Kicking Horse

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     Adjacent to the tiny village of Haines, Alaska, and across the emerald saltwaters of the Chilkat Inlet, lie the deceptively remote and jagged peaks of the Chilkat Mountains. These peaks are of a particularly steep and heavily glaciated nature and include the enormous mass of the Cathedral group that includes the mighty Mt Emmerich, clearly visible from town. Emmerich is the visual centerpiece of this group and rises out of the Kicking Horse River valley just east of it’s convoluted mass. The Kicking Horse River is a river born of the ice; it’s scant origins flowing from the snout of the Garrison Glacier situated at the northeastern end of the range, where it flows for a relatively short distance to it’s confluence with the heavily braided and Salmon infested Chilkat River. At the point where this confluence occurs, the Chilkat narrows to perhaps a half mile across, and on this 9th day of February 2017, winter temperatures has frozen the Chilkat solidly enough to allow crossing on foot.

     This winter in Haines has been one of mostly consistently cold temps, with snow on the ground for the entirety of the winter season so far; only once or twice has rain been allowed passage to our winter Alaskan landscape. This is the way I like it and having the rivers frozen over has gained me the chance to explore the “far side” of the Chilkat several times this season. The far, or wilderness side of the river gains access to the peaks of the Chilkat and home to a wolf pack twenty strong. Once, last fall, I had the ultimate pleasure of viewing, with binoculars, several wolves attempting to take down two separate Moose. Ultimately, both moose escaped with lives intact. The visual experience left a deep impression on me and the deep wilderness just across the river has been enchanting me ever since.

     Earlier in the winter, I had the pleasure of wandering across the river in other places; once at 10 mile and across to the dense Alder thickets of the Tahkin River, and another time near to 8 mile where once across and beyond the barrier of Cottonwoods lining the shore, I found open snow covered meadows full of Moose, Wolf, Lynx, and Rabbit tracks a plenty. For me though, these were just to test the waters of crossing the Chilkat and the ultimate goal was to reach the confluence of the Kicking Horse River. While there are other, more remote rivers that flow from the Cathedrals, the Kicking Horse to me was one that had a special interest. It was more accessible and equally as wild. So today it was to be…

     Parking on the Haines Highway at the state fish and game run fish wheels, I meander out onto the ice and instantly feel the bitterness of the biting wind. The surface is a mixture of crystal clear ice several inches thick and more opaque sections requiring more care in regard to judging the thickness. As I walk the slippery clear sections, I look to see the bottom of the river a few feet below and imagine the thousands of Salmon swimming upstream as they do every year as they have for thousands. Chinook, Chum, Pink, Sockeye, and Coho all run in these waters. Soon I am near the other side and the frozen Kicking Horse is a mere 300 feet ahead. However, there is a channel of open and running river water just in front of me, blocking access to my destination. Further east, I can see that the channel slides under the winter ice pack and disappears. How thick is this newer ice I ask myself? I walk further downstream to where the ice re-appears and gingerly step into this new zone. I can see immediately that is is very thick and soon I am completely across the Chilkat and standing on the gravel shores of the braided Kicking Horse confluence.

     It feels downright sublime to be standing here and looking up the Kicking Horse for the first time; gravel bars and Alder thickets lead to a narrowing of the river before it disappears into the bowels of the wilderness. I walk these frozen river banks, occasionally crossing thinly veiled ice sheets over rocky surface, boots crunching loudly and the stiff breeze from earlier dissipating. A long stretch of snow leads to the forest where hundreds of Wolf tracks appear. At least part of the pack has traveled through here recently. I look around and see more Wolf tracks than I have ever seen and realize that the Kicking Horse must be some sort of Wolf highway; a passage leading from the wilderness of the Cathedrals to the shores of the Chilkat herself.

     I travel further into the corridor till passage is barred by river ice with a couple inches of running water. Here, the forest at river’s edge are many dead Cottonwoods stripped of their bark and treetops. They stand like monuments guarding the inner access to the wildness beyond, Mt Emmerich towers over head, displaying intricate ridge lines, towers, gendarmes, and gullys. This is the closest I have ever been to this peak and I am awestruck by it size and complexity.

     This is my turning around point and it is getting late and the temperature is dropping, so back through the Adler thickets and gravel bars and the multitudes of Wolf tracks to the frozen Chilkat, where an easy stomp back to the highway is in order.

     The Kicking Horse has always held a great deal of fascination for me and today was a teaser that strengthened that notion.

     I will return …

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Home Sweet Home

After 43 long months of not seeing my family in California, it was time to head south out of the Great Alaskan Empire, and into the realm of family and old friends not forgotten. It was a strenuous voyage of ferrys and plane rides, airports and freeways, but eventually I was home to catch up with my Mom, Sister, Nephew, Pop, brother-in-law Dutch and old time friends not seen in quite some time. Catching up with John Boyer of Edible Pedal in Sacramento, and Debra Banks of Rivet Cycle Works was a joy. My old friend and climbing partner Dennis even drove up from the Bay Area so the two of up could discuss our plans for an Alaska Range climbing trip this coming August. Ten days later finding myself looking back with fondness of my visit upon an Alaska  Marine Vessel  heading north from Juneau, I am once again in awe of the magnitude of the Upper Lynn Canal and it’s mountains, waterways, and glaciers. Two days in Juneau prior to being aboard this vessel, I had the pleasure of catching up with another old friend not seen in many years. Amelia was in Juneau visiting her boyfriend James and the three of us celebrated with beers and lunch along Juneau’s waterfront.

Now in the waters of southeast Alaska once again, I am getting the fond sensation of being home. The Alaskan air is crisp and cold, but I spend a great deal of the boat ride home outside perched on the vessels decks gazing at the scene unfolding. It is breathtaking to see it again. Back in my crib later, I sift through mile after mile of unseen footage and unfortunately few photos. For some reason I had been so preoccupied with shooting video to make a living with I had neglected much in the way of photos or even snapshots of my family. This makes me feel deeply sad, and I vow to not let that happen next time.

The next couple days are spent not only in front of the computer editing and working, but getting out a bit exploring, shooting video with friends Gene and Michele, shooting photos  and stomping around the hills.

It has been two or three years since we have had a “real” winter here in Haines, and this winter is a real treat and a joy for me to call it such: Winter! The temps have been, more or less, consistently cold, and there has been snow on the ground for many weeks. The resulting ice at Picture Point along thee Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Estuary beaches has been extraordinary.

Going back to work next week after three solid weeks off will be another challenge upcoming. I keep reminding myself of the upcoming adventures to be had that need paying for to drive me back. The Lost Coast in May, and the Alaska Range trip with Dennis in August I look forward to immensely.

In the meantime, I have ice…

 

 

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Ice

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I really love ice… I always have. From the mountain glaciers to the frozen rivers and lakes, to the beautiful chunks sitting on an Alaskan beach in winter, to the magnificent frozen winter waterfalls, It’s mysterious and compelling visuals always keep me interested.

These last weeks in Haines has seen the temperatures at night near zero and daytime temps a little higher. The receding tide at Lookout Point near town has produced some fantastic and intriguing specimens of this wonderful natural art form.

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Alaska Beach Ice

Chilkat Spindrift Sunset

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Out on the Chikat River ice after work today sees the sun dipping behind the omnipotent peaks of the mighty Chilkat Range and spindfift blasting from it’s summits. The wind must have been over 60 mph up there. Out there on the frozen river, the temps were close to zero with the windchill. Alaska in winter is spectacular to say the least…

OK In The AK

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2016 has been a good year. There has been much activity on my end regarding photography and video production and the hope and dream of one day not having to build houses for a living are just a teensy bit closer. There have been many small adventures in the form of day hikes, or stomps, as I like to call them, generally along the forested Bear trails along the Chilkat and Tsirku Rivers.  Often is the case when I simply head out into the Alaskan forests and thickets and stomp, off trail, to glorious and unheralded spots for my own simple pleasure.

There was even one big adventure this year when I embarked on a pedaling trip aboard the omnipotent Surly Ogre and rode from my house in Haines to Skagway via Whitehorse. A mere eight day voyage that was over far too soon. Next year there are tentative plans for a ten day trip down a portion of Alaska’s magical and seldom visited outer coast, AKA the Lost Coast. A trip that will involve both legs, packraft, and bush plane. Also planned is a mountaineering trip somewhere locally with a friend from down south coming for an adventure in August.

Unfortunately, writing has been on the back burner, but capturing the Alaska world on video has been my focus. This latest video “OK In The AK” is all footage from the venerable Autumn here in Haines, and compiled as both a show piece for selling stock video as well as an artistic expression of the wilderness prevailing.

I hope you enjoy!

The Fairweather Range

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Ever since I heard about my friend Cameron Lawson’s adventure of riding a fat bike and packrafting the entire length of Alaska’s Lost Coast over the course of two summers, I have been somewhat infatuated by the place. Now, having moved to Haines three years back, the magical Lost Coast is in my back yard, so to speak. It was time for a re-con trip. Our group, consisting of Gene and Michele Cornelius, Angela Carter, Paul Swantsrom, and myself meet at the landing strip about 9 am, mount Gene’s new stabilized gimbal cam to the wing strut, and off we go in the 1956 DeHaviland Beaver, bound for Alsek Lake and the Lost Coast.

This mission was one of gathering aerial footage for financial and artistic gain, but for me it was far more, My insane love for this country out there has me on the constant lookout for opportunity to explore. Out past the Takhinsha Peaks and into the bowels of the icefields and glaciers flowing into Glacier Bay, we finally come around face to face with Mt Crillion and Mt Fairweather… the Giants. Mt Fairweather, at over 15,000 feet high, and rising less then ten miles from the Gulf of Alaska, is one of the highest Coastal peaks in the world, enshrouded in massive glaciers and reputed as to having some of the worst weather on the planet.

Cruising up the desolate coast, we see far below to Alsek lake, where mighty Glaciers congregate into a freshwater bathtub of icegergs, is engulfed in a sizable wind storm. The massive curtains of dust clearly visible from the confines of the plane. We opt to land on the whimsical darkened sand of the Lost Coast itself, just north of the La Perouse Glacier, and Wolf and Grizzly tracks are spotted immediately. We do some shots of the plane landing and taking off, shoot a time lapse or two, and before you know it we are flying again upwards of 11,000 feet on the flanks of Fairweather itself.

This trip strengthened my desire for a trip out here again, this time armed with a pair of legs and a pack raft.. Coming in April or May of 2017.

Here is a quick edit of that day… Enjoy!