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I spent the fourth of July weekend trekking across one of Alaska’s, and the Nation’s least visited National Parks. Gates of the Arctic is situated in Alaska’s Arctic, and is not accessible by road, making for light visitation. I accessed the park on a float plane and then hiked the region with a pretty hefty backpack. Our initial route (which was extensive and included crossing 7 mountain passes) did not work out, so we regrouped and explored the Arrigetch Peaks complex. I’ve been to parts of that region before and knew we would be in for some magic sights. Here are a few images from that journey.

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Valley of Aquarius, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Valley of Aquarius, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Caliban, Arial and Xanadu peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Caliban, Arial and Xanadu peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

  • Elizabeth Parnis - How small we look in Nature!July 23, 2015 – 12:58 amReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - All are lovely. These mountains give new meaning to the word peak. I especially like the images with the strong foregrounds.July 18, 2015 – 5:43 amReplyCancel

  • Chuck Ashley - sweet shots ya took there Patrick J. EndresJuly 16, 2015 – 6:58 amReplyCancel

  • Dennis Zaki - Half Dome is cool but the rock in picture #10 looks far more interesting.July 15, 2015 – 7:26 amReplyCancel

I just returned from an 8 day trip into Alaska’s Brooks Range with Heath Sandall, Jay Cable and Tom Moran. We spent most of the time in the Arrigetch Peaks in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. In due time, I’ll write a little more about that trip and the place. But since it is a tight turnaround for another short trip, I’ll share a few pictures for some eye candy on likely one of the most riveting landscapes in Alaska. More to come…

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  • Chuck Ashley - The landscape looks like a place from Middle Earth, love itJuly 9, 2015 – 7:08 pmReplyCancel

  • Mick Stevens - Very nice shots. Is there a way to get the info of focal length, f stop, ect off the pictures?July 8, 2015 – 8:10 pmReplyCancel

  • Marylee Bates - Gorgeous!July 8, 2015 – 2:28 amReplyCancel

This time of year in the mountain regions of the Alaska Range, there are huge fields of blossoming wild sweet pea. They cover the gravel areas of river drainages, and hit their peak bloom about summer solstice. I took this photo last week while driving to Anchorage. The wild sweet pea is very fragrant, and if you walk out into the midst of these large fields, you will be immersed in a wonderful aroma. It is worth a mountain journey just for that experience. I used a 16-35mm lens to make this picture.

Wild sweet pea, Miller Creek, Alaska Range mountains. Caon 5 D Mark III, 16-36mm f/4L IS.

Wild sweet pea, Miller Creek, Alaska Range mountains. Caon 5 D Mark III, 16-36mm f/4L IS.

On another note, I just finished loading my backpack with 60 lbs. worth of gear for a 115 mile trip in Alaska’s Brooks Range, Gates of the Arctic National Park. The smoke from forest fires are all over the state, and just moved into the Brooks Range. I’m hoping some future wind and weather patterns will change that. I plan to have some photos to share upon my return.

My pack stuffed to the max., about 60 lbs total.

My pack stuffed to the max., about 60 lbs total.

  • Mark - Patrick,

    Love the photos as always. As for your 60lb. pack:

    When are you going to switch to Sony’s FF mirrorless cameras to save you some size and weight on such trips? The new A7R II will even do pretty good AF with Canon glass and the right adapter. Or, get a few of the smaller f/4 Sony/Zeiss lenses to save even more size and weight. You know you want to. For even more size and weight savings you could go with the APS-C mirrorless option, though I understand why you might be reluctant to go that small and light. June 28, 2015 – 12:25 pmReplyCancel

    • Patrick Endres - Mark, the move to lighter gear will come in due time… The extra weight is good training for the Boston marathon in April :)July 6, 2015 – 8:05 amReplyCancel

      • Mark - Good luck with the marathon. I had no idea you are in training. And you do realize I was at least partly joking with my comments about switching to Sony, right? July 6, 2015 – 1:33 pmReplyCancel

  • Chuck Ashley - Enjoy the Brooks Range & Gates of the Artic Patrick, looking forward to the photosJune 28, 2015 – 4:00 amReplyCancel

  • Syed Tajgeer - Have a nice and safe trip Patrick. Very nice color, I wish one day I can smell them.June 27, 2015 – 11:15 pmReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - Lovely sweet pea photo! Safe travels on your next trip.June 27, 2015 – 4:05 amReplyCancel

Human powered adventures in Alaska’s Brooks Range are always just that…an adventure of sorts. I mean “adventure” in a wilderness context, i.e., a human powered travel mode that takes you across trail-less country, up and over mountains, while route-finding, problem solving and embracing the discovery of new sights all the way along.

I shared a few photos in my previous post about the land portion of a hike and packraft trip down the Matthews River in Alaska’s southeastern Brooks Range. In total, the trip was about 50 miles, and maybe 20 or so on foot and 30 in the raft. Or in this case, due to low river water, a lot of in and out of the raft. It was my first trip with a new whitewater packraft that I purchased from the good guys in Fairbanks at Northern Alaska Packrafts. They also rent boats and gear which is a good option for some people.

This country is big and scenic, while the river is relatively small and intimate. It is certainly the most diverse river I’ve traveled in terms of breadth. It ranges from wide open braided sections and then shrinks to a span of about 5 feet wide when passing through a slot canyon.

Unlike the rivers in Alaska’s interior–of which most are fed by glacial runoff and are therefore an opaque gray color–this river is mainly fed by spring runoff and rain water and can be sparkling clear. It was a wonderful 3 day trip.

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Traveling the headwaters waiting to find enough water to put in our boats.

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View up river – thinking, I’m glad we are not there right now.

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Labrador tea blossoms on the tundra.

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Me lining my raft in shallow water. photo by Heath Sandall

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Looking downriver at the entrance of the slot canyon.

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Heath paddles through the slot canyon, view from the top.

Me paddling through the canyon. Photo by Heath Sandall.

Me paddling through the canyon. Photo by Heath Sandall.

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Looking up river at the entrance to the first canyon.

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Lapland rosebay on the spring tundra.

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Heath paddling through the first canyon.

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The beautiful Matthews River.

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Look at that water!!!

  • Pamela Harris Gordon - Stunning scenery and photography! I enjoyed looking at several posts. Visiting from Carol Mattingly’s blog.June 27, 2015 – 1:54 pmReplyCancel

  • Janet - Beautiful, looks like a fun time.June 25, 2015 – 9:55 amReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - Thanks Karen, that dark foreboding sky in the distance offers good contrast.June 25, 2015 – 6:49 amReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - All are lovely, but I especially like the foreground treatment in the second image.June 25, 2015 – 5:45 amReplyCancel

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There is a window of time in Alaska’s early summer where one can get out and explore after the snow has melted, but before the waves of mosquitoes emerge. It is a narrow time frame, and in the Southern Brooks Range mountains, it is usually before June 15. But the change in seasons is still in process at this time, and winter may still have a few cold breaths to blow over the mountains. This was the case during my recent venture to backpack, packraft and photograph along a few rivers in the southeastern Brooks Range. In addition to fluctuating weather and temperatures during this time of year, water levels can vary considerably as well. Snow melt and precipitation can alter the flow of a small river significantly.

A friend and I made a 50 mile backpack & packraft (and due to low water-a lot of lining the boats) trip east of the Dalton highway along the Matthews river. A very early warm spell in late May helped melt the snow in the high country, but this also meant low water in the river. While I would prefer to raft, rather than line a boat through shallow water, the clear water found in the absence of abundant runoff is worth the trade off. The crystal clear water has a mesmerizing quality, and to peer through it to the river rocks below is a sort of soul-food. It reminds me of a quote from Norman Maclean’s book, A River Runs Through It.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

Adding the process of photography to a trip like this is consistently challenging. I find this true for a number of reasons.

  • The first being that it takes a fair amount of energy just in the process of moving, hiking, climbing and navigating, not to mention having the extra time and energy to create compelling images.
  • Camera gear adds weight to an already hefty pack that includes all the necessary gear for pack rafting (paddle, pfd, dry suit, dry gear, raft, etc.)
  • In addition, this time of year can be wet and chilly. Cold, wet hands erode my motivation quickly.
  • Getting in and out of a boat to find a perspective other than water level also takes time and energy.

Every veteran photographer learns that the weather can be a friend or foe, and sometimes both simultaneously. But this is all part of the lure, the paradox that often comes with adventuring in mountain country: the extremes of weather, the views from high places, the arduous work of getting there, and the route finding along unknown pathways.

I took my Canon 5D Mark III with the 16-35mm f/4L IS and the 24-105mm f/4L IS. One lens would simplify things and omit the need to change lenses in rainy and wet conditions, but I can’t seem to go anywhere without at least a 16mm wide lens. There is nothing like capturing the sky in such epic places. I left the tripod behind, but that was largely due to weight, since my pack was already about 52lbs.

The trip began on foot, trekking up a drainage and over a mountain pass. Here are a few images prior to reaching the river.

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  • Aijaz Ahmad - fantastic!!!July 15, 2015 – 3:25 amReplyCancel

  • Jay C - Neat trip! Did you get any photos of the first canyon of the Matthews? I was told it is sort of slot canyon-ish.June 16, 2015 – 5:49 pmReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - I can see why you wanted your 16-35mm with you. Wonderful scenery!June 16, 2015 – 5:51 amReplyCancel

  • Jean - OK, I need to get the maps out and see where the Matthews River is. Thanks for posting this. I always enjoy reading about where you have been and seeing your photos.June 15, 2015 – 5:50 pmReplyCancel

  • elizabeth - What marvellous scenery: I want to come back! The photography is great of course!June 15, 2015 – 12:40 pmReplyCancel