Posted by: kerryl29 | January 14, 2019

Alaska: The Brooks Range – To Atigun Pass

The second full day in the Brooks Range was unique, in several respects, not the least of which is that it was the only day we spent in the region that was essentially sunny throughout.  That meant that we had a sunrise to photograph–literally the only time we photographed sunrise on the entire Alaska trip (which consisted of 12 full days on the ground).  Before daybreak, David took us to a spot on the Koyukuk River a few miles from Wiseman.  The sky was almost completely clear, unfortunately, and it was chilly–below freezing–but we made the most of it and I’m glad we got up early.

Koyukuk River Sunrise, Brooks Range, Alaska

We started out the sunrise session photographing from high up on a rocky outcropping (the image above was made from that spot) and gradually moved down to river level as the sun came up.

Koyukuk River Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

After sunrise, we began the long drive toward Atigun Pass, which had received 6-8 inches of snow overnight.  Dave urged us to minimize the stops that morning as we had a long way to go and he promised us the time up at the pass–and beyond, on the North Slope at the southern edge of the arctic coastal plain–would be worth it.  (Spoiler alert:  he was right.)  Still, minimizing stops didn’t mean no stops, so we made a few.  The first was at a frosty wetland on the east side of the highway.

Morning Reflections, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Frosty Meadow, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

The next stop was at a lake just north of Sukakpak Mountain.  We parked along the side of the road and walked down to the edge of the lake where we spotted a bonus:  a moose cow in the shallows at the other end of the lake.  I switched back and forth between my long lens and wide angle rigs, demonstrating yet another example of the benefits of two cameras, as outlined in the preceding post.

Moose near Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

Moose near Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

Stops from this point on were more or less eliminated until we got up to the edge of Atigun Pass, which is approximately 60 miles north of Wiseman on the Dalton Highway.  As you move farther north on the highway, the paved sections effectively disappear as you reach locations permeated by permafrost.  The trees gradually become fewer and more stunted and, by the time you reach the Chandelar Shelf, just south of the pass, are completely gone.  There’s nothing but tundra from this point north as the tree line is cleared once and for all.

Just below the pass, we began to see evidence of the snow that had fallen the previous night.  The highway must be kept open to keep the supply route to Prudhoe accessible, so the road had been plowed, though it was extremely muddy.  This took it’s toll on our vehicle as the below image of David’s car plainly demonstrates.

Image courtesy of David Shaw

A bit south of the pass we stopped at a cluster of small ponds surrounded by snow-covered mountains.  The ponds were mostly iced over, despite the dazzling sunny conditions and slowly warming temperatures.  I took the opportunity to work an intimate ice-rock abstract scene.

Ice Abstract Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Shortly thereafter the highway began its climb to the pass and we stopped numerous times while traversing the area; I honestly don’t recall how many.  Regardless of the specific number of stops, photo opportunities beckoned at all of them.

Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Atigun Pass Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

While I started out making conventional landscape images, before long I began to see infinite abstract/black & white possibilities just about everywhere I looked and I spent most of the next couple of hours working primarily with my telephoto setup.

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

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

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

The sunny weather was producing shadows and revealing textures all over the place.  I’ve included a few examples above, but I put together an entire post on the Atigun Pass abstracts a few weeks back, so if you’d like to see more I recommend that piece to you.

When we reached the bridge over the Atigun River we stopped again for another image-making session.  Between the light and the elements of the scene, black and white once again seemed like the obvious rendering choice.

Atigun River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Atigun River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Before we cleared the pass area we came upon a small herd of Dall sheep, which we photographed at a moderate distance.

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

When we cleared the pass area to the north we found ourselves right on the edge of the arctic coastal plain.  Looking back to the south, the northernmost peaks of the Brooks Range seemed to rise out of nothing.  It was a surreal view.

Just south of Galbraith Lake we stopped along the roadside not far from a smaller, unnamed lake that was nearly glass-like in terms of its reflections.  We walked out into the snow-covered tundra to photograph this scene.

North Slope View, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

North Slope View Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

North Slope View Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

This was our turnaround point, a solid 100 miles north of Wiseman and roughly 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  There were plenty of photographic opportunities on the return trip, and I’ll present those in my next post.

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Responses

  1. […] via Alaska: The Brooks Range – To Atigun Pass — Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog […]

  2. […] via Alaska: The Brooks Range – To Atigun Pass — Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog […]

  3. That honestly looks amazing! Really hope to go one day 😀

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Great series Kerry! I love seeing how different people capture the arctic landscape. Your black and white series in the Atigun valley are some of my favorites. That was a darn good day, wasn’t it?

    • Thanks, Dave.

      The day? Let’s put it this way: including b/w conversions, I processed over 100 images from that day. It is, by far, the largest number of images from a single day (on any trip, not just the Alaska excursion) I’ve ever processed.

      The images from the return trip that day will be the subject of the next post.

  5. It was an incredible day full of one stunning landscape after another. Your images illustrate nicely the diversity encountered in those 100 miles.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  6. An excellent collection Kerry! If I had to pick a favorite it would be your first Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass image.

    • Thanks very much, Denise!

  7. What an amazing adventure! If I had to pick a favorite from this set, it would be the mirror-like reflections in Galbraith Lake.

    An aside… my gently used 6300 arrived from keh in great condition and the AF time has improved radically and there’s some other little bells and whistles I’m liking very much! Love the idea of having the long lens always loaded for the flighty little birds as we head for the Bosque del Apache, NWR in NM. Thanks for the recommendation! It’s hugely appreciated.

    • Thanks, Gunta!

      Good news re the a6300.

      If you haven’t already heard, Sony just announced the a6400, it’s newest entry in the a6xxx line. Of (possible) particular interest to you may be the fact that the AF system from Sony’s a9–currently the state of the art in the mirrorless world–will be one of the a6400 enhancements and that a possibly game-changing–for wildlife/avian photographers–“animal eye AF” system will be part of the package (not sure if the intention is to incorporate it via a firmware update or what) later this year. Just something to keep in mind at some point down the road if you’re going all-in on the a6xxx system:

      https://www.dpreview.com/news/9768716484/sony-announces-a6400-midrange-aps-c-mirrorless-camera

  8. Love the shots that include the moose in them, and the morning light.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  9. Your photographs are stunning, particularly the ones with the still water and your abstract ones. What a majestic landscape!

    • Thanks very much!

  10. […] the last post, I detailed the trip up to Atigun Pass, more than 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  We […]

  11. The Dall sheep were onto you with the camera. Beautiful series.

    The car, that looks like a multi-day powerwashing job. 🙂

    • Thanks!

      The thing about the car…it was so covered with mud that it was essentially impossible to avoid getting it on yourself, because it was everywhere. Lean into the back to pull out some equipment…mud. Touch the door handle to open it…mud. There was just no avoiding it. 🙂


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