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

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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.

Kahiltna Trip: Final Post

The Games Mountains Play

Wind loaded slaps avalanches were everywhere.

Wind loaded slap avalanches were everywhere.

I checked my watch, it was 6:00am, if I wanted to catch sunrise, I needed to start getting ready. I stayed still. Ice covered my sleeping bag, I slowly peaked out of my bag, strings of ice crystals hung down from every point in the tent. Every time I moved, ice would fall all around, into my bag.

I couldn’t do it, I was cold inside my bag and it was a lot worse outside. I was a coward, I was a lousy excuse for a professional photographer. When the first rays of sun hit the tent, we all began to stir. It had been a rough night, the wind howled and I had felt it pushing through the tent.

We all dragged ourselves out into the sun, it was cold, but there is something about having direct sunshine that negates the cold, or helps you forget about it.

It may be sunny, but its still cold! Sy's icy beard.

It may be sunny, but its still cold! Sy’s icy beard.

After breakfast we packed up camp and headed down glacier, following the path Chris and Sy had broken the day before. Even with all the wind , the trail was easy to follow. Wind loaded avalanches were everywhere. The farther down we descended, the deeper the snow got. We switched leads, each taking their turn breaking trail. I got to travel through a nice crevasse section, which I enjoyed.

When we moved it was warm, but a stiff breeze from behind prevented us from stopping for any length of time. I shot mostly hand-held, just to spare my companions the extra time of waiting for me to set up my tripod. The scenery was sublime, the north face of Avalanche Spire was a beautiful collection of hanging glaciers. The light was really unique and was perfect for capturing the texture of the glaciers and the character of the mountain. Only the north side of the mountain is glaciated, the rest is steep, fractured rock of low quality.

The beautiful north face of Avalanche Spire.

The beautiful north face of Avalanche Spire.

By mid-afternoon we had reached a flat, crevasse free area of the Kahiltna. We could see the entrance to the Pika Glacier, about two miles away. We decided to put up camp. The evening was fantastic, with a great view of Hunter and these huge lenticular clouds over Denali. The temperature was rising. The clouds on Denali and the rising temps were a solid sign of the weather moving in.

Probing for crevasses.

Probing for crevasses.

Last light on Mount Hunter and Denali.

Last light on Mount Hunter and Denali.

Chris Called K2 Aviation and let them know our location. We felt is was wiser to stay where we were, then to push down and then up the Pika. The snow was getting deeper, avalanche danger was a concern and we didn’t think we could get there and pack a runway before the weather went to hell.

Chris calling K2 on the SAT phone.

Chris calling K2 on the SAT phone.

We spent the next two days, packing a 1800ft runway, in whiteout conditions. The only good thing was, it had warmed up considerably. We also started to think about our escape. We could either try to ski an extra 40 miles to the road or wait and hope we had enough food to last until a plane came. We each began to think about rationing food, well except Sy, who had enough for at least another week. Sy had forgotten his spoon, and tooth paste, so Chris and I began bargaining with him.

“I will let you borrow my spoon for 300 calories of food”. Chris would say.

“You could borrow mine for 200!” I would counter offer.

On our scheduled pick-up day it was clear and beautiful. We called K2 and let them know that our weather was great. They however, in Talkeetna, were socked in.

Morning storm on Mount Foraker

Morning storm on Mount Foraker

“Make yourself comfortable and don’t pack up camp until you see our plane land!” K2 said, not very inspiring. Sy and Chris spent the morning doing laps on the runway while I photographed the changing light on Foraker.

Then Sy said “Carl do you hear that?”

“no” I replied.

“It’s a plane, take off your hood.” he suggested.

“How many hoods?” I asked, realizing I had three hoods and a hat on! When I pulled off my layers, I could hear it too.

Randy made a few laps before finally settling down. We were proud of our runway but Randy wasn’t impressed.

The plane, The plane!

The plane, The plane!

“Too short, not a wide enough turn around, not on a steep enough slope and the wind is the wrong way.” he balked, shattering our egos.

The flight down the Kahiltna was great with Randy sharing all his knowledge of the area.

In the end the trip was a minor success photographically. I like to get at least five strong images from a trip and I think I accomplished that. The camera issues were a major problem and I am trying to figure out what went wrong.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey. The next big trip is in June!

Kahiltna Trip: Part Two

The Storm

Strange light on Mount Foraker, Where is it coming from?

Strange light on Mount Foraker, Where is the light coming from?

“There is some cool light on Foraker.” Chris said as he fiddled with the stove outside of the tent. I quickly scrambled, putting on my numerous layers. The light was unique, like Mount Foraker was creating it from within. I took a few images but then became more concerned by the obvious decline in the weather, Denali and Hunter were lost in the clouds and little flakes were being spit from the sky.

After breakfast we roped up and decided to try and push up the Kahiltna as far as we could. I was still worried about the camera and the previous day’s failure. One idea I had was that it could have been the lens I rented, maybe there was and issue between it and the camera? I left it at camp and just took my 24-70.

We worked our way up the glacier, past Mount Crosson and then Peak Farline. The weather got worse the higher we went up, I was having trouble seeing, the whiteout was getting worse. We decided to turn around and head back to camp.

The storm grew, a strong breeze was now coming up the Kahiltna, but no snow, only the little crystals being blown off the mountains. We hunkered down early, this time I took Chris’s advice and put a warm water bottle at the bottom of my sleeping bag, that helped and I got a better night sleep.

Packing up camp.

Packing up camp.

We woke up to full-on conditions. It was blowing hard, the temps were cold, breaking down camp was tough. We headed straight into the wind, we figured a steady 10MPH with guts around 30MPH. After about twenty minutes, face masks went on, frost bite was a serious concern. I busted trail into the wind, the tips of my skis were all I could see.

After and hour or so I realized that it was dumb to keep pushing through the weather. We needed to either dig a snow cave right into the glacier or try to find safe shelter along the flanks of Mount Hunter. Those avalanches we witness were very fresh in our minds, hanging ice dripped off Mount Hunter’s flanks. Evey once in a while I would see hints of Mount Hunter. I looked desperately for a rocky area that had nothing ominous hanging above it.

The ambient temp was around -10f, add gust of 30 or so and we were playing around in -40F conditions, the safety barrier had been reached. We headed to the safest spot we could find and dug in, crossing our fingers we didn’t miss something hiding above us.

Needless to say, photography was not happening. Dug a quick camp out of the wind, under one of Hunter’s many rocky arms. The wind died down that evening as we brewed up and ate dinner. I passed the time cutting awesome blocks in the wind-hammered snow. Once hot water bottles were filled, we got in our bags and called it a night.

Making camp in full-on conditions.

Making camp in full-on conditions. Chris braving bare hands!

That night we called my wife Pam on the satellite phone in order to get a forecast.

“We are getting dumped on, at least a foot so far” she said, figuring we were being buried alive. “No snow here, just really windy and cold.” She was surprised.

“Forecast is to let up tomorrow and get really cold, then another storm rolls in.”

“Get cold?! ” I said, “It’s cold enough!”.

We knew if we had good weather tomorrow we needed to get through the icefall, it would be really hard to find that smooth path in a total whiteout and we all knew a crevasse fall in those temperatures would turn our little photo trip into a survival epic.

Next: Part Three: The Price of Solitude