Backpacking Gear: A List

October 24th, 2010 by
Hiking along the lateral moraine of Kennicott Glacier, near Mount Blackburn, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hiking along the lateral moraine of Kennicott Glacier, near Mount Blackburn, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Now THAT'S an ultra-light backpacking system. 🙂 Please click on the image above to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

OK, here’s a list of my backpacking gear I thought I might put together, and have taken WAY too long to get it online. I would like to preface this post with a comment about gear; backpacking is NOT about gear, and I’m not a big advocate of the all too common push to make it about that.

Backpacking is about being ‘there‘. The gear can help facilitate doing that comfortably, but don’t think that this piece of gear or that piece of gear will magically turn a disastrous trip into a glorious one. And don’t think your pack will suddenly become unbelievably light because you buy an expensive down sleeping bag, and that you’ll now start prancing up over those mountains. Everything is part of a SYSTEM, and learning how to manage that system (including carrying it) is integral to having a good kit.

That said, here it is; hopefully, this list might be useful to someone wanting to look at what gear I use, or what backpacking gear they might want to look into if they’re heading to Alaska. It’s not at all a list of ALL the gear I have/use, but a general list of the gear I typically bring on a trip. …. Read the rest of this entry » »

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Sometimes you get so close

October 15th, 2010 by
A grizzly bear standing, back turned, mouth open, in long grass, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

An adult grizzly bear standing, back turned, mouth open, in long grass, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click the image to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

Here’s a photo that might be of interest to photography fans here. To me, this photo expresses what nature photography is all about; shooting, re-shooting, shooting some more, time and again, and doing everything you can to ‘get that shot’, and still coming home empty handed. How so?

One of the photos I REALLY want is a big ole grizzly bear standing upright, with a nice background. So far, I’ve not yet made that image. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few opportunities, and unfortunate enough to blow every single one of them.

To catch a nice, full-frame shot of a bear standing upright means anticipation, as well as luck. More often than not, when I’ve been close enough to make a shot like this, I’m shooting with the camera/lens in a horizontal position, and when the bear stands, I can’t fit it all in the frame. It’s simply too easy to miss this kind of shot and too hard to actually nail it.

Adult bears rarely stand upright, and when they do, they don’t do it for very long. Generally the behavior is a ‘look around’; something alarms the bear and they stand up to get a better view, sniff the air, and see whether they need to flee, or ignore the potential danger. A few seconds is all they stand for, most of the time, and they drop back to all fours. That means to make the photo, the photographer has to be in position and ready for the shot ahead of time; there simply isn’t time to switch the camera/lens to a vertical position and shoot – well, I should say RARELY is there time to switch. Sometimes it happens, but not often. …. Read the rest of this entry » »

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Hidden Creek – the Fosse to the Lakina River

October 9th, 2010 by
Dawn light on the Wrangell Mountains and reflection in an alpine tarn near Hidden Creek and the Lakina River, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Dawn light on the Wrangell Mountains and reflection in an alpine tarn near Hidden Creek and the Lakina River, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

Here’s another photo from the trek we did in August, from the Fosse, near the Kennicott Glacier, over to Hidden Lake, up the Hidden Creek drainage, and down to the Lakina River. What an absolutely gorgeous morning this was!

We’d spent the previous day basecamped near here, and it rained and sleeted virtually all day long. Rather than pack up wet and move on, we simply dayhiked and spent another night here. The main hope was to avoid packing up camp in the rain, but part of me was also hoping maybe, just maybe, we’d get a break, and score some nice light in the morning. Fingers crossed, I went to bed listening to the endless patter of rain on my tent, the temperatures sinking ever lower and lower.

The rain ended around 3am, and the temperature had dropped further. I went back to sleep hoping against all hope the skies might clear up.

Unfortunately, I slept too soundly, and missed first light, but immediately upon waking, I knew things must be good. It was very cold, definitely below freezing, and silent. A good sign. I unzipped my tent door and viola! What a sight!

I threw on some clothes, and got outside to photograph as quickly as I could. I woke the folks on the trip, the Ball family from Texas, because I knew they’d love to see this. ‘Wow’ was all Saundra uttered when their tent door slid open.

‘Wow’ was right. This was definitely a ‘wow’ morning. Indeed, a ‘wow’ trip, but this morning the ‘wowest’ of them all. Fresh snow covered the peaks just west of us, and the air was so wonderfully clean the light literally dripped off the mountains. Absolutely amazing morning.

We photographed for a couple of hours, had a great breakfast, packed up camp, and took a fantastic hike down the valley into the Lakina. We spent the following evening camped on a gravel bar in the Lakina river drainage, with a gorgeous sunset over Castle Peak. This was a great, great trip, and one I’m so glad the Ball family got to share. They still hold the record for ‘worst weather yet’ on a trip, their infamous Skolai-Wolverine trip of August 2006. I can’t think of anyone who needed some really great weather on their Alaska trip than these great people, and I was so glad they got it this time. Good times for sure!

Cheers

Carl

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Image of the Month – Mt. Jarvis photo, and Reflection.

October 1st, 2010 by
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve is home to the Wrangell Mountains. Mt Jarvis, 13 421' high, stands east of Mt Wrangell, and catches the first light of the day. Early morning (pre-dawn) alpenglow reflection in a high alpine tarn, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve is home to the Wrangell Mountains. Mt Jarvis, 13 421' high, stands east of Mt Wrangell, and catches the first light of the day. Early morning (pre-dawn) alpenglow reflection in a high alpine tarn, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks

Image of the Month for October, 2010. Mt. Jarvis, in the Wrangell Mountains, and reflection in the early pre-dawn glow. This kind of light is sooooo subtle; it’s really a reflection of the light on the clouds to the east, still quite a while before the first real alpenglow lights up the east.

By that time, of course, a slight breeze had stirred up the lake’s surface and the reflection was gone. Once the alpenglow faded, the breeze ebbed, and the surface stilled. Nice, but the moment was gone.

Sometimes when I photograph a scene like this I’ll zoom in to have no foreground elements other than the reflection, such as just above the moss and grass above. Usually, however, I prefer to anchor the scene with something, and I like the way the foreground here kind of complements the lines of the reflection. It is also balanced by the negative space in the lower right hand corner.

A split density filter (or several) is a must have for this kind of shot (unless you choose to do multiple exposures and blend them afterward. And, of course, a tripod. Always bring a tripod.

Cheers

Carl

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… and Fresh snow

September 22nd, 2010 by
Brad and Tracey take in the views from 8200'. Near Mt Jarvis, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Brad and Tracey take in the views from 8200'. Near Mt Jarvis, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

Here’s a quick one from the backpacking trip around Mt Jarvis. Brad and Tracey, soaking up some sunshine on Day #1. We hiked from the airstrip up to a  killer campsite, then clambered up on to this ridge, summiting at around 8200′. We’re just yards from the east flanks of 13 000′ Mt Jarvis here, and the views are superb.

We spent a while here, then descended back to camp for some hot food and a fun evening, enjoying the grand scenery. Nothing quite like being high in the Wrangell Mountains on a sunny afternoon!

Kudos to Brad and Tracey for slogging through way too much slushy, wet snow. We were all saying we should’ve brought skis with us; I’d have blasted some huge telemark turns on the way back down. 🙂 Well .. I’d have tried, anyway.

That’s all for now, until the Image of the Month posting Oct 1. I’ll be back from my current trip to Katmai, photographing Grizzly Bears, and will try to post some images from that trip later.  I’m sure it’ll be a blast, and I hope to have a bunch of cool new bear photos. We’ll see how that goes. Until then, be safe.

Cheers

Carl

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Northern Lights

September 15th, 2010 by
The aurora borealis (northern lights) light up the night sky above a tent. Campsite in the Mentasta Mountains, boreal forest, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

The aurora borealis (northern lights) light up the night sky above a tent. Campsite in the Mentasta Mountains, boreal forest, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

From my last summer/fall camping trip in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, for this year – well, so far, anyway. If you think sleeping in the big city is hard, with all those big city lights, try sleeping in a tent under this kind of light. 🙂

What a treat it is to see the aurora borealis (or ‘northern lights’). Nothing quite touches that experience for a little slice of magic. It’s mystical, each and every time.

Fall is a great time to see the aurora – the skies are dark, often clear, and it’s not yet 40 below zero, like it can be in the dead of winter.

For shooting the northern lights, I crank up the ISO of the camera, open the lens to its widest aperture, and shoot with as high a shutter speed as I can. Fast lenses, like a 1.8 or even a 2.8 make a big difference. They’re also heavier than smaller aperture lenses, which makes it a trade-off for a backpacking trip. Sometimes though, such as when the aurora borealis is out, that trade-off becomes moot. The extra weight is well worth the effort. A small headlamp to light up the tent, set up the tripod, and click the shutter. Good night folks.

Cheers

Carl

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Camping on the Tundra

September 13th, 2010 by
A backpacker sets out on a trek toward Mt Jarvis, in fresh fall snow, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Backpacking; setting out on a trek toward Mt Jarvis, in fresh fall snow, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. To view a larger version of this image, please click on the photo above.

Hey Folks,

From our recent exploratory trip to the Mt Jarvis area, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. As you can see, September in Alaska, particularly around the 7000′ altitude, can be cool; fresh snow, and we had 2 more snow storms during our trek.

What a great trip we had though; Brad and Tracey, from Chicago, were quite the troopers, and really made the trip easy. Being flexible is critical on a backcountry trip, as the weather and conditions can often dictate the best course of action. Their easy going nature contributed to a great hike, and we enjoyed a lot of laughs, some superb views, and a mix of conditions and elements that made the trip a wonderful adventure. For great vistas, it doesn’t get much better than this one. We camped right on that little shoulder to the right hand side of this frame, tents looking straight across at 13 421′ tall Mt. Jarvis. Awesome!

I’m off again tomorrow (Monday) to photograph for a couple of days before packing for the Katmai Grizzly Bear Photo Tour. Should be a blast and I can’t wait; but, in the meantime, the forecast is for sunny skies and great light, fall color and big mountains. Shoul dbe some nice photo opportunities.

Cheers

Carl

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Hidden Creek Backpacking trip

September 4th, 2010 by
A backpacker hikes up the valley of Hidden Creek, in the Wrangell Mountains. Fall colors glow on the tundra. Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Backpacking up the valley of Hidden Creek, in the Wrangell Mountains. Fall colors glow on the tundra. Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

Here’s a photo from our trip last week up Hidden Creek and over to the Lakina River. What a great trip this was. The weather was amazing; huge sunny skies, bluebird days, warm afternoons, crisp cool nights and that great fall air.

The landscape – well, incredible doesn’t touch it. Jaw-dropping scenery at virtually every turn marks this route, and we lapped it up. The views of Mt Blackburn the first day were simply unsurpassed. The view from my tent the final morning in a high alpine pass, with fresh snow (“termination dust”) on the soaring jagged peaks of the Wrangell mountains, reflecting in the glassy water of the tarn (lake) was more than anyone could ask for. …. Read the rest of this entry » »

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Image of the Month – Mt Sanford in the Morning

August 31st, 2010 by

Hiker viewing Mt. Sanford, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska. Please click on the thumbnail to view a larger virsion of the photo.

Hey Folks,

Mount Sanford in early morning light. What a gorgeous morning!

Fall is such a great time for photography. The light has a quality that is tangibly different to any other time of year, and a cool clear morning is a real treat for a photographer.

This view of Mt Sanford, 6th highest peak in the US and 2nd highest in the Wrangell Mountains, is a great place to spend a morning. Here’s hoping for many more like this.

Cheers

Carl

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Skookum Volcano Trail

August 21st, 2010 by
View from Skookum Volcano Trail.

A view from the Skookum Volcano Trail, a nice hike in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, near the old mining town of Nabesna. Please click on the thumbnail to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

Here’s a quick shot from a recent hike up around Nabesna. I walked the Skookum Volcano trail – some great views out over this part of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. Fall colors are right around the corner, and up high like this, the blueberry is already turning red.

The mountains up around this pass are amazing – really some great shapes and patterns in those rocks. I need to get back up there asap and shoot it some more.

The northern side of the park receives far fewer visitors than the south side, on the McCarthy Road, though I think the dayhiking and the photography is probably better on the north side. If the weather is clear, some of the best views in the park can be found off the Nabesna Road. Fall colors, too, can be intense, almost overwhelming, in late August/early September. And, I generally see more wildlife in this section of the park than I do along the McCarthy Road, though wildlife viewing is almost always hit and miss anywhere.

Next summer I’m going to be doing a little more backpacking in the area, and will offer some newer trips in this region, particularly a few shorter, easier hikes. As well, some of those walks don’t involve bush flights in and out of the backcountry, so they’ll be quite a bit cheaper as well. Stay tuned to the website for more information on those in October.

Those are the Mentasta Mountains in the background.

Cheers

Carl

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