North side of the Hayes Range: Part One

Last light on Mount Shand

Last light on Mount Shand, Eastern Alaska Range

“I feel like we are on a different trip” Barry said, as we cowered under our tiny cook shelter, the rain pouring relentlessly outside the thin nylon. He was referring to the first two days of the trip.

Two days earlier we drove the six hours from Anchorage to Delta Junction under blue bird skies, all the elusive mountains were out: Marcus Baker, Sergeant Robinson, Drum, Sanford, White Princess, Moffit and Hayes. It was a glorious drive that kept spirits high.

Our goal was to fly that afternoon, into a remote “strip” next to the Trident Glacier. I had been waiting and waiting to go to this area. I knew it had the potential for great imagery, especially if I could nail the fall colors. I also knew it would be expensive and the weather could easily be crap. It was a risky trip to take.

But this year had been rough and I hadn’t gotten as many images as I had hoped, so I decided to go for it, one last-ditch effort to get some solid images for the project.

I left Delta Junction around 4:30, riding behind pilot Jim Cummings in his Super Cub. It was a great flight, clear as could be. I fired question after question about the area at Jim, who knows the Deltas and the Debora-Hayes mountains better than anyone.

We approached our “strip” about 40 minutes later. When I say strip, I mean a dried up river bed that doesn’t have too many large wash outs or large rocks that could flip the plane. When the plane came to a stop, I knew something was wrong.

“Were not in the right spot’ I said.

“Where did you want to go?” Jim questioned.

“The strip next to the glacier”.

“Oh, that spot got washed out this year.” Jim replied while unloading the gear. I was disappointed. But we were at least close, about three miles from where I wanted to land and four miles  from the spot I wanted to camp at.

Jim roared off and an hour and a half later he returned with Barry. I had started to get impatient, anxious to get moving, we had four miles to cover and I wanted to get there while the light was still good. We dumped a cache quickly near the drop off spot and headed up a great route along the lateral moraine of the Trident Glacier.

The lack of water was starting to worry us as we trudged up the glacier’s edge. There didn’t seem to be any decent camping spots with potential for good images either. When we finally reached a good spot, next to a nice clear stream, we found another tent with two sheep hunters hanging out. We pushed past their spot into the fading light.

At the end of the moraine we came across two small alpine lakes.

“Perfect” I thought, good water and some possible reflection images. The lake I was looking for,  which I scouted on Google Earth, was farther down along the glacier’s edge, but is was just a silty hole, with little potential for good images, water or camping.

Setting up the tent as the last light fades on Mount Moffit

Setting up the tent as the last light fades on Mount Moffit

We set up the tent as the last light faded on Mount Moffit. I hate arriving to camps late. I didn’t have a chance to make solid photographs or scout a location for the morning light. We cooked dinner in the clear, cold darkness, under amazing stars.

The next morning I woke up at 5:30.  My goal was to get up and find a foreground for Mount Moffit. The small lakes near our tent were filled with floating cotton from the Cottongrass and the reflection wasn’t really working. The puddles had a thin sheet of ice, a testament to the cold overnight temps. I ran around the area trying to find a good foreground. I cursed as the mountain turned pink with the morning light. Finally after pacing around tundra  like a mad man I cam across two more lakes with perfect reflections of the mountains. The light was no longer pink but the foreground was just coming into the sun. It was windy so I had to boost the camera’s ISO up in order to stop motion.

Mount Moffit Reflection, Eastern Alaska Range.

Mount Moffit Reflection, Eastern Alaska Range.

Detail of Moffit's western North Ridge, Mount Hayes in the background

Detail of Moffit’s North Ridge, Mount Shand in the background

And another view of Mount Moffit.

And another view of Mount Moffit.

One of the problems when chasing light and when you have such a dominant subject like the towering Mount Moffit, is that you have trouble composing images without the main attraction. After an hour of photographing a variety of views of Moffit, I realized I needed to try to focus on other subjects.

One trick I learned years ago was to turn around from your “main” subject and look the other way. The light is similar and usually many great images are missed and over-looked.

The lower foothills of the north side of the Eastern Alaska Range.

The lower foothills of the north side of the Eastern Alaska Range.

On the drive up I noticed right away the lack of fall colors. Usually by the last week of August, the tundra flora is getting red and orange, but I had to really search out colors, everything seemed a week late.

Around noon, we decided, with hesitation, to leave the awesome spot under the glorious Mount Moffit. I felt confident that I had enough solid images of Moffit and the surrounding area. I knew the weather wasn’t supposed to hold and I felt the urge to begin our migration to towards Mount Hayes.

After a failed short cut over the wrong pass we ended at our cache around 4:00pm. Clouds had already moved in. We found a nice clear stream next to the bank and a really nice spot to camp. I wanted to keep moving but we both decided that we didn’t want to get stuck at night searching for a good water source and camp spot, so we decided to stay put and committed to getting up early to continue our trip.

After dinner it began to rain lightly and with the rain came a dinner guest, a large bull caribou. I followed him around the willows, trying to get a clear shot. He didn’t seem too concerned by me, which was a little disheartening, knowing that there were hunters in the area.

I played cat and mouse in the willows with this fantastic bull.

I played cat and mouse in the willows with this fantastic bull.

I have always considered seeing caribou in the wild as a good omen and went to sleep confident that the rest of the trip was going to be a good one.

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2 thoughts on “North side of the Hayes Range: Part One

  1. Pingback: Heading to the Gillam Glacier | The Alaska Range Project

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