Posted by: kerryl29 | June 13, 2022

Alaska Revisited, Day 14: Denali to Hatcher Pass

After 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 hoped to have a sunrise, but were thwarted by low-hanging clouds and mist at daybreak. Still, there was a lot of atmosphere embedded in these conditions and we hastened to take advantage of it.

Morning Fog, Denali National Park, Alaska
Autumn Meadow Panorama, Denali National Park, Alaska
Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska

We wandered in and around various meadow locations along the upper reaches of the 17 miles of private vehicle-accessible park road in Denali. During that time, the fog lifted, returned and lifted again. We saw hints of clearing followed by overwhelming banks of low clouds. If you didn’t like the conditions, you only had to wait a minute.

Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska
Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska
MIsty Morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

What didn’t vary? The peak fall color of the tundra.

Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska
Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska
Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska
Autumn Meadow, Denali National Park, Alaska
MIsty Morning, Denali National Park, Alaska
Mountain Morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

We eventually wandered down to an unnamed rock-strewn creek and made use of a different set of elements.

Braided Creek, Denali National Park, Alaska

While we were at this spot, and scoping out different compositions, the low-hanging clouds began to lift in earnest.

Unnamed Creek, Denali National Park, Alaska
Unnamed Creek, Denali National Park, Alaska
Unnamed Creek, Denali National Park, Alaska

The sky was now undeniably clearing and we rushed back to Horseshoe Lake. Our time there had been limited the previous day due to the rain; now we hoped to produce a few more images before the light became too hot. We lucked out. Not only did the light, mostly, hold out for us, there was no wind; the lake itself was like glass.

Reflecting Conifers, Horseshoe Lake Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska
Morning Sun, Horseshoe Lake Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska
Forest Color, Horseshoe Lake Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska
Horseshoe Lake Reflections, Denali National Park, Alaska
Horseshoe Lake Reflections, Denali National Park, Alaska

After we circumnavigated Horseshoe Lake on the trail, it was time to head out. We had a drive of more than three hours to make to get to the Hatcher Pass area, but before we departed for good, I produced one last image–of a changing roadside aspen clump, contrasted with the now deep blue sky–that I spotted just prior to leaving the park.

Aspens in the Sun, Denali National Park, Alaska

It was late morning at this point and we prepared to make the (approximately) 3 1/2 hour drive to our Hatcher Pass area lodgings. On the way, we did a crossword puzzle, with Ellen feeding me the occasional clue and context (“seven letters, the second letter is an A”) as we drove. I’m pleased to say that we finished the puzzle.

After making a mid-afternoon supermarket stop in Wasila, we found our lodgings (a well-appointed cabin, roughly 20 minutes south of the pass itself), dropped off our things and then went out to explore. It was late afternoon by this time and before we’d gone very far, we found ourselves driving along a road, in the direction of the pass, with the Little Sustina River running to our left. We came across a large pullout that provided direct access to the river and then spent the next hour or two making images at this spot.

Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Fall Color Intimate, Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

When we finished at this location we continued north toward the pass, as the road climbed relentlessly. We made a couple of stops before we got to the gravel road that leads to Hatcher Pass itself, several of which were at overlooks that provided views down into the Matansuka-Sustina Valley.

Hatcher Pass Black & White, Matanuska-Sustina Valley, Alaska

When we reached the trailhead for the Fishhook Trail we stopped again and after a little bit of exploring we found a scene too compelling to ignore. Wild blueberries, now turning color, carpeted the hillsides as a lone tree stood sentinel.

Evening Mist, Fishhook Trail, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Evening Mist, Fishhook Trail, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska

There were some people picking berries and every once in a while a head would pop up or a dog would romp through the undergrowth. When this happened we simply waited for them to clear the scene.

Evening Mist, Fishhook Trail, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Evening Mist, Fishhook Trail, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska

Finally, we drove all the way up to Hatcher Pass itself. It was nearly sunset when we found ourselves astride the turquoise Summit Lake. While Ellen concentrated on the lake and the fireweed near its banks–which was a good call, since there was no wind at this point, which created excellent reflections and photograph-able flowers–I found myself drawn to the view through the pass. The sky was doing some interesting things. I reasoned–not particularly accurately, as it turned out; more on this in future entries–that we’d have plenty of additional opportunities to photograph the lake, but this sunset scene might not be replicated.

Hatcher Pass Sunset, Summit Lake State Recreation Site, Alaska
Hatcher Pass Sunset, Summit Lake State Recreation Site, Alaska

The light disappeared in short order and we made our way back to the cabin in twilight and, eventually, pitch dark.

We had two more full days, plus part of a third, to explore the Hatcher Pass area and the Chugach region to the south, near Anchorage. We would spend the entire next morning exploring the pass, and that will be the subject the next entry.


Responses

  1. Kerry, gotta love the deeply saturated colors with the wet foliage under cloudy skies in Denali. Gorgeous images. And I particularly liked the comp in the landscape version of Horseshoe Lake Reflections.
    Steve

    • Thanks, Steve. Yeah, the rain of the previous day (which fell as snow in the higher elevations, which produced a nice new cap to the mountains in the background) definitely saturated the foliage.

  2. Beautiful series of images! Enjoyed seeing them!

    • Thanks very much!

  3. I think a lot of visitors to Denali NP miss Horseshoe Lake (probably because they are spending an entire day on the bus). It is definitely worth the 298 steps. And that spot by the Little Susitna River was one of my favorites of the trip.

    • The location alongside the Little Sustina River was very nice and quite productive.

      I wonder if one reason why Horseshoe Lake is overlooked as a destination is that there’s no real designated parking area for it. There’s no Horseshoe Lake Trailhead parking lot, per se, or anything like a clearly marked spur trail to get to Horseshoe Lake from the closest parking area. It’s a bit odd in that regard.

  4. […] sky faded significantly, we made our way the rest of the way to Summit Lake. As I foreshadowed in the prior entry, the lake itself was completely unsettled by wind, making it a photographic no-go. Attention was […]


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