Juneau ice caves

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by polarguide

glacier-3The Mendenhall glacier spills off the Juneau ice field and snakes 12 miles down the Mendenhall valley to the Mendenhall lake, terminating in the back yard of Juneau’s neighborhoods.

Juneau has three glaciers within its city limits. The Eagle, The Herbert and the Mendenhall. All three originate from the Juneau ice field.  This large lake of ice lies east of the city and extends 87 miles north to south and 41 miles east to west covering an area of roughly 1,500 square miles, it is the fifth largest ice field in the western hemisphere and creates an icy border with British Columbia.

The Mendenhall glacier is the most accessible glacier in town with a parking lot and a network of hiking trails, one of which leads to the face of the glacier where you can walk on its atrophied ice terminus. It is the most popular recreation destination in Juneau. In the winter when the lake is frozen it offers ice skating, ice hockey and a three-mile groomed track for skate skiing and cross-country skiing. In the summer the network of hiking trails are popular with tourists and locals alike and the Ice free lake is a great place to kayak.

The Mendenhall river has a small run of sockeye salmon which attract bears. A few  paces from the parking lot gives a visitor one of the most accessible black bear viewing opportunities in the state, as bears wade up and down the small river snagging salmon and devouring them just a few feet from the boardwalk path that winds along the water’s edge.

The glacier has receded quite dramatically over the past few decades and a series of  ice caves have formed as a result of the massive amount of meltwater that flows from beneath the glacier. These caves are among the most beautiful of natural phenomena I have  been fortunate to see. From the parking lot one can hike about 3 miles to the glacier terminus and then walk directly into the glacier.

This weekend Sarah and I decided to kayak to the glacier. We paddled across the lake and landed our kayaks on the lateral moraine then hiked over a thinning tongue of ice and into an ice cave that lead us deep beneath the glacier. I’ll let the photos describe the beauty.

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Sarah standing on the lateral edge of the glacier over looking the Mendenhall lake

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Me, peering deep in to a “moulan”, NOT the way to get under the glacier

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The amazing view underneath the glacier

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Sarah cautiously inspecting a curious shape deep inside the ice cave


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After our journey to the heart of the glacier we began our hike back to the kayaks. We stopped on a rock outcrop protruding from the ice, ducked out of the wind and treated ourselves to  a bottle of wine with a snack of cheese and pears. Then we enjoyed a sunset paddle back to the parking lot with the wind at our backs. As the wind pushed me along in my kayak I gazed around at the amazing scenery and contemplated my travels over the past year and came to a fantastic realization. Of all the places I have been, from Antarctica to the Arctic, I can honestly say my back yard is just as beautiful and full of adventure and wonder.

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post adventure snack

After our paddle we went home, cooked an amazing dinner of wild caught salmon and watched a movie on net-flicks.

60 days in Antarctica

Posted in antarctica, Leopard seal, penguins, photography, Uncategorized, whales with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by polarguide

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The last voyage of my Antarctic season just ended this morning and I am already sitting in the  airport.  After two months on the ship being completely absorbed in such a remote and beautiful landscape my head is swooning as I am forced back into the  world. The airport is a harsh re-enty to society.

One Ocean expeditions markets the last voyage of the season as a marine mammals special exploratory trip. In late March the penguin chicks have all fledged from the nest and the adults are heading out to sea and penguin viewing becomes less of a focus of our journey. The whales in Antarctica tend to congregate around the Antarctic peninsula this time of year. Krill, the main food source of all the marine critters, aggregate in deep water bays and swarm into a biomass that can exceed  two million tons.  We sail into these bays, launch zodiacs and cruise among the feasting whales hoping for close encounters.

The second day of our voyage we spotted two Blue whales charging forward of the ship.  Blue whales reach lengths of over 100 feet long and weigh over 170 tons. Not only are they the largest living creature on the planet today, they are also the largest animal to have ever lived, larger than any dinosaur that ever roamed the earth. It is estimated that there  are only a two thousand blue whales in the southern ocean. Given the size of the southern ocean a blue whale sighting is a near impossible occurrence.  The opportunity to see  not just one, but two so close to the ship was, well, words can’t describe it and the pictures don’t do it justice.

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Blue whale surging past the ship

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When we arrived in Antarctica we launched our zodiacs and kayaks and were immediately visited by Minkie and humpback whales.  The whales are so satiated from feasting on massive amounts of krill that they log on the surface napping in a food coma. As we cruise past them they ofter become curious and swim over to us to have a closer look. It’s quite exciting to be held in the gaze of such a and large mysterious sea creature.

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We spent six days cruising the peninsula and the South Shetland islands searching for whales and seals. The leopard seals begin to prey on penguins this time of year. As the fledging chicks enter the ocean for the first time they are easy pickings.  Leopard seals like to show off their kill by swimming close to our zodiac’s, forcing us to watch as they thrash the carcass to tear off bits of flesh.

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Along the Journey we get excellent opportunities to see and photograph Elephant seal, Crab eater seals, Wedell seals and Fur seals.

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There are still plenty of penguins around. We make at least two landings a day to wander among the remaining penguins. Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins are the most common penguins we see late in march. On this voyage we were lucky to see a rare pair of Macaroni penguins.

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Wildlife viewing is obviously a huge draw to travelers wanting to see this portion of the world, but the ice that covers and surrounds the entire continent is what gives this place life and creates a magical landscape unlike any other place on earth.

I look forward to getting back there next season.

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Return to the land of ice

Posted in antarctica, Uncategorized with tags , on February 24, 2014 by polarguide

Its been ten months since I last visited Antarctica. Its hard to believe that much time has passed. Its fells so natural to return and I am often surprised at how familiar I have become with a places so remote.

I Boarded the Akademic Vavilov on the 6th of february and started a three week expedition that visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica. This voyage is one of the most historical, remote and wildlife rich journeys in the world. I feel blessed that I am so fully involved in such a euneak and special experience.

I am in Ushuia, Argentina today on a two hour shore leave before disembarking again for the Antarctic continent I have so many photos and stories to share, but so little time. And the internet connection is too slow.  Here are a few shots of the journey. I will share as many as the connection will allow.

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I have to admit I was a little rusty after spending so much time off the ship. It took at least a week to regain all my confidence running zodiac and kayak operations in this wild and unpredictable part of the world. I have my sea legs under me again. I leave this afternoon for three more voyages to the land of ice.

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New photos of the day

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , on January 21, 2014 by polarguide

I decided to get outside with my camera again today. side my last post the sun has not shown itself.  We have been hunching under the weight of low clouds and shouldering into the driving rain since christmas.

The wind and rain stopped today and the temperature floated at a balmy 45 degrees.

The tide was high late afternoon so I decided to take the camera to the beach and try to capture some reflections on the water with some motion blur. Here they are:

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beach34-2I used a really slow shutter speed to give the ocean a ghostly appearance. I used a cable release but somehow still have motion blur on the still objects so they are all a little soft. Im going to go back out tomorrow and try to do them again. with a even a small amount of sun the water will glow with color but the added light might make a slow shutter speed impossible.

 

First photos of solstice

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 30, 2013 by polarguide

Some days are just not good for photography.  Today was one of those days.

It didn’t start out that way. The morning was cold and crisp with patches of blue sky peeking through the clouds.  Though solstice has passed the sun isn’t rising here until well after 8:30 am,  by 9 o’clock this morning the sun hung low above the Gastineau channel casting a warm orange glow over  the water, the mountains and the cold ice crystal trees. For the first time in months I picked up my camera, dusted it off (literally) and went out side to take some photos.

I walked across the street and snapped this shot of the stairs that lead into Town.  You can see Mt. Jumbo in the upper right hand corner of the frame. It’s only nine thirty in the morning and already the sun is about to duck behind the mountain.

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I turned around and took these next two shots of my house and Mt. Juneau that rises up behind the street I live on. The sun was lighting up everything so nicely.

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I was inspired.  I went inside and gathered my gear. I put on some warm clothes, gulped my coffee and gobbled some Vension stew for breakfast then headed to the Mendenhall Glacier. Knowing that in just a few hours  that warm winter sun would turn the cold blue ice a fiery orange.

Then the fog rolled in. Just as I arrived at the glacier the sun was struggling through the clouds, lighting up the glacier in a patch work of buttery light and blue shadows. I rushed to get my camera set up, but by the time I was ready the clouds had engulfed the glacier and the surrounding mountains.

I turned my attention to the forest and the streams that run through it, hoping with time the sky would open up.  The scenery was beautiful to the eye, but the grey clouds and lack of light made every photograph dull. I searched for contrasty compositions and interesting shapes, these were the best I could do.

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I decided to head back out to the lake and shoot some photos of the glacier in the clouds.  The blues in the glacier become vibrant on cloudy days, I thought maybe I could get some dramatic shots in the fog.

I like the lines in this next photo. How the curve of the snow meeting the frozen lake matches the curve of the glacier flowing down the mountain.

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I felt that I needed more contrast and foreground so I backed up and took these next two shots. I think it worked out well, the dark water and trees in the fore ground give the scene more depth  but the lack of light and shadow doesn’t allow anything to pop.

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This is one of the last photos I took.  This ice berg is frozen into the middle of the lake in front of the glacier.  I liked the way the angle of the blue ice matched the angle of the gully on the hill side behind  the berg. The blue in the ice really glows against the monochromatic back ground. I waited there a while hoping a cloud would part and a ray of sun would lay some warm light and long shadows across this scene. But it didn’t happen.

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Regardless I am thankful for the suns early morning appearance, even though it was short lived. It got me motivated and out of the house with my camera. That hasn’t happened for quite some time. It’s 3:30 pm now and the sky is already dark, the sun long gone.  But it will be back, maybe not tomorrow.  Now that my gear is warmed up I’ll be ready when light is right.

Igloolik? Nunavut Canada

Posted in Arctic, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 22, 2013 by polarguide

I found some of my Canadian Arctic images today.  I guess I just didn’t take many photos on that voyage because I only came across one folder with about 100 images.  Most of them were taken in one village and I am struggling to remember it’s name. Looking at the map, I would have to guess it was Igloolik.

I was supposed to meet the ship in a little village called Kugluktuk formerly known as coppermine in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut Canada. But, I arrived in Edmonton with out a proper work permit and I was flown back to seattle. I waited there a few days for the paperwork to be arranged and then flew in to Cambridge bay, a village on the southern end of Victoria Island, in the Canadian arctic.

This was one of the most fearful flights I have ever taken. Flying VFR in a 707  in dense fog and landing on a dirt runway made me question my choice of profession. we barely made the landing, I was told that two days before a plane crashed trying to make a landing in the fog.

I made it into Cambridge Bay with out incident where the ship was waiting for me.  We set sail later that afternoon and over the next ten days we wove our way west through the northwest passage until we ended our journey in the village of Iqaluit, the capital and largest community of Nunavut, located at the head of Frobisher Bay, on Baffin Island.

After looking through the only folder of images, these are the only ones worth sharing. We landed on the beach at Igloolik and the entire village met us there.  the children had fun playing on the zodiacs and some of the village elders drummed and danced for us.

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The Arctic

Posted in Arctic, bears, guiding, polarbears with tags , , , on November 19, 2013 by polarguide

I have been browsing through my images and today I came upon several files of my Arctic voyages in the summer of 2011.

I spent the month of July 2011 cruising around Svalbard.  Svalbard  is an archipelago above 70 degrees north latitude. It is a territory or Norway and it is quite remote. It was a spectacular month of photographing polar bears, walrus, and  several varieties of arctic birds. All in a dramatic and beautiful landscape.

I flew back to Alaska and in early August 2011 I was back on board the ship, this time in northern canada cruising through the northwest passage.

Here are a few images of those voyages.  I am missing some of my files of the northwest passage voyage. I have some decent shots of a few of the inuit villages we visited. I will post those when I come across them.

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My favorite

My favorite

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