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.


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.


Chasing the Fall Colors in the Alaska Range

Skull and fall colors, north side, Hayes Range.

Skull and fall colors, last year’s trip to the north side of the Hayes Range.

The fall season is short in the Alaska Range. The shoulder between Summer and Winter only last a few weeks at best. I have often had snow cover the fall colors right at their prime.

This is my last chance to capture the brief, fall display for the book (all photographs need to be to the publisher by August of next year). The last two years I have flown in to a remote section of the Alaska Range, with limited success. It is very difficult to predict when and where the colors will be at their prime. Everyone has their theories on why the colors change when they do, but I have yet to find any reasonable way to predict when and where, all one can do is search.

So this year I will be approaching it differently. Generally, the alpine colors on the north side of the Range change first, followed by the south side tundra, then the lower shrubs and trees on the north…etc. I have found the alpine tundra turning red as early as the last week of August and is late as the second week of September!

Rumor has it that the alpine tundra on the north side of the Alaska Range is already beginning to turn. The goal is to drive until we find the colors and hike in, spend a few days and then move on to the next display. I am not a fan of roadside photography, but it may be the only way to find those elusive colors when they are at their best.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

The holy grail of Alaska fall colors is when you find the alpine tundra and the lower shrubs and bushes changing at the same time. This was the last day of last year’s trip. The tundra had just turned and the lower shrubs were almost there, I just missed it!


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.



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.


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,, 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.

Make sure you Follow the blog and like my Facebook page so you can stay up to date with all the new images and expedition news.

Talk to you soon!

Where The Peaks Have No Names

Last light on the Neacola Mountains

Last light on the Neacola Mountains

It was the first really clear day in awhile and the wind was absent. I was still feeling down about not getting any good images this year from the southern section of the Alaska Range, when I thought “Maybe I could get one more aerial shoot in”. So I called up my buddy, photographer and pilot Dan Bailey.

“Want to fly tonight?” I asked with lots of enthusiasm. He was hesitant, I am sure he was very busy and wasn’t even thinking of flying.

“I don’t know, let me call you back.” I sat there waiting. I sent an email to another photographer-pilot I knew, Joe Connelly, but he was out-of-town.

Finally Dan called back and agreed to fly.

“Where do you want to go?” he asked.

“Hidden Mountains” I replied.

“Where is that?” He questioned.

“North of Merrill Pass, though we may not make it that far, it’s a long way”. I met him at the airport at 4:30. He went through his pilot checklist, fueled up and we were in the air by 5:00.

Dan’s little Cessna 120 has about four hours of fuel (not counting reserve) and goes about 80 miles an hour. It’s a great plane for photography, it goes slow and low, but it takes a long time to get to the Alaska Range from Anchorage and I knew we would be pushing it.

The flight plan was to go through Merrill Pass and then head north into the Hidden Mountains, a remote collection of mountains sandwiched between the Revelations and the Tordrillos. I have seen very few images from these mountains and only know one person who has been in them. The only peak of any notoriety is Snowcap, which is incorrectly named on the USGS topo map, a common occurrence on those maps from the southern Alaska Range.

Mount Spurr

Mount Spurr

Crevasses, unnamed glacier

Crevasses, unnamed glacier

We flew next to the pure whiteness of Mount Spurr, just glorious in the clean sunlight. As we approached the pass we saw a wall of clouds, hovering around 2000 feet. The clouds stretched as far as we could see. We debated on whether or not to travel through the pass. Before we made our decision about the pass we flew around another known peak, The Tusk, a granite fang that protrudes out of the tundra. I had seen a few images of the Tusk and it looked pretty cool. Because of the tightness of the surrounding peaks, we had to fly above it and honestly, The Tusk, isn’t very impressive from the air, especially with so many huge, looming mountains off in the distance.


Peaks 6625 and 6945, just two of the hundreds of unnamed beauties in the Hidden Mountains.

To the south I could see the mighty high peaks of the Neacolas. That was the area I was supposed to have travelled through during my ill-fated July trip, I knew that was where we needed to go.

“Forget the pass, let’s go there” I suggested and Dan agreed.

We flew up the Neacola River towards the Neacola Glacier and peak 9,426, aka Mount Neacola. But then we were side tracked by one of the most beautiful mountains in the entire Alaska Range, Peak 8305. The peak was climbed in 1965 and they called it the Citadel. My friend Dan Oberlatz showed me a picture of that beauty from a ski trip he guided many years ago, it’s sexy shape still imbedded in my mind. The Citadel is the north anchor of a collection of high peaks around the North Fork, Pitch Fork and Neacola Glaciers. The other major monster mountains are Peaks 8908 and 8505, Mount Neacola and the chubby 8105.

The mountain god, Peak 8305, The Citadel!

The mountain god, Peak 8305, The Citadel!

The Citadel and Peak 8505, Mount Iliamna in the distance.

The Citadel and Peak 8505, Mount Iliamna in the distance.

But there were plenty of other beauties around, in fact, everywhere I turned their was a nameless, perfect representation of the word mountain. To add more drama to already amazing scenery Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna towered of in the distance.

Peak 8065 and Mount Redoubt.

Peak 8065 and Mount Redoubt.

We flew to the west side of the mountains and ran into the same wall of clouds. As the sun set they became a glorious yellow ocean that stretched all the way to the Bering Sea.

The yellow sea

The yellow sea

Perfect light

Perfect light

We weaved in and out of mountains for an hour until the light left the peaks, only a pink glow remained in the sky. Our absolute amazement of the mountains and the light made our stay out there a tad bit too long and we had to race out of the mountains before it got too dark, we were flying by sight!

Mount Neacola

Mount Neacola

West face of peak 8505

West face of peak 8505

Luckily, we made it to the flats right before dark. We flew in the pitch black of night, with only the lights of Anchorage as our guide. We landed with ease at Merrill Field, exactly four hours after we had left.

last light on Mount Redoubt

last light on Mount Redoubt

I am still basking in the glorious light of that amazing flight. Thanks again Dan!

Also, Thanks to my friend Steve Gruhn who informed me of the names of the peaks that I thought had no names!

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.

North side of the Hayes Range: Final Post

The snow line slowly dropped and eventually reached our tent

The snow line slowly dropped and eventually reached our tent

The sound was different, it wasn’t the constant thumping we had been hearing for nearly forty hours. It was a softer sound and I recognized it right away, snow. I peeked out of the tent and felt the wet snow pelt my face, it was starting to stick, cooling the fire-red tundra.

The day before was a test of character. It rained the entire night before and continued to rain throughout the day, without a break. I spent the morning in the cook shelter brewing tea and listening to music. I watched the little battery symbol on my Ipod as it slowly reached its end, finally turning red. I became very selective of each song, knowing any one of them could be the last. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah would be the last song of the trip, fitting I thought.

Barry came into the shelter, he was rattled,

“I can’t stand the sound of the rain anymore, its driving me crazy.”

“let’s go hiking then” I responded.

“I don’t want to get soaked.” he grumbled. So we had lunch and I then a reluctantly put on all my rain gear and committed myself to being wet. I followed a gentle creek up into the mountains. The bed was a jumble of interesting, colorful rocks. I made some hasty images, trying to keep my gear from getting completely soaked.

The creek I followed.

The creek I followed.

Once I reached the snow line I traversed into the fog, skirting around rotten spires of black rock. I then travelled down a long soggy ridge back to camp. The rain had let up a little and Barry was wandering around outside trying his hardest not to go insane. We had an early dinner and reluctantly returned to the tent for a long restless night.

The snow was a welcomed change, anything was better than rain. We made breakfast and packed up the drenched tent. We travelled back across the plateau in whiteout conditions. I focused on trying to not fall into one of the many soggy holes that were now hidden under the snow. We didn’t see any caribou this time, but I am sure they heard us.



We returned to our camp site down in the valley. We called our pilot on our SAT phone and let him know that we were back at the pick up spot. It was now going to be a waiting game, waiting for the weather to improve and then waiting for the sound of the Super Cub. During dinner the wolves began their serenade and I decided I was going to see if I could find them and if I was lucky, get their pictures.

Near the edge of the far bank I came across some new tracks, bear tracks. These were the first signs of bears I had found during the whole trip. As I explored, the fog level sank down to the ground. It was getting dark and difficult to see, with my recently acquired knowledge of our other valley resident, I figured it was prudent that I return to camp.The wolves would stay elusive.

We both slept well and we were excited with the prospect of flying out the next day.

Around 5:30am I heard the wolves again. Like a siren call, I slowly dragged myself out of my warm cocoon.  I didn’t expect to see the wolves but I figured I would see if the fog bank was any higher. I was shocked to see clear skies. I quickly began packing my gear, I needed to have all my stuff packed and at the pick-up site before I ran off to take pictures, just in case the airplane came. The light was getting wild, I cursed as the mountains began to glow a scarlet red. I lugged my poorly packed pack with random pieces of gear dangling off like Medusa’s snakes. I dropped it at the landing strip and then ran to the other side of the valley. I needed to get up on the ridge before the sun came up over the horizon.

As difficult as it was I knew I had to sacrifice the alpenglow on the mountains in order to make it up onto the ridge before the sunrise. My legs burned as I struggled up the steep bank. I was wearing way too many clothes but I knew I would cool down once I got to the top. I had my camera, a lens and my tripod. I had a put few bars in my pocket for breakfast on the run.

I reached the top, sweating profusely. After a quick look around I began the process of trying to find a good composition for the light that was about to arrive. I watched the light hitting the mountains and tried to predict where it would hit along the ridge.

The fantastic light arrives on the ridge.

The fantastic light arrives on the ridge.

This is the game you play in the mountains. You can either find a great composition and wait, hoping the light hits it right or you can wait for the light and then find a subject that goes with it. The late Galen Rowell used to talk a lot about light, how the light choose what he was going to make images of. I try to straddle both styles, get myself into a place I think might work and then if it doesn’t, be ready to abandon my previsualized image and chase the light.

Looking north into the valley where we camped.

Looking north into the valley where we were camped.

And chase the light I did. When the light finally arrived i realized my precomposed image wasn’t going to work.  So I darted up and down the ridge making photographs in all directions, finding subjects that fit the light.

looking north east, the clouds would soon engulf us.

looking north-east, the clouds would soon engulf us.

After over an hour of intense image making, I took a break and ate something. The fog was beginning to form off to the east and soon the sun got absorbed. My concern about the light quickly changed to concern on whether the pilot was gong to make it before the flight window closed.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

Fall colors were just beginning to hit their prime.

Last image before the fog rolled in.

Last image before the fog rolled in.

I headed down the steep ridge and met up with Barry at the landing spot. Fog was coming in but there was still a big blue hole above us and all the mountains could still be seen. After a few minutes the plane arrived. Barry went first.

I wanted a little time to myself in mountains, some time to reflect about the trip and maybe get a chance to see those wolves, but they would remain ghosts with only their eerie song embedded in my memory. I thanked them loudly for waking me up that morning, but the only response was my own voice echoing off the mountains.

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.