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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Something New!

How a trek to the wide-open landscapes and extreme wilderness of Alaska led to a creative recharge for Marc Muench

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Much of the way consisted of crawling through shrubs and under fallen logs, and we made our intended first camp soaked to the bone and instantly started a fire to dry as much clothing as we could. Starting a fire with wet wood is always fun. With a bit of warmth and some hot freeze-dried food in our bellies, we dived into our tents.

Just before dawn, I noticed the clouds had partially cleared, so I grabbed my camera and headed off to photograph the nearby lake. Neva followed, as if she felt the inalienable responsibility to be my guardian. Neva is Dan's six-year-old female yellow Labrador, who has been across the island several times, scaled Mount Edgecumbe and swam with humpback whales. Even though Dan was reluctant to bring her, it was easy to see that she was at home in this country, always alert to brown bears, one of the main reasons why Dan brought her. About a half-hour later, while fully engaged in composing a photo, I heard the unmistakable sound of a snorting grizzly. Neva and I hadn't been making enough noise so the bear had noticed us first, probably catching a scent of Neva. I stayed still for a bit, and once I could see that the bear was headed off to my left, I realized he was mostly interested in crossing the island in the opposite direction as we were going. He made his way around the other side of the lake and vanished.

We had taken our time in the morning with the hopes of drying out the wet tents and clothes and waiting to see what the clouds were going to do. After eating some oatmeal, Dan made the final decision not to cross the island. Low clouds had been playing around the peaks for two days, and we were actually following three days of heavy rain. To cross the glaciers in the high country of Baranof Island, you need reasonable visibility or you may become disoriented and wander off-course or even into a crevasse. Plan B was forming as we finished packing up. With the incentive of linking up some terrain Dan hadn't explored (which is saying something since Dan has been on just about every mountaintop on the island), we left the small lake where we had spent a cold and damp night under a dark layer of clouds.

A hiker against the Alaskan backdrop is a particularly good representation of scale for America's largest state.
My boys really didn't mind missing out on the original plan as they were pleased just to be exploring terrain that was wild, wet and something none of us was familiar with. Dan was fairly certain the ridge wouldn't cliff out, but having not hiked it before, we only had the topo to read. For the first 1,000 vertical feet, the terrain was the perfect mix of rolling steep tundra and granite cliffs that were spaced in such a way that made for "high-country strolling," my favorite pastime!

We were all wearing boots with MICROspikes, which are similar to a crampon and make it much simpler to grip the steep, boggy soil. The clouds broke and then dropped as quickly, as Neva ran circles around all of us.

I was primarily interested in photographing something new that challenged me creatively and forced me to see things with fresh eyes. This was definitely the place. We weren't doing anything crazy, hard or extreme, but we were starting out on a path that was used maybe once a year, then when the weather doomed our original plans, we veered off-course onto a ridge that may have seen a handful of visitors ever. With little hope for improving weather, we stubbornly set out with visions of staying wet for days and only breaking out the cameras when we could find moments of little or no rain. What occurred that day couldn't have been better. Very little rain fell; the clouds danced on the mountaintops and occasionally surrounded us in a fog. But when breaks appeared, the vistas were otherworldly. There were so many compositions, I called it Foreground Ridge!


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