Lynx and Lake Clark!

        Where to start… This summer is absolutely flying by and I can’t believe it is mid July already. Lots has happened this summer, and I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it. Opening the gallery is always a big task and it took a long time to get everything exactly the way I wanted and running smoothly. I spent most of May at the gallery, and then in mid June I left to go to Lake Clark and lead my two workshops there.

        While on my 14-hour drive to Anchorage, I was ready to stop at night and continue the next day, but I drove a little further, and my goodness am I glad I did. Around 10 p.m. I saw something cross the road a good ways in front of me, and when I slowed down in that area to see what it was, I spotted a lynx! I have been looking for lynx very seriously the past few years and my only sightings were very brief. So I jammed my car in gear and jumped out. It sat there and looked at me for a few seconds before getting scared by some trucks driving by. It was gone way to fast. Thankfully, it didn’t keep running and stopped on the edge of the woods further away. It slowly came back out and allowed me to photograph it for a while in perfect light! Not only was I photographing a lynx, but it was in perfect light! It truly was an amazing experience and one I will never forget! So glad I decided to drive a little further that night!

        The next day I got to Anchorage and did a few errands before meeting with my workshop group. I was excited to get back out to Lake Clark and photograph the bears. On June 15 we left Anchorage at 8 a.m. and flew to Lake Clark National Park. It’s always exciting being back in Lake Clark, and I love just being there photographing and being off the grid. Soon after we arrived we were out photographing the bears. Showing a new group the area and the bears of the area is always a good time.

        Throughout the course of the next 5 days we had some really great photo opportunities. It did decide to rain on us a lot that week, but I had a great group who wasn’t deterred by the rain and we still went out the good majority of each day. I was proud of my group, and we were rewarded by the bears for being out in the rain. Watching a mother bear and her yearling cubs on a daily basis never gets old. We even took an afternoon to go photograph puffins, and we had a great time doing that. And when we came back on the boat, the mom and cubs greeted us and put on a show just off the boat on the shore! I had never gotten to photograph a red fox there before, and a couple foxes gave us a few opportunities.

        There are too many things to write about, so here are the photos from my first week that show what we got to see!

        On June 20th, my next group arrived and my first group left on the same planes. My wife, Twila, was on one of those planes and I was so excited to get to show her and the others the bears of Lake Clark. The rain still didn’t stop for the first couple of days of this week. I was done with the rain and ready for it to be over. It finally did on our third day, and it was nice to not have to wear a rain jacket or put a rain cover on my camera.

        The bears of Lake Clark never get old to me. Getting to be out in the wild photographing bears in their natural environment in a close proximity is amazing! We never know what we are going to encounter when we go out, but almost always it is good. On our last evening we were treated with a scene out of a movie, except we got to watch it unfold. The mother and her two cubs kept moving along a little creek, not noticing a young male. One cub got to close to the male and it moved toward the cub in curiosity. Once the mom and cub saw the other bear, the cub took off and didn’t slow down for a very long time. The mom would run and stand to see if the male was still coming, and it was, so the family would run some more. The family made it safely away, and was quite the scene to get to see and photograph! The wider shot of the scene is Twila's! She did a great job capturing the moment!

        The next morning we flew back to Anchorage and then a few of us took a trip to photograph sea life the next day. I will post those photos in the next blog. Lake Clark was truly a great time with both groups and I am already looking forward to going back next year!

Winter Sheep Snowshoeing

            In early December Twila and I headed off into the Canadian Rockies to look for sheep. We hadn’t had much time to get out and shoot since we got married, and we were really looking forward to our winter camping trip. We had never been to where we were going, so that was exciting too!

            Winter camping in the Canadian Rockies is not for the feint of heart. I’m very excited that my wife enjoys being outside all the time and loves winter! We got to where we were going in the afternoon and did a scouting hike of the area. We found some tracks, but no sheep, but we at least knew they were around. The sun almost beat us down before we got back to the truck. It gets dark around 5 p.m. in the winter, so it makes the part of the day we can photograph much shorter.         

            We got out the cooking stove and make a good pasta dinner, and finished right as it was getting dark. The temperature was dropping fast, now that the sun was down, so we hurried and got everything cleaned up and got in the truck. We had lots of blankets and sleeping bags and got cozy in the truck. It’s hard to keep the face warm in the winter while sleeping, but the rest of us did fine. It’s great to be out camping again!           

            The alarm went off before the sunrise, and it is always so hard to get up in the winter and put cold clothes on. We had made hot water the night before, which was a great call so that we could have hot chocolate to warm us up as we got up! It didn’t take too long to get up and start snowshoeing up the mountain. It was a beautiful morning and we got up the mountain pretty fast. When we got to where we hiked to yesterday, we spotted some sheep off in the distance. After waiting a while, they ended up coming our way and we moved to get in position. It was exciting they were coming to us as there was a large ravine between us and we couldn’t go any closer. They ended up going to the ridge closest to us, and the scene behind them couldn’t have been any better!

            For the next few hours we moved up the mountain on our side of the ravine as they moved. Fortunately, they decided to stay on the ridge for a long time. Blazing a new trail in deep snow while photographing was exhausting. It was fun, and it was the most Twila had ever snow shoed before, but it wore us out. We got really great pictures and had a fun time getting them. We even forgot how cold it was because we were getting nice shots!

           On our way down the mountain that evening Twila managed to find a snowshoe hare. I have looked and looked for them in the daytime for years, and never actually found one. They don’t move in the day much and they blend in so well that they are hard to find. I was very excited to see this hare and for it to not bounce away. It cooperated and just sat there and let us take its picture. So cool to finally photograph a snow shoe hare!

           That night it was considerably colder than the night before. We could see our breath much more prominently, and we knew we would be in for a cold night. It was hard getting out of bed in the morning, but again that hot chocolate was a lifesaver. We think it was colder than 10 degrees when we got up. It makes hiking challenging as well as you can overheat while snowshoeing, but freeze once you get to the top and stop moving. When we got to where we found the sheep yesterday, they were not there, which was not surprising. We ended up snowshoeing and exploring a lot of the area to know more of what to expect the next time we come back. From a higher vantage point we did find some sheep, but they were a very long way away, so we didn’t try to get to them.

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            We got down the mountain in time to drive and explore some more. It was another clear day, and we did find some mountain goats near the road. As the sun went down we also found a couple of real nice scenes over rivers with the sunset. It was a successful winter trip for bighorn, and we look forward to doing it again soon!

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Glacier Bay and the Summer is Flying By!

            The summer sure hasn’t slowed down. Right after my workshop to Lake Clark I drove back to Skagway.  I did get to see some grizzly bears late at night on the drive, and that was really cool.  I was exhausted when I got back to Skagway, but there was no time for that! I needed to catch up on everything from when I was gone, and Twila and my sister and her husbands’ family were coming before July 4th.

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

            I was so excited to pick up Twila from the airport in Whitehorse on July 2nd! It had been way to long since we had been together, and the summer time is crazy and we don’t get to be together nearly as much as we want.  On the morning of the 3rd Cara and her family flew in, and it was great to have them here too. It was my sister and her family’s first time in Alaska, which is always exciting. We all took the train into the mountains in the afternoon, and that was fun.  At night we had a fire and roasted s’mores and just had a good relaxing evening. 

            July 4th is always a fun day in Skagway, with lots of festivities.  It decided to rain all day, which put a damper on the day.  But we still went out and enjoyed as much of it as we could.  The next morning we were all flying out of Skagway, but going to different places.  My sisters flight was suppose to leave at 5 a.m. and ours was at 8 a.m. When we got to the tiny airport they were still there because of low clouds and the planes couldn’t fly.  So Twila and I jumped in on the card game and we all waited for the clouds to clear.

             This is fairly common in Alaska, but still frustrating.  They finally got to leave at 9 a.m., but we still couldn’t leave.  We finally left at 11 a.m. and took two flights to get to Gustavus, which is right beside Glacier Bay National Park. Because of our delays we missed our whale watching trip, so instead we had a nice relaxing evening and rode our bikes down to the beach.  It was nice to relax for a little while!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

            On the 5th and 6th we took a boat ride into Glacier Bay to see the sea life, but mostly to see the huge tidewater glaciers. We really wanted to see these large glaciers and get some nice photos of them! The weather cooperated, which it has been super rainy this summer, and we were able to see all the mountains around and the sun even came out some both days.  We even had some good wildlife sightings with mountain goats down by the water, a grizzly bear family chasing each other over a salmon, lots of whales and Twila even got one jumping! (and I missed it), sea otters and lots of sea lions.  Our boat went to a different large glacier each day, which was what we were hoping for and we got some really great shots! It was so neat seeing these huge glaciers and the mountains surrounding them.  We both took tons of shots and had a great time!

            We flew out the evening of the 6th and flew to Juneau. The next morning we went on a whale watching tour and had a great trip! It was a very bumpy ride, but a fun one, and worth it when we got to the whales and got to see a group of humpback whales bubble feeding! It was Twila’s first time seeing bubble feeding, and I’ve not seen it that many times.  We got to watch them do it over and over and was so awesome to see! We flew to Skagway that afternoon and then drove to Whitehorse that night and she flew back to Canmore the next morning.  It was so sad to see her go, and our time together went too fast.  I’m so thankful she could come and that we were able to go to Glacier Bay!

            I was in Skagway the next couple of weeks catching up and researching other trips and trying to plan out the rest of the summer.  The summer time is one crazy time that never seems to slow down.  Before I knew it, it was July 19th and I was flying to Knoxville to go to my little brothers wedding.  It was a long flight overnight, and I slept a lot when I got there on the 20th.  Twila flew in that night, and it was great to be together again so soon! The wedding weekend went by real fast, and it was really really hot. My brother decided to get married outside in Tennessee in July, and the temperature decided to be 95 and feel like 111.  I almost passed out during the wedding I was so hot.  But I’m glad I was there and the wedding went great. Seeing so many friends and family was also a great time, and we will get to see them all relatively soon at our wedding! Our wedding will be here before we know it, and we can’t wait!

At Corbin's Wedding

At Corbin's Wedding

            The wedding went so fast, and Twila and I didn’t have much time together alone, so I flew to see her the next weekend.  She’s been really busy getting ready for a festival where she sells her jewelry at, so I went to help as much as I could and to also do wedding planning.  We ended up doing mostly wedding planning and trying to catch up on that and not fall behind.  I had no idea how much planning a wedding is! We were able to have a little other time where we weren’t working on something too.  We both really hope the next month and half goes by real fast, and by then I will be done with the gallery and I’ll be back in Canmore and our wedding will be right around the corner!

            It is now August, somehow, and it finally decided to be summer in Skagway and get into the 80’s, which I personally don’t like and think is way to hot here.  I’ll head off to Denali for a couple of weeks and can’t wait for that.  The northern lights even decided to give us an early season show, and I got a picture of my BearHead sign with the lights behind it! I was very happy about this and was hoping that I could get that shot! Time is flying by!

Non-Stop August

            I wasn’t back in my gallery long before I already had the itch to get back out and go photographing.  I had planned on going in a couple of weekends to photograph whales in Juneau, but those plans changed.  That whole week everyone who came in my gallery was showing me amazing photos and videos of humpback whales bubble feeding from their iPhones, so I knew I had to go immediately.  My friend Aaron, from Yellowstone, lived in Juneau and I had been in communication with him about the following weekend, so I was happy he could accommodate me the next day.  My plans became final at 4 p.m. on July 28th, and at 5 a.m. on the 29th I was on a plane to Juneau.  When the wildlife gets hot, you can’t waste any time and have to go immediately.  I was very grateful to have good friends in Juneau that I could crash with, and borrow their truck too.

            They picked me up at the airport at 5:50 a.m., great friends!, and then we went to Mendenhall Lake.  My friend and his girlfriend are glacier guides on Mendenhall, so we first kayaked two miles to the glacier across a fogged in lake, we could hardly see, but as we got closer it started to clear some.  It was awesome being the only ones out there and kayaking to a glacier.  We pulled the kayaks on shore and then put on crampons and walked onto the glacier.  The ice was very blue that morning, and just gorgeous.  I got some real nice shots of the glacier, and then we went and found an ice cave.  Seeing and walking into an ice cave under a glacier is quite the experience.  It’s something I can’t describe except through the photos I have.  It was an amazing, but scary, experience at the same time, and the photos came out great!  We had a great time and then kayaked back.  I was so grateful that they took me out on the glacier for free.

The beauty of and unreal look at the inside of an ice cave under a glacier.

The beauty of and unreal look at the inside of an ice cave under a glacier.

            They both had to work after that, so they dropped me off in town and I went on a whale watching tour that started at 3:30.  There were 50 people on the boat, not my favorite, and we got to see what I came for.  We found a group of humpbacks, they are usually solitary, and they were moving along the shore together.  They did bubble feed a couple of times, but it happened so fast and unexpectedly each time, and I didn’t get much.  It was neat to see, and I would be better prepared for next time.  On the 30th I did a long hike by myself to try and get above the Mendenhall Glacier and get a more aerial shot.  As I got higher I got into the clouds, and they weren’t breaking up.  I didn’t want to sit up there all day and get nothing, so I called a different whale watching company and they had an opening at 1:30, so I hurried four miles back down the mountain.  My friends picked me up as I got there, and dropped me off at the harbor just in time.

            This time I was on a small ship with only 12 people, and it was much better.  I just knew we were going to have success, and success we had!  We went straight out to where a group of whales were bubble net feeding, and what a sight it was.  Seeing a group of 10 whales come up at the same time with their mouths open is quite the site!  My boat even had a microphone under water, and we could hear the different sounds they were making, and would know when they were about to come up.  It was such a better experience than the day before, and I got some great shots!  I was bummed we left as soon as we did, but where we went we found a pod of Orcas!  They were being active and staying close to the surface and being somewhat playful.  There was a baby in the group and it even jumped a couple of times.  What a great trip! And I get to go with the same company tomorrow.  So glad I flew down the mountain to go whale watching.

A group of humpback whales bubble net feed.

A group of humpback whales bubble net feed.

            My first tour was at 7 a.m. on the 31st, and my friends dropped me off on their way to work.  We saw a few orcas and single humpbacks, but nothing great.  I learned from this trip it’s actually not best to be on the first trip of the day, because they have to find where the whales are, and spend more time searching.  I was trying to decide after that tour whether to stay tomorrow morning before flying back to Skagway, because my next tour went out at 2 p.m.  I went back and forth, but ended up deciding to leave after my tour this afternoon so I could be back in the gallery tomorrow, and I had a feeling I would get more shots on my last tour.  My gut was right, and we got to see more bubble net feeding, and I captured some nice scenic shots of them feeding!  By 7 p.m. I was back on a plane to Skagway and home by 8 p.m.  What a crazy three days, but it was more than worth it!  You have to go with your gut in wildlife photography and not look back and just go.  Heading back to the gallery was a great idea, because on the 1st  we had a killer day, and was a great way to kick off August!

A baby orca breaches.

A baby orca breaches.

            For the next couple of weeks I worked the gallery and stayed in Skagway.  As the summer has gone on, I have gotten more comfortable in my own gallery and learned more about what the people are looking for and how to sway them to buy art.  It’s never easy, and each day is drastically different than the day before, but I’m learning a ton. When I’m in Skagway, I’m trying to catch up from all the time I was gone, and then get ahead a little for when the next time I’m gone I don’t have a mountain of work to come back to.  It’s a never-ending cycle, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

            On the afternoon of August 15th I left Skagway and headed for Denali.  I slept in the car somewhere along the way, and then got to Fairbanks the next afternoon and got some car work done and bought a few things you can’t find in Skagway.  I stayed at a friends that I had met in the backcountry of Denali a few years back, and it was fun to catch up.  The morning of the 17th I picked up my friend, Tin Man, from the airport and we headed to Denali.  I had a special travel permit that started on the 18th, so we went on the 17th to explore a little.  We found some nice caribou and did some short hikes, but didn’t get anything great.  We camped further back in the park and were ready to go the next morning when we could drive the entire Denali road in my car.

We left camp at 4:30 a.m., only to be stopped a few miles away because the road was closed to fix part of the road.  We only had three days of the permit, and this wasn’t how we wanted to spend it, waiting on road construction.  So we waited until 7 a.m., very painful, and then continued on.  Denali mtn. was out, but we were to far away from where we wanted to be, and wouldn’t have been if the road wasn’t closed.  You can never take the mountain being out for granted, and it quickly got covered in the clouds.  So frustrating!  We went to some of my favorite spots anyway, but not much was going on.

          After a while we headed back toward the front, and that turned out to be a great decision! There was a caribou that had just shed his velvet, and had very red antlers.  We were able to stay with him a while and got some great shots!  I’ve been trying for a few years to get a caribou like this.  After him, we decided to hike up a mountain to another large caribou, and he posed for us on the mountainside once we were able to get to him.  Hiking in the Denali tundra is not easy, and Tin Man had never done it before.  It is unrelenting, and very bushy and hard to maneuver through.  I have years of experience in it and can find easier routes, still not easy but easier, but Tin Man struggled.  He pushed through, though, and made it to the caribou in time.  We were even able to spot a huge moose below us that we photographed after we left the caribou.  It turned out to be a great first evening, after a very disappointing start to the day.

A caribou has very red antlers after shedding his velvet.

A caribou has very red antlers after shedding his velvet.

            The road was closed again until 7 a.m. on the 19th, so we slept in until 6 a.m. and then left.  Having two of our three days start way later than we want really stunk.  It is a special privilege to have the permit I had, and not be able to fully use it hurt.  The mountain didn’t tease us this morning and was fully behind clouds and rain.  We didn’t spend much time far back in the park before heading back to where we knew caribou and moose were.  I’m glad we didn’t waste our time back there, because we immediately found a bull moose.  He wasn’t huge, but we got a few shots.  Some really nice caribou were close by, so we went to them.  They stayed in a group and gave us some great opportunities! I love how different all caribou antlers are.  

A couple of large, very different sized antlered caribou check me out.

A couple of large, very different sized antlered caribou check me out.

            After we had got our fill with the caribou, we decided to head back deep into the park because the weather was improving.  Almost immediately we found a cow and bull moose when we got out there.  They were in a depression with a pond, so we stayed and waited for them to come out.  It was worth the wait, and the bull posed for us on the hillside with the mountains behind him.  It took us a while after to find another moose, but we finally did, and the light was great!  We trekked up to him, but he was not cooperative.  It was a brutal hike through the tundra to get to him, and then he would move out of range.  The light was great and we hadn’t found anything else, so we kept trying.  I’m so glad we did, because eventually he relaxed.  Tin Man had a bad back and couldn’t keep up, but he did make it, which was not easy for him in the type of terrain we were in.  The bull moose decided to pause on a little ridge for minutes with the mountains behind him and great light! I couldn’t believe it!  Then he came to the pond I was near and ate basically right in front of me.  It was absolutely incredible!  I don’t even know how many miles we trekked, but the shots we got were insane!  We finally left the moose at 10 p.m., and didn’t get back to camp until after midnight.  What a day!

A decent sized bull moose on a ridge.

A decent sized bull moose on a ridge.

A large sized moose on a ridge in the evening.

A large sized moose on a ridge in the evening.

The large bull moose eats in the pond directly across from me.

The large bull moose eats in the pond directly across from me.

            After the day before, you would think we would sleep in, right? Wrong! There is no sleeping in if you’re a wildlife photographer, and by 5 a.m. the next morning we were heading back out.  We found a beautiful cross fox first thing, and it was the first fox we had seen.  Only a couple more miles down the road we saw two bull moose on a ridge, and I knew we would go after them.  I had only had four small donuts for breakfast, and was to tired to actually eat when we got to camp last night, but when there are photographs to be had it doesn’t matter to me.  So off we went across even worse tundra to trek through than yesterday. 

A large and small bull moose hang by a pond and have a perfect reflection.

A large and small bull moose hang by a pond and have a perfect reflection.

     When I got to the top of the ridge, there were three bull moose, and they went to pond to eat.  Tin Man unfortunately couldn’t make it because his back was really hurting him.  But I kept going and ended up following these moose for over three hours.  You just never know what or where an animal will go, but you have to have patience to stay with them and wait it out.  When I left the car that morning I would have ever dreamed of the shots I would get a few hours later, and am still excited about the shots I got that morning!  Let’s just say that after miles of following, losing them, and finding them again, I got to photograph all three on a ridge silhouetted against the Alaskan Range and reflected! Those shots will never be duplicated, and those are the shots that all wildlife photographers strive to get and spend months working for.  I’m still ecstatic about that moment and how incredible it was!  When I finally got back to the car, and Tin Man, I felt bad telling him about it and wish he would have been there with me.

The same two bull moose silhouetted, and reflected against the backdrop of the Alaskan Range.

The same two bull moose silhouetted, and reflected against the backdrop of the Alaskan Range.

A bull moose walk the ridge on a beautiful day in Denali.

A bull moose walk the ridge on a beautiful day in Denali.

            We didn’t find anything else deep in the park, so we went to the front and were hoping to find that huge moose from our first night.  Sure enough, high up on the hill he was standing in the willows.  He was a very long way away, and in some nasty terrain.  The threat of rain was also strong, but I decided to go in the end.  When in Rome, or Denali in this case was my mindset.  It was a very hard slog to where the moose was, and I wasn’t positive where he was because he bedded down.  I somehow managed to find his antler between the brush, and not to much longer he got up and began eating again.  He was huge, and I was glad I decided to go.  I got some real nice shots of him, and after a while another bull- moose came from somewhere and joined him.  The way he responded to the other moose was aggressive and interesting to watch.  Glad he didn’t show that aggression toward me.  It started to rain harder, so I went back.  But what a beauty of a moose he was!

The monster moose checks out the other bull moose as it approaches.

The monster moose checks out the other bull moose as it approaches.

            What a three days of the permit! We didn’t take any time off and had 15-18 hour days!  But we were rewarded for our hard work.  On the morning of the 21st we packed up and left by 7 a.m. and explored the entrance area of the park.  We got to follow another nice bull- moose around and got some nice pictures before having to head back to Fairbanks for Tin Man to catch his flight.  After dropping Tin Man off I continued on my way back to Skagway and spent the night in my car along the way and got back on the morning of the 22nd.  It is a 14-hour drive from Denali to Skagway.

            After being back a day at the gallery, my parents came on the 24th.  They got to experience the difficulties of Alaskan travel when their plan was delayed for hours because of low clouds.  But they made it in, and got to see my gallery all set up!  My parents were in town four days, and spent most of that time in the gallery with me, and exploring the area around Skagway.  I took the scenic train ride with them one day, and had been trying to do that all summer.  It was fun having my parents in town and them getting to see my gallery in action and all the prints on the wall. 

            On the morning of the 28th I flew from Whitehorse to Vancouver to help my fiancé move.  She was moving to Canmore, AB to be more in the mountains and in a much quieter place.  I was glad I could fly down to help her with this move and take some stress off of her.  We hired packers for the move, but there was still a ton to do.  It was neat being there as her life transitions to Canmore and creates a new life there.  She has a great view of the mountains from her deck, and I can’t wait to go back and visit!  I flew out on September 4th to go back to the gallery to close out the summer.

            As you can see I am a man who is constantly on the move.  There is not time to rest in the Alaskan summer, because it is short.  I’d have it no other way and enjoy everything that comes with being in Alaska.  But I am more than looking forward to the fall and winter, to take it a little easier, and finally take some time to relax.  What a summer it has been though!  I’ll wrap up the gallery in a couple of weeks and head south.