To Sled or Not to Sled?

Sleds and alders=Fun!

Sleds and alders=Fun!

Sleds, or ski pulks, have been part of my Alaska explorations for as long as I can remember. And like most explorers of snowy regions, I have a love-hate relationship with them. The terrain I may encounter is the primary factor when deciding on whether to bring a sled or not. Is there steep terrain? Will there be lots of bush whacking? Heavily crevassed glaciers? Dirt? So many possibilities can be encountered traveling through Alaska’s mountains.

On long, mellow trips, over easy to moderate terrain, with extensive winter gear and camera equipment, the comfort and ease of a sled is hard to beat. Two trips this spring warrant the use of sled, long glacier ski tours. One trip, to the Eldridge Glacier, has some big crevasses, but its early season and they should pose little difficulty. The second trip, to the Kichatna Mountains, should also be perfect for sleds.

This is the terrain that sled were meant for. The Black Rapids Glacier, during a 2006 traverse.

This is the terrain that sleds were meant for. The Black Rapids Glacier, during a 2006 traverse.

I have many times, brought a sled when I should have brought a big pack. What looks good on the map, doesn’t always translates to reality. A short, steep, alder choked slope can be a nightmare, taking literally hours to negotiate. Whenever there is a possibility of coming across bushy terrain, I make sure I have a good system for carrying my sled on my back.

Mountaineers are notorious for overloading sleds, paying very little attention to their design or the packing of them. I have been learning lessons from many of my winter, distance racing friends, and I have decided to give my sled an overhaul. The goal is to make it more streamlined and less haphazard. I will also be switching to a fully rigid system (designed by skipulks.com) removing the annoying slack that has the sled chasing, and frequently crashing into me, or passing me or worse of all, rolling down every hill or bump.

Overloaded, this is my sled on a ski traverse of the Kahiltna Glacier in 2013. Its way too top heavy and I am not using all the space in the sled. I plan to fix this problem this year.

Overloaded! This is my sled on a ski traverse of the Kahiltna Glacier in 2013. Its way too top-heavy and I am not using all the space in the sled. I plan to fix this problem and reevaluate my sled packing and design.

I will post images of my revamped sled on the #photographalaska facebook and Instagram pages so make sure your following them if your interested. Or course, full trip reports will be posted here on the blog when I return.

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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

 

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!

 

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.”

 

 

Into the Sacrificial Lands

battreall_denali-1

Polychrome Pass area.

When most non-climbing individuals think of Denali National Park, they imagine a 90 mile dirt road on the north end of the park. Denali National Park and Preserve has over six-million acres of land and yet over 95% of the visitors to the park visit that one, 90-mile dirt road, in the seat of an old school bus.

I have always considered that section of the park, the sacrificial lands, a place that absorbs the hordes of tourist so the rest of Denali National Park and much of Alaska, could be left alone, open to those with a true sense of adventure and a love for real wild places.

I have made seven trips into Denali National Park and Preserve, all have been in remote sections of the park, I have never been to Wonder Lake or Kantishna. I have been to the park’s entrance a few times on family trips and when I work as a guide. The farthest I have been up the dirt road is Polychrome, I have rarely gone their with the intention of creating serious images. Only once have I even attempted to create meaningful work (one of them is above and below).

The idea of buses and crowds, permits and rules, has never appealed to me, so I have avoided the park road as much as possible, until now.

Why Do People Go There?

That is what I wonder sometimes, but I do know why, it is beautiful and outside of a few “Wildlife Hotspots” across the state, it’s the best place to see a wide variety of Alaska’s wild creatures.

And that is why I am going. That 90 mile stretch of road and the land around it is part of the Alaska Range, a undeniably, wonderful part. Sure, it lacks much of the wilderness feel that the majority of the Alaska Range has. But it gives me an opportunity to focus on the wildlife and macro world of the Alaska Range.

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Dall sheep, Polychrome Pass area. Taken during the annual road lottery, the only time I have tried to focus on serious image making along the park road.

When I am in remote places I can’t bring dedicated wildlife gear, or macro equipment. I have a few good wildlife shots for the book but in order to create world-class wildlife images you need to focus on the animals, you need to look, hunt, stalk and be patient!

I will also spend time in the macro world of the Alaska Range. I want this book to be a real portrait of the Alaska Range and it is important that I tell the whole story, from tundra to summit, forest to glacier.

Of course, If a landscape image offers itself, I will gladly accept.

What I am bringing this time (the Kitchen Sink!). Being car based makes it easy to bring all the gear, which is a total contrast to my minimal approach to wilderness photography!

Nikon 500mm f4 lens

Nikon 70-200 f4 lens

Nikon 100mm macro lens

Nikon 18-35mm lens

Nikon D800e

Nikon D7100

Two tripods, one with a gimball head for the 500mm.

Filter, reflectors, flashes, its all coming!

 

 

 

The Famous and the Nameless

Clouds and shadows,  Peak 9073 and the Gillam Glacier

I went to the Gillam Glacier to photograph Mount Deborah and fell in love with the lesser known peaks like Geist, Balchen, Hess and this nameless beauty Peak 9073.

During our 2012 traverse of the Kahiltna Glacier, it wasn't the famous peaks that I found the most interesting, it was lesser known peaks, like Thunder Mountain

During our 2013 traverse of the Kahiltna Glacier, it wasn’t the famous peaks that I found the most interesting, it was lesser known peaks, like Thunder Mountain

I have never been an icon chaser, never been interested in mountains only because of their notoriety or their size. I have always been attracted to the nameless, the remote and the ignored peaks and glaciers of Alaska. As a photographer I care about light, form and texture, not fame and names.

West, south-west face of the Peak 12,360, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

West, south-west face of the Peak 12,360, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

Of course, with the Alaska Range project, it is important to tell a complete story which includes both the famous mountains and the places few have ever seen. This summer will be full of both.

The Ramparts, Denali National Park and Preserve

The rarely visited Ramparts, Denali National Park and Preserve

I am exciting by my next trip into the Nutzotin Mountains at the far eastern end of the Alaska Range. My partner and I will be exploring the last glaciated peaks of the eastern Alaska Range and will also attempt to climb one or two of them.

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

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

There is a good chance that few, if any, of the peaks in the area have been climbed. Only one of the glacier’s has a name, which appropriately is, Carl Glacier!

Caribou under unnamed mountains, north side of the eastern Alaska Range

Caribou under unnamed mountains, north side of the eastern Alaska Range

One of harder peaks to photograph in the Alaska Range is the grand daddy, Denali. I find Denali pretty unattractive, a big, massive mound of rock and ice. For the 14 years I lived in Alaska, I have never taken a photo of it. I have never had an interest in climbing it. Obviously, Denali needs to be in the book, so the challenge will be to get a few images that are unique from the millions of images of Denali that flood the internet, books and calenders, it will be tough and I am looking forward to the challenge.

First image I have taken of Denali for the Alaska Project. One of this year's goals is to try and get some unique image of the beast.

This is the first image I have taken of Denali for the Alaska Range Project. One of this year’s goals is to try and get some unique images of the beast.

See you in a few weeks.

Pre-Trip Blues

I am reposting this entry that I wrote before leaving on my Kahiltna trip last year. I have many of the same concerns this time. Interestingly, many of those concerns became reality. We had extreme cold and wicked weather, and yet, I still managed to create some nice images. So I head back into the Alaska Range knowing I have what it takes to survive and create in the cold, that is part of my success as a photographer! See you in a few weeks!

Heading to the Gillam Glacier

Expedition Season Begins

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.

I took this photo of Mount Deborah in 2006. It’s 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.

I am prepping for my first Alaska Range expedition of the year. My friend Opie and I will be flying into the Gillam Glacier on Saturday. I tried to reach the Gillam Glacier in September but got weathered out (read my trip report here).

Our main focus will be to photograph Mount Deborah and Mount Hess. I would also like to photograph Mount Giddings, Balchen and Geist, which is a beautiful peak that I have never seen a photo of from the ground. I will also photograph many of the unnamed 9000+ foot peaks and glaciers in the area.

We are having an amazing stretch of good weather that I hope will hold, but it looks like a minor storm might move in while we are up in the mountains, cross your fingers. If the weather goes bad we are prepared to do some glacier cave/moulin exploration, something that both Opie and I are very fond of and experienced in. Together we have explored some spectacular glacier caves and caverns throughout the years.

The biggest concern is the wind. This will be my third trip into the Hayes Range during Spring and the wind can really hammer you. We plan to climb and camp on some small peaks to get the right perspective but that makes us very exposed to the elements. Rumor is that the lower section of the glacier is blown free of snow, as are the ridges. This can make for some exciting glacier travel!

Because of the long days of spring and summer in Alaska, I don’t have many opportunities to do night photography in the Alaska Range. However, since it still gets dark out I decided to rent from my friends, Lensrentals.com, a 24mm 1.4 lens to use for some night photography and if we are lucky, some aurora images.

My photo kit for this trip is:

Nikon d800E

Nikon 70-200 F4 (my primary mountain photography lens)

Nikon 24mm 1.4 lens

77mm Polarizer and 10 stop ND Filter

Cable release

6 batteries.

My Gitzo tripod with my old Linhoff ball head.

Make sure you Follow the blog and like my Facebook page so you can stay up to date with all the new images and expedition news.

Talk to you soon!

K.I.S.S. in the Mountains

Function over fashion. Getting organized before an expeditions will pay dividends in the mountains.

Function over fashion. Getting organized before expeditions will pay dividends in the mountains.

I try to follow the acronym K.I.S.S when preparing for an expedition and when out in the field. I try to keep everything simple and organized. When it’s cold and ugly out, it pays to “Have all your ducks lined up.” as my Dad would say.

My gear is often laughed at by fellow photographers, it’s well-worn and covered in bright-colored tape. But I believe in function over fashion. Much of my photography happens during the dim light before sunrise and after sunset. I have lost many a cable release and lens cap during these dark hours. And though neither is a trip killer, it can be frustrating and just adds an unnecessary complication to an expedition.

It also pays to keep track of batteries and memory cards, especially in the cold when I am frequently rotating them around like musical chairs.  Batteries always fail right when the light is really good, cards also fail or magically fill up right when things start to get exciting!

These are my accessories for my upcoming trip into the Gillam Glacier, Eastern Alaska Range.

 

Aerial Photography in the Alaska Range

The yellow sea, Neacola Mountains.

The yellow sea, Neacola Mountains.

The Alaska Dispatch, Alaska’s leading online newspaper has an article on the Alaska Range Project with an emphasis on the aerial photography aspect.

Check it out at:

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140228/anchorage-photographer-takes-air-capture-alaska-range