Posted by: kerryl29 | October 9, 2018

Alaska: Atigun Pass Snowfall

Since photographing there more than 11 years ago I’ve consistently stated that White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico is the most graphic-rich location that I’ve ever visited.  I still stand by that assessment but on this year’s trip to Alaska I had the opportunity to experience something that gave White Sands a run for its money:  Atigun Pass, the day after a significant snowfall.

Atigun Pass is where the Dalton Highway crosses the Brooks Range–and is also the location that encompasses the Continental Divide in this part of Alaska, approximately 170 miles south of Deadhorse, on the Arctic Ocean.  The pass is roughly 4700 feet above sea level, which doesn’t seem particularly high (Red Mountain Pass, in the Colorado Rockies, is more than 11,000 feet by comparison), but at this latitude–more than 68 degrees north–it’s well above the tree line.  By the time one reaches Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway from the south, trees are a thing of the past.  As a result, there’s very little covering the slopes of this northern portion of the Brooks Mountain Range:  grasses and other plants with shallow root structures, rocks and not much else.

The day before our trip to Atigun Pass, it had been raining off and on in the southern portion of the Brooks Range, but that precipitation had fallen in the form of snow further north.  In fact, there had been a winter storm warning at Atigun, with at least eight inches of snow.  The next day was almost entirely clear and relatively warm–the temperatures crept into the low 40s (F)–but the snow was still there, creating a remarkably graphic landscape.  Virtually every time we stopped, I pulled out my telephoto lens and spent time picking out abstract and quasi-abstract intimates that intrigued me.  Given the lack of identifiable features and color–outside of the blue sky–I had monochrome renditions explicitly in mind every time I peered through the viewfinder.

I realize that black and white isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and, further, that monochromatic abstracts have even more of a niche appeal, so I apologize to those of you who follow this blog who aren’t into this sort of thing.  Color renderings will certainly be part of the next installment and, in all likelihood, every remaining entrant in this series covering my time in Alaska.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black and white imagery is ostensibly about shapes, textures, lines and tones and that’s exactly what the Atigun Pass landscape was yielding on this day.  With the sun shining brightly throughout our time in the area, I tried to focus my attention on intimate scenes that included elements where sunlight and shadows were juxtaposed to reveal details in the snow covered ridges and crevices.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Interesting–at least to my eyes–scenes were just about everywhere; it was simply a matter of finding an appealing set of elements and winnowing them down into something compelling.  Exactly what makes one of these scenes compelling–beyond the notion that it’s entirely subjective and therefore impossible to classify–is difficult to tease out.  Basically, I look for scenes that include the aforementioned graphic elements–lines, shapes, textures, tones–that come together in a holistic form that I find pleasing.  I don’t think I can be more specific than that.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

To my eyes these kinds of images simultaneously bear unmistakable similarities and undeniable differences.  They’re of a comparable style, surely, but a side-by-side comparison would make it difficult to mistake one image for any of the others.  A focus on the metaphorical forest might lead one to heap the images together as part of an exercise in classification but by paying attention to the trees each photograph’s uniqueness is evident.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

At least part of my attraction to these images probably stems from the fact that I rarely have an opportunity to make photographs like this, given the subject matter and its comparative absence from the natural environment in which I find myself most of the time.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska

In any case, I do find myself drawn to these scenes on the rare occasions when I’m exposed to them and I hope I have the opportunity to photograph them again at some point in the future.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska



  1. Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing!

  2. We were there at the right time for abstract compositions in black and white. An earlier visit may have preceded the snow, and a later visit would be too much snow covering the rocks. The textures and patterns revealed in these photos are very pleasing to my eyes!

    • Thanks, Ellen! Our timing was, indeed, fortuitous.

  3. Beautiful shots.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Love the abstracts, the shapes and textures force me to look differently. These photos are gorgeous! I keep going back to the third image and how smooth the shapes are! I can see the high contrast easier with the rough textures; the subtle changes in texture is a strain on my eyes, which are fading. In some spots the snow looks deep which could give you a surprise drop if you are treking over the surface. It is good timing to be here when the conditions are “just so.”

    • Thanks, Jane. At least part of your issues with the lower contrast images in this post are probably a function of the small size of the photos. My apologies for that.

  5. […] in the Brooks Mountain Range, in the north-central part of the state.  (I’ve already posted one entry, displaying a series of images from a part of one day in the Brooks Range.)  The Brooks Range runs […]

  6. […] guessing that, without a guide, we never would have made it all the way up to (and beyond) Atigun Pass, as we did with Dave.  It’s a long, long way up there from where we were based in Wiseman […]

  7. […] post on the Atigun Pass abstracts a few weeks back, so if you’d like to see more I recommend that piece to […]

  8. Thank you great pictures and narrative on your journey. You inspire me and help me improve my photography.

    • Thanks very much!

  9. […] Range, and a location we’d visited on one occasion on the previous trip, the day after a significant snowfall. I asked Ellen if she was up to making the trip all the way to–and possibly modestly […]

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