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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

WEEKLY POST: Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands: Bowing before St. Elias by Robert Glenn Ketchum

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias
by Robert Glenn Ketchum

The Yakutat Forelands are where the Tongass rainforest and the Chugach forest to the north meet. It is also home to many large glaciers, a stunning coastline, the huge Alsek-Tatshenshini river, and Icy Bay, which sits at the foot of Mount St. Elias, the greatest vertical rise from sea level in the world. There is a lot of powerful energy out here.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #7:
The Yakutat Forelands, #7:  As Mike Iver’s plane plane passed out of site into the clouds, the weather closed down on us. A hard, cold rain started and the wind was picking up - all great reasons to retire to our cabin, stow our gear, and have some HOT food. Throughout a long, leisurely lunch and snacks, the rain continued to pound down in weird rhythms on the roof, and howling gusts coming in off the Pacific would make strange noises, rattling the cabin and causing high-pitched drone tones to echo from the corners. Regularly, we would imagine hearing a bear, but upon investigating, never found prints or saw one - I think it was just cabin-restlessness, and we needed to go out for a walk. Late in the afternoon, the storm momentarily let up, so we took the opportunity to explore our new environment. The cabin is a long way up a HUGE beach that is not only VERY wide, looking north and south, you can not see either end. We are backed against a berm island of dense vegetation that includes small trees. Because of saltwater intrusion, there is a distinct line where the trees stop and a grassy, vine-y beach habitat begins. Everything is wet. The grass is knee-deep and glistening. It sways in mesmerizing patterns as the gusts sweep across it. There is a river a short distance away that is our water source, so we walk there first, but tidal mud on the river bank shows REALLY BIG fresh bear tracks, and this is a bit offsetting. We have not come that far in the scope of this vast expanse of beach, dunes, and berms but as we look around hoping NOT to see a bear, it becomes clear how small the cabin is. Just as we finish drawing water, the rain starts once again, and by the time we forge our way back though the grasses, it is blowing sideways. Time to re-stoke the stove fire, get out the snacks, and hang on! Here we go again.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #6:
The Yakutat Forelands, #6:  After two days of “blazing” hot weather and a horrible storm of biting insects, I could hear rainfall start on the roof of our cabin about midnight. Rainfall is a “modest” use of the word. Remember, our cabin is in the forelands facing the Gulf of Alaska, and at the foot of Mt. St. Elias, thus we are probably part of one of the greatest weather generating system on earth, next to the Himalayas. When we awoke, it was pouring and the ceiling was low, but having flown with Alaskan pilots, I knew if Mike could get through, he would. Dutifully we packed our gear and waited. Sure enough, about 10am there was a break in the weather and Mike immediately appeared overhead and circled. We loaded as soon as he landed and were off to the coast. Because of the low ceiling, Mike flew just above the beach which gave us a great look at the miles and miles of Pacific shoreline that define the western face of the forelands. Several cabins could be seen along our flight path, but Mike was taking us to one near a river complex because we might SEE MORE BEAR THERE! Once again, Mike also handed out some brief but useful information as we approached our destination. Our cabin is in the treeline where the fog and beach meet (upper, middle). Mike noted it would be easier to get around here because there were fisherman trails (lower, left side, in the scrub) along the river, BUT it would also be “spooky” because much of the vegetation was dense, overhead, and there were a lot of bears. Mike said he preferred being on the beach because "at least that way he could see them coming from a good distance." Lastly, he said he felt we would like the beach because we would never see another so large, wild, and untrammeled, AND if the weather report he heard was right, this storm would break off in one day and it would be glorious out along the coast. With that we arrive, landing on the beach and literally taxiing to the cabin. It is raining hard. It is blowing and cold. There are a lot of bear prints in the sand. Mike says he HOPES he will see us in two days (little Alaskan joke), and then he disappears into the clouds. It IS a big beach!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #5:
The Yakutat Forelands, #5:  We had come to this cabin on the Yakutat forelands ostensibly to see the coastal terrain of the Tatsheshini-Alsek river flowing to the Pacific from Canada. It is a huge river system whose headwaters involve three national parks and the largest designated wilderness in the world - Tatshenshini. After our plane dropped us and we got our Forest Service cabin squared away, we loaded our daypacks and decided to explore. We thought we would walk to the river, but as we moved further from the cabin, knowing where it was and where we were became an increasing challenge. It was also REALLY HOT. Midday, temperature was easily in the 80’s which for Alaska, is quite toasty, and it made the insect population not only active, but overwhelming. After some hours of wandering through swampy meadows and groves of trees, we were grateful NOT to have encountered moose or bear, and we felt we had a better understanding of how to get around. We were also VERY tired of the bugs, so we returned to the cabin for dinner and an early bed. The next day was a dawn rising so we could get moving before the insects, and we intended to reach the river this time. The good news is that we did. More good news is that out here on the gravel bar of one of the huge river braids, the breeze and lack of cover vegetation has GREATLY reduced the insect population. Mark, Carey, and I finally have some relief from, not only mosquitoes, but a frenzy of biting flies. It is still hot, and now that we have done all of this work, this is my new POV. See the river? The sliver line of blue to the right is the Alsek. The thin line of blue behind Mark is Alsek Lake, and the tall, pyramid-shaped peak to the right, is Mt. Fairweather in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve to our south. As “nice” a day as this was, we all agreed we were glad Mike would pick us up in the morning and move us to the forelands beach.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #4:
The Yakutat Forelands, #4:  Most of the flying I did in Southeast (AK) to various destinations in the Tongass rainforest were done in float planes that land on water. Even access to the high country involved landing on mountain lakes. Here on the forelands, however, there were wide expanses of hard ground, so small runways had been created next to US Forest Service cabin locations, or you landed on the beach in a wheeled plane. As our pilot, Mike Ivers, circled the small airstrip next to the cabin we were going to use, he explained the logic of the tour he helped plan for us. Our first stop was this cabin near to the Alsek River. He thought we would find this location the least productive and most difficult to accomplish much in, because the scale of the landscape was so large. He felt once on the ground, changing my viewpoint would be hard to do. He was also concerned that we read topo maps BUT did not have a compass/GPS. He thought if we wandered too far, we might not find the cabin again because, once you walked away from it, it became nearly invisible in the greater landscape. As a consequence, this would be our shortest stay and he would move us to a beach cabin in two days. He finished this discourse as we landed, so we were listening to him, but perhaps not fully aware of what his words meant. After unloading, Mike wished us well, and as you can see, off he went. The cabin was quite nice, but this picture makes clear why Mike was concerned my point of view would not change much. It would pretty much always look like this.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #3:
The Yakutat Forelands, #3:  To wit! To woo! And So much to do! Yeh, and SO MUCH space to do it in. I came to Yakutat the first time with my wife, Carey, and one of my best friends from college, Mark Thompson. Moving all our gear and my cameras around, 3 people are always better than 2, AND Mark was armed. I wanted to photograph the Forelands both from the air and on the ground, and to do either of those things I would need to fly. The pilot best known in the area, and the one I had been told to contact was (Iron) Mike Ivers, and Mike proved to be not only a dependable pilot, but someone who offered many tidbits of advice, IF YOU WERE LISTENING! When we met Mike and I first described my project, he suggested a multi-day “loop” trip that would visit three different locations, in every instance utilizing US Forest Service cabins. He assured us we would be better off in cabins than tents because of the many moose and bear that might be encountered. The plan sounded good to us, so we were off to the first location, near to the shore of the Alsek-Tatshenshini River and on the flattest part of the Foreland plain. In this picture, lines of mostly deciduous trees wind through meadows and swampy areas, as the Alsek flows right to left, toward the Pacific. St. Elias is in the distance, and just adjacent the big “O”- shaped braid in the river (near center of pic) there is a cabin in the treeline and a dirt runway cut into the large meadow behind it. This will be our first stop.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #2:
The Yakutat Forelands, #2:  Yakutat is a small community of less than 700 people, but interestingly in the vast scale of Alaska, it is one of the largest counties in the US. The city sits at the mouth of Yakutat Bay, a relatively protected harbor, surrounded by Forelands and at the foot of the massive coastal range. At the deepest point of the bay, it connects to Russell Fjord and the Hubbard Glacier, America’s largest tidewater glacier. As the Forelands spread north of Yakutat, you truly enter a world of Alaskan superlatives: the first encounter is the spreading braids of the massive Alsek-Tatshenshini River flowing out of Canada to the Pacific; then comes the Malaspina, the largest piedmont glacier IN THE WORLD. Now in significant retreat, the Malaspina was 1,500-square-miles in size at one point, and THIS is an amazing thing to fly above; just past that (and visible here) is Icy Bay, another large bay like Yakutat, but created quite recently by epic glacial retreat (it is now 30-miles deep); and lastly, Icy Bay brings you directly to the foot of Mount St. Elias, at 18,008ft, the second tallest summit in North America, AND the greatest vertical rise from sea level in the world. The massif of St. Elias also defines the western boundary of Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and Preserve which includes the Malaspina and Hubbard glaciers. Wrangell-St. Elias is not only our largest national park, it is the largest designated wilderness as well. All of this is VERY accessible because, although small, the Yakutat airport is serviced by major daily flights, AND in keeping with the Alaskan “welcome,” as your plane begins to land, you will notice one of the large hangar roofs painted in bold letters: “FOOD, BOOZE, BEDS."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #1:
The Yakutat Forelands, #1:   The Yakutat Forelands are the northernmost extension of the Tongass National Forest and mark the point of transition into the Chugach National Forest farther to the north. If you follow my blogs, you will learn that I first came up into the Tongass rainforest on a commission from the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund. They hoped my photographs could better define this little known area in the public mind, and bring attention to forestry management practices they felt were destructive to this rare temperate rainforest habitat. As the Forelands were part of the Tongass, I felt I should “see” them as I understood the terrain to be very different from the mountainous islands of the Inside Passage that were blanketed by the huge, dense, old growth trees of the Tongass. The Forelands face DIRECTLY into the Gulf of Alaska and take some furious weather. The forest here struggles more and is somewhat stunted. There are many more deciduous trees and broad meadows of grass and brush. The landscape is MUCH MORE open and exposed. This is the Alsek-Tatshenshini river. It has flowed from Canada to the Pacific through the massive coastal range, and it forms the division between Glacier Bay National Park to the south, and Wrangell-St.Elias National Park to the north. In the future, I will have an important relationship with this river which I tell the story of in this blog TATSHENSHINI:  Saving a River Wild, but for the moment I am just flight-seeing the Forelands to get a sense of them BEFORE WE LAND AND CAMP.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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