Backside Glacier Trip

Backside Glacier and Mount Huntington

Backside Glacier and Mount Huntington

I have returned from my latest journey in the Alaska Range. I flew into “Moraine Lake”, the terminal lake of the Backside Glacier. The Backside Glacier descends behind the legendary peaks of the Ruth Gorge, in-between the Tokositna and Ruth Glaciers.

I flew in with Alaska Range Project sponsor, K2 Aviation, on a glorious and unusually warm day. A heat wave had locked Alaska in a dry, record-setting summer and the day was blazing hot and uncomfortably sunny. This was my first time in the area and I had trouble deciding where I wanted to explore. I had to either go high for the views or head up glacier.

Unnamed mountains reflected in Lima Bean Lake (local name).

Unnamed mountains reflected in Lima Bean Lake (local name).

I choose to go high and camped near a small alpine lake. Photographing in Alaska in the summer, near the solstice, is hard. The days are long and the sun stays high for most of the day. Sunset was 11:59 and sunrise was around 4:00. The sky never really gets dark and rarely does that magic, alpine light happen. That was the case on this trip. In nine days I never witnessed any sunset/sunrise colors.

Working in variable, less-than-pleasing light is key to mountain and wilderness photography. Rarely do you have time to wait for the perfect light, the weather changes too quickly or you have to keep moving and work with the light you’ve got. There is always a pleasing angle of a mountain in every type of light, but being on the correct side of the mountain when the light is right is what is so difficult.

Light beams above the Ruth Glacier. Hazy days make for interesting light.

Light beams above the Ruth Glacier. Hazy days make for interesting light.

The first few days were hot and the sky was hazy and kind of grey. After spending some time up high I decided to head down and up the Backside Glacier. The Backside Glacier is a stellar glacier with lots of unique features. I headed up glacier to the firn line and camped along the eastern lateral moraine.

Melt water stream on the Backside Glacier. It was abright and sunny day so I had to use a ten-stop ND filter too slow down the exposure.

Melt water stream on the Backside Glacier. It was a bright and sunny day so I had to use a ten-stop ND filter too slow down the exposure.

After I set up camp I tried to push up a series of side glaciers that descend from Mount Church and Mount Johnson. Within a few minutes I found myself stuck in one of the most spectacular thunder storms I have ever been in. The rain was relentless, pushing its way right through the “waterproof” nylon on my tent fly. The lighting lit up the sky and the pounding thunder echoed off the granite walls that surrounded me, It was both amazing and terrifying. The storm lasted about three hours.

The shadow of Mount Church is projected into the clouds by the rising sun.

The shadow of Mount Church is projected into the clouds by the rising sun.

Cold glacier and warm rock. Mount Johnson.

Cold glacier and warm rock. Mount Johnson.

Collecting water samples.

Collecting water samples.

I headed up the side glaciers the next morning. A fantastic shadow of Mount Church was being projected, by the rising sun, on the clouds behind the glaciers. The cool color of the glacier was a great contrast to the warm colored rock and light on the big walls of Mount Jonhson.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the Backside Glacier and collecting water samples in partnership with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. I collected samples from melt-water on the surface of the glacier, from the outflow, Moraine Lake, the outflow of the lake and the river. I also collected samples from fresh water streams that descended into the lake.

The impressive gorge that prevents access onto the Ruth Glacier.

The impressive gorge that prevents access onto the Ruth Glacier.

Brown and Blue, Ruth Glacier.

Brown and Blue, Ruth Glacier.

The next day the weather changed from hot and sunny to cool and wet. I set up camp where my clients would be camping the next four days. The tail end of my trip I would be co-guiding a hiking trip for Alaska Range Project sponsor Alaska Alpine Adventures. After setting up camp, I decided to try and access the Ruth Glacier, but a spectacular canyon prevents travel between the glacier and the lateral moraine. I hiked along the edge for a few miles until it finally ended. Right when I was about to cross onto the glacier I spotted a black bear traveling on the tundra hills above me.

Not usually a concern except I had heard there was a problem bear around, and this bear was walking in the same direction as my camp. I then realized what a bad idea it was to camp alone in an established camp area that I was sure the bear knew all about.

I followed the bear as it walked along the hillside. There is a section where the hill ends right in the river and you need to side-hill above it. Just as I was reaching that point, the bear decided to descend the hill to the river.

“Great” I thought, “I am going to end up in the river.” but I waited and the bear continued onward, towards my camp. I followed the bear as my warnings to him got louder,

“Don’t mess with my stuff bear!” I kept yelling. I once had a tent, sleeping bags and Therm-a-Rest pads get destroyed by a curious black that thought our stuff was fun. I got louder and more aggressive as he headed straight for my tent. Luckily, my badgering seemed to be annoying him enough that he made one circle around the tent and then continued up the bank.

Plover Eggs.

Plover Eggs.

Mother coming in to rescue her eggs.

Mother coming in to rescue her eggs.

Mother Plover pretending to be injured in order to lure me away fro her eggs.

Mother Plover pretending to be injured in order to lure me away from her eggs.

This area is strange to me. It seems like a perfect place for large mammals, especially Dall Sheep and caribou. However, the only large animals are black bears. I spent the rest of that day photographing some of the birds and rodents that make their home in this wild country. I found a Plover nest  and the little mother came running over, chirping at me. Then she pretended to be hurt and flopped her way away from the nest, hoping I would follow. I obliged and followed her until she felt I was far enough away from the nest and then she gave up her performance.

Ptarmingan

Ptarmigan

The next day the hiking clients showed up. They were a great group, four different countries and languages were represented. During their four days, the weather was pretty terrible, but their excitement and joy of being in Alaska and the mountains could not be crushed by the heavy weather. I don’t do a lot guiding these days but it was an enjoyable trip and fellow guide Mario, was a great guy to guide with.

It wasn’t the best trip photographically, I got a few, book worthy images, but I had trouble getting into the right state of mind and couldn’t figuring out want I wanted to show of this unique area.

I had no issues with D800e on this trip. I am now backing for my next trip, a 60 mile traverse of the Neacola Range.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s