Posted by: kerryl29 | June 20, 2022

Alaska Revisited, Day 15: Through Hatcher Pass and Back Again

The day was to begin with a sunrise shoot at the Summit Lake area of Hatcher Pass. The forecast was promising, but we miscalculated the time necessary to reach the lake and by the time we were about three-quarters of the way there, the sky was showing color. I have long said that one of the worst (photographic) feelings in the world is to be traveling in a vehicle while a sunrise or sunset is exploding, so we pulled off at the first decent overlook area we could find. It wasn’t where we planned to be, but we had interesting 360-degree views from this spot, so it wasn’t bad. About all we were missing was a compelling foreground; I ended up shooting exclusively with my telephoto rig.

Talkeetna Sunrise, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Talkeetna Sunrise, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Talkeetna Dawn, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Talkeetna Sunrise, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Above the Clouds, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

It was chilly, with a touch of wind, on this morning, before the sun could make an impact, and that made things a bit uncomfortable. But we persevered and, when the color in the 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 thus turned to other subject matter, less impacted by the light breeze.

Hatcher Pass Morning, Summit Lake State Recreation Area, Alaska
Hatcher Pass Morning, Summit Lake State Recreation Area, Alaska
Hatcher Pass Morning, Summit Lake State Recreation Area, Alaska

Descending from Summit Lake–unsurprisingly, given the name, the high point of the pass–we spent the rest of the morning exploring the western side of the Hatcher Pass area. We found much to like about the first 10 miles or so of this region, and stopped frequently to make images.

Talkeetna Mountains Morning, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

The light was very nice, and would remain so for some time, and we had a compelling sky to work with as well.

Talkeetna Mountains Morning, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

Even though the sun had been up for some time, it disappeared behind clouds for lengthy periods and there were also large swaths of ground that were in the shadows of looming mountains. (The common theme here is even light.) We stopped, on a high mountain road, at one such spot, where a nameless creek tumbled down the mountainside to our right.

Unnamed Creek, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

I had finished photographing the creek and packed all of my equipment away when I bothered to look out at the broad valley on the other side of the road and dutifully unpacked my things and set up again.

Mountainside Color, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

At one point, when we were stopped, an arctic ground squirrel came close enough to us to photograph.

Arctic Ground Squirrel, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

A bit later, we found ourselves astride Willow Creek and here we stopped and really “worked the scene.” The colorful fireweed was a major attraction and it didn’t hurt that, unlike Summit Lake, this spot was utterly windless. I started with a spot up on the bank…

Willow Creek, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

…and ultimately donned my waterproof foot coverings and waded right into the shallows at several spots.

Willow Creek, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Willow Creek, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Willow Creek Intimate Black & White, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Willow Creek, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

We wrapped up at Willow Creek moments before the shadow line drifted into the background, making the spot effectively unshootable.

We drove the rest of the pass area, and while we stopped to explore several spots along the way, I think Ellen and I both felt that the most compelling locations lay behind us. It was early afternoon when we arrived at the main highway and we decided to spend the early afternoon exploring the Knik River Valley, southeast of us, near Palmer. The light was, for the most part, awful during this exploration, so we didn’t stop all that much, but we did find one location that we took the time to investigate and, ultimately, photograph.

Where a bridge crosses the Knik River on the Old Glenn Highway, there is a parallel bridge (replaced by the current span), obsolete, but still accessible on foot. From there, some unique views of the river and valley can be found. We climbed onto the old bridge, took a look at the view, and then returned to get our gear. And then, we waited for the light to improve. It took some time, but eventually, it did.

Knik River, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska

When our (mostly) car tour of this area concluded, it was mid-afternoon and we decided to return to Hatcher Pass and explore a couple of trails. The first was the Gold Mint Trail, which follows a rushing creek up into the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains. Despite the still sunny conditions, this sounded promising, so we set out. It wasn’t what we anticipated. We kept expecting to find access to the creek, but it never happened. We could hear it, and occasionally catch a tiny glimpse of it, but heavy vegetation between the trail and water prevented the photo opportunities we thought we’d find. We made due, at first, with the odd intimate shot, in full shade.

Devil’s Club, Gold Mint Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Leaves and Tree Roots, Gold Mint Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

But after hiking somewhere between two and three miles, and no longer even being within earshot of the creek, we decided to head back. The hike itself wasn’t particularly difficult, but we weren’t finding many photographic opportunities of interest and thought we could do better elsewhere with what light remained on this day.

On the return trip to the trailhead, I did stop once to capture a distant telephoto scene, across the valley, that I thought was interesting, in the improving light.

Shadowed Color, Gold Mint Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

We made our way to the Reed Lakes trailhead. This is a popular, and rather lengthy, trail, with significant elevation change and substantial boulder-hopping required to reach the various Reed Lakes. Many people do this as an overnight excursion, though it can reportedly be done in a single day with an early start. It was early evening when we arrived, so we had no thoughts of traversing the length of the trail; instead, we thought we’d go a mile or so in and see what we could find in the limited amount of daylight remaining.

Archangel Valley, Reed Lakes Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

Clouds were gathering as we arrived and that made, as it turned out, for some compelling mountain scenes once we got far enough up the trail to arrive at some interesting vantage points.

Foggy Mountains Black & White Panorama, Reed Lakes Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Foggy Mountains, Reed Lakes Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Archangel Valley Panorama, Reed Lakes Trail, Hatcher Pass, Alaska

The ever-increasing cloud cover made it obvious that there would be no sunset on this day, so, before long, we turned around and headed back to the parking area, arriving just as twilight appeared.

We had one more full day in front of us, and we’d spend that in the Chugach area, to our south. That will be the subject of the next installment in this series.



  1. Wow, you had a really productive day! Not sure what you planned for a foreground for your sunrise shoot, but the tele shots are very nice. My memories of the Talkeetna Mtns are not as pleasant; in the early 90s I had a disastrous excursion via horseback to try to shoot Dall sheep. Made for some great stories but not fun at the time!

    • Thanks, Steve. There would have been some foreground options (mostly in the form of lichen-covered rocks) had we made it up to Summit Lake at sunrise, but whether we would have had better image options is debatable (since the views would have been different and not necessarily flattering given where the best sky scenes were unfolding).

  2. Hatcher Pass is probably not well known to tourists which is definitely their loss. It is a beautiful area as demonstrated in this great set of landscapes.

    • Hatcher Pass does seem most popular with people in and around the Anchorage area. I’m definitely glad we spent some time in the area.

  3. 👌👌👌📷🌄

  4. Stunning photos. I spent 14 summers working in Alaska and I miss the nature. I really like the composition of the Knik River photo, with the tree refections and the clouds atop the mountains. I’ll enjoy reading through the rest of your Alaska posts.

    • Thanks! Hope you find the other Alaska entries (there have been a bunch of them and there another couple yet to come) worth your time.

  5. Your photos are awesome! I hope I get to visit Alaska and see the sites someday!

    • Thanks very much! I hope you have the opportunity to travel to Alaska sooner than later.

  6. There are an incredible amount of information and fantastic photos in this piece. Love your work!

    • Thanks very much!

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