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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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A hiker along the foot of Raven Glacier, Crow Pass Trail, from the Girdwood side, Chugach State Park, Alaska.
DeYoung: The best wildlife shooting in the Chugach is the marine wildlife in Prince William Sound. Beluga whales come up into Turnagain Arm, visible, but all I've ever seen in 25 years is the white hump as they quickly take a breath and then submerge again.

There are whale-watching tours out of Whittier, and I have friends who have breaching orca shots. Orcas, humpbacks, sea otters, harbor seals can all be seen in Prince William Sound with road and ferry access in Whittier and Valdez, and plane or ferry access only to Cordova. Sea otter are abundant around Cordova.

There's lots of bird life. Potter Marsh just south of Anchorage is a great place to photograph waterfowl, including trumpeter swans and arctic terns. They also have salmon in season and sometimes great moose ops. Cordova has millions of shorebirds, and is a great place for trumpeter swan photography. I've seen several wolves and lynx in the Chugach over the years. Two years ago, as we pulled up to camp in a meadow along the shore of Knik Arm in the lowlands on a cloudy night, a young lynx walked out of the woods and laid down about 50 feet from us staring at me. I always keep my Canon 400mm ƒ/4 DO and 1D Mark IV at the ready. I had set my ISO to 1600 and got off about 10 shots before it got up and simply vanished.

Early on in my career, I did a lot more Alaska wildlife work, but it was mostly in Denali, or at bear-viewing places like Katmai and marine wildlife in Kenai Fjords.


A moose cow emerges from the fog in a birch forest near Eagle River, Chugach State Park, Alaska.
OP: In addition to the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and 400mm lens, what other gear are you working with?

DeYoung: My main camera bodies are the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and Mark IV. The lenses I use the most are the Canon 17-40mm ƒ/4 and the 70-200mm ƒ/4 L. I use the Canon 24mm tilt-shift a lot for roadside landscapes. I really like wireless speedlighting, and I use them for supplemental lighting, even for landscape work. I was an early adopter of the Canon 600RT speedlight. I use a Really Right Stuff carbon-fiber tripod and their BH-40 Pro head for general shooting. For hiking, I have the lightest 100-series Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-30 head. For wildlife, I use the Canon 400mm ƒ/4 DO because it's hand-holdable from a boat deck or canoe where tripods aren't practical, and I can still pack it in for a day hike without breaking my back. Since I work around water a lot, I use a Patagonia fly-fishing vest to carry filters, CF cards, cable releases and other essential accessories.

There's no special gear needed in the Chugach that you wouldn't need in other mountains unless you plan on glacier travel. For that, you need crampons, mountain axes and sometimes climbing gear. There are guides in Valdez and near the Matanuska Glacier and in Girdwood that can make glacier travel possible for those with no experience. In winter, carry snowshoes and backcountry skis with skins and avalanche safety gear. Chugach mountain trails are steep, especially Bird Ridge, Twin Peaks and Pioneer Ridge trails. I use trekking poles on hikes now. If there was any particular gear I use in the Chugach versus the Rockies, it would be bombproof rain gear and a well-made bug jacket.

See more of Michael DeYoung's work at www.michaeldeyoung.com.

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