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Wednesday, March 29, 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, March 29, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #12:
The Yakutat Forelands, #12:  The “mission” for the day is to get UP into the meadows where we might encounter mountain goats grazing. Food eaten, gun loaded, gear on, and we are out the door. We decide to follow the path to our water stream, cross the stream, and continue on to the next water we can hear. From our POV, it looks like that other river is close to the base of the meadows into which we hope to ascend. The stream we are drinking from is shallow and simple to cross, but after that there is no clear path and progress becomes a bushwhack. The distance is greater than we expect, and the bush becomes denser and taller than we would like, because we are now wandering around in some infamous moose and bear-hunting territory and we can barely see 10ft in any direction. The weather is kind, but the terrain is not, and then suddenly we crash through the thicket onto the stone-strewn banks of a much larger river and the view opens. We are at the foot of the Brabazons looking up into stunning, verdant meadows. Mark felt the need to take off his glasses to affirm what he was seeing. Then, just when we thought it could not get much better, a large group of goats and their kids grazes out into the middle of the greenery, and starts lying about chewing,..and watching us.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #11:
The Yakutat Forelands, #11:  There is a party of 4 hunters from Texas already at the Tanis Mesa cabin when we arrive, and they will be flying out with Mike after he drops us. We spoke with them about their hunt as they had no meat hanging, and they explained they had come for goat, and they could scope them EVERY night up in the meadows of the Brabazons, rising above the Mesa to the east, but the goats were VERY far away, and even with a successful long shot, they did not want to kill something they could not retrieve. They admitted they never found a way to get UP into the meadows. They DID say the knoll was a great view. Our gear came out of the plane, and their’s went in, after which Mike Ivers took off, to be back in three days. The cabin is spacious and warms quickly, once we start a fire. It rains on and off, so after getting organized, we eat lunch and go outside for a walk around. We are surrounded by a thick, brushy landscape of shrubs, grasses and a few trees, but there is more forest as we move away from the cabin. The established paths take us from the cabin to the runway, and then from the runway, through the scrub, to the shore of a glacial-melt, azure-blue stream where we will get our drinking water. Beyond that there is more of a forest, and we can hear the sound of larger water. After a water-carry back to the cabin, we chill for the day, and prep daypacks for tomorrow. It continues to rain on-and-off through dinner and into the night, so we eat and sleep well, waking ready to go early the next day.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #10:
The Yakutat Forelands, #10:  Morning brought a high ceiling and broken clouds, so we knew our pilot, Mike Ivers, would be on his way to our beach “house” to pick us up and take us to the last location in our exploration of the Yakutat Forelands, Tanis Mesa. Our first stop on this trip was a cabin near the shore of the Alsek-Tatshenshini river, the area of which is overviewed in post #3. Look carefully at that post again now, and you will notice that directly above the “O” shape in the river, at the base of the snow-covered peaks, there is a green, elevated, flat-topped “foothill” leading to the mountains in the Brabazon Range. THAT is Tanis Mesa. In this picture you can see Tanis Mesa cabin; the brown, open shed for hanging game; and the path to the small dirt runway, then the Brabazons rise. This may look like a wide expanse, but that is the effect of the lens. In fact, as Mike was telling us ON APPROACH, this is a really “tricky” place to land, because it is a short runway and there is an unpredictable mix of wind. Turbulence off of the Pacific flows east and UPSLOPE; cold air from the towering, summits of the St. Elias Range flows west, DOWNSLOPE. When and where they collide, is a dangerous zone and that is often over the mesa. BUT, Mike assures us, he flies in here all of the time and today it is “not too bad.” He also notes we should ignore the crash wreckage of two other planes that we will see in the trees at the end of the runway. Again, in these final moments before landing, Mike is throwing out “advice” about what we might expect and want to do. One of those is to summit a knoll near the cabin, a high point used by hunters to scope the terrain (not visible here - beneath the plane). Another is to climb into the meadows of the Brabazons (sunlit in this photograph) where we will get close to mountain goats. Bouncing around a lot from buffeting winds, just as we touch down he mentions getting UP INTO the meadows is tough, and the ONLY access point is a small trail in the trees starting at the END OF THE RUNWAY. We “sort of” hear that, but the wheels hit dirt, we breath some relief, and the work of unloading the plane begins, pushing Mike’s advice to the subliminal corners of our brains.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #9:
The Yakutat Forelands, #9:  It stormed all night and into the morning, so no one was in too much of a hurry to get out of their sleeping bags. Because of the unrelenting weather, it also remained dark and dreary. Hanging by the fire and keeping it well stoked became a pastime. This was supposed to be the day our pilot, Mike Ivers, thought the weather would break, but that did not appear to be the case at the moment. Somewhere around noon, the rain and wind ceased yet again, but this time when we looked out, you could actually see blue sky and some sunshine. Even though we had gone in and out all morning for some short excursions, we all had cabin fever and wanted to do something more adventurous, so we immediately threw together our daypacks and snacks, donned gear, and headed out the door, due west. The Pacific shore or bust! Do you recall in post #6, I closed by saying, “It is a BIG beach!” Well, THAT was prescient. We walk and we wander. We stare. We collect “stuff.” The cabin disappears from view. The berms begin to disappear. Who knew you might need a compass/GPS on a beach! We can always follow our own tracks home, as long as it does not rain or get windy - LOL! We can hear the Pacific and see the horizon, but the actual shore is still a good distance. As it tuns out, experienced hunters on the forelands come here with ATV’s to get around. I get it! Slowly the evening skyshow begins, so we terminate our destination march, and hunker down out of the breeze behind some logs to watch the sunset unfold. There were some moments, like this, when long, golden rays would break through and light up the landscape, but the horizon remained cloudy so there was no sunset spectacle to be had, and once we saw the descending twilight start, it was time to find the cabin, eat some food, and get organized for a promised plane pick-up in the morning that would take us to our third forelands destination, Tanis Mesa.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Adventuring on the Yakutat Forelands - Bowing before St. Elias, #8:
The Yakutat Forelands, #8:  With long Alaskan twilights, we did not want to have our actual dinner too early, but by waiting out bad weather burst, we clearly over-snacked and needed to go back outside and walk around some more, so the gods provided. Following our now-often-repeated ritual of donning the fleece, rain-gear, and knee-high rubber boots, we opened the cabin door to find a clearly defined line of passage through the grasses just behind the cabin and bare sand spots sporting large bear prints. We reasoned that we should go in the exact opposite direction as quickly as possible, and so we headed out onto the expanse of the beach and began a walk toward the Pacific shore. As our pilot, Mike Ivers, pointed out, "at least out here you can see the bear coming.” Unfortunately, you could also see that if a bear WAS coming, there was certainly no place for you to go. With that happy thought in mind, we wandered on. The sand was firm, so walking was not difficult, and the further we got from the cabin and our berm, the less and less vegetation there was. We have now entered the twilight (zone), and the sky is illuminated and bright, but the sun has gone down. The wet beach looks almost like the black sand in Hawaii, but the landscape still has color and we can see clearly in all directions. The rain and wind have mercifully stopped, and it is actually eerily silent. Then, all of us notice this at once. Hard not to. For the three of us, it was as if someone turned on a light inside of it. This is one of my favorite Cibachrome prints, because the 3-dimensionality of the print REALLY makes this float and glow like it was that evening. This is, “Luminous Drift Log, Yakutat.” The weathered, water polished log has become a mirror to the light of the bright evening sky, but I am not sure we knew that at the moment of this picture. Soon thereafter, it grew dark more quickly, so we beat our retreat to the cabin. We never made the Pacific shore, so that would be tomorrow’s destination.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd
SOCIAL MEDIA by #LittleBearProd: http://www.LittleBearProd.com
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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 mosquitos, 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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