15 Favorites from 2013

The season is winding down here in Alaska so I decided I would post fifteen of my favorite images from this year’s Alaska Range trips. If you have been following the blog you know it was a rough year in the mountains. I am mostly disappointed that I got nothing of merit from the southern section of the Alaska Range, except some broken toes, a sprained wrist, lots of bruises and a damaged ego.

I will be posting a larger selection of images on a dedicated page in the near future, along with photographs from my previous work in the Alaska Range. I am already plotting next year’s trips, six expeditions total.

Please feel free to comment on each image and share them through your social networks, the more people who learn about the project, the better of a success it will be when its finished.

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North side of the Hayes Range: Part Two

Skull and fall colors. Eastern Alaska Range

Skull and fall colors. Wet and rainy weather is perfect for detail shots and can really bring out the colors.

Rain can be tough. The constant pattering on a thin sheet of nylon above your head can break the hardest man. Two ways I combat the inevitable slip  into insanity is either with music/radio or to just suck it up and go out in it!

During our first stretch of rain, which lasted thirty hours or so, I chose music and a selection of podcast. This entertainment, along with chores like boiling water for tea, made time go by quickly, without much madness. Barry read cheap crime novels (a popular diversion for a number of my outdoor companions) and faded in and out of sleep.

We decided Wednesday night that the next morning we would get up and head towards the Hayes Glacier, no matter what the weather. This was a hard decision for Barry, who is a fair weather backpacker that would rather sit it out then pack up in the rain. But I knew if we were going to get anywhere, we needed to go.

Late that night there was glorious silence, the rain had stopped. However, each time I would drift into sleep I would be startled by the sound of wolves. Sometimes they would be on one side of the valley, then a few minutes later I would hear howling on the other. Unlike the constant sound of rain on nylon, the wolves were a pleasing disturbance, reminding me that I was in a truly wild place.

The morning was cloudy but without moisture. We packed up quickly and followed a caribou track up a steep bank onto the plateau. We traveled slowly across spongy terrain, avoiding deep pools of water and tiny streams that were hidden in the mossy surface. About half way across we came upon a group of caribou, young males and females. We stood there watching them run back and forth, trying to decide what to do about us. Finally they just went back to grazing lichen, occasionally looking up to see what we were doing. The sun was peeking out on occasion and the clouds were swirling around the big mountains, it made a fantastic back drop for the caribou.

Caribou under unnamed mountains, Deborah-Hayes range, Eastern Alaska Range

Caribou under unnamed mountains, Deborah-Hayes range, Eastern Alaska Range

Caribou under Mount Hayes, Eastern Alaska Range

Caribou under Mount Hayes, Eastern Alaska Range

After spending time with the caribou we headed to the edge of the plateau, looking off, over the lower, moraine covered Hayes Glacier.

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.

The weather was deteriorating and I wanted to take some pictures before it fell apart. We descended down a steep bank and crossed two streams before coming to a relatively flat spot. We put up the tent and the cook tarp and I quickly ran off to create images.

Mixed light and changing colors. Eastern Alaska Range

Mixed light and changing colors. Eastern Alaska Range

Good bye mountains.

Good bye mountains.

We also had a camping companion, a very large bull caribou. It appeared we had camped near his rutting pit. He would end up being a constant figure throughout the next two days.

Our camping companion.

Our camping companion.

We had a great dinner outside, under the darkening skies and within the presence of our caribou friend.  A few minutes after crawling into our bags, the rain began again.

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.

Back from the Eastern Alaska Range

Caribou under unnamed mountains, Deborah-Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range.

Caribou under unnamed mountains, Deborah-Hayes Mountains (The tall dome is peak 10,515) Eastern Alaska Range.

In 2006, my good friend Opie and I tried to ski across the north side of the Deborah-Hayes range. We failed miserably, but it was a memorable trip. The snow conditions were character building, a hard inch thick crust over two feet of sugar. And on our return, the Delta River had opened, so we had to cross knee-deep ice water in our ski boots.

During that trip I kept thinking how awesome it would be to come to the area in the fall. It had the potential of being one of the most spectacular areas in the whole Alaska Range.

So this fall I went for it and the area was amazing, insane scenery and abundant wildlife. The colors were a little behind and the weather…well sucked, but I still managed to get some good images.

I have some submissions and prints orders to fill and then I will get a full trip report up on the blog ASAP.

Thanks for following along!

Carl

 

Tangle Lakes

Pond near Lower Tangle lake, Amphitheater Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

Pond near Lower Tangle lake, Amphitheater Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

Not all of the Alaska Range is remote and rugged. One of the more popular areas in the Alaska Range is the Amphitheater Mountains off the Denali Highway. The Amphitheater Mountains are a small sub-range of the eastern Alaska Range. They are a mixture of rolling tundra, craggy peaks and beautiful alpine lakes, the most accessible ones being a series of lakes known as Tangle Lakes.

My first trip into the Amphitheater Mountains was in 2005, when my usual partner in crime, Sy, and I did a circumnavigation of the mountains. We went in early June and ran into deep snow on the north side of the range. We encountered many caribou and my first and only encounter with a wolverine. Weather was mediocre and I created few good images.

Last week I went up to the Tangle Lakes area with my wife and son along with a whole bunch of family friends. We canoed, hiked and picked berries, all in the rain. Okay, we did have one nice morning that didn’t turn ugly until the late afternoon.

my son picks blue berries. Lots of records were set in 2013, the most months with snow on the ground, the warmest summer on record and possibly the best blue berry season ever.

My son Walker picking blue berries. Rain or shine, berry picking is always fun.

This was my first trip since the ill-fated Neacola trip and I wondered how I was going to feel around so much cold water, but I felt fine, even when the wind, rain and waves picked up during one of our canoe trips. Unfortunately, just like my last trip, photography was mostly a bust.

The Delta River, a designated Wild and Scenic River. This image was taken in 2006

The Delta River, a designated Wild and Scenic River. This image was taken in 2006

The Tangle Lakes are the headwaters of the Delta River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, that splits the eastern Alaska Range into two sections. The Amphitheater Mountains (and the neighbouring Delta and Clearwater Mountains) are the home of the of Nelchina caribou herd. The Nelchina herd’s primary winter grounds are the Amphitheater Mountains.

A large bull caribou of the Nelchina herd. This image was taken in 2006, in the Delta Mountains.

A large bull caribou of the Nelchina herd. This image was taken in 2006, in the Delta Mountains.

The Tangle Lakes biggest claim to fame are the human artifacts that have been discovered. There are more than 600 historic and prehistoric sites within the Amphitheater Mountains that help to tell the story of human occupation and hunting for the past 10,000 years. The Tangle Lakes Archaeological District was accepted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Even with it’s natural beauty, bountiful wildlife and long history, the Tangle Lakes area is constantly being surveyed and probed for possible large-scale mines. Almost every hour a helicopter passes through the area to the many drills sites north of the Amphitheater Mountains. In the adjacent Delta Mountains, one of the area’s finest hiking trails was bull dozed in order to get drilling rigs to remote sites.

Proposed Tangle Lakes Wildlife Refuge

Proposed Tangle Lakes Wildlife Refuge

Because none of Amphitheater Mountains are under state or federal protection, a dedicated group of locals have begun the process of creating the Tangle Lakes State Wildlife Refuge. Creating any type of protected land in Alaska these days borders on impossible. So, If you have spent time in the area and would like to see it stay as wild and beautiful as it is, please consider helping out.

For more info on the Amphitheater Mountains and the creation of the Tangle Lakes State Wildlife Refuge visit:

The Northern Environmental Center and Save Tangle Lakes

Cotton Grass and Round Tangle Lake.

Cotton Grass and Round Tangle Lake.