I’m back from guiding a trip in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for Arctic Wild which provided incredible support for the clients and me so that we could find the Porcupine Caribou Herd out on the coastal plain. But first we found an incredible rich birdlife. Next to our tents we had this amazing Ruddy Turnstone.
It had a nest with two eggs, out in the middle of the coastal plain. This photograph with a wide-angle lens captures the space that surrounds it.
Finding a large herd of Caribou wasn’t an easy task as they roamed across the plain. But one evening at about midnight we found a group with several thousand Caribou. Yes -they are out there as tiny dots.
The next day we found them again after a challenging river crossing and 2 mile walk across the wet tundra of sedge grasses.
There group spread out for over a mile grazing on the sedge grass, I estimate that there were 20-thousand Caribou, but who knows. I couldn’t count that far, among the constantly moving herd of Caribou.
A curious calf came up to inspect us with its mom in tow. Only a few weeks old they were running across the tundra at amazing speeds.
After the Canning River I and my wife Nancy lead a backpacking trip in the Talkeetna Mountains. Another amazing wild area in Alaska. Since we were backpacking camera gear was limited and I only carried my trusted Nikon D700 with one spare battery, and the amazingly versatile Nikon AF-S 28-300 f/3.5-5.6 ED VR. With a total of two batteries I actually had plenty of power to spare on this two week trip, as long as I resisted the temptation to “chimp”.
Not only does it have some amazing scenery, but also some really rugged terrain. No maintained trails here, but we found a few precarious sheep trails clinging to the scree slopes.
Wildlife is amazingly tame, such as this Rock Ptarmigan with its clutch of young chicks.
I love the antics of the Wandering Tattler as it walks the streams, constantly wagging its body.
The fragile tundra was in many places carpeted with Eight-petaled Mountain Avens.
A magical spot with a rock glacier flowing into this lake and coloring the water blue-green with glacial silt.
The first trip I guided this summer was a rafting trip for Arctic Wild down the Canning River to the Arctic Ocean. It was a group of enthusiastic friends, that really wanted to see and explore the arctic, which made it lots of fun.
A day hike near the headwaters brought us to this amazing viewpoint.
The flowers was putting on amazing displays everywhere and growing fast in the brief arctic summer. One of the most spectacular sights though was huge fields of cotton grass.
A short but challenging day hike took us into this amazing slot canyon. Ice cold waist deep water was a challenge, but by raising the ISO and braising myself against the rock wall I got a few sharp pictures. Next time, I’ll bring a dry suit and tripod so I can spend more time photographing this amazing location.
Another highlight was encountering a herd of 14 muskoxen. This might be all that remains of the herd in the Eastern Brooks Range. Rumors has it that nobody had seen the herd for the past 5 years. If you look closely the muskoxen looks a little fuzzy, due to a huge swarm of mosquitoes that was surrounding them and soon me too.
Our trip ended with a hike the last few miles to the arctic coast. There was some pieces of ice floating along the coast, but no signs of the true pack-ice. The disappearing of the pack ice is increasing the fetch along this coastline, causing more wave action and erosion.
Most people don’t head to the Arctic after a long winter, but I went kite skiing with my wife Nancy in the High Arctic of Alaska. We arrived in Kaktovik in beautiful weather, that was a balmy (-2ºF) to the locals, but cold to us.
The Arctic Ocean in April.
Whale bones protruding out of the snow.
Kite skiing outside town.
Soaking in a Hot Spring, water temperature at 104ºF (40ºC) and air temperature at -10ºF (-23ºC).
The Aurora danced over our campsites almost every night. The cold -25ªF (-30ºF), quickly drained both camera batteries and the heat in my fingers during night photography. Breathing on the camera would freeze my beard to the camera.
The light quality was often amazing for photography with amazing blue tones. I found it was best captured by setting the cameras white balance to Daylight. I often shoot in Auto White Balance and have found that it works well for most subjects excepts in unusual light situations such as winter twilight in the Arctic.
We had no wind in the Brooks Range or in the foothills, so we spent the first few days slowly dragging our sleds back towards Kaktovik.
Finally Kite skiing on the Coastal Plain!
Of course we also had long periods of what we fondly call Kite-Waiting. In other words waiting for the wind to start blowing again.
With the possibility of Polar Bears on the Coastal Plain we experimented with winter Bear Camping practices. We strived to cook away from our campsite despite the cold and used an electric Bear fence.
Nancy catching a few turns off a pressure ridge on the Arctic Ocean.
We found our first Polar Bear track on the sea ice just outside Kaktovik.