K.I.S.S. in the Mountains

Function over fashion. Getting organized before an expeditions will pay dividends in the mountains.

Function over fashion. Getting organized before expeditions will pay dividends in the mountains.

I try to follow the acronym K.I.S.S when preparing for an expedition and when out in the field. I try to keep everything simple and organized. When it’s cold and ugly out, it pays to “Have all your ducks lined up.” as my Dad would say.

My gear is often laughed at by fellow photographers, it’s well-worn and covered in bright-colored tape. But I believe in function over fashion. Much of my photography happens during the dim light before sunrise and after sunset. I have lost many a cable release and lens cap during these dark hours. And though neither is a trip killer, it can be frustrating and just adds an unnecessary complication to an expedition.

It also pays to keep track of batteries and memory cards, especially in the cold when I am frequently rotating them around like musical chairs.  Batteries always fail right when the light is really good, cards also fail or magically fill up right when things start to get exciting!

These are my accessories for my upcoming trip into the Gillam Glacier, Eastern Alaska Range.

 

Advertisements

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

 

 

My Training for Wilderness and Mountain Photography

My main partner in crime, Sy, enjoying a unnamed summit in the Chugach mountains.

My main partner in crime, Sy, enjoying a unnamed summit in the Chugach mountains.

A while back I wrote an essay on the importance of physical fitness for wilderness and mountain photographers. I was recently asked how I train for expeditions? So I figured I give a brief run down on how I train and how my “training” has changed throughout my twenty plus years as an outdoor photographer.

First off, I am not a PT, PHD, FT or anything for that matter, never even attended college, so please talk to a specialist before you go off and get crazy with training! I am not a professional athlete either, mid-pack at best.

I have always been a runner and a mountain biker. And when I was in my twenties, running a few days a week, biking here and there and hiking was all I needed to do to stay in shape and feel good when on photography expeditions. But now I am pushing forty one and random exercise without focus doesn’t really cut it anymore.

First off, quality physical fitness is a combination of three elements: Endurance, Strength and Flexibility. Endurance is the most important and the easiest to build and maintain; simply participate in long, steady cardio vascular exercise. Running, hiking, fast walking, XC skiing, biking and swimming are all great cardio workouts that will pay dividends in the mountains.

I run three days a week: One long, slow run, one hilly run and one short, quicker pace run. I also XC Ski and/or bike for one-three hours,  two or three days a week. One day, usually on Sundays, I spend all day in the mountains, climbing a peak or doing a long ski/hiking tour. That long day in the mountains is crucial training for my photography expeditions. It is important to mimic the conditions your training for. Swimmers train by swimming, Cyclists by cycling…(though ALL professional athletes cross train). So whenever possible, get out and hike, with a good sized pack. If your next photography expedition is off trail, do plenty of off trail hiking. Trail running is probably the best alternative to hiking if you’re not lucky enough to live near the mountains.

The older I get the more I find that just training for my expeditions isn’t enough. It’s really easy to get lazy when exercising with only a few wilderness trips in the back of your mind. The way to combat that is to find an endurance sporting event to train for. You don’t need to do back to back Ironman or anything insane like that, but signing up for a running race or a ski or bike race can really add focus to your training. The goal isn’t to win, it’s just a way to get you motivated, focused and to have fun. I usually do one or two “races” a year. I mix them up.  Some years I focus on cycling, some years running and sometimes skiing. I am currently on a running kick, training for a marathon.

Rest is also important, I don’t have scheduled rest days, I rest when my body needs it, usually once a week or sometimes more.

As we get older our physical strength and our flexibility reduces. This is how we get hurt while in the mountains, or even while doing random things like playing with our kids or doing housework.  As our muscle mass decreases,  so does our strength. It’s important to maintain strength around those crucial joints, like knees, to prevent injury in the field.  I hate the gym as much as the next guy but strength training will also help your cardio fitness, you will feel the benefits of strength training when humping those big loads of camera gear up the mountains. Find a reliable and qualified Fitness Trainer or Coach and tell them what you like to do and have them design you a nice strength training routine that matches your activities.

As we age our muscles and tendons become stiff and less bendy, making them very susceptible to tearing and straining. It’s important to stay on top of your flexibility. It’s not necessary to travel to Indian and train with a Master Yogi (though if you have the time..) but taking a regular Yoga class or developing a regular stretching routine will really go a long way to injury prevention.

One last tip: Train like the pros! I find great inspiration from world class athletes. A follow the advice of the world’s premier endurance runners, cyclist, mountaineers and xc skiers. And even though I will never be a competitive athlete, using the techniques and skills from seasoned pros that I respect make me a better athlete even at my mediocre level.

Working With The Light You’ve Got: Rain

Part two of my little series on working with what you got.

Fall leaves and bear tracks, Chugach State Park, Alaska. The perfect subject for a rainy day.

Fall leaves and bear tracks, Chugach State Park, Alaska. The perfect subject for a rainy day.

To be a successful mountain – wilderness photographer, you need to learn to work in most situations, this is especially true if your on a paid assignment. The editors don’t really care how bad the weather was, they just want images.

In Alaska, your pretty lucky to get trough an entire trip without getting rained on at least once. Usually, your lucky if you get a day or two of nice weather, during a week of rain. When I look back at last summer’s trips, rainy days were the norm, over sixty percent of the days in the field it rained.

The first thing to do is get outside! Don’t sit around in your tent feeling sorry for yourself, there will be plenty of time for that at night! You spent all that money on those fancy Gore-Tex items, so put them to use.

At the Headwaters of the South Fork of Eagle river near the Flute Glacier. Another rainy Chugach scene.

At the Headwaters of the South Fork of Eagle river near the Flute Glacier. Another rainy Chugach scene.

You will quickly realize that hiking in the rain can be very pleasant. If it’s really windy or raining hard, head for the forest. Wet foliage is beautiful and the dampness can really accentuate the colors. Again, its time to focus on the details. Intimate macros and mid distance forest studies are best on  cloudy, rainy day.

This is about the only time I use a polarizer, it helps remove the glare and reflection off wet items. This is also a good time to call to duty that len’s shade you keep dragging around but never use.

beautiful, wet forest

Beautiful, wet forest. Chugach State Park, Alaska

I sometimes bring along the secret tool of backcountry guides in Alaska, an umbrella. Yep, sounds silly at first but an umbrella is a great way to boost your wet, soggy clients morale. Umbrellas are also great for keeping rain off your gear when photographing. They can also help prevent camera shake from wind and on sunny days they can create shade for close-ups and block glare from the sun! Pretty useful.

In the woods or when photographing plants, I try to use a fast shutter speed to stop any motion caused by the rain hitting the subjects. When photographing water or clouds, I will sometimes use a slow shutter speed, to emphasize movement.

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.

Mixed light reflection, unnamed tarn, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Mixed light reflection, unnamed tarn, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Dark, gloomy days can also make for interesting landscapes. In Alaska, you frequently get “sucker holes” that let light in for a fleeting moment. The mixed light created by these holes in the clouds, are my favorite and if there is any chance of light coming through I am happy hang out in the rain.

Photographing on rainy days isn’t that hard, its more of a state of mind. When I look back at many of my favorite images over the years, many are the ones taken on  rainy days.

Sunset from Steamroller Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. After nearly forty days of rain in  the Chugach, this sunset was a welcome surprise.

Sunset from Steamroller Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. After nearly forty days of rain in the Chugach, this sunset was a welcome surprise.

Planning a Remote Wilderness Photography Trip Using Google Earth

I have six major trips planned this year along with a handful of shorter jaunts. I have spent the lasts few weeks digging through maps and staring for hours at Google Earth.

Obviously, the first thing I considered is “What areas offer the best chances for successful image making?” For some of my trips, there is a at least one major objective, and for the Alaska Range project, it’s usually a big mountain.

After I choose an objective, I look for bodies of water or other features that could add to an image of the major objective or just give me more variety. Other mountains in the area, steep valleys that could have waterfalls, glaciers that may have caves or interesting features and of course lakes, especially ones that have chances for reflections. Variety is key. There is always a good chance that your main mountain will never be seen, so there should be plenty of other interesting things to go explore.

Google Earth helps me figure out if a location has enough variety. One of the main issues I have found by using only topo maps is that its hard to figure out if you will be able to see your objectives. I have been in valleys that were too tight to see the actual mountains and have had views blocked by small hills that I hardly noticed on the map.

Google Earth’s Street View isn’t exact and should be only used as a guide but its usefulness can’t be denied. Once you have found the location you can use Google Earth’s night/day feature to determine if and when light will actual hit you main objectives. You can also get exact sunset and sunrise times along with the moon’s cycle. You just type in the exact dates of your trip and watch the screen as the light crosses the landscape, pretty cool.

lima bean lake

Google Earth View of Lima Bean Lake (it’s the blackness in the front) This is the Street View. This tells me that the mountains are in view from the lake shore and that there is potential for a reflection type shot.

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

Lima Bean Lake, Denali National Park and Preserve. My study of Google Earth showed possibilities at this lake and  it proved right.

I never plan a trip where I am trapped by the terrain. I like to explore and if the there is just one possible angle of a mountain and not much else, then its just not worth the trip. If there are impossible icefalls, dangerous rivers, steep terrain or just too much bush whacking, then I look somewhere else.

Google Earth is really good for determining where the “green zone” is these days. Most topos of Alaska are over fifty years old. The green zone on those maps (the areas with bushes and trees) has changed dramatically. Some areas that were pretty easy to access just ten years ago are now nightmare bush whacks. Google Earth can also show you how far the glaciers have receded, which I find very useful since most of my trips involve glaciers! Pay attention to the date the images were taken (its in the lower corner of the screen), this can  help you decide when to go and what the terrain really looks like. Some images were taken in winter, which really doesn’t help you plan a summer trip. But I find late season images great for planning routes, especially on glaciers.

The next question is if you can actually get to your location? Are there lakes a float-plane could land on? long enough glaciers with enough snow coverage? Or gravel bars that a tundra plane could land on? There are plenty of secret strips in the mountains of Alaska and sometimes I can spot them on Google Earth.

Probably the most valuable tool for me, is using  Google Earth to identify mountains I have taken photos of, especially aerial images.

Google gives a pretty wide angle images but its still very useful for indentifing Mountains.

Google Earth gives a pretty wide-angle image but it’s still very useful for identifying Mountains. Can you see the shot below in the Google Image above?

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

The Citadel,  Peak 8505 and Mount Iliamna in the distance. These peaks were easy to identify using Google Earth and a topo map together via the Hillmap Website.

If you don’t have two big monitors then its difficult to use a topo program and Google Earth at the same time, which can be frustrating. Luckily there is an awesome website called Hillmap. It splits your chosen topo with Google Earth and seamlessly moves them together, so what’s on one side is mirrored on the other, Brilliant! Their website is http://www.hillmap.com/

Google Earth has its flaws of course. Most of the remote areas have poor resolution, making the usefulness of the images questionable. We should try not to get our hopes up either. It’s always best to enter a remote area with a fresh mind, open to new things and not filled with all the possibilities you saw on a computer screen hundreds of miles away.

Happy Travels!

Working With The Light You’ve Got: Bright Sun

Even though modern cameras seem to able to see in the dark, we still need some type of light to create an image, whether it be light provided by us or by the moon, we need light. There are generally two ways to approach light in landscape photography, find the subject and wait for the light or wait for the light and find a subject that is illuminated beautifully by it.

Moss Campion

Moss Campion and the Raven Glacier. The light was high and bright, but the unique combination of colors, the low angle, use of a polarizer and the direction of the camera made it a successful image.

For me it usually is a combination of both. It’s pretty rare that light perfectly illuminates my pre-composed scene, I often need to recompose when the light  I am waiting for finally arrives. Other times, I have to completely change location, with heart pumping and emotions high.

The late Galen Rowell was a believer of the second approach. To him, photography was all about light, subject came second. He was famous for literally running, often long distances, to match a subject with the developing light.

I believe in the power of subject. I usually wait for a subject to reveal itself to me and then decide if the light matches. Of course, light itself,  can often be the subject.  Light can also be a guide and frequently all you can do is follow it as it travels across the landscape, photographing whatever it reveals.

There is no correct way to approach light and subject. Having strong knowledge of weather and its many phenomenon is good, however, the best thing we can do is practice our awareness of our surroundings, step out of our own mind and live in the moment.  If we can abandoned any preconceived ideas and quiet our thoughts about our day-to-day life, we will be able to adjust with what is developing around us, we will be able to create images quickly and with great impact.

The beautiful north face of Avalanche Spire, central Alaska Range

The beautiful north face of Avalanche Spire, central Alaska Range. Taken around noon.

Direct Sun

” If there is light, one can photograph.” Alfred Steglitz

Like an elusive animal, the majority of landscape photographers only appear before and after sunset and sunrise. Their prey is that mysterious “Magic Light”, that for a brief moment, paints the landscape. But when traveling through remote wilderness, wilderness that chances are, you will never see again, it is important to learn to create images with the light you’ve got. It’s a valuable tool if you ever plan to do assignment work or travel in places that you will only see once.

Inside a crevasse, Matanuska Glacier.

The direct, overhead light illuminated this crevasse perfectly.

The hardest light to work with is summer, mid day, direct sun.  There are plenty of photographers on-line that like to preach that “Trying to create meaningful images in anything besides the magic hour is pointless.” These “all-knowing”  landscape photographers love to drive into their herd’s minds that not a single good image can be taken during the middle of the day. Sure, it is not easy and it’s not always possible, but it can be done.

The main issue is the harsh, contrasty, over-head, light of the middle of the day. Yes, for most subjects, it doesn’t work. What we need to do is see if we can find a subject that benefits from such contrast. Steep mountains always have a side that looks great during the middle of the day. Another approach is to shoot into the light, using things like trees,  rocks or even a person to block the sun itself.

Birch Bark Detail#1

Birch Bark. Using my body to shade the bark from the direct sun created nice diffused light.

Sometimes it pays to get close, really close. Macro photography can be done during the middle of the day. Simply use your body or some other object to shade the subject, creating even, diffused light. You can also search for transparent subjects like ice or leaves. I like to explore narrow canyons and cliffs during the middle of the day, looking for subjects in the shade. A polarizing filter can help remove harsh glare off subjects and can help enhance colors.Sometimes I will use a really strong ND filter to emphasize movement, which we rarely see in images on bright sunny days.

Melt water stream on the Backside Glacier. It was abright and sunny day so I had to use a ten-stop ND filter too slow down the exposure, central Alaska Range.

Melt water stream on the Backside Glacier. It was a bright and sunny day so I used a ten-stop ND filter to slow down the exposure.

On rare occasions I will use a portable strobe. Using a flash to fill in harsh shadows can make an image. People and macro photography can be very successful in direct, mid-day sun when a fill flash is used.

With all those ideas, sometimes we need to just let go of a scene or subject. If possible, we can return during better light, but if you’re travelling through a landscape, then maybe sitting back, with feet up and enjoying the glorious sun is a much more rewarding of an experience than trying to capture a photograph.

In the next post I will talk about working in terrible weather.

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.

Whiteout!

Whiteout!

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 One

Last light on Mount Shand

Last light on Mount Shand, Eastern Alaska Range

“I feel like we are on a different trip” Barry said, as we cowered under our tiny cook shelter, the rain pouring relentlessly outside the thin nylon. He was referring to the first two days of the trip.

Two days earlier we drove the six hours from Anchorage to Delta Junction under blue bird skies, all the elusive mountains were out: Marcus Baker, Sergeant Robinson, Drum, Sanford, White Princess, Moffit and Hayes. It was a glorious drive that kept spirits high.

Our goal was to fly that afternoon, into a remote “strip” next to the Trident Glacier. I had been waiting and waiting to go to this area. I knew it had the potential for great imagery, especially if I could nail the fall colors. I also knew it would be expensive and the weather could easily be crap. It was a risky trip to take.

But this year had been rough and I hadn’t gotten as many images as I had hoped, so I decided to go for it, one last-ditch effort to get some solid images for the project.

I left Delta Junction around 4:30, riding behind pilot Jim Cummings in his Super Cub. It was a great flight, clear as could be. I fired question after question about the area at Jim, who knows the Deltas and the Debora-Hayes mountains better than anyone.

We approached our “strip” about 40 minutes later. When I say strip, I mean a dried up river bed that doesn’t have too many large wash outs or large rocks that could flip the plane. When the plane came to a stop, I knew something was wrong.

“Were not in the right spot’ I said.

“Where did you want to go?” Jim questioned.

“The strip next to the glacier”.

“Oh, that spot got washed out this year.” Jim replied while unloading the gear. I was disappointed. But we were at least close, about three miles from where I wanted to land and four miles  from the spot I wanted to camp at.

Jim roared off and an hour and a half later he returned with Barry. I had started to get impatient, anxious to get moving, we had four miles to cover and I wanted to get there while the light was still good. We dumped a cache quickly near the drop off spot and headed up a great route along the lateral moraine of the Trident Glacier.

The lack of water was starting to worry us as we trudged up the glacier’s edge. There didn’t seem to be any decent camping spots with potential for good images either. When we finally reached a good spot, next to a nice clear stream, we found another tent with two sheep hunters hanging out. We pushed past their spot into the fading light.

At the end of the moraine we came across two small alpine lakes.

“Perfect” I thought, good water and some possible reflection images. The lake I was looking for,  which I scouted on Google Earth, was farther down along the glacier’s edge, but is was just a silty hole, with little potential for good images, water or camping.

Setting up the tent as the last light fades on Mount Moffit

Setting up the tent as the last light fades on Mount Moffit

We set up the tent as the last light faded on Mount Moffit. I hate arriving to camps late. I didn’t have a chance to make solid photographs or scout a location for the morning light. We cooked dinner in the clear, cold darkness, under amazing stars.

The next morning I woke up at 5:30.  My goal was to get up and find a foreground for Mount Moffit. The small lakes near our tent were filled with floating cotton from the Cottongrass and the reflection wasn’t really working. The puddles had a thin sheet of ice, a testament to the cold overnight temps. I ran around the area trying to find a good foreground. I cursed as the mountain turned pink with the morning light. Finally after pacing around tundra  like a mad man I cam across two more lakes with perfect reflections of the mountains. The light was no longer pink but the foreground was just coming into the sun. It was windy so I had to boost the camera’s ISO up in order to stop motion.

Mount Moffit Reflection, Eastern Alaska Range.

Mount Moffit Reflection, Eastern Alaska Range.

Detail of Moffit's western North Ridge, Mount Hayes in the background

Detail of Moffit’s North Ridge, Mount Shand in the background

And another view of Mount Moffit.

And another view of Mount Moffit.

One of the problems when chasing light and when you have such a dominant subject like the towering Mount Moffit, is that you have trouble composing images without the main attraction. After an hour of photographing a variety of views of Moffit, I realized I needed to try to focus on other subjects.

One trick I learned years ago was to turn around from your “main” subject and look the other way. The light is similar and usually many great images are missed and over-looked.

The lower foothills of the north side of the Eastern Alaska Range.

The lower foothills of the north side of the Eastern Alaska Range.

On the drive up I noticed right away the lack of fall colors. Usually by the last week of August, the tundra flora is getting red and orange, but I had to really search out colors, everything seemed a week late.

Around noon, we decided, with hesitation, to leave the awesome spot under the glorious Mount Moffit. I felt confident that I had enough solid images of Moffit and the surrounding area. I knew the weather wasn’t supposed to hold and I felt the urge to begin our migration to towards Mount Hayes.

After a failed short cut over the wrong pass we ended at our cache around 4:00pm. Clouds had already moved in. We found a nice clear stream next to the bank and a really nice spot to camp. I wanted to keep moving but we both decided that we didn’t want to get stuck at night searching for a good water source and camp spot, so we decided to stay put and committed to getting up early to continue our trip.

After dinner it began to rain lightly and with the rain came a dinner guest, a large bull caribou. I followed him around the willows, trying to get a clear shot. He didn’t seem too concerned by me, which was a little disheartening, knowing that there were hunters in the area.

I played cat and mouse in the willows with this fantastic bull.

I played cat and mouse in the willows with this fantastic bull.

I have always considered seeing caribou in the wild as a good omen and went to sleep confident that the rest of the trip was going to be a good one.

Back from the Eastern Alaska Range

Caribou under unnamed mountains, Deborah-Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range.

Caribou under unnamed mountains, Deborah-Hayes Mountains (The tall dome is peak 10,515) Eastern Alaska Range.

In 2006, my good friend Opie and I tried to ski across the north side of the Deborah-Hayes range. We failed miserably, but it was a memorable trip. The snow conditions were character building, a hard inch thick crust over two feet of sugar. And on our return, the Delta River had opened, so we had to cross knee-deep ice water in our ski boots.

During that trip I kept thinking how awesome it would be to come to the area in the fall. It had the potential of being one of the most spectacular areas in the whole Alaska Range.

So this fall I went for it and the area was amazing, insane scenery and abundant wildlife. The colors were a little behind and the weather…well sucked, but I still managed to get some good images.

I have some submissions and prints orders to fill and then I will get a full trip report up on the blog ASAP.

Thanks for following along!

Carl