Friday, August 26, 2016

Mount Denali (McKinley) Southface, Alaska

North America's highest peak, Mount Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, faces Kesugi Ridge which is located north of Anchorage, in Denali State Park. (Yes, Denali State Park is distinct from the well known big brother Denali National Park & Preserve)

To capture sunrise glow on Denali's south face, I backpacked Kesugi Ridge which parallels Denali and the Alaska Range across a valley on a beautiful weekend in July. The trail ascends through forest, then rocky terrain, and opens up to alpine tundra. Soon after climbing above the tree line, majestic Denali was supposed to show off... however, Denali was hiding behind clouds, as is not uncommon. With an elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m), the mountain creates its own climate and often generates clouds around the mountain although it was a perfectly clear day.

Once getting up on the ridge, the trail was almost flat and continued along the ridge. The clouds over Denali slowly departed, and showed off the entire mountain while I was setting up camp. It was a perfect evening as the sun lowered behind the Alaska Range. The light rays lit the silhouette of Denali...

The sky above Denali was still clear at sunrise. View of Denali at camp. It was windy and cold at dawn as I set up the camera outside the tent door and while sitting inside my warm sleeping bag, I was able to capture the sunrise on Denali. It was early July, under the midnight sun, there was only a few hours of twilight instead of darkness. When the sun appeared on the edge of the horizon, the very first light hit the highest peak! Slowly, the golden light shifted downward...

As the sun slowly rose, the glow on the mountain lowered... The thin clouds behind the mountain turned to peach colors... In the northern latitudes, sunrise and sunset take much longer. Photographers appreciate this long "magic light" for sure!

Stunning morning lights painted Denali and the whole Alaska Range in warm crimson. Several unnamed creeks from melting snow flowed down Kesugi Ridge. What a perfect morning in wilderness.

I had captured the south face of Denali, next will be the famous north face view. I'm heading to Denali National Park & Preserve this weekend. Camping for a week, I'm hoping to capture the sunset glow on Mount Denali with bright red fall colors of tundra. Wish me good weather!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Virgin Creek Falls, Alaska

It was mid June and I finally made it to this small but tranquil waterfall in Girdwood, Alaska. This small valley is covered with thick green rain forest which reminds me of the scenery of the Pacific Northwest that stretches north to Southeast Alaska. With a short walk, the picturesque Virgin Creek Falls appeared in the woods.

The water level was higher than normal due to the heavy rains. The waterfalls were larger and more powerful as a result.

The creek was surrounded with green vegetation and moss covered rocks. It is like a little fairy tale world! I've always been attracted to the waterfalls with its lush green landscapes for my photographic subjects.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sunset Reflections - Kenai Mountains at Cook Inlet, Alaska

 It was beautiful spring evening in Alaska as I was headed south toward the Kenai Peninsula along Cook Inlet. It was almost 11 o'clock, the tide was low and the mud bottom of the ocean was exposed. The sun slowly settled down seemingly into the ocean.

The rose-colored light glows on the snow capped Kenai Mountains above the ocean. I quickly selected the site and set up the camera gear to capture this special moment. The sky against the snowy mountains were a beautiful lavender color.

The setting sun painted the other side of the sky in bright orange!

The magical twilight sky lasted about a half hour after sunset. Slowly, the tide came in, and darkness descended upon the inlet. It was already past midnight when I packed up the gear and left.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Camera Test at Reflections Lake, Alaska

I had been pretty happy with my camera for the past 7 years and didn't upgrade when the 5D Mark III came out. However, 5DsR is a major spec change. With 50.6 Megapixels, 30 x 40 inch pictures with crispy sharp detailed prints can be produced!! After waiting for a several months, I finally purchased the Canon 5DsR in early May.

I headed to Reflections Lake, north of Anchorage for test shooting. It was a beautiful evening, clear skies with a few clouds, and no wind. I selected the perfect location along the lake shore. The spring was here already with fresh leaves growing on the trees. As its name states, the perfect reflections of Chugach Mountains - Pioneer Peak and Twin Peaks were on the surface of the lake! As I was setting up, I realized that I left the filters at home... oh, well...

The low angled sun painted the mountains with warm orange lights. There was some snow on the higher elevations... Lake is still like a mirror for a long time. Since I forgot to pack the filters, the sky was darkened with post processing... The image came out better than I expected.

As sun set on the horizon, the purple colors enveloped the entire area. This image is HDR, 3 different exposed images combined into one.

Over all, I'm more than happy with the 5DsR.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Spring Greens - Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, Alaska

 Spring is here in Southcentral Alaska! Since the past winter was mild and short (for Alaskan standards), fresh greens already started sprouting in April, over a month earlier than past years.

 Within an hour's drive south of Anchorage, Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet is one of the most outstanding landscapes which nature photographers dream of... The inlet was surrounded with snow capped mountains which drop directly down to the ocean. The area is rich in vegetation and wildlife. The Chugach Mountains along the Turnagain Arm is my favorite place this time of the year. Under the sunshine and blue sky, I walked through the birch woods with the scent of fresh greens in the air. Finding a few open spots to over look the panoramic scene to capture... This spectacular landscape always takes my breath away!

The leaves are still in light greens and a significant amount of snow still remains in the high peaks across the inlet. Soon, the foothills and the valleys will be decorated with vivid wildflowers.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Young Moose, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska

Spring came 2 months early in South central Alaska this year. By March, almost all snow was gone in Anchorage, and the greening started in early April.

It was in late February, while there was still some snow along the high elevations in the Matanuska - Susitna Valley area. Moose, especially cows with calfs search for eatable plants in lower elevations this time of year. It is not uncommon where moose can be spotted in residential areas as they feed on vegetation in backyards. This young moose was chewing on birch in the woods. He is still young and small although his antlers began to form above his eyes. He was staring at me for a long while...

Then, he began running across the road...

Running faster...

The peaks of Alaska Range was still white, shining against a blue sky.

Fresh snow covered a boreal forest. Spring is in the air!

It is time to explore a new season in the Alaskan wilderness.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kalalau Valley - Na Pali Coast, Kauai Island of Hawaii

After trekking the 11 mile strenuous Kalalau Trail, the beautiful remote paradise known as Kalalau Beach waited at the end. I camped on the beach the first night and captured a magical sunset with crashing waves on the Na Pali Coast. The next day was beautiful and I had one full day to explore Kalalau Valley.

Kalalau Valley is surrounded on three sides by rugged cliffs and ocean at the start. The valley is filled with thick rainforest with an abundance of streaming water. The first Polynesian settlers brought coconuts and taro root over 2000 years earlier and remnants of their habitation still exist. They built stone walled terraces for taro farming and also planted fruit trees. Taro root has been an important part of the Hawaiian diet since ancient times. Hawaiians moved out of Kalalau Valley to other parts of Kauai Island in the 1900s. Today, dozens of hippies still live in this jungle year round. They also grow taro and vegetables in the community gardens, and harvest an abundance of fruits and vegetables that grow in Kalalau Valley.

Searching for the hippie community gardens, I followed the trail deep into Kalalau Valley... The trail meandered through the rain forest along a flowing stream.

The entire valley is deeply shaded with tree canopies and lush green vegetation covering the ground. There were some signs of habitation in the valley, but the trail disappeared in the thick vegetation several times. Kalalalu Stream, surrounded with tropical greens, is a spiritual pathway up into the valley.

Crossing the stream several times, I finally found a well worn trail that led to the community gardens.  The jungle canopy soon opened up revealing patches of vegetable gardens with tall fruit trees. An irrigation channel meanders through the gardens leading to the taro fields. I felt like I was transported back to an ancient Hawaiian village. A topless woman came with a saw to do some garden work, and welcomed us to the gardens. She kindly showed me some fruit trees including the ever-present passion fruit trees. A long bearded old hippie known as Grizzly also guided us to the vegetable gardens. They were unexpectedly friendly to us outsiders. Most of the hippies live there for a few weeks to several months but some of them had settled there for several years to decades! Their life is simple and mostly sustainable; grow vegetables and pick fruits, catch fish, hunt wild goats living in the area... and sometimes trade extra camping food from hikers for locally grown herbs or vegetables or wine made from local fruits and berries. Hidden from State Park officials and government (living in State Park land is not permitted), some were likely tired of the modern world and choose to live a simple life at least for the moment.

Back to the beach to photograph another gorgeous sunset. The sky was bright red with thin clouds above the horizon that night. Each sunset is different and special. A huge cruise ship came across the sea after sunset... After all, Kalalau Beach is a remote location, but popular tourist destination to see by air or ocean if not able to physically set foot.

Here are some campsite images... Hikers can pitch the tents anywhere in the shady woods.

A small waterfall cascades down through the rocks at the west end of the beach. This waterfall is the main water source and shower for the campers.

Na Pali Coast/Kalalau Valley is an astounding place... It is a remote "Garden of Eden." I captured some beautiful moments but expressing the location's spirituality in such a short time was a challenging task... I hope you can feel the sense of this place through my images.

A few days later, I looked down the Kalalau Valley to the Pacific from above. Only a few miles above the Kakakau Valley, it takes almost 80 miles, 2 and a half hours, on winding roads to drive around the island to reach the overlook of Kalalau Valley. From above, the entire valley is filled with lush green rainforest.

As the sun lowered down on the horizon, the cliff glowed in reddish orange... and the last sun lit the rugged summit in crimson... Kalalau Valley was only a few miles below but I felt like it was far away. Sweet dreams . . .