Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Road Trip To The Arctic Ocean

I have always enjoyed the feeling I get when I begin a long road trip. The surge of energy and rush of adrenaline pulsating through my veins. The longer the road trip the more rush I get.

I don't do well sitting around too long. Like a big wave surfer, if the sea is flat, so is my soul.
One of the ultimate road trips in Alaska is traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean. Crossing some of the most rugged landscapes in Alaska.

Just pass Coldfoot. Heading into the Brooks Range.

You will pass towering mountains, climb high passes, cross huge rivers, see lots of wildlife, and if lucky make it to the flat plains of the Arctic. You can almost feel yourself driving on top of the world.

Alaska doesn't have many roads, but the ones you can travel down will take you to some of the most breath taking places, and provide you experiences of a lifetime.
Spent three days backpacking in Denali National Park. Mt.Mckinley in the back ground.
It's a taste of pure freedom, music playing, windows down, the endless highway stretching out before you, a great big smile on your face, and the past disappearing in your rear view mirror.
The Dalton Highway is the gate way to the Arctic. Make sure to bring extra tires, gas cans, and camping gear. Between the town of Fox and Deadhorse, Coldfoot is the best place to fill up gas. It's nothing more than a truck stop. You can find gas at the Yukon River as well, but didn't stop there.

Bridge across Yukon River. Alaska's Longest River. It is possible to buy gas here.

There are campgrounds located along the way. The only one I used was the campground at the Arctic Circle. If you don't drive into the campground you will never see the sign telling you that you are at the Arctic Circle.

Watch for trucks driving along the road. They carry heavy loads and don't like tourists getting in their way.

After nearly 500 miles you reach the end of the road. Deadhorse isn't a scenic city.
Entering Deadhorse

Just outside Deadhorse.

Mt.Mckinley  from Denali National park.  North and South peaks of Mt.Mckinley. Mt. Mckinley is the highest mountain in North America. 20,320 feet.
Dark wolf feeding on a caribou it had killed.
By fall bears are nice and fat. There main goal since waking up last spring has been to gain as much weight as possible. Come late fall they will eat non stop, consuming thousands of berries a day.
Brooks Range, along Dalton Highway. Take your time and go hiking. You won't see another soul.

Heading up Atigun Pass

The Arctic Plains stretch as far as the eye can see.

Crossing the Denali Highway
They don't call it the haul road for nothing. Trucks race along the dirt road carrying equipment to the oil fields
Musk Ox on the Arctic Plains. Easiest animals to photograph because when they sense danger they come together and line up for a group photo.

Drilling platforms in Prudoe Bay.

Heading into the Brooks Range

The first time I had ever crossed the Arctic Circle. This sign is located off the road on the way tot the campground.

Yukon River. Largest river in Alaska.

You have to stop at Skinny Dicks on your way to Fairbanks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Videos from last adventures.

Photographing Sheep

Trophy Hunting. Photographing the World's Biggest Moose

 Photos of large moose and other Alaskan Animals

I slowly stalk my way through the tall willows, trying not to get my backpack and camera equipment entangled in the jungle like mix of bushes and swamp. A low mist hovers above the ground like a scene in a horror movie, hiding a monster that I am hunting. The temperature is around freezing, making my breath look like smoke, and blankets the willows with a layer of frost that soaks my clothing.

The willows tower over my 6'5 frame, making it seem as if I'm walking through an endless maze. Everything you are taught about hiking in Alaska, I am ignoring. I'm walking through tall vegetation, not making any noise, hiking alone, and not caring a gun or bear spray.

But I am relying on my many years of experience hiking in the back country, to keep me safe. While encountering a bear in this dense vegetation could turn deadly, the reward of getting up close to this trophy is well worth the danger.

Photographing these amazing animals is an experience I look forward to every fall. I'm not here to shot and kill these animals. Rather I'm a trophy hunter, with a camera. Who would rather shoot these studs, with a camera instead of a gun. To hang a photograph of them on my wall, to me is more rewarding than a moose head.

Alces alces or more commonly known as the "Moose," stands 7-8 feet tall at the shoulders, weighs up to 1600 pounds, and have antlers that grow up to 84 inches wide.

There are seven subspecies of Moose.

 Alaskan moose:  is the largest subspecies of moose  and largest member of the deer family in the world.   Found in Alaska and west Yukon, Canada.

  Eurasian Elk:     Found in Finland, Sweden Norway, Russia.

 Eastern Moose:   Eastern Canada, including Ontario, Quebec.  Northeastern United States,  including states Maine, New Hampshire, Vermot, New York, Connecticut,  Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Western Moose:  Western Canada,   eastern Yukon,  Northwest Territories.   Northern United States,  Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

Siberian Moose:  Eastern Siberia, Mongolia, Manchuria.    No longer found in China and the Koreas.

Shiras Moose:  Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado. Washington. oregon, and Montana.   Smallest of the moose subspecies.

Caucasian Moose:  Extinct dur to habitat loss and overhunting.   Lived in Iran, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

Standing face to face with an Alaskan bull moose is like standing in front of a Clydesdale horse. But this animal isn't pulling a wagon full of beer. There is no Anheuser-Busch, but rather a wild animal with a bad temper and two satellite dish sized weapons attached to his head. No other member of the deer family can rival the size and strength of the moose.

Like fingerprints, every bull moose has his own unique set of antlers. This huge bull had a really interesting set.

When bull moose loose their velvet,  they are easy to spot across valleys.  Their antlers stand out like two white flags.   Not good for them during hunting season.

Average bull moose walking down a small valley.   Lone bulls who loose fights with more dominant bulls, have to look forward to the future, when they are big enough to win battles.

Getting between a bull and his cow's can turn into a dangerous situation. Moose can run 40 miles per hour and have a kick that can kill a brown bear.

Interesting Fact: If a bull moose is castrated, either by accident or other means, he will shed his antlers quickly  and start growing a new set of deformed antlers.    He will never shed these antlers for the rest of his life.    Native Indians  used to call them,  "devil's antlers."

In the fall Moose gather in what is called the rut. Big bulls battle each other for the right to mate with the females or cows.   Moose are generally solitary animals, besides mother and calf,  and during the rutting season, where moose will gather looking for mates.   This big male must be popular among the ladies.

 Photos of large moose and other Alaskan Animals


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Brooks Falls

As I start into the woods, and head down the narrow path towards Brooks River, I scan the woods for movement. The trees are thick, and the forest is dark, but it's easy to see deep into the forest, because of the lack of undergrowth. There have been many times that I have walked this path and have come face to face with a huge Alaskan bear or two running down the trail. This time, I'm not that lucky.

Even before I get close to the falls, I start hearing the deep roars of some of the biggest bears on the planet, fighting for prime fishing spots. Any other time or place and the sound would send chills down your spine, and you heading quickly in the opposite direction. The sound is pretty intimidating.

This stretch is one of the most exciting places to walk, since bears are always coming and going from the falls. At any moment you can run into a bear. I've been walking along this stretch, behind a girl all dressed up. She flew to the falls for just a day trip.

Out of nowhere a smaller bear came running down the trail at full speed with a salmon in his mouth, followed by a much bigger bear. She froze right in the trail and wouldn't move, lucky the bears ran right around her and didn't just plow her down like bulldozers. It was her first experience seeing a bear. The look on her face was priceless.

Once you reach the falls. You can choose two platforms to photograph fishing bears. A lower one gives you a view of Brooks River and the falls from a distance. The second, and more popular, is directly next to the falls and allows people to watch the action close up

The falls platform, is an amazing place to photograph brown bears. It is one of those unique places around the world, that leaves you with an experience that you will never forget. When the fish are running you can see up to 25 brown bears at the falls, fighting over the best fishing holes.

While the big males fight down below using their size to intimidate others, there is a battle on the platform between photographers.

Tourists with small point and shoot cameras, often move out of the way for photographers with huge 800 mm lenses and thousand dollar cameras. It's funny to watch.

If you decide to visit Brooks Falls, spend sometime getting to know the bears. Each has a distinct personality, and each has earned his spot at the falls. Each scare on their back tells the story of a battle won or lost. After a few days you turn into a spectator, and cheer on your favorite bear. My favorite is Oatis who I've photographed two years now fishing below the falls.

Oatis, a large male can always be found underneath the falls. He was named after a dog because he stands still and just stares at the falls like a dog waiting for a ball to be thrown to him. When the fish are thick he catches a lot of them.

Gangus, is a huge male who has fought for the right to sit in the "jacuzzi" and let the fish come to him. He looks like an old man relaxing in a jacuzzi, since only his head is out of the water.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest bears ever in the history of Katmai National Park. If he returns to the falls next year, he will be 31. Male brown bears rarely live into their late 20's. He was looking very old this year. Bones showing through his skin. But he looked like that last year and survived the winter.

Cinnamin in 2011 watching the action next to the falls. He used to be one of the dominant males, but his age has kept him from being able to compete with younger stronger males. If he returns next summer he will be the oldest bear in the history of Katmai. He is 30 years old.

People think animals don't have compassion. The bigger males could easily chase away or kill cinnamon. But they tolerate him as if showing respect to their elders. I even saw bears allow cinnamon to eat fish caught at the falls.

This bear is a famous bear. He has learned to catch fish from the falls, and is in a lot of famous photographs about Brooks Falls.
Bear using a tree as an itching post. This bear's nose is probably ten feet high.  
This male and female had been mating, so when they walk down the road towards the falls, you make sure to get out of their way.

Nice Catch!

Flo and her 2 year old cubs. They were nick named the "terrible two's" They were famous for using their numbers to their advantage and bully other bears out of their fish.

Does a bear sleep in the woods?

Visitors on the platform. Oatis is focused on the falls. And Gangus is relaxing in the Jacuzzi.

"hey this is my fishing hole, buddy, move it."

Bear walking along Naknek Lake