To be healthy enough to adventure across Alaska under my own human power makes me a grateful person. The conditioning and planning for these trips often requires more time than easier casual travel, but the payoff is worth it–with dividends of raw adventure and wilderness experience. A special thanks to my like-minded friends who make great traveling companions on these ventures. While browsing through my photos from 2015, I pulled a few to share from some memorable trips. In typical Alaska form, the weather varied greatly, ranging from blowing snow to blazing sunshine. Access points were made with a car or bush plane and travel methods included skis, hiking, biking, backpacking and packrafting. While photography is often a focus for me on these trips, there is a lot of time and energy spent each day on the logistics of remote-location travel. For this reason, my efforts are often divided, and the energy tank is not always available for highly focused photography. In spite of that, the blend of work and play marches on…
White Mountains National Recreation Area – March
I traveled 7 miles on skis to this little cabin in the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks, Alaska. The forecast was calling for clear skies, which held true and the aurora appeared in the early morning. What I had really hoped for was a fresh snowfall in the week before I departed to contribute that winter wonderland feeling – but that never came.
Brooks Range Mountains – April
A group of five of us (The Hicker family and Heiner) put skins on our skis and headed up the gently sloping mountains on the North side of the Brooks Range. It was about 5 degrees but there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun provided some wonderful warmth. Being immersed in bright light and pure white snow is invigorating, especially after a long dark winter. It was a memorable day trip.
PackRafting the Matthews River – June
Travel in the Arctic in early June can deliver some weather surprises. It is possible to have some wonderful warm weather, and it is still possible for snow and cold conditions. We (Heath Sandall and I) had a little of both on this 50+ hike and packraft trip that crossed a mountain pass to reach the Matthews River. The water was pretty low due to weeks of earlier warm weather and significant snowmelt, and thus we walked and lined our packrafts more than desired. The bonus of lower water however is that it is often but beautifully clear-and clear it was. One hightlight was paddling through a very narrow slot canyon which was 6 feet wide at its most narrow spot. We saw wolves, Dall sheep and lots of wildlife signs along the way.
Packrafting the Hammond River – June
The hike and backpack trip to the Hammond River started with drop off by friends on the Dalton Highway, and a short crossing of the Koyukuk River. It was a one day hike into the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and a one day packraft out to the small community of Wiseman. I was really hoping for some good weather on this short trip, but it was wet and cold instead. Just a little further north at slightly higher altitudes, there was significant snowfall recorded. I did not take many pictures but it was still a fantastic trip with Heath Sandall.
Gates of the Arctic National Park – July
I was a late-comer to this 9 day trip into the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Still recovering from a marathon I ran just a week before, I held off from committing until just a few days before we left. The planned 100+ mile route was pretty aggressive and included crossing 7 mountain passes sprinkled with packrafting some fun water in between. It sounded too good to pass up. Thanks to Jay Cable, Tom Moran and Heath Sandall for accepting a last minute traveler.
Savage to Sanctuary Rivers, Denali National Park – July
This day trip heads up the Savage river on foot and then down the Sanctuary river in a packraft. I traveled light for a change and left my camera gear behind save for my iPhone. I’ve done this journey before and it is a great little daytime get away through some very beautiful country in Denali National Park. Great fun with Ali Blechman and Hugh Rose.
Denali National Park – September
I’m one of the fortunate ones who qualifies for a professional photography permit in Denali National Park. This allows me to take my own vehicle into the park for photography purposes for a one week period. While this is a great luxury, the dates are drawn in a lottery form and I rarely get the dates I desire, which is often early September. So instead, I camped at Wonder Lake and rode my bike around to various locations. In some ways, it is a much richer experience than driving because I feel so much closer to the sights and sounds around me and I simply go slower and tend to see more. But, dragging a 500mm on a bike gets a little old after a week!
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve – September
The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula is very special, primordial and wild place. Granite tors that line the gently sloping ridges are artifacts of time and erosion. Their shapes are as wild as the imagination permits. Day hikes in the region are fantastic, and the tundra was full of color during the autumn season.