Into the Sacrificial Lands

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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!

 

 

 

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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.

Spring Flight

Mount Foraker and a sea of mountains, Denali National Park and Preserve

Mount Foraker and a sea of mountains, Denali National Park and Preserve

The weather here in Alaska has been off the charts, warm and beautiful. My friend OE and I have been trying to match schedules and we finally had the opportunity to go for an evening flight in the Alaska Range.

The Ramparts, Denali National Park and Preserve

The Ramparts, Denali National Park and Preserve

We left Birchwood in his little Pacer around 7:30 and landed back in Birchwood at 10:30! It was a fantastic flight. The warm, windy days and lack of moisture have created some haze, even in the big mountains. The light never got really dynamic but it was still a beautiful and photographically successful trip. OE’s Pacer is a great little photo plane and I am looking forward to a few more spring flights before my summer expedition schedule goes into full swing.

The beautiful Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve.

The beautiful Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve.

A tighter shot of Mount Russell and it's glorious north ridge, Denali National Park and Preserve

A tighter shot of Mount Russell and it’s glorious north ridge, Denali National Park and Preserve

Little Switzerland, Denali National Park and Preserve

Little Switzerland, Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali towers over everything!

Denali towers over everything!

Southern foothills of the central Alaska Range

Southern foothills of the central Alaska Range

High Peaks of the Gillam Glacier

First light on Mount Hess (center) and Mount Deborah (right).

First light on Mount Hess (center) and Mount Deborah (right).

I have been wanting to go to the Gillam Glacier for ten years. I attempted two times to reach it, once by foot and once by skis. This time I took the easy way, Super Cub.

The Gillam descends from the north side of the eastern Alaska Range. It is shaped like a stubby Y, with one branch heading towards the base of Mount Deborah and the other to the bottom of Mount Balchen and Mount Geist. At the fork rises the imposing Mount Hess.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah.

Mixed light and the north face of mount Deborah.

Mixed light and the north face of Mount Deborah.

My primary photographic goal was the 12,339 ft, Mount Deborah. A legendary peak, known for its steepness and epics. One of the first mountaineering books I read was David Robert’s Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative, a classic book of mountaineering literature. Mount Deborah was first climbed in 1954 by mountaineering legends, Fred Beckey, Henry Meybohm and Heinrich Harrer, via the South Ridge. Our first camp was below the 6,000 ft north face of Deborah and the north ridge of Mount Hess.

Beautiful light on the north ridge of Mount Hess.

Beautiful light on the north ridge of Mount Hess.

North side of Mount Hess.

North side of Mount Hess.

Amazing east face of Hess.

Amazing east face of Hess.

Without a doubt, it is the 11,940 ft Mount Hess that dominates the Gillam Glacier. All of our camps had spectacular views of Hess. One camp, above the east fork of the Gillam was particularly stunning, as was our camp directly below the outrageous east face. One could spend hours (as I did) trying to find a way up that mountain, with its impenetrable hanging glaciers that never quit serenading you with thundering avalanches. The only route not threatened by hanging death appears to be the east ridge, though steep, loose rock would be its challenge.

The beautiful west ridge of Mount Balchen, Gillam Glacier, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

The west ridge of Mount Balchen, with it’s beautiful grey, granite spires.

Shadow and Mount Geist. This is the lovely west face.

Shadow and Mount Geist. This is the west face. That is Mount Skarland’s summit peaking out.

At the head of the east fork of the Gillam are two fantastic peaks, 11,140 ft Mount Balchen and 10,121 ft Mount Geist. From the head of the Gillam, these two unique peaks are complete contrast. Mount Geist, is a black, ugly pyramid of loose rock. Mount Balchen is a beautiful series of light grey, granite spires. Balchen is the only peak around the Gillam Glacier, made of this pleasing grey rock.

beautiful light on the homely Mount Giddings

Pretty light on the homely Mount Giddings

I was also able to photograph Geist and Balchen from the west. A skinny spur glacier descends from the west faces of Geist and 10,052 ft Mount Giddings, a huge chunky peak, capped with grey ice. interestingly, Geist and Balchen take on different roles when seen from the west. Geist becomes the poster child of mountain perfection, a perfect triangle of ice, Balchen on the other hand, is a huge dome, my son Walker would describe it as “plump”.

The mountaineer in me was itching to climb. The bullet proof snow begged for crampons and the weather was perfect. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to attempt any peaks nor was my partner a big climber. I am not a technical climber, the routes that looked appealing to me were the elegant north ridge of Geist and the southwest face/ridge of Balchen.

Like on most of my expeditions, I find it’s not always the named peaks that are the most beautiful, in my next post I will talk about some the unnamed beauties in the area.

 

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!

My Training for Wilderness and Mountain Photography

My main partner in crime, Sy, enjoying a unnamed summit in the Chugach mountains.

My main partner in crime, Sy, enjoying a unnamed summit in the Chugach mountains.

A while back I wrote an essay on the importance of physical fitness for wilderness and mountain photographers. I was recently asked how I train for expeditions? So I figured I give a brief run down on how I train and how my “training” has changed throughout my twenty plus years as an outdoor photographer.

First off, I am not a PT, PHD, FT or anything for that matter, never even attended college, so please talk to a specialist before you go off and get crazy with training! I am not a professional athlete either, mid-pack at best.

I have always been a runner and a mountain biker. And when I was in my twenties, running a few days a week, biking here and there and hiking was all I needed to do to stay in shape and feel good when on photography expeditions. But now I am pushing forty one and random exercise without focus doesn’t really cut it anymore.

First off, quality physical fitness is a combination of three elements: Endurance, Strength and Flexibility. Endurance is the most important and the easiest to build and maintain; simply participate in long, steady cardio vascular exercise. Running, hiking, fast walking, XC skiing, biking and swimming are all great cardio workouts that will pay dividends in the mountains.

I run three days a week: One long, slow run, one hilly run and one short, quicker pace run. I also XC Ski and/or bike for one-three hours,  two or three days a week. One day, usually on Sundays, I spend all day in the mountains, climbing a peak or doing a long ski/hiking tour. That long day in the mountains is crucial training for my photography expeditions. It is important to mimic the conditions your training for. Swimmers train by swimming, Cyclists by cycling…(though ALL professional athletes cross train). So whenever possible, get out and hike, with a good sized pack. If your next photography expedition is off trail, do plenty of off trail hiking. Trail running is probably the best alternative to hiking if you’re not lucky enough to live near the mountains.

The older I get the more I find that just training for my expeditions isn’t enough. It’s really easy to get lazy when exercising with only a few wilderness trips in the back of your mind. The way to combat that is to find an endurance sporting event to train for. You don’t need to do back to back Ironman or anything insane like that, but signing up for a running race or a ski or bike race can really add focus to your training. The goal isn’t to win, it’s just a way to get you motivated, focused and to have fun. I usually do one or two “races” a year. I mix them up.  Some years I focus on cycling, some years running and sometimes skiing. I am currently on a running kick, training for a marathon.

Rest is also important, I don’t have scheduled rest days, I rest when my body needs it, usually once a week or sometimes more.

As we get older our physical strength and our flexibility reduces. This is how we get hurt while in the mountains, or even while doing random things like playing with our kids or doing housework.  As our muscle mass decreases,  so does our strength. It’s important to maintain strength around those crucial joints, like knees, to prevent injury in the field.  I hate the gym as much as the next guy but strength training will also help your cardio fitness, you will feel the benefits of strength training when humping those big loads of camera gear up the mountains. Find a reliable and qualified Fitness Trainer or Coach and tell them what you like to do and have them design you a nice strength training routine that matches your activities.

As we age our muscles and tendons become stiff and less bendy, making them very susceptible to tearing and straining. It’s important to stay on top of your flexibility. It’s not necessary to travel to Indian and train with a Master Yogi (though if you have the time..) but taking a regular Yoga class or developing a regular stretching routine will really go a long way to injury prevention.

One last tip: Train like the pros! I find great inspiration from world class athletes. A follow the advice of the world’s premier endurance runners, cyclist, mountaineers and xc skiers. And even though I will never be a competitive athlete, using the techniques and skills from seasoned pros that I respect make me a better athlete even at my mediocre level.

Working With The Light You’ve Got: Rain

Part two of my little series on working with what you got.

Fall leaves and bear tracks, Chugach State Park, Alaska. The perfect subject for a rainy day.

Fall leaves and bear tracks, Chugach State Park, Alaska. The perfect subject for a rainy day.

To be a successful mountain – wilderness photographer, you need to learn to work in most situations, this is especially true if your on a paid assignment. The editors don’t really care how bad the weather was, they just want images.

In Alaska, your pretty lucky to get trough an entire trip without getting rained on at least once. Usually, your lucky if you get a day or two of nice weather, during a week of rain. When I look back at last summer’s trips, rainy days were the norm, over sixty percent of the days in the field it rained.

The first thing to do is get outside! Don’t sit around in your tent feeling sorry for yourself, there will be plenty of time for that at night! You spent all that money on those fancy Gore-Tex items, so put them to use.

At the Headwaters of the South Fork of Eagle river near the Flute Glacier. Another rainy Chugach scene.

At the Headwaters of the South Fork of Eagle river near the Flute Glacier. Another rainy Chugach scene.

You will quickly realize that hiking in the rain can be very pleasant. If it’s really windy or raining hard, head for the forest. Wet foliage is beautiful and the dampness can really accentuate the colors. Again, its time to focus on the details. Intimate macros and mid distance forest studies are best on  cloudy, rainy day.

This is about the only time I use a polarizer, it helps remove the glare and reflection off wet items. This is also a good time to call to duty that len’s shade you keep dragging around but never use.

beautiful, wet forest

Beautiful, wet forest. Chugach State Park, Alaska

I sometimes bring along the secret tool of backcountry guides in Alaska, an umbrella. Yep, sounds silly at first but an umbrella is a great way to boost your wet, soggy clients morale. Umbrellas are also great for keeping rain off your gear when photographing. They can also help prevent camera shake from wind and on sunny days they can create shade for close-ups and block glare from the sun! Pretty useful.

In the woods or when photographing plants, I try to use a fast shutter speed to stop any motion caused by the rain hitting the subjects. When photographing water or clouds, I will sometimes use a slow shutter speed, to emphasize movement.

Beautiful mixed light, my favorite light for landscape photography. Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Beautiful mixed light, my favorite light for landscape photography. Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Mixed light reflection, unnamed tarn, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Mixed light reflection, unnamed tarn, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Dark, gloomy days can also make for interesting landscapes. In Alaska, you frequently get “sucker holes” that let light in for a fleeting moment. The mixed light created by these holes in the clouds, are my favorite and if there is any chance of light coming through I am happy hang out in the rain.

Photographing on rainy days isn’t that hard, its more of a state of mind. When I look back at many of my favorite images over the years, many are the ones taken on  rainy days.

Sunset from Steamroller Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. After nearly forty days of rain in  the Chugach, this sunset was a welcome surprise.

Sunset from Steamroller Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. After nearly forty days of rain in the Chugach, this sunset was a welcome surprise.

Planning a Remote Wilderness Photography Trip Using Google Earth

I have six major trips planned this year along with a handful of shorter jaunts. I have spent the lasts few weeks digging through maps and staring for hours at Google Earth.

Obviously, the first thing I considered is “What areas offer the best chances for successful image making?” For some of my trips, there is a at least one major objective, and for the Alaska Range project, it’s usually a big mountain.

After I choose an objective, I look for bodies of water or other features that could add to an image of the major objective or just give me more variety. Other mountains in the area, steep valleys that could have waterfalls, glaciers that may have caves or interesting features and of course lakes, especially ones that have chances for reflections. Variety is key. There is always a good chance that your main mountain will never be seen, so there should be plenty of other interesting things to go explore.

Google Earth helps me figure out if a location has enough variety. One of the main issues I have found by using only topo maps is that its hard to figure out if you will be able to see your objectives. I have been in valleys that were too tight to see the actual mountains and have had views blocked by small hills that I hardly noticed on the map.

Google Earth’s Street View isn’t exact and should be only used as a guide but its usefulness can’t be denied. Once you have found the location you can use Google Earth’s night/day feature to determine if and when light will actual hit you main objectives. You can also get exact sunset and sunrise times along with the moon’s cycle. You just type in the exact dates of your trip and watch the screen as the light crosses the landscape, pretty cool.

lima bean lake

Google Earth View of Lima Bean Lake (it’s the blackness in the front) This is the Street View. This tells me that the mountains are in view from the lake shore and that there is potential for a reflection type shot.

Unnamed mountains reflected in Lima Bean Lake (local name), central Alaska Range

Lima Bean Lake, Denali National Park and Preserve. My study of Google Earth showed possibilities at this lake and  it proved right.

I never plan a trip where I am trapped by the terrain. I like to explore and if the there is just one possible angle of a mountain and not much else, then its just not worth the trip. If there are impossible icefalls, dangerous rivers, steep terrain or just too much bush whacking, then I look somewhere else.

Google Earth is really good for determining where the “green zone” is these days. Most topos of Alaska are over fifty years old. The green zone on those maps (the areas with bushes and trees) has changed dramatically. Some areas that were pretty easy to access just ten years ago are now nightmare bush whacks. Google Earth can also show you how far the glaciers have receded, which I find very useful since most of my trips involve glaciers! Pay attention to the date the images were taken (its in the lower corner of the screen), this can  help you decide when to go and what the terrain really looks like. Some images were taken in winter, which really doesn’t help you plan a summer trip. But I find late season images great for planning routes, especially on glaciers.

The next question is if you can actually get to your location? Are there lakes a float-plane could land on? long enough glaciers with enough snow coverage? Or gravel bars that a tundra plane could land on? There are plenty of secret strips in the mountains of Alaska and sometimes I can spot them on Google Earth.

Probably the most valuable tool for me, is using  Google Earth to identify mountains I have taken photos of, especially aerial images.

Google gives a pretty wide angle images but its still very useful for indentifing Mountains.

Google Earth gives a pretty wide-angle image but it’s still very useful for identifying Mountains. Can you see the shot below in the Google Image above?

The Citadel and Peak 8505, Mount Iliamna in the distance.

The Citadel,  Peak 8505 and Mount Iliamna in the distance. These peaks were easy to identify using Google Earth and a topo map together via the Hillmap Website.

If you don’t have two big monitors then its difficult to use a topo program and Google Earth at the same time, which can be frustrating. Luckily there is an awesome website called Hillmap. It splits your chosen topo with Google Earth and seamlessly moves them together, so what’s on one side is mirrored on the other, Brilliant! Their website is http://www.hillmap.com/

Google Earth has its flaws of course. Most of the remote areas have poor resolution, making the usefulness of the images questionable. We should try not to get our hopes up either. It’s always best to enter a remote area with a fresh mind, open to new things and not filled with all the possibilities you saw on a computer screen hundreds of miles away.

Happy Travels!

Where is The Alaska Range?

High resolution map of the Alaska Range. Does not include the Tordrillo Mountains and only the northern Neacolas.

I have been getting requests to see a map of the Alaska Range and the area I am photographing. So I teamed up with the Alaska Center for the Environment and their GIS wizard Doug Tosa, to create a map. We figured we could just whip this thing out in no time, we were wrong.

The issue was that the Alaska Range is hard to define. The main area of confusion is the south, south-western sections of the Alaska Range. This is where two mountain ranges, the Alaska Range and the Aleutian Range, come crashing together, making it difficult, if not impossible, to decide exactly which mountains are part of which range.

Alaskan’s are very opinionated bunch and mountaineers, geologists, geographers, volcanologists and geothermorphologists, all disagree on what constitutes southern end of the Alaska Range. The mountains that generally can’t be agreed upon are the Neacola and Todrillo Mountains.

Often, the Neacola Mountains get grouped together with the Chigmit Mountains, which include the beautiful volcanoes Mount Redoubt and Mount Illiamna. Having been in every section of the Alaska Range, I find that the Neacola Mountains, with their steep, foreboding granite walls, have the same feel and look as the Kichanta and Revelation Mountains and not like the volcanic Aleutian Range. I know, that has no scientific value, but sometimes you need to just go with your feelings!

The Tordrillos are a unique, isolated group of beautiful mountains that sit on a high plateau. Mount Spurr, is the last, large volcano of the Aleutian Range and acts as a huge anchor at the south end of the Tordrillo Mountains. In the book Todrillo: Pioneer Climbs and Flights in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska, the authors consider the Tordrillo Mountains to be part of the Alaska Range and the Neacola Mountains as part of the Aleutians.

Up to this point, I have not put any focus on the Todrillo Mountains.  Because of their volcanic nature, I have grouped them with the Aleutian Range. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful and I would be more than happy to explore them in-depth, I just don’t know if they fit into the Alaska Range or not.

Another opinion of the Alaska Range is that it doesn’t include the Neacolas or the Tordrillo Mountains! When you look at a geographical map, that makes sense.

Some the of the named mountains on this map are “local” names that have developed over time.

Let me know what you think about which mountains should or shouldn’t be included in the project.

UPDATE:  Please see Steve Gruhn’s comment below. Here is a version without either of the “disputed” areas.

North side of the Hayes Range: Final Post

The snow line slowly dropped and eventually reached our tent

The snow line slowly dropped and eventually reached our tent

The sound was different, it wasn’t the constant thumping we had been hearing for nearly forty hours. It was a softer sound and I recognized it right away, snow. I peeked out of the tent and felt the wet snow pelt my face, it was starting to stick, cooling the fire-red tundra.

The day before was a test of character. It rained the entire night before and continued to rain throughout the day, without a break. I spent the morning in the cook shelter brewing tea and listening to music. I watched the little battery symbol on my Ipod as it slowly reached its end, finally turning red. I became very selective of each song, knowing any one of them could be the last. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah would be the last song of the trip, fitting I thought.

Barry came into the shelter, he was rattled,

“I can’t stand the sound of the rain anymore, its driving me crazy.”

“let’s go hiking then” I responded.

“I don’t want to get soaked.” he grumbled. So we had lunch and I then a reluctantly put on all my rain gear and committed myself to being wet. I followed a gentle creek up into the mountains. The bed was a jumble of interesting, colorful rocks. I made some hasty images, trying to keep my gear from getting completely soaked.

The creek I followed.

The creek I followed.

Once I reached the snow line I traversed into the fog, skirting around rotten spires of black rock. I then travelled down a long soggy ridge back to camp. The rain had let up a little and Barry was wandering around outside trying his hardest not to go insane. We had an early dinner and reluctantly returned to the tent for a long restless night.

The snow was a welcomed change, anything was better than rain. We made breakfast and packed up the drenched tent. We travelled back across the plateau in whiteout conditions. I focused on trying to not fall into one of the many soggy holes that were now hidden under the snow. We didn’t see any caribou this time, but I am sure they heard us.

Whiteout!

Whiteout!

We returned to our camp site down in the valley. We called our pilot on our SAT phone and let him know that we were back at the pick up spot. It was now going to be a waiting game, waiting for the weather to improve and then waiting for the sound of the Super Cub. During dinner the wolves began their serenade and I decided I was going to see if I could find them and if I was lucky, get their pictures.

Near the edge of the far bank I came across some new tracks, bear tracks. These were the first signs of bears I had found during the whole trip. As I explored, the fog level sank down to the ground. It was getting dark and difficult to see, with my recently acquired knowledge of our other valley resident, I figured it was prudent that I return to camp.The wolves would stay elusive.

We both slept well and we were excited with the prospect of flying out the next day.

Around 5:30am I heard the wolves again. Like a siren call, I slowly dragged myself out of my warm cocoon.  I didn’t expect to see the wolves but I figured I would see if the fog bank was any higher. I was shocked to see clear skies. I quickly began packing my gear, I needed to have all my stuff packed and at the pick-up site before I ran off to take pictures, just in case the airplane came. The light was getting wild, I cursed as the mountains began to glow a scarlet red. I lugged my poorly packed pack with random pieces of gear dangling off like Medusa’s snakes. I dropped it at the landing strip and then ran to the other side of the valley. I needed to get up on the ridge before the sun came up over the horizon.

As difficult as it was I knew I had to sacrifice the alpenglow on the mountains in order to make it up onto the ridge before the sunrise. My legs burned as I struggled up the steep bank. I was wearing way too many clothes but I knew I would cool down once I got to the top. I had my camera, a lens and my tripod. I had a put few bars in my pocket for breakfast on the run.

I reached the top, sweating profusely. After a quick look around I began the process of trying to find a good composition for the light that was about to arrive. I watched the light hitting the mountains and tried to predict where it would hit along the ridge.

The fantastic light arrives on the ridge.

The fantastic light arrives on the ridge.

This is the game you play in the mountains. You can either find a great composition and wait, hoping the light hits it right or you can wait for the light and then find a subject that goes with it. The late Galen Rowell used to talk a lot about light, how the light choose what he was going to make images of. I try to straddle both styles, get myself into a place I think might work and then if it doesn’t, be ready to abandon my previsualized image and chase the light.

Looking north into the valley where we camped.

Looking north into the valley where we were camped.

And chase the light I did. When the light finally arrived i realized my precomposed image wasn’t going to work.  So I darted up and down the ridge making photographs in all directions, finding subjects that fit the light.

looking north east, the clouds would soon engulf us.

looking north-east, the clouds would soon engulf us.

After over an hour of intense image making, I took a break and ate something. The fog was beginning to form off to the east and soon the sun got absorbed. My concern about the light quickly changed to concern on whether the pilot was gong to make it before the flight window closed.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

Last image before the fog rolled in.

Last image before the fog rolled in.

I headed down the steep ridge and met up with Barry at the landing spot. Fog was coming in but there was still a big blue hole above us and all the mountains could still be seen. After a few minutes the plane arrived. Barry went first.

I wanted a little time to myself in mountains, some time to reflect about the trip and maybe get a chance to see those wolves, but they would remain ghosts with only their eerie song embedded in my memory. I thanked them loudly for waking me up that morning, but the only response was my own voice echoing off the mountains.