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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chugach Adventures

Michael DeYoung shares his experiences amid the stunning landscapes and wildlife opportunities that this part of Alaska has to offer

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Scenic sunset over Knik Arm and the mouth of Sixmile Creek near Anchorage, Alaska.
DeYoung: I've focused primarily on the grand landscape of the Chugach, as well as its recreational and adventure activities. The Chugach are different and unique from what I was used to seeing in the Rockies. The sheer scale of endless peaks, vast deciduous forest, and steep cliffs and glaciers that come down to sea level have always captured my imagination. There are fewer life zones in the Chugach than one would find in the Southern Rockies where you get life zones from desert to alpine. The area has a wet, cold, subarctic climate. What I really like is the change from interior climate with boreal forest of mainly birch, poplar, cottonwood, white spruce and aspen to the marine zones that face Prince William Sound, where there are predominantly dense fir, spruce and hemlock forests and more glaciation. I really like the abundance of freshwater, too. The Chugach has major glacial river systems, countless streams, lakes and fjords. You can also see both continental and marine wildlife. The timberline around Anchorage is about 2,500 feet, so there's lots of terrain with big sweeping views.

Autumn scenic of Eagle Lake and Eagle Peak in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach State Park, Alaska.
OP: Where are the best places and what are the best times to go for photography in the Chugach?

DeYoung: We're talking about a huge range here, about 250 miles wide and heavily glaciated. The tallest peaks, including Mount Marcus Baker at 13,176 feet, are remote and steep. There are places in Prince William Sound where mountains rise from sea level to eight and nine thousand feet, which is pretty spectacular.

The easiest and most popular access is right out the back door of Anchorage. The range rises east of town and is the city's iconic backdrop. The Seward Highway travels south along the base of the Chugach and along a fjord called Turnagain Arm. Near Portage Glacier, the Chugach continue as the Kenai Mountains. You can drive through a tunnel from Portage to Whittier, which gives access to western Prince William Sound and the marine side of the Chugach. To the north, Glenn Highway goes up the Matanuska River, with stunning views of the Chugach's north face to the south. Thompson Pass along the Richardson Highway from Glenallen to Valdez has the highest road access in the Chugach.

Fireweed and Bridal Veil Falls in summer, Keystone Canyon near Prince William Sound, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.
In terms of road access, I like Bird Point and Portage Lake for morning and sunrise and sunset. You can take a tram to the top of Mount Alyeska for great views and sunrise and sunset photo opportunities. Eagle River Nature Center has fantastic evening views in summer, but the valley isn't lit in winter. Outside of the Anchorage area my favorite views are along the Glenn Highway from Sutton to Sheep Mountain Lodge. This is a fantastic fall colors' drive that's best in early morning. For Matanuska Glacier, around sunset is the time to be there. Worthington Glacier near Thompson Pass is great for sunrise and early-morning shooting. There are lupine blooms in early summer. Keystone Canyon near Valdez has fantastic waterfalls.

OP: What about for those who want to buckle up their bootstraps and explore on foot?

DeYoung: For hiking around Anchorage, Glenn Alps trailhead and Flattop Mountain are the most popular in the Chugach—lots of people, but fantastic sunsets. Further north, hiking up the South Fork of Eagle River can get you fantastic views of Eagle Lake and Symphony Lake, especially in the early evening. It's 12 miles round-trip. Hikes up Bold Valley and Twin Peaks Pass are great for views of Eklutna Lake at sunset. A short, but steep hike from Whittier is Portage Pass with sweeping views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal. It's best to be there for the morning light. Serious mountaineering glacier traverses can be done in the Chugach. Crow Creek Pass with views of Raven Glacier is a very scenic hike from Girdwood. It's 26 miles to Eagle River. Bird Ridge is a very steep hike from sea level to 4,000 feet in less than three miles, but the reward is stunning views of the Chugach and Turnagain Arm with great wildflowers in June and July.

OP: Of course, this being Alaska, there are some extraordinary opportunities for photographing wildlife, as well as dramatic landscapes. What would you suggest for photographers wanting to explore wildlife photography in the Chugach?


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