Posted by: kerryl29 | July 11, 2022

Alaska Revisited, Days 16 and 17: The Chugach and Beyond

I left off the narrative of the first part of Day 16 with a lengthy description of the events at South Fork Falls, including my descent into the abyss in pursuit of my missing lens hood. After that adventure was complete, Ellen and I drove back to Hatcher Pass. We still had a few hours of daylight and, though there would clearly be no sunset this evening (it had been cloudy all day long, with no change in sight), we tried to make the most of it.

We returned to Summit Lake–the third time we’d been up there–with the hope that that there would be reflections. This wasn’t a meritless idea; in addition to being cloudy, it had been quite calm all day long. But when we arrived at the lake, it was completely rippled. The breeze, such as it was, was almost undetectable, but at this particularly location, there was enough of it to wipe out any chance of reflections. I was beginning to doubt the decision I had made back on Day 14, when, faced with the decision about whether to photograph the calm Summit Lake or the pass at sunset, I had chosen the latter. My theory at the time was that we were more likely to have another opportunity to photograph the lake under calm conditions than have the interesting light on the pass again. While the second part of that equation was bearing out, the first part was not; it was starting to appear as an either/or proposition. (Foreshadowing?)

Foiled at Summit Lake, we retreated to a lower elevation and returned to the Little Sustina River, but at a different access point than the one we’d photographed at on Day 14. We spent about an hour at this location and I spent most of that time laser-focused on a cluster of large boulders in the middle of the river. I alternated between normal to short-telephoto focal lengths with my 24-70 mm lens and longer telephoto images with my 80-400 mm adapted lens.

Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Little Sustina River Black & White, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska

I broke out the ND filters while we were there, and experimented quite a bit with a variety of shutter speeds.

Little Sustina River, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Little Sustina River Black & White, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Little Sustina River Black & White, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska

On the drive back to the cabin, we passed a location that had caught my attention several times since we’d been in the area. Visible from the road to/from Hatcher Pass, I had noticed a birch grove, surrounded by colorful foliage, right next to a parking lot for a cannabis store with the clever (?) name “Hatcher Grass.” While the elements of the scene had appealed to me, I couldn’t tell from the road whether a good composition lay in wait or not. But there was more than enough to warrant a closer look. Every time we’d passed this location earlier on the trip, something had been less than ideal about the conditions: sun, wind or both, not to mention we were always on the way to another photo destination. But on this occasion, at the end of a cloudy, calm day, and with only one more morning (of uncertain conditions) left, it was now or never.

While the sign on the windowless building flashed “open,” the parking lot was completely empty. So, we pulled in and as we approached the birch grove, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a great photo opportunity.

The birch trunks were almost perfectly spaced, and the color was exceptional. The light was soft and the wind was non-existent (important, because focus stacking was going to be a must and shutter speeds were growing long as sunset time crept ever closer).

Birch Grove, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska

I managed to produce five images of the scene before light levels dropped to the point where executing the necessary series of frames to complete a front-to-back stack took 10 or more seconds.

Birch Grove, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Birch Grove, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Birch Grove, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska
Birch Grove, Hatcher Pass,, Alaska

That brought Day 16 to an end–and in a very satisfying manner, I must say.

We had one more day in Alaska. At the very end of Day 17, I had a red eye flight back to Chicago via Denver. But since that flight wasn’t due to take off until almost midnight, we had most of the day to photograph.

First thing in the morning, we decided to take one more crack at Summit Lake, in the off chance it would be calm up at the top of the pass. There was no wind when we left the cabin, but that had been the case the previous day as well and up at the lake there were no reflections to be had. I fully expected the same on this morning and, indeed, when we reached Summit Lake, it was rippled…again. There was scarcely a breath of wind to be felt (again), but it was now clear that Summit Lake reflections were very much the exception rather than the rule.

As we poked around the immediate area, to see if there was anything we wanted to photograph that we hadn’t already experienced in our time at Hatcher Pass, I looked back at the lake and noticed that the water surface was starting to settle. Reflections, in fact, were already visible in the portion of the lake abutting the mountainside. Might it clear completely? I wasn’t sure but I decided that, if it did, I would be ready. I grabbed my tripod and the camera with the 24-70 mm lens attached and set up near a stand of fireweed. Sure enough, the photo gods smiled on me and the lake surface settled to a mirror-like state.

Once the lake settled, it stayed that way for the better part of 10 minutes, long enough for me to pick out several more abstract compositions while the reflections were at their best.

Highly satisfied that I’d had the opportunity to photograph the kaleidoscope-like scene at Summit Lake, particularly given that I had no such expectations, we made our way back the way we had come. But we noticed a marmot perched on a rock, not far off the road, so we stopped. And when we did so, we noticed another marmot, on the ground.

And before we knew it, an arctic ground squirrel appeared…

We finally took advantage of the opportunity that had caused us to stop in the first place. The marmot perched on the rock seemed utterly unperturbed by our presence; he never left his rock.

We had to go back to the cabin and pack up, then make the drive to the Anchorage area. We decided to explore a couple of sports in Chugach State Park located southeast of Anchorage. These areas are located off the Seward Highway, adjacent to the Turnagain Arm, a Pacific Ocean inlet. We photographed along McHugh Creek, which had fewer access points than we expected. It wasn’t the most exciting venue of this long photo trip, but we made the best of it, and came away with a few memorable images.

McHugh Creek, Chugach State Park, Alaska
McHugh Creek Black & White, Chugach State Park, Alaska
Devil’s Club, McHugh Creek, Chugach State Park, Alaska
McHugh Creek Black & White, Chugach State Park, Alaska

And with that, the Alaska photo trip came to an end. I hope you enjoyed taking it with us, albeit vicariously. There will be one more blog entry in this series, a retrospective that will give you the opportunity to hear some of Ellen’s thoughts on the experience. That will appear either next week or the week after.



  1. Kerry,
    Thanks again for sharing your trip with us. It’s been fun to “look over your shoulder” at your chosen scenes and know a bit of your thinking at the time. In this final post, I particularly enjoyed the last two b&w images of Little Sustina River, as well as the birch grove and Summit Lake images. Sounds like you both had a great trip and returned with lots of memories to accompany the images. It’s always a toss-up for me as to which I treasure more from each trip: the memories or the images.

    • Thanks very much, Steve!

      Regarding the last point…I don’t think you have to choose between the memories and the images. In fact, for me, the latter enhances the former. Invariably, when I look at an image from a trip, I recall the circumstances surrounding the making of that image which leads to a flood of memories about the trip, most of which go far beyond the specific image that started the process.

      And, looking at an image usually puts me, in my mind’s eye, right back at the spot where it was made. It’s a reinforcing process.

      I mused a bit about all of this a few years ago:

      Beyond the Fleeting Moment

  2. Nice selection of images, of the first series of water and rocks , my faves are the first and last because of the blur from longer exposure but not out of focus. The colours and reflections of the lake are beautiful. I like the trio of trees and I swear, these marmot models are seemingly used to the posing and surprised that they don’t charge for their services… still enjoying your records of your journeys.

    • Thanks very much, Jane1

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