Nissan Xterra rear sleep platform

“I’m too long, can’t we just chop the lower few inches off my legs?” I said exacerbated as I lay cramped and contorted in the back of a fully packed Xterra. “Quit being a baby!” is Meagan’s quick response. This conversation is visited and re-visited during our long adventures into the backcountry, trying to stealth camp in illustrious locations such as: the Wrangell Mountains, the Dalton Highway, and dimly lit corners of Wal-Mart parking lots. I find myself too tired to keep driving and Meagan uses the wonderful excuse that driving at night “makes my eyes hurt”. In the end we are forced to push all our stuff to the front seats and side of the car, lay out our sleeping bags and pads, jump in and try and get situated before calling the dogs up to come lay on top of us. All this in the space that is usually reserved for ones yoga mat.

In an effort to avoid these uncomfortable situations on our future journey, we came up with a solution. Albeit stolen heavily from others’ internet posts and forum discussions. The idea is to provide an elevated sleeping platform which can be folded out once  parked to provide a full 6 ft 3 in bed. On top we would have our refrigerator, dog bed, and people bed. Underneath would be adequate storage for most of our belongings. Simple, cheap, and effective. Just our style. Below are some images of the sleep platform right after construction. And one on the trip down south from Fairbanks all the way to Florida! Notice the outboard on the roof. You never can be too prepared…

 

rear vehicle sleep platform

rear view with fridge and water jugs

homemade sliders

close up of homemade fridge slides

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fridge slid out

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tie down points

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fully loaded with gear

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all dirty with outboard on roof

Kennecott Mine, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

The historic Kennecott mine, near the confluence of the Root and Kennecott Glaciers, is a marvel of engineering. Not only did the mine require the laying of 196 miles of railway, some 15% of that on trestles, but it looks like a carpenter’s version of Jenga. In operation from 1911 to 1938, the company mined copper, occasionally mining Chalcocite, a mineral comprising of nearly 70% copper and weighing significantly more than an average stone of equal size. Meagan and I took advantage of the park’s policy of allowing rock collection Winking smile.

 

kennecott mine alaska

Photo by Meagan DeRaps

A weekend in Talkeetna, Alaska

Small-town Alaska can be a strange place. Despite Talkeetna’s high rate of tourist turnover, they have still kept, if not increased, their strangeness. One thing they have in spades, though, is hospitality. Where else would more than one person offer an unclaimed mattress laying out in a back alley to a weary traveler? I wandered the (street)s of Talkeetna for a day after my field season ended and crew had left town. I was waiting for my sister and her husband with their band, St. Animal in tow, to come down and play at the local Mountain High Pizza Pie restaurant; a great way for me to unwind after a busy summer. I split most my time between staring at the wonderful view of Denali from the junction between the Susitna and Talkeetna rivers, and making a name for myself with the locals as the guy who sits on all the business porches for hours waiting for something(?) while watching all the tourists walk down the middle of the streets lost in either Disneyland flashbacks or doing an excellent job of recreating a Hollywood zombie movie. When not doing either of these things, I found myself trying to fill a void in my stomach at many of the excellent local eateries, (OK, mostly pubs) after too much hiking . I must say, not a bad weekend…

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Denali peak with beaver swimming in the Susitna River

Talkeetna river bridge

AKRR Talkeetna river bridge

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Conscious coffee house in Talkeetna

Spinach Bread

Best food in town- Spinach bread (get the daily special!)

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Saint Animal in concert at Mountain High Pizza Pie

Lone guitarist

Late night guitarist serenading Denali

I crossed the River Styx, and lived…

For me, summer is a time of chaos, long hours, travel, and moments of serenity found in nature. These are a sampling of images that tell a story of the first half of my summer field season. As a geologist for the State of Alaska I was fortunate to explore the Western Alaska Range’s Styx River and Kuskokwim  River regions by foot and by helicopter. There really is no better way to see the state. We were based out of the historic Rainy Pass Lodge, one of the oldest lodges in the state and also one of the first checkpoints on the iconic Iditarod dog sled race.

 

surreal lake

glassy puntilla lake

 

long exposure puntilla lake

Long exposure of puntilla lake

 

4th of July Fireworks

4th of July fireworks at Rainy Pass Lodge

 

northern volleyball

Volleyball at Rainy Pass Lodge

 

Puntilla lake float plane

Float plane taking off out of Puntilla lake

 

radio repeater setup

Radio repeaters and solar setup

 

Rainy pass lodge

Rainy Pass Lodge looking South

 

glacial lake swimming

Glacial lake swimming

 

GoPro selfie

Solo morning traverse

 

 

glacial geology

 

Steep slopes

Any sheep?

 

never ending mountains

Never ending mountains

 

rock and ice

Brightly colored slope

 

scree slope

The beckoning slope

 

colorful ridge

Ridge worker

 

helicopter pilot and view

 

women looking over ledge

The ponderer

 

summer slowers

Alpine flowers

 

sunny slope

Sun spot

 

narrow landing

Tight landing

 

helicopter fieldwork

Helicopter fieldwork

 

glacial recession panorama

Glacier recession

 

Foggy Morning

Foggy morning

 

GoPro sailing and snorkeling in Puerto Rico

On our trip to Puerto Rico this winter, besides my Canon 5D mark ii we also took along our new GoPro video camera hoping to test its ability in regards to time-lapses and video quality. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the quality of the image is very good and having such a wide angle is fun to work with. You may know that GoPro cameras do not have a LCD screen so viewing what you have filmed or captured is not possible until loading the files back onto the computer. I found that despite what sounded like a nuisance at first, this “feature” in fact turned out to be just the opposite. I was able to be less constrained by focusing on the perfect composition and was pulled in by the spontaneity and excitement of not knowing just how the image would turn out. While not a great option as your only camera, and no substitute for a professional SLR by any means, I think I may be doing more and more with my GoPro in the days to come.

This movie is a compilation of some of our adventures…

And as always, don’t forget to watch in 1080p 🙂

Puerto Rico- a tropical escape

sailing boats in Ensanado Honda, Dewey, Culebra

Over the Holidays Meagan and I were fortunate enough to travel down to Puerto Rico and sail around the tropical waters on my parents (retirement plan)  sailboat “Azaya”. We spent 9 days sailing around the eastern waters mainly near the island of Culebra. The water temps were a near constant 82 degrees and we were able to swim off the boat nearly every day. A luxury that does not go unappreciated by two frozen northerners!

Another post will follow this one with a video of our trip taken mainly from footage using our new gopro hero 3 black edition. So keep an eye out for that, and to save you some hassle don’t forget to sign up for our blog updates via whatever method you choose on the right of the screen.

bio luminescent bay

The image above of the blue swirls is actually a long exposure image of a bio luminescent bay on the island of Vieques. The yellow in the upper corner are city lights from the island. Bio luminescence is a natural wonder that rivals that of the northern lights in my mind. We spent nearly 3 hours mesmerized by the glowing of fish as they swam in the dark water bellow us startled into motion by unseen dangers.

amarillos or fried plantains

One of our new found delights were amarillos or “yellows” for us gringos. They consist of sliced plantains fried in coconut oil and served hot. After my first taste I found myself searching for them on every menu we passed.




 

 

Mt. Prindle and Nome Creek

Gold rush! Those words were rattling through Meagan and I’s heads as we headed up towards Nome Creek on the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. The plan was to gold pan the Nome creek recreational gold panning area in the morning and then take off later in the day to backpack up to Mt. Prindle.gold panning at Nome Creek, AK

Needless to say, we did not strike it rich although we did get a *very* little piece of “color” in the pan. The area was quite packed with large motorhomes which beg the question of how and why they got them back there in the first place. Since Meagan and I are much happier hearing the creek noises than those of fellow campers we drove back down the road and found an empty spot near the creek to pitch our tent.

The following day broke with the sun’s heat working its way into our early morning dreams as it turned our tent into an fiery sauna. The hike began well with several creek crossing which require a second set of water shoes to cross as the water is not overly deep but will turn your legs numb within seconds. backpacking up Nome CreekOnce out of the willows of the creek bed the view up the valley reveals itself and gives you just enough of a mountain view to tease you forward. The hiking went well although we were perhaps a few weeks early as the trail was hidden by several large snow patches which required sloppy post holing and most of the trail was covered in a small flowing creek.

As we reached our chosen campsite in a bowl just before climbing up to the ridge that will take you to the top of Mt. Prindle we noticed the dogs were getting on edge. In the Alaskan wilderness this is usually a good sign to get your bear spray or gun handy. backpacking Alaska with wolvesClimbing a small knoll we looked up valley and spotted a group of eight wolves working their way in our direction. We quickly grabbed the dogs, took our packs off and prepared to defend ourselves. After some discussion we decided to try and make noise to scare the wolves off, a few loud calls and we succeeded. It was a mixed felling watching the wolves launch water into the air as they ran across the saturated tundra. What a neat experience it would have been to have a closer encounter, but what a relief that we did not have one either. We did however have many close encounters with Alaska’s smallest bird the mosquitoe. Which can be seen flying around the lens in the photo below.

mosquitoes in Alaska

backpacking Nome CreekThe night passed without incident with the four of us (two dogs) crammed inside a rather small two person tent. We stayed up well into the morning watching the sky paint itself every color it could come up with. We had to remind ourselves to go to bed and not wait for the darkness to give us that cue.

We headed up to Mt. Prindle’s south west ridge after a fantastic oatmeal breakfast filled with the essential dates, nuts, brown sugar and powdered milk. With every gain in elevation more and more of Prindle’s fantastic tors were revealed, each one looking like a new scale to some sleeping giant. Mt. Prindle AlaskaAfter playing around on the rocks and watching a local marmot who had perched himself in a precarious position, Meagan too decided to take a small nap.backpacking Mt. PrindleFearing we would get caught in a nasty lightning storm that was headed our way if we continued on to summit Prindle, we turned around and headed back to camp. The weather quickly turned bad leaving us in our tent for several hours as it sounded like chicken little’s words may have been prophetic.

As we walked out of the valley and back to our car we noticed the smoke from a nearby wildfire getting thick. Must have happened during the night from one of the lightning strikes? Alaska wildfires

In all it was a fantastic getaway and a must do hike for anyone in the interior looking for a change in scenery. The Prindle  Mountain area is unlike anything else around.

Mallorca, Spain and the Balearic Islands

This winter’s escape came in the form of a Honeymoon to Alcudia, Spain on the island of Mallorca. My wife Meagan and I who have just celebrated our first year wedding anniversary had a fantastic time wandering about the Mallorcan back roads in our tiny euro rental car. The food consisting of mainly olives, breads, and seafood with a wonderful array of wines, which we were sure to try as many as we could, kept us both energized and excited about the days adventures. I will share a few of my photos from this trip and invite you to check back soon as I may be posting a more lengthy article with more photos…

Castle Spine
Cathedral walk
Port Alcudia Beach
Swirling Boat Launch

Brooks Range, Alaska

I recently spent a week in the Brooks Range hiking, photographing, and animal watching. It was the first time I have been in the Brooks since 2003 when I spent a little under a month kayaking down the Marsh Fork of the Canning river to Brownlow Point on the Arctic Ocean. The drive up the haul road hasn’t changed much from what I remember although there are more pavement sections, but this doesn’t detract too much from the wildness that you feel out there.

Cathedral Peak in the sun

The arctic region is one of beauty and serenity. Not many places exist where you really do feel the extent and vastness of what surrounds you. The silence is only penetrated by the call of a migrating goose or perhaps the far off noise of a caribou foraging in the tundra.

I took only a handful of photos on the trip as most of the time was spent backpacking and I regretfully felt that a SLR was too much weight to take along. The lesson learned is that no matter how light you are trying to pack it is always necessary to have your camera close at hand. Carrying a nice zoom lens in the 20-135 mm range will greatly increase your likely hood of taking along your camera and can save you from a lot of regret later on when the light is just right and the wildlife could not be any better placed. Having just one lens will also keep your weight down and allow for less to think about while in the field.

Focusing on the light in the mountains and the changing sky was my primary focus, many of my shots from the trip are of darker skies looking onto sunny sloped mountains. The alyeska pipeline also provided a great foreground to compliment the natural lines of the many rivers like the Dietrich and Atigun.