Posted by: kerryl29 | December 13, 2021

Alaska Revisited, Day 3: Beyond Atigun Pass

In some respects, Day 3 of the Alaska trip was similar to the first two days; not that many images were made, for instance, and we spent a fair amount of time in the car. But in some key ways, it was also quite different. We didn’t really have a firm itinerary for Day 3; we just decided to let the day take us where its whims dictated.

The morning was cloudy, so there was no consideration of a sunrise shoot, but we got up and out not long after daybreak. It was relentlessly cloudy and chilly (the temperature was in the low 40s (F)) and it was fairly windy to boot–not exactly ideal photo weather. But we persevered. Our first stop was at Linda Creek, a spot less than 10 miles north of Wiseman on the Dalton Highway that we hadn’t visited in 2018. Accessing the creek required climbing down an embankment, so we ditched the car in a pullout located a few hundred feet up the road and made our way to the entry point. My first shot wasn’t of the creek itself, but of a small alcove north of the creek that was a riot of color that I couldn’t help but notice. We descended to creek level on the south side of the stream and I donned my foot coverings and splashed through the shallows to get to the north side to produce the below image. Making the image required patience given the wind and the need to execute a three-frame stack.

Fall Color, Linda Creek, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

I left the foot coverings on to stand in the creek itself to produce the next image.

Linda Creek, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

And then I removed the coverings to wander into a hillside of reindeer lichen south of the creek bed.

Reindeer Lichen, Linda Creek, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Reindeer Lichen, Linda Creek, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Back in our vehicle we continued to meander north, mostly to scout different locations (this would come in handy later in the trip, as we returned to a number of these spots subsequently, when the ambient conditions were better), but we did pull out the photo gear several times. The fall color was spectacular, even if the weather was not.

Misty Mountains, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Misty Mountains, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

As we continued to move north, at some point I realized that we were more than halfway to Atigun Pass, the northern edge of the Brooks 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 beyond–the pass and she was game, so that’s what we ended up doing, as our scouting continued. A trip all the way up to Atigun is not something to be done lightly. I had to be sure that we had enough gas to make the round trip without any concerns, and as we had filled the gas tank the previous day at Coldfoot that wasn’t a worry (though I did feel that we’d want to fill the tank again upon our return).

Dietrich River, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

After another stop along a stretch of the Dietrich River, we made it to the Chandalar Shelf, an intriguing broad plain just south of Atigun Pass. We stopped and, despite the fact that it was even colder (mid 30s F) and extremely windy, we pulled out the gear. The Shelf was absolutely at peak color–it had been covered in snow on our visit three years earlier–and we were quite impressed with what we saw: bright fall tundra on the plain stretching to the misty mountain peaks of the the northern Brooks Range near the horizon.

Chandalar Shelf, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Chandalar Shelf, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

There was some squirrel-tail grass at the overlook above the Chandalar Shelf, just off the highway, that I would have liked to use as a foreground, but the wind made it impossible to do so. But I did isolate the grass and let the wind do its thing.

Squirrel-Tail Grass, Chandalar Shelf, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Squirrel-Tail Grass, Chandalar Shelf, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We continued the climb toward the pass and stopped at several pull-outs along the way. It was extremely cold, and Ellen (probably wisely) stayed in the car while I made some telephoto images of the mountains at several spots.

Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass Abstract, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Fall Tundra, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska
Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We finally reached the pass and made the steep climb up. Very shortly after reaching the summit we saw a pull-out to the left and, given the intriguing view I saw in that direction, I pulled off. It was below freezing at this point and still very windy, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make one image of the view north through the pass, with the Atigun River-and the Dalton Highway–running through it.

Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

It appeared to be clearing north of the pass, at the southern edge of the Arctic Coastal Plain, which runs well over another 100 miles north, all the way to the Arctic Ocean. We descended to the northern edge of the pass and proceeded another 10 miles or more along the highway until we reached the Galbraith Lake area, which turned out be our last photo destination of the day. Much like the Chandalar Shelf, the plain leading to Galbraith Lake was a tapestry of fall color and, with the sky clearing over the northern edge of the Brooks Range, we turned our cameras in that direction.

Galbraith Lake, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Before long we began the long trek back toward Wiseman–Coldfoot, really, because we needed to refill the gas tank. Once we were on the southern side of Atigun Pass again we returned to a cloudy world, where spurts of rain were to be expected and frequently emerged. We’d photographed what we could that day and were hoping for more favorable conditions tomorrow…


Responses

  1. Nice photos, I really like your 2 Misty Mountain Vistas, the Squirrel Grass, and Galbraith Lake photos.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Great fall colours! i had to look up squirrel tail grass. Here we call it fox tail. Same thing.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  3. […] Mountain as the backdrop. We’d taken a good look at this location on the drive back from Atigun Pass a couple of days earlier and thought it might work if the conditions were right. Well, the […]

  4. […] right alongside an extended, open stretch of the Dietrich River. We had looked this spot over on Day 3, on the drive up to Atigun Pass. This time we were more deliberate, as the conditions were more […]


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