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!

 

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Mountain Profile: Mount Deborah

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.

My first time seeing Mount Deborah up close. I took this photo in 2006. Its taken from the south as I was flying after a trip in the Clearwater Mountains.

My obsession with Mount Deborah began after reading the classic mountaineering book, Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative. In it, David Roberts describes an epic journey through a remote Alaskan Wilderness, full of failure, suffering and enlightenment. Undoubtedly one of the great books of mountain literature.

Mount Deborah was named in 1907 by James Wickersham for his first wife, Deborah Susan Wickersham. Its first ascent was in 1954 by mountain legends: Fred Beckey, Henry Meybohm, Heinrich Harrer, via the South Ridge.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah. This is the impossible North Face. Taken from the Gillam Glacier.

During rare clear weather, Mount Deborah can be seen in all its gory from the Denali Highway. To reach Mount Deborah though, involves a grand journey through some of the Alaska Range’s roughest and most isolated terrain.

I attempted to reach it by skis from the Richardson highway in 2004, but was turned back by miserable snow conditions. I attempted again in September 2013, but the weather shut us down. So in April 2014, I cheated and flew right to the Gillam Glacier, at the base of the north face.

Mixed light and the north face of mount Deborah.

Mixed light and the north face of Mount Deborah. The vertical gain from the Gillam Glacier to the summit is over 6,000ft of steepness!

Mount Deborah is one of Alaska’s most beautiful and intimidating mountains. It is a mountain of myth and legend. I hope that some day, it, along with her surrounding neighbors, will get the protection and celebrated wilderness status they deserve.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah. The beauty of the Eastern Alaska Range rivals any place in Alaska and deserves to be protected and celebrated just like other mountain regions in Alaska.

 

In search of foreground!

If I searched, I was able to find some beautiful rocks that helped add some color to the the winter world of blue and white.

I was able to find some beautiful rocks that helped add some color to the alpine world of blue and white.

I know it seems preposterous to complain about endless blue skies and as an explorer, I am not. However, as a photographer, perfect blue skies combined with a world of white creates a monochromatic world that after a few days,  begins to look the same,  Another photographic difficulty I had on my last trip was that we were so tight in the mountains that we never got low angle light, which can reveal the beautiful texture of snow, which is shaped by the wind into wonderful patterns and waves called Strastugi, great foreground subjects.

Glacial erratic and Mount Deborah.

Carl_Battreall_gillam-5

Same rock, different light, different mood.

Yes, this all seems petty, but it can be frustrating when your desperate to create, creative images. So I explored every rock, looking for a splash of color. I looked in crevasses, and was luckily able to find some unique ice next to one of the medial moraines.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Cool ice and Mount Deborah.

Ice and Mount Deborah.

The ice was too cool and became the main subject.  Accumulation and moraine layers, Gillam Glacier, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

The ice was too cool and became the main subject. Accumulation and moraine layers, Gillam Glacier, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

About to fall.

About to fall.

 

 

 

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.

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Talk to you soon!