

I want this project to be a complete visual story of the Alaska Range. The plants, lichens, mosses and insects are a small but vital part of the mountain landscape. The mountains are stoic, they do not share their weaknesses, the plants, lichens and insects however, can tell us much about the health of the Alaska Range.

Lichen, Clearwater Mountains

Lichen, Clearwater Mountains

Caribou antlers and waterfalls, Clearwater Mountains

Caribou antlers and waterfalls, Clearwater Mountains

Rosewort, Clearwater Mountains

Rosewort, Clearwater Mountains

Pink Plumes, Clearwater Mountains

Pink Plumes, Clearwater Mountains

 

Reality in the Nutzotin Mountains

Our objective rises above the lateral moraine, Peak 8505, or Hidden Peak, because it was almost always hidden from view.

Our objective,  Peak 8514, or Hidden Peak, rises above the huge lateral moraine. We named it Hidden Peak because it was almost always hidden from view.

“I think we might try and climb something” I said to Sy, my long time partner of Alaskan adventures.

“Really? What mountain, where?” he responded with a mixture of skepticism and intrigue.

“Well, I need to photograph in the remote Nutzotin Mountains, but I am willing to take a few days off and focus on climbing a peak. None of them have names, don’t even know if they have ever been climbed?” I replied.

That was all that needed to be said to seal the deal; remote, no names, unclimbed.
The Nutzotin Mountains are the far eastern anchor of the Alaska Range. Tucked in behind the mighty Wrangell Mountains, and lingering on the Canadian border, the Nutzotin Mountains are rarely visited by climbers, or anyone for that matter. The majority of visitors visit the historical mining town of Chisana. Gold was discovered there in 1913 and the rush lasted until the early 1920s. There are a few old buildings standing and about 20 hardy residents.

After a seven and a half hour drive from Anchorage, we arrived in McCarthy. It was mid-May, and the town was still waking up from its winter slumber. Buildings were partially boarded up and only a handful of people mingled around, the majority at the bar. Our cell phones didn’t work so we couldn’t contact the pilot, Gary of McCarthy Air. We went to his shop and office, but it was locked up and stuffed to the ceiling with unopened boxes. We went to the bar and was quickly hustled to the side of the building by a uncharacteristically Alaskan, well groomed, young man.

“Hey guys, could you hang out over here for a few minutes, we a filming a shot of the front of the building” he pleaded. When asked about “what” they were working on, we learned that McCarthy had falling victim to the new Alaskan disease, the reality show.
Since October, a film crew had been filming, interviewing and generally probing the full time residents of McCarthy. The crew bolstered with great pride about the project, but all Sy and I could think was that it was going to be another highly manipulated, over dramatized show that had a very little to do with what Alaska was really about, what it meant to go on a true Alaskan adventure, what real wilderness was.

Most Alaskans have grown tired of seeing our beloved state get turned into a Hollywood fantasy. Reality shows and fictional movies, that are so absurd, so mind-blowingly stupid that the whole world thinks that Alaska is full of uncultured idiots with quick tempers and that going into the Alaskan wilderness is a sure ticket to death, a suicidal mission into such extreme wilderness that only the most macho of people would dare go.

This interaction made us desperate to get out of Dodge. Ironically, only the Los Angeles film crew’s cell phones worked, so I borrowed one and gave Gary a call. He had an interview with the film crew at 2:00pm and would meet us afterwards, around 3:00pm, in front of his office.

Our pilot, Jim of McCarthy Air.

Our pilot, Gary Green of McCarthy Air.

Sy and I loitered in sunshine, looking at brochures on flight seeing and glacier hiking. When Gary showed up he was flaunting a clean, red and black plaid flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. Sy wondered if it was for show or if that was how he really dressed. After some chit chat about all our shared acquaintances, he got down to business. He didn’t have a key to his own office but did have a credit card swipe for his IPhone.
“How much was I going to charge you again?” he asked.

“$500 a piece” I said.

“Right” he replied, unaware at the killer deal he was giving us. The other pilots I called wanted $850 a piece to fly to the same spot, needless to say I was pleasantly surprised when he quoted me $500 round trip.

We loaded into his tiny truck and bumped along the dusty road to the “McCarthy International Airport”. Gary filled the plane while we shuttled gear and packed the plane, loading the “sharps” : ice axes, climbing gear, poles and all other accessories in first, followed by packs.

“Okay, where are we going again?” Gary asked.

“Ugh…Baultoff Creek” I said with apprehension.

“Yeah, right, get in.” Gary gestured and we squeezed into his tin can, a silver, polished 180. He skipped the usual flight jargon, either assuming we had spent enough time in bush planes to be unnecessary or he wasn’t quite in the tourist groove yet. Gary’s casual demeanor was both refreshing and a little disconcerting. Within seconds we were buzzing into the Wrangell Mountains. I have experienced at least fifty bush flights in the mountains of Alaska, but this was my first time through the Wrangell Mountains and I was blown away. Imagine desert and ice together. We swerved in-between huge, crumbling plateaus of red rock with glaciers dripping from their flat tops. It was a vision of the Earth’s past, when the ice of the poles pushed much closer to the equator, a few hundred million years ago. Off to the south we could see the massive white world of the Bagley Ice field and its countless ice clad summits, some of the tallest in North America.

We shot out of the Wrangell’s over some rolling hills. It was a shock to go from those massive peaks to what appeared to be a flat landscape. I felt like it was criminal to leave those mighty Wrangell Mountains, and for what? A small collection of insignificant humps? But the deeper we plunged into the Nutzotin Mountains, the quicker I forgot about the Wrangells and grew excited by our chosen mountains.

We raced into Baultoff Creek in a rage. The plane rattled and roared. I saw the strip ahead of us and figured we would do a pass over, there was no way we were going to land at the speed we were going, I was wrong. We touched down on the over grown landing spot like a jumbo jet, skidding with flaps down. Before I could get my bearings the plane was being whipped around 180 degrees, sputtering to a stop.

After unloading Gary asked “So, when am I picking you guys up?”

“ugh…Sunday Morning” I said with a concerned tone.

“Right” Gary nodded with a smile.

“We will be here by Saturday afternoon, so if you want to pick us up that night, you know, if the weather looks bad for Sunday, that would be fine.” Sy said. Sy had to be back to work on Monday and was a little worried by Gary’s nonchalant reply our of chosen pick up date.
I had been feeling lately like my wilderness journeys had been getting watered down. The last six or seven trips I have had a SAT phone. When we first started using them they were ONLY for emergencies and at five bucks a minute, there was no way you’re were going to make late nights calls to your girlfriends.

But now you can rent one for a $100 a week with twenty free minutes. They are no bigger than a large Smartphone. They had become a mandatory piece of gear. The problem was that we were using them for non emergencies, like calling family on a daily basis, getting frequent weather reports, calling the pilot early for pick-up, just because we wanted to go home. In a fit of rebellion, Sy and I decided to forgo the SAT phone. We could only rely on the pilot’s word that he would come on the date we chose.

Gary raced out of the mountains as quickly as he came and a calming silence over took us. We stood motionless, enjoying the cool wind, the sound of the creek and the splendid landscape.

We lumbered under our heavy packs up Baultoff Creek. The rotten overflow ice was still solid and made for easy travel up the river bed. The same could not be said for the lingering snow, which had absolutely zero strength. One wrong step and you were up to your knees in watery slush. The patches became more frequent so we choose to climb over hills and loose rock than suffer through the foot numbing smoothie.

Sy using the rotten river ice for quick travel up the creek.

Sy using the rotten river ice for quick travel up the creek.

Another piece of technology I had come rely too heavily on was Google Earth. I have come to rely on its high-resolution images to choose photography locations and routes through remote wilderness. However, much of Alaska has poor image quality and the Nutzotin were one of those areas. This meant we had to rely on our 60-year-old topo maps and our years of back-country experience. This just added to the value of our journey and simply made every decision more rewarding.

Tired and hungry we made camp around 10pm. We watched pink light dance on the rounded peaks as we relaxed on the tundra. We were entertained by the cliff-side antics of Dall Sheep. With warm food in our bellies, we came to the conclusion that few things are better than a spring evening in the Alaskan wilderness.

Post dinner map reading and sheep watching.

Post dinner map reading and sheep watching.

The next morning we slogged up to our chosen base camp, at the base of the massive terminal moraine of the Baultoff Glacier. It was getting harder and harder to avoid the patches of soft snow, so we took are chances on the unstable, lichen spotted boulders of the moraine. We were often seduced by the smooth ease of the snow, quickly cursing our poor decision as we struggled to extract ourselves from the frozen mush.

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Beautiful lake in the middle of the moraine.

After we established camp, we went bounding across the moraine, free of our heavy burdens. We hunted for views of the surrounding peaks. I had picked a handful of peaks that, from looking at the map, could have potential for fun climbing. None of them had names nor any recorded ascents. The fact that we had to make our own route decisions, no guidebooks to refer too, no beta from others, was so liberating, so exciting that our stomachs ached with anticipation and anxiety. High up on the moraine a large peak came into full view and instantly we knew that we would try to climb it.

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Were shared the area with a wiry red fox.

I realized that I hadn’t heard a plane or seen a jet since we were dropped off (and we wouldn’t our entire trip), a rarity in Alaska, or anywhere in the world for that matter. We watched a skinny, calico fox hunt ground squirrels as we told stories and shared our growing fondness for the Nutzotin Mountains.

Spring was trying hard to arrive.

Spring was trying hard to arrive.

As the evening approached, the wind began to pick-up. Low clouds stretched over the summits, a sign of approaching weather. A few hours later and we were in a full on storm. We dove into the tent and watched it bend with each punishing gust, which easily reached 45 miles an hour. Snow came whirling down from above and worked its way into every weak spot. The heavy snow began to build up under the tent’s fly, coating it’s mesh body.

After a restless night we woke to partial clearing. With hazy minds, we dragged ourselves out into a new scene, winter. Luckily, by mid day the sun was blazing again and the new snow melted quickly. During the storm, I had gotten up in the middle of the night to take a leak and walked out onto the old snow, it was firm and held my weight. That confirmed what I had suspected, the only chance we had on climbing any mountain was to leave at 3:00am and try to get back down before the snow got too soft, which was around 8:00am.

Sy making breakfast after the storm

Sy making breakfast after the storm

After a day of lounging and exploring, Sy went to bed early. I wanted to crawl into my bag too, but I am photographer, driven by a subconscious force, an uncontrollable need to follow the light until it has faded into darkness. I stumbled into the tent around midnight. It’s always hard to sleep before an alpine start, I was anxious about what we would discover higher up. We couldn’t see the mountain, it was hidden from our camp, nor could we see the summit from our mountain view spot, we had no idea what to expect.

Gentle evening light

Gentle evening light

Under a bright, glowing night sky we walked up the old river ice towards the toe of the glacier. It’s crusty surface made for easy travel through the jumbled moraine. With hesitation we crossed large swatches of snow and were pleasantly surprised by their firmness, we knew that once we got out of the moraine, it was all snow. We had brought snow shoes, a last-minute decision that we were happy we made. We decided not to wear them until it was totally necessary, knowing how much more slowly we would travel once they were on. We needed to move as quick as possible in order to summit and get down before the snow softened up and would no longer support us.

About an hour up I decided to take a photograph of Sy coming up through the moraine and then realized I had left my camera at the tent. Over twenty years as a working professional photographer and I had forgotten my camera! If I went down to get the camera we would lose valuable time, possibly killing our summit attempt. But Sy and I knew I had to go back. We decided he would keep going up the glacier and I would try to catch up.
I dropped my pack and sprinted down the river, happy that it was still frozen enough to support myself running in boots. I reached the tent and bolted back. I did the round trip in 45 minutes.

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The spot where I realized I had forgotten my camera. By the time I returned, the sun was coming up.

I reached my pack and scanned the mountain looking for Sy and was surprised to see him so low on the mountain. I followed his tracks as they grew deeper into the snow. One inch, two inches…at about five inches, he switched to snowshoes, so I did the same.
I caught up to him as he lounged in the snow, eating a snack. The sun began to crest the distant mountains and he was enjoying its warmth. The sunlight on the snow would hasten the snow softening process, our time was running out, it was time to push ourselves. I took over the burden of leading through the soft snow. The stellar views were becoming a distraction, a sea of endless peaks. We reached the large plateau below the main summit pinnacle, quicker than we expected. We had two ascent options. One was a huge 40 degree face, about 800 feet high. There was some obvious slide activity on the face and after the all the new snow and wind, we decided it was too sketchy.

Our other option was the south ridge. It was a very aesthetic, narrow ridge with delicate cornices and a few steep bugles. It look great. We decided to stay unroped and switched to crampons. I let Sy have the honor of leading the way up the beautiful precipice. We shuffled around a few rocky sections, crampons desperately gripping the loose rock. The views just kept getting more and more outstanding. Our excitement grew as the ridge became less steep and the sky above grew larger and larger with each step. I felt like surging to the top, adrenaline at its maximum, but we both knew we needed to be wary of the Alaska Range’s infamous, hidden summit crevasses.

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Sy reaching the top on the south ridge.

Without incident we arrived on the skinny summit. We both smiled, it was a 360 degree view, clear as could be. The mighty Wrangell Mountains demanded our attention, rising up like frozen sentinels, guarding the sea. It was flawless, a perfect summit. Everything went as planned. It was pure bliss and yet, I wasn’t completely at peace.

I couldn’t help thinking that it was all too easy. Was this really an adventure? What would others think? Dull and boring I figured. No speed records or extreme routes accomplished, no epics, no fighting, no animals out to eat us, there was no drama, no story for Hollywood. I realized that no matter how much I had tried to avoid all the crap about Alaska and modern “adventure”, it still had sunk into my own subconscious. I sat down and took a deep breath and looked at Sy, who was enjoying the moment, feet dangling off the steep north face.

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Sy on the summit of Hidden Peak, peak 8514, Nutzotin Mountains.

I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want or need any of the drama our society told me was required for a modern adventure. For Sy and I, this journey was everything we needed from the mountains. Alaska had given us the gift of true wilderness. We felt isolated and remote, but not alone. It was a classic good time, with a good friend, in a truly wild place, it was the reality of real Alaskans.

If you want to know what happen during the rest of our journey read this post Grizzly Gorge.

Wild Weather in the Alaska Range

Denali, the Alaska Range's most famous mountain.

Wild light and weather on Denali.

“The worst weather of any mountain range outside of Antarctica.” That is often the description of the Alaska Range’s notorious weather. In a single day you could have sun, rain and snow. It is always windy and the weather changes instantly, first you’re wearing a t-shirt, before you know it, you’re in a fleece with a shell. There is an old Alaskan adage “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” That pretty much sums up life in the Alaska Range.

June blizzard

June blizzard

But it’s not always terrible. When it is nice, it is really nice. A sunny, summer day in the Alaska Range seems endless and is worth two nice days anywhere else. The constantly changing weather and light can make for some truly dynamic images, if your willing to be patient and are prepared.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river.

1:00am sunset illuminates the rain, sky and river.

The Alaska Range continues to live up to its reputation. This summer has been a roller coaster ride of unpredictability. Hot, sunny days, followed by wicked, quick-moving storms that dump rain and snow, followed again by more warm weather. This has led to flooding throughout the Range, making travel difficult, especially the river crossings. Easy streams have turned into scary torrents.

Rain and sun, your typical summer forecast in the Alaska Range.

Rain and sun, your typical summer forecast in the Alaska Range.

The weather has been the most difficult challenge of the Alaska Range project, but it has also given many opportunities for wonderful, unique images.

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Life Happens

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon

Sorry about the lack of posts. Its been quite the wild ride the last week or so. Still trying to finish articles on my trips to the Nuzotin Mountains and Denali. I have also been working on my first ebook, which has been a challenging experience! Two of my guided trips have been cancelled and I had two partners back out of some very important and expensive trips, forcing me to scramble and come up with new destinations and partners. On top of all that, we had a near tragic family event.

It is time like these I value all my years exploring remote wilderness. The mountains have taught me to be flexible, to embrace the unknown and to not put much faith in our chosen plans or routes. On the surface, our urban life seems consistent and reliable, but that is just an illusion that leads to disappointment and regret.

I continue to try to live in the moment, take life as it comes, find pleasure in uncertainty.

I will heading back into  Delta Mountains, one of my favorites sections of the Alaska Range. It will be could to spend time with an old friend.

I will heading back into Delta Mountains, one of my favorites sections of the Alaska Range. It will be good to spend time with an old “friend.”