Posted by: kerryl29 | June 6, 2022

Alaska Revisited, Day 13: The Day that Wasn’t

It’s inevitable, on a trip as long as this one, to a location as reliably wet as this one, that you’ll have a day that’s a washout. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you have only one such day. Day 13 was our lone day of incessant rain. It wasn’t torrential; it was (unpredictably) anywhere from very light to steady, all day long. We tried to make the best of it, but the experience reminded me of my very first visit to Lake O’Hara, in the Canadian Rockies: when you have almost no shelter, it’s chilly and you’re out in the rain for an extended period of time (even with the proper attire), it becomes difficult bordering on impossible to focus on the task at hand (i.e. photography). Keeping gear dry is a pipe dream.

We really did try to make the best of it. In the morning, we stopped at the visitor’s center and got some advice about a possible hike. (We still had hopes, at that point, that the rain would stop, at least for periods of time.) And we dutifully set off on the Rock Creek Trail, in the aforementioned light rain. We even spotted some things we wanted to photograph, though on our first pass on this out-and-back trail we merely noted the spot, in the hope that when we returned the rain would have stopped, making photography a bit easier. That turned out to be mostly wishful thinking, but we did make a a few images.

The first was at a colorful spot in a mixed hardwood/conifer forest that captured our attention. At this location, we were on a trail that was cut into a fairly steep hillside of birch trees, with conifers in the background.

Fall Color, Rock Creek Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska

The other photos from this hike came from an overlook, looking into the valley below us, focusing on the contrast of an aspen deposit amidst a conifer forest.

Yellows and Greens, Rock Creek Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska
Aspen Sea Overlook, Rock Creek Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska

We returned from this hike good and wet and spent a fair amount of time drying ourselves, and our equipment. We had hoped to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail, a spot that we’d visited, briefly, in failing light, back in 2018. I felt that I had unfinished business in this area, specifically a location that included a vast selection of lichen-covered trees. But the rain was now as heavy as it had been all day, so we deferred Horseshoe Lake. We drove up and down the park road and, after an hour or so, found ourselves near the entrance. With the rain no softer than it had been when we finished the hike, we decided to head back to Carlo Creek and really dry out. Our tripods were soaked, with water getting into the bushings, so some time with the legs extended in a dry, warm area, would be beneficial. In 20 minutes or so we were back at the cabin and spent the next few hours catching up on email.

At roughly 5 PM, I opened the door and looked out. If the rain hadn’t stopped completely it was dramatically lighter than had been the case when we returned so, we packed our things up and headed back to the park, with the intention of photographing at Horseshoe Lake.

The parking area for Horseshoe Lake is just off the park road, and it’s about a tenth of a mile from there, along a railway bed, to the trail to the lake. The trail declines steeply for roughly a half mile, into a kind of bowl that houses the lake. The trail around the lake is a bit more than a mile, but the spot we were most interested in visiting–the lichen-strewn forest–is very close to the base of the trail as it drops down the mountainside.

The rain held off as we hiked down and found our location. Teasing out compositions in this area can be tricky and it takes some time to really explore the offerings, but we ultimately found a complementary log and went to work…just as it started to rain again.

Horseshoe Lake Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska

With the rain a factor yet again, I knew that I had to work quickly if I was going to produce even one more image. I had noted a spot a few yards back up the trail with a colorful foreground and nicely spaced, trunks, and rapidly made my way there, fine-tuned the composition as the rain increased in intensity, and made what what turned out to be my final photograph of the day.

Horseshoe Lake Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska

We slogged back to our vehicle in what was now–again–a steady rain. At this point–it was now pushing 8 PM–there was no debate about what to do. It was raining, it was getting dark, we were wet, tired and a bit frustrated…we decided to call it a day.

We had one last morning to photograph at Denali. The next day, we were to make our transition to Hatcher Pass, a bit more than an hour north of Anchorage and roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive from Carlo Creek.



  1. Kerry,
    Been there and experienced that! If the rain is heavy enough, there’s just nothing that can be done for photography. On this Spring’s trip to Utah and Arizona, it wasn’t rain, it was blowing dust and sand — the worst that some older locals had ever seen. We lost multiple half- or full-day shoots. Frustrating! Hopefully your next day was more fulfilling.

    • Hi Steve. When I was in the southwest in the spring last year there was a huge dust storm the last day I was out there. It was so bad in spots, it impacted visibility.

      The next day on the Alaska trip was much more productive, as I’ll detail in a forthcoming post.

  2. I guess its the rain, one of the main ingredients in making the region “so attractive”. 🤷

    • No question about it, the amount of precipitation that falls in Alaska is a major factor behind the attractiveness of the landscape.

      • Be great if it just rained at night ad sunny during the day 😆

        • My ideal day…partly cloudy at daybreak and for roughly 90 minutes thereafter, fully cloudy until about 90 minutes before sunset, partly cloudy thereafter. And no wind, pretty much all the time. 🙂

  3. Thank you for showing these beautiful photos and your experience in Alaska. I think the overcast and dampness really showed off the colors nicely in your photos, and I also really like the texture of your images. Quite lovely!

    • Thanks very much!

  4. […] a rain-filled Day 13, we had one more morning to photograph at Denali National Park and aimed to make the most of it. We […]

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