Caught in the Kichatna Mountains

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Flying into the Tatina Glacier. There is something wrong with this picture.

My stomach ached, a combination of hunger and anxiety. The clouds were creeping lower down the monoliths, the wind gust were increasing in velocity. After four days of relentless weather, a window had opened, an escape from the clutches of the mountain gods was revealed, but our chances were dwindling. We had packed our bags, waiting for that unmistakable sound, the roar of an approaching plane.

After thirty Alaska fly in expeditions under my belt, I was highly aware of the plane waiting game and my mind was so familiar with that sound, that it had began to recreate it, knowing how desperately I wanted to hear it.

“I think I hear something.” I projected loudly to Sy. But there was nothing. Defeated, I began to unpack and prepare for another night of being shaken and stirred in our tiny tent. But then, the lion roared.

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Legendary Mountains. North Triple and Middle Triple Peaks.

The Kichatna Mountains are legends. I had heard of them long before moving to Alaska. I listened to stories and dreams told over fire and beers. My big wall climbing friends were always planning a trip, but never committing, the Kichatnas were to be celebrated and feared. When I moved to Alaska, I met very few people who had ever set foot on their glaciers. A few years ago I flew around them and was blown away by their steepness. It is said that the Kichatna Mountains have the highest concentration of granite spires in Alaska, and I have no doubt about that. The spires of the Kichatna Mountains are so densely concentrated that flying around them didn’t do them justice. I don’t like aerial photography from above the mountains. I like to be eye level, mid mountain,  which isn’t possible in the Kichatnas, the valleys are too narrow. So the only way to really experience the majesty and boldness of the peaks and to capture their true nature was to be in  mountains.

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Middle Triple Peak. This beauty could push Mount Russell off the top of the ” Most beautiful peaks in the Alaska Range” list.

I had hesitated for many years on going to the Kichatnas. They are very remote and a flight there is expensive. But the main reason I resisted their power was their unfriendliness towards visitors. The Kichatna Mountains are the prow of the mighty, central Alaska Range ship and take the brunt of all the weather coming from both the south and the west. The winds in the mountains are said to rival the notorious winds of Patagonia. Extended tent time is common for all expeditions. Alaska: A Climbing Guide reads: “Prepare for only three pleasant days in thirty of horizontal rain, sleet and snow. The Kichantas are a ornery bunch.”

We landed on the Tatina Glacier on a perfect day. We knew it was special weather because Paul, our pilot, was enjoying the scenery and taking pictures. We could tell he would have preferred to join us that day and we could feel his unhappiness about leaving the mountains.

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Sy exploring an icefall below Flat Top Spire.

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I think we will have dinner on the patio tonight.

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Last light on the north face of Flat Top Spire.

We made camp in the amphitheater at the head of the Tatina Glacier. Granite exploded out of the glaciers in every direction, with the mighty North and Middle Triple Peaks dominating all the others. That afternoon we explored the valley and icefall below the north face of Flat Top Spire. The next day was a little hazy but still calm and clear. We skied up over Monolith Pass, the most impressive pass I have ever been over. Imagine three El Capitan’s towering above you, so close together you feel like you could throw a rock between them. The peaks of the pass are Mount Nevermore, North and Middle Triple Peaks.

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This image doesn’t capture the immense scale here. Monolith Pass.

On the third day we descended Tatina Glacier. Our plan was to go down and around to the Cul-De Sac Glacier, spend a day or two there and then to the Shadows Glacier to get picked up. The descent was long, but enjoyable with great skiing. My new, rigid sled system worked great but Sy had a lot of trouble with his set up. At the bottom of the glacier was a large frozen lake. We decided to camp there. My leg was hurting after the long descent (this chronic condition is still bothering me!). The scenery was nice and it was obvious there were lots of animals that used the area and I was hopeful that we might get to photograph some wildlife, but we had no visitors.

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Sy skiing down the Tatina Glacier, Mount Jeffers looms above.

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Frozen lake at the toe of the Tatina Glacier.

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Huge, loose moraine. Obvious sign of recent glacial retreat.

The next day we crossed over to the Cul-De Sac Glacier and gradually made our we to the base of the mighty Kichatna Spire. The Kichatna Spire was hidden under a cap of grey, swirling clouds. It would remain that way for the rest of the trip, I never got a chance to see it in its entirely.

We set camp up under worsening conditions. The wind came in rushes. You could hear it coming right before it slammed you down. The next four days were a lesson in patience as the wind continued without a break. We kept in contact with our pilot who continued to ask how much snow we were getting? Denali, 50 miles to the north was getting hammered, with over three feet of new snow at base camp. But we were only getting wind, relentless wind.

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Sy, master of snow wall construction.

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Block Party

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Cold ice and warm rock.

Saturday, our pick up day arrived. A huge “sucker” hole lingered above, triggering a sense of hope that we might get picked up, but the wind refused to submit, it was determined to keep us hostage. We spent the day repairing walls, napping and watching the red, low battery signal on our ipods, trying to guess which song would be our last.

We emptied our thinning food bags and began the process of rationing food. We had passed the option of skiing out, we definitely had to rely on the mechanical bird for rescue, the question was, how long could we stretch our food? Actually, the more concerning part was whether we had enough fuel to melt water?

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Our life for five days.

We experimented with using black bags and sleds to melt water, which worked with limited success. The next day was much of the same. My nerves were on edge. Unable to travel or photograph in the conditions, stuck waiting for pick up, with limited supplies, was wearing me down. Sy continued, as always, to be up beat and unphased our predicament, laughing at my dwindling patience and pessimistic outburst. We could see the summits of most peaks and the valley was clear. However, our pilot said it was raining in Talkeetna and when he looked towards the Kichatnas, all he could see was low, black clouds. We could sense that he was not believing that we were having favorable weather. I am sure they have been tricked by many, desperate climbers.

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Weather improves just enough to reveal some of the beauty that’s been hiding in the clouds. Riesenstein Spire.

We spoke with the flight service in the afternoon and they said they would give it a try. We prepared the runway and packed up all but the tent. Sy skied around and I sat with my camera, making poor, uninspired images of the amazing peaks. Hours passed as we watched the clouds lower and felt the gusts of wind increase, building more strength as if fueled by our desire to leave.

As soon as I began unpacking I heard a noise. The wind I figured. Then again. Loud then soft. And then the unmistakable, beautiful whine of a plane engine bounced off the granite walls. We both went into the “plane is coming” frenzy, I rushed to take down the tent, Sy rushed down runway to pick up the sleds and bags after the plane landed.

At times the trip seemed like an eternity. I was disappointed with my attitude, the mountains had worn me down, my leg was still hurting, my project was nearing its end and i felt helpless, unable to control my life.

The flight away from the mountains is often a time of reflection. There is a great, overwhelming release, followed by sadness. I have yet to understand why the mountains play the tricks they do with my mind, why they can sometimes repulse me with their weather and yet fully engulf me with their beauty.

No matter how terrible or amazing my trips are in the mountains, as soon as I am leaving, as soon has I am above them, heading back to civilization, I am plotting my return.

Join Me In The Alaska Range

I will be leading one workshop and giving multiple lectures this year in Denali National Park.

I will be leading one workshop and giving multiple lectures this year in Denali National Park.

This is a busy year for Alaska Range expeditions, four fly-in trips and one hike in scheduled already. But I have managed to schedule one workshop in the Alaska Range. I also have two speaking engagements in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Wilderness Photography in Denali, July 26th-29th, 2015
This will be my third trip into this area and I hope you will join me. This four day, intensive workshop will focus on being creative while working in remote wilderness. We will fly into  Backside Lake on the south side of Denali National Park and Preserve. Our goal is to learn to create expressive and powerful images under any conditions. We will explore aerial photography, landscapes, macro and even some wildlife concepts. Will have a chance to explore glaciers, beautiful alpine lakes and if we are lucky, unique views of Denali, North America’s highest mountain! We will camp in style while eating some of the best back-country meals ever!

The cost is $2,395 and includes everything!

This once in a lifetime adventure is offered by Alaska Range Project supporter and Alaska’s leading wilderness adventure company, Alaska Alpine Adventure. To get a full itinerary and to register visit them at Alaska Alpine Adventures- Denali Photo Safari!

Guest Lecturer, Camp Denali and the North Face Lodge, August 10-16th 2015
I am honored to be a guest lecturer for the renowned Special Emphasis Series at the North Face Lodge and Camp Denali. I will be spending a week in Kantishna, speaking to guest on glaciers and exploring the Alaska Range. I will be giving a presentation each night.
August 10th-13th at Camp Denali
August 14th-16th  at North Face Lodge
For more info visit:http://campdenali.com/live/page/special-emphasis-series

Guest Speaker, Murie Science and Learning Center, Denali National Park and Preserve, August 9th, 7pm 2015
I have been invited to give a presentation on “Exploring Alaska’s Vanishing Glaciers” at the Murie Science and Learning Center in Denali National Park and Preserve. This is a free presentation and is sponsored by Alaska Geographic. So if your in Denali on August 9th, come by!

Other News!

Super stoked that Alpinist, the single greatest magazine of mountaineering literature and photography, will be featuring some of the Alaska Range Project images on their website and social media sites. The Website feature is here: http://alpinist.com/doc/web15w/wfeature-photographer-carl-battreall-alaska Make sure you follow them on Facebook and Instagram and support their awesome work.

Planet Mountain, Europe’s largest website dedicated to all things mountain, has featured some images from the Alaska Range Project on their site. Check it out here: http://www.planetmountain.com/english/News/shownews1.lasso?l=2&keyid=42538

I am running off the the Yucatan for a few weeks to thaw out and get rested before my epic season of expeditions and the final season of photography for the project!!!!

See you in a few weeks,

Carl

Alaska Range Project: 2014 Review

2014 was a wild year, full of drama and spectacular wilderness. It started off strong, with two amazing trips and then slowly deteriorated, with family emergencies, wicked weather and cancelled trips. However, I made some strong images for the book and feel confident that this will be an exciting publication and a real tribute to the mighty Alaska Range.

I want to give a big thanks to everyone who helped spread the word in 2014. Images from the project were printed in United States, Japan, Germany, France and Italy.

The biggest exposure came from online venues including: The Adventure Journal, Mother Nature Network, Project Pressure, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, National Geographic Adventure Blog and Nature Photographers Network.

Photographs from the project were used by numerous climbers from all over the world. With the help from my images, some of them made hard, first ascents. I hope to add a climber support section to the blog this year.

My expedition partners are key to the project’s success, so a big thanks to: Sy, Opie, Phil, Brian, Julie, my Dad and my wife Pam and son Walker. A special thanks to all the pilots who flew me into the wilderness this year including: Jim Cummings, Jim Green and OE.

Thanks to all the 2014 project sponsors and supporters including: The American Alpine Club, The Mountaineering Club of Alaska, Patagonia, Black Diamond, Naneu, Alaska Alpine Adventures and The Alaska Center for the Environment.

And final shout to Kate and the crew at The Mountaineers Books for all their support and for making this project a reality.

Okay, now some photographs!

 

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.”

 

 

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!