Alaska Range book update and Denali National Park Photo Workshop.

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First, I must apologize for the lack of activity. Its been a busy winter, but not a lot of action outside in the mountains. Still trying to recover from my hip injury that occurred over a year ago. Fortunately, being injured has allowed me to focus on getting the book details complete.

We are in the final stages of the process. All the essays are complete and edited. layout is complete and I just sent off my high resolution copies of the final photographs. We will have one more thorough review, looking for any missed issues before it is sent off to get printed!

The Mountaineers Books feels confident the book will be in stores and into YOUR hands in October.

Mark your calendars for the big book launch party November 28th at the Bear Tooth Theater, it is going to be a ton of fun!

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Unnamed mountains reflected in Lima Bean Lake (local name), Denali National Park and Preserve

Want to join me in the Alaska Range? We still have spaces left during  our July 30th-August  2nd, Denali National Park, wilderness photography workshop. Fly with me into a remote location, in the heart of the big mountains, where we will explore glaciers, rivers and epic mountain scenery! More info at: http://www.alaskaalpineadventures.com/alaska-adventure-tours/hiking/hiking-trips-denali-national-park/denali-unexplored-photo-safari/trip/43

Thanks for all your patience and support!

Carl

Mountain Profile: Mount Russell

North ridge of Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve

North ridge of Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve

In the far western corner of Denali National Park and Preserve towers a peak of unrivaled beauty, Mount Russell. Unknown by the majority of Alaskans, only those who search out such beauty know of its presence. Mount Russell is a classic, pyramid shaped peak, with crumbling black rock and dripping, fractured glaciers that defy gravity.

At 11,670 feet in height, Mount Russell isn’t super tall, but it remoteness and miserable weather make it a challenge to climb. The first ascent was in 1962 via the south ridge and ten years later, in 1972, the north ridge was climbed. The north ridge is now considered the “standard” route. Both Alaska climbing guides feature Mount Russell and its north ridge route and yet, the mountain sees maybe one ascent every couple of years. The loose, steep and terrible looking east face was climbed once and for those looking for a true adventure, the awesome west face is still unclimbed.

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South Ridge and the wicked east face of Mount Russell.

There are two ways to see Mount Russell from land. One is to land on the Yentna Glacier near the base of the North Ridge. The other is to land on the remote Purkey Pile strip and hike a few days to get a fantastic view.

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The sunlit west face of Mount Russell, the north ridge splits the light and dark. The west face still awaits an ascent and even a ski descent…hint hint.

Personally, Mount Russell is one of those mountains that is best appreciated either by climbing it or by the air, where you can truly admire its shapely demeanor.

Chasing the Northern Lights in the Alaska Range

Wild Aurora over Denali.

Wild Aurora over the Tokosha Mountains, Mount Hunter and Denali.

I have never been a fan of roadside photography or images of iconic places during “perfect” light. I like to photograph the unfamiliar, I like the challenge of the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, I am a diligent trip planner, I can spend months looking at maps and Google Earth. But once I am in the field, I like to just “go with the flow”, work with what the wilderness gives me.

However, I am a professional photographer and sometimes I need to “go after” a shot. I have been on over twenty expeditions in the Alaska Range and have never had a chance to photograph the Aurora Borealis. It’s not that I haven’t seen them, I have, but I never had an opportunity to photograph them. I was hoping to photograph them on last year’s Gillam Glacier trip. We had seven days of crystal clear skies and the setting was perfect, with towering peaks in all directions, but the lights refused to dance for me.

Part of me just wanted to let it go, to forget about them, but I decided that the Aurora did play a part in the Alaska Range story and should be included, so I decided to go “Aurora Chasing”.

I watched the weather forecast and the aurora forecast simultaneously, looking for the perfect combination. Last weekend, the two lined up and I felt I would have a good chance of photographing them. It was also a full moon, which was perfect for illuminating the mountains but also required that I put extra effort into finding a good foreground, something many night photographers overlook.

I seduced my two regular partners in adventure crime, Opie and Sy and we headed up to Denali State Park, the closet access point into the Alaska Range from Anchorage.

Up to that point, we had a record-setting warm fall and winter. I had a feeling that there would be some open water, which could act as an interesting foreground. We arrive at the South Denali Overlook around 11:00. It was stunning, super clear with the mountains exploding out of the ground. I was tempted to stay high, with unobstructed views. It would be easy to head up higher towards Curry Ridge or Kesugi Ridge, we had skis and sleds, but I wanted something different.

Moving river ice and the last light on Denali.

Moving river ice and the last light on Denali.

I could see that the Chulitna River was open with moving ice in it, that was what I was looking for. Dropping down to the river would mean we would lose many of the mountains, so it was important we found a spot with plenty of open space.

We loaded up sleds and packs, leaving the skis behind. It was a crisp 0F at the car and we knew that it would be a solid 10 degrees colder down by the river. We post holed and bush-whacked our way down the steep cliff to the river floor. Within a few minutes we found a perfect spot for camp and photography.

The Chulitna River was really flowing and was deep and swift. It was pretty scary, being that close to it. I truly hate cold water and the thought of making a stupid mistake at 4 in the morning, like getting too close to the edge and busting through the ice was very unappealing. There was a lot of thin ledges of over hanging ice with deep water underneath, I even put a foot through some ice, that I thought was thick enough and far from the open water, I was wrong. I spent a good amount of time scouting locations, marking safe places where I could set up. It was similar to the precautions I make on glaciers, when our camp is surrounded by crevasses, I mark safe areas to photograph for late at night and when I am tired.

We were amazed how quickly the day ends in January, before we knew it, the mountains were bathed in beautiful pink light. The pink light was quickly replaced by the white light of the amazing moon, so bold and powerful. The shadows of the trees stretched with its arrival.

Around 5:00PM we decided to begin brewing hot drinks and food. We couldn’t get the stove lit, for some reason the bottle wouldn’t hold pressure. Turning on our headlamps (the moon was so bright, we didn’t really need them) we realized that fuel was pouring out pump, total failure. We didn’t bring a second pump because this was just a quick, overnight trip.

We decided to go old school and make a fire. Opie and Sy went into the willows and alders like ravenous beavers, dragging out log after log of dead wood.

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The fire worked well and before we knew it, hot food and drinks were plentiful. We kept the fire sizzling the rest of he night.

The first glimpse of the lady Aurora showed as a gentle glow north behind the mountains. With each hour it would move higher into the sky and quicken its movements.

Photographing the aurora is not easy. Of course, modern cameras are amazing and have greatly simplified and improved the quality of aurora photography. A quick search online and you realize how popular aurora photography is.

Aurora over Denali and the Chulitna River on a full moon night.

Aurora over Denali and the moving ice in the Chulitna River on a full moon night.

Because of the bright moon, I wanted to include some nice foreground. My first challenge was to get decent depth of field in the image. The other challenge was to have a quick enough shutter to stop the dancing aurora. Too long of an exposure and the aurora becomes more of a smooth splash of color instead of dancing swirls and waves.

Huge aurora band over Denali.

Huge aurora band over Hunter and  Denali.

I kept my ISO around 800 and stopped the lens to about F4. This gave exposures around 4-6 seconds, really fast for night photography, that was because of the full moon and the reflected light off the snow. A few images I stopped down to f5.6, but then the exposures became 15 seconds and the aurora was less defined, I increased the ISO to 1600, the max I am happy with on my d800e, which quickened the exposure but there was some detail loss in the mountains.

Critical focus is key with night photography. The infinity mark on most AF lenses isn’t really infinity, you can’t just manually set it and shoot. The best method is switch to live view, zoom in on a star and manually focus it. Seasoned aurora and night photographer then tape the lens so the focus can’t get changed, I forgot the tape so each time I put my camera away during a lull in the activity, or switched lenses,  I would have to re-focus when I pull it back out, lame on my part.

Somebody turn out the lights! Its wasn't the cold that kept us awake, it was the full moon and the aurora!

Somebody turn out the lights! Its wasn’t the cold that kept us awake, it was the full moon and the aurora!

By 2:00AM the aurora had moved south-east and directly above us and away from the mountains. The three of us were frozen stiff, even with the fire going and filled with hot drinks, sitting around 10 hours at -15F, your body finally says “Get moving or crawl into you bag!”. So we crawled into our bags and tried to settle in. I got up to pee around 4:00AM and the aurora was bursting from the sky. It looked like color rain pouring down on me, it was the mighty corona aurora. I thought of putting all my warm gear back on and dragging the cameras out but decided to just enjoy the lights, sometimes, my best experiences are when the camera is put away.

The lights begin to move south east away from the mountains, but gain in intensity.

The lights begin to move south east away from the mountains, but grew in intensity.

I woke to catch the sunrise on the mountains, but the camera gear would have none of that. As soon as I took the lens cap off the lenses, they were coated with a sheet of ice. Oh well, I did laps around camp to stay warm, watching the amazing scene in front of me. Soon Sy and Opie woke to enjoy the scene. With no stove and the fire stone dead, we quickly made haste out of there.

It was great experience. Good friends experiencing a truly dazzling night together, I would happily have cold feet and hands again to share that experience with others. It is something every Alaskan should do, get out of your comfort zone and experience one of the great light shows on Earth.

Mountain Profile: Denali

I am starting a new little series on the blog, short mountain profiles from the Alaska Range. From the famous to the nameless, unclimbed to overrun, I will try to cover a variety. Some mountains I have many images, others only one. First up, the most famous mountain of them all, Denali.

Denali reflection, taken from the south.

Denali reflection, taken from the south.

Denali needs little introduction. The tallest mountain in North American, it is the most sought after peak in North America, by climbers and tourist alike. Its official name is “Mount McKinley”. The quickest way to show someone you’re not from Alaska is to call it Mount McKinley instead of Denali. The word Denali is Athabaskan and roughly translates to “The High One” or “The Great One”.

Not only is Denali the tallest mountain in North America it is also one of the largest on Earth with a vertical gain that rivals most mountains in the world, surpassing Everest by over 4,000 feet.

This image is taken from the north and highlights Denali's massive size and the wicked Wickersham Wall.

This image is taken from the north and highlights Denali’s massive size and the wicked Wickersham Wall.

The first ascent of Denali was in 1910 when two Alaskan prospectors—Peter Anderson and Billy Taylor—from a party of four reached the summit on summit on April 3. They climbed 8,000 feet from their 11,000-foot camp to the summit and returned to camp in 18 hours. The Sourdough Expedition team were climbing novices who spent 3 months climbing to win a bet with a bar owner who said it would never be climbed. They wore homemade gear made mostly from caribou fur. On summit day, they carried doughnuts, caribou meat, 3 flasks of hot drinks, and a 14-foot-long spruce pole and an American flag. unfortunately, they climbed the North Summit, not realizing that the South Summit was taller. Many of the old-time climbers that I know still give them credit for the first ascent.

The first ascent of the higher South Summit was on June 7, 1913 by Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum from an expedition led by Hudson Stuck. They climbed the Muldrow Glacier route.

Wild weather on Denali. The mountain is notorious for terrible weather.

Wild weather on Denali. The mountain is notorious for terrible weather.

Is Denali shrinking? It was originally surveyed at  20,320 feet (6,194 meters) above sea level, which was established in 1952. However, a survey conducted in 2010 using modern technology pegged Denali’s elevation as 20,237 feet (6,168 meters), shrinking it by 83 feet (26 meters). Many people reject this new height.

Denali is a tough mountain to photograph. While it can be seen from many vantage points from around south-central Alaska, it is hard to find something unique. If you get too close to the monster, it becomes a shapeless mass, it is better to capture it from a distance, which helps highlight its massive size.

Denali is often capped with a cloud. Denali creates its own weather and tourist have about a 30% chance of a clear enough day to see the mountain's summit.

Denali is often capped with a cloud. Denali creates its own weather and tourist have about a 30% chance of a clear enough day to see the mountain’s summit.

Wild Weather in the Alaska Range

Denali, the Alaska Range's most famous mountain.

Wild light and weather on Denali.

“The worst weather of any mountain range outside of Antarctica.” That is often the description of the Alaska Range’s notorious weather. In a single day you could have sun, rain and snow. It is always windy and the weather changes instantly, first you’re wearing a t-shirt, before you know it, you’re in a fleece with a shell. There is an old Alaskan adage “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” That pretty much sums up life in the Alaska Range.

June blizzard

June blizzard

But it’s not always terrible. When it is nice, it is really nice. A sunny, summer day in the Alaska Range seems endless and is worth two nice days anywhere else. The constantly changing weather and light can make for some truly dynamic images, if your willing to be patient and are prepared.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river.

1:00am sunset illuminates the rain, sky and river.

The Alaska Range continues to live up to its reputation. This summer has been a roller coaster ride of unpredictability. Hot, sunny days, followed by wicked, quick-moving storms that dump rain and snow, followed again by more warm weather. This has led to flooding throughout the Range, making travel difficult, especially the river crossings. Easy streams have turned into scary torrents.

Rain and sun, your typical summer forecast in the Alaska Range.

Rain and sun, your typical summer forecast in the Alaska Range.

The weather has been the most difficult challenge of the Alaska Range project, but it has also given many opportunities for wonderful, unique images.

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Bears of Denali

Denali has some really nice backgrounds for wildlife photography.

Denali has some really nice backgrounds for wildlife photography.

Whenever I give a presentation I am always asked “Where are your bear images?”. The reason I don’t have bear images is because I try my best to avoid any contact with bears while I am exploring remote wilderness. To photograph bears safely you usually need a long telephoto lens, which is too heavy for wilderness exploration and you need to be in an area where they are accustomed to people and have an abundant food supply.

Tiny spring cub.

Tiny spring cub.

I wanted to get some more wildlife images for the Alaska Range book and the only reasonable place in the Alaska Range to photograph bears is in Denali National Park and Preserve. I secured a professional photographer’s permit for a week and my wife and I, armed with a rental 500mm f4 lens, went looking for bears, and boy did we find them!

Spring is the best time to photograph bears in Denali. The playful and curious spring cubs  are out frolicking. The leaves are just sprouting, making it easy to spot wildlife and the bears really enjoy the spring shoots, grasses and roots that litter the side of the road.

Grizzly head shot. An impossible shot in the remote wilderness.

Grizzly head shot. An impossible image in the remote wilderness.

Unlike coat shedding wildlife like caribou, moose and Dall sheep, bears don’t look nearly as mangy in the spring.

Now, I have had plenty of bear encounters while exploring. All my interactions with grizzly bears have been civil. It has been the black bears that have caused all the trouble. I have had to chase numerous black bears out of camp and had one curious black bear destroy my tent and everything inside.

Determined! We followed this Grizzly for many miles as it walked head down, determined to get somewhere.

Determined! We followed this Grizzly for many miles as it walked head down, determined to get somewhere.

I practice strict bear safety and keep a clean camp. All the bears I have had issues weren’t after food, they were young bears, eager to meet the strange, two-legged creature and his bizarre items, like that colorful dome thing.

Denali did not disappoint when it came to viewing, if only for a second, a large variety of wild creatures. We were lucky to see a lone wolf, three red fox, countless caribou and Dall sheep, moose, lots of nesting birds and a total of twelve grizzly bears. And for a bonus, “The Mountain”, Denali, showed itself for a single day.

smells good in there! Grizzly cub stops next to our car and wonders what all the good smells are?

Smells good in there! Grizzly cub stops next to our car and wonders what all the interesting smells are?

I know I have been critical of Denali National Park and its restrictions throughout the years, but this was a very positive experience for me and I have new respect for the park. Honestly, If your going to have a wilderness area accessible to all types of people, then Denali sets a standard that is hard to match.

Life is good!

Life is good!

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!

 

 

 

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

Join me in the Alaska Range!

Join me in the heart of the central Alaska Range. We will spend four days, three nights surrounded by massive peaks and slithering glaciers. We will fly from Talkeetna with K2 Aviation and land on a remote glacier lake, under the shadow of Denali. This is one of the few places on the south side of Denali National Park and the central Alaska Range where you don’t need mountaineering skills to explore.

The confirmed dates are: are July 10-13th, 2014.

Alaska Alpine Adventures will supply all the comforts: tents, sleeping bags while Alpine Appetites will supply gourmet back-country food.

This will be an intensive photographic journey. We will be in remote wilderness far away from any roads or people. We will stay up late and get up early, chasing the light as it illuminates the surrounding peaks, including a unique view of Denali.

Because of my Alaska Range project, This will be my only tour or workshop this year, so if you want to join me on an adventure, this is it.

Feel free to contact me with any questions carl@photographalaska.com

Register directly with Alaska Alpine Adventures

Below are some images from the area we will be exploring:

The shadow of Mount Church is projected into the clouds by the rising sun, central Alaska Range

The shadow of Mount Church is projected into the clouds by the rising sun, central Alaska Range

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

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

Backside Glacier and Mount Huntington

Backside Glacier and Mount Huntington

Mother coming in to rescue her eggs.

Mother coming in to rescue her eggs.

The impressive gorge that prevents access onto the Ruth Glacier, central Alaska Range

The impressive gorge that prevents access onto the Ruth Glacier, central Alaska Range