It was the first really clear day in awhile and the wind was absent. I was still feeling down about not getting any good images this year from the southern section of the Alaska Range, when I thought “Maybe I could get one more aerial shoot in”. So I called up my buddy, photographer and pilot Dan Bailey.
“Want to fly tonight?” I asked with lots of enthusiasm. He was hesitant, I am sure he was very busy and wasn’t even thinking of flying.
“I don’t know, let me call you back.” I sat there waiting. I sent an email to another photographer-pilot I knew, Joe Connelly, but he was out-of-town.
Finally Dan called back and agreed to fly.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked.
“Hidden Mountains” I replied.
“Where is that?” He questioned.
“North of Merrill Pass, though we may not make it that far, it’s a long way”. I met him at the airport at 4:30. He went through his pilot checklist, fueled up and we were in the air by 5:00.
Dan’s little Cessna 120 has about four hours of fuel (not counting reserve) and goes about 80 miles an hour. It’s a great plane for photography, it goes slow and low, but it takes a long time to get to the Alaska Range from Anchorage and I knew we would be pushing it.
The flight plan was to go through Merrill Pass and then head north into the Hidden Mountains, a remote collection of mountains sandwiched between the Revelations and the Tordrillos. I have seen very few images from these mountains and only know one person who has been in them. The only peak of any notoriety is Snowcap, which is incorrectly named on the USGS topo map, a common occurrence on those maps from the southern Alaska Range.
We flew next to the pure whiteness of Mount Spurr, just glorious in the clean sunlight. As we approached the pass we saw a wall of clouds, hovering around 2000 feet. The clouds stretched as far as we could see. We debated on whether or not to travel through the pass. Before we made our decision about the pass we flew around another known peak, The Tusk, a granite fang that protrudes out of the tundra. I had seen a few images of the Tusk and it looked pretty cool. Because of the tightness of the surrounding peaks, we had to fly above it and honestly, The Tusk, isn’t very impressive from the air, especially with so many huge, looming mountains off in the distance.
To the south I could see the mighty high peaks of the Neacolas. That was the area I was supposed to have travelled through during my ill-fated July trip, I knew that was where we needed to go.
“Forget the pass, let’s go there” I suggested and Dan agreed.
We flew up the Neacola River towards the Neacola Glacier and peak 9,426, aka Mount Neacola. But then we were side tracked by one of the most beautiful mountains in the entire Alaska Range, Peak 8305. The peak was climbed in 1965 and they called it the Citadel. My friend Dan Oberlatz showed me a picture of that beauty from a ski trip he guided many years ago, it’s sexy shape still imbedded in my mind. The Citadel is the north anchor of a collection of high peaks around the North Fork, Pitch Fork and Neacola Glaciers. The other major monster mountains are Peaks 8908 and 8505, Mount Neacola and the chubby 8105.
But there were plenty of other beauties around, in fact, everywhere I turned their was a nameless, perfect representation of the word mountain. To add more drama to already amazing scenery Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna towered of in the distance.
We flew to the west side of the mountains and ran into the same wall of clouds. As the sun set they became a glorious yellow ocean that stretched all the way to the Bering Sea.
We weaved in and out of mountains for an hour until the light left the peaks, only a pink glow remained in the sky. Our absolute amazement of the mountains and the light made our stay out there a tad bit too long and we had to race out of the mountains before it got too dark, we were flying by sight!
Luckily, we made it to the flats right before dark. We flew in the pitch black of night, with only the lights of Anchorage as our guide. We landed with ease at Merrill Field, exactly four hours after we had left.
I am still basking in the glorious light of that amazing flight. Thanks again Dan!
Also, Thanks to my friend Steve Gruhn who informed me of the names of the peaks that I thought had no names!