Grizzly Creek And The Hayes Range

 
 Sunrise on Mt. Moffit (left) and Mt. Hayes (right, behind clouds), viewed from a ridge across the Delta River near Black Rapids.

Sunrise on Mt. Moffit (left) and Mt. Hayes (right, behind clouds), viewed from a ridge across the Delta River near Black Rapids.

The "Hayes Range" roughly stretches from McGinnis Peak to Mount Deborah in the eastern Alaska Range and is named after its tallest member, the 13,832-foot Mount Hayes. These mountains are some of the most striking and beautiful in Alaska, featuring impressive vertical relief, huge faces, and ice-capped summits. While the Hayes Range commands the attention of anyone driving between Fairbanks and Paxson along the Richardson Highway, these mountains have a distinct lack of notoriety beyond locals, and very few Alaska photographers bother shooting them. This summer I made it my goal to take some inspiring shots of the Hayes Range.

The trifecta of McGinnis Peak, Mt. Moffit, and Mt. Hayes dominates the view as you drive south from Delta Junction. To catch these mountains in optimal light at their closest approach to a road, I climbed a ridge near Black Rapids to position myself for sunrise. The ridge I chose sits sandwiched between two officially unnamed creeks, though one is labeled "One Mile Creek" by a highway sign and the other is labeled "Grizzly Creek" by a pipeline sign. I started hiking up Grizzly Creek before sunset, noting that the flow had increased significantly since May. 

 Sunset lights up clearing rain clouds over "Grizzly Creek", one of many scenic mountain creeks near Black Rapids along the Richardson Highway. 

Sunset lights up clearing rain clouds over "Grizzly Creek", one of many scenic mountain creeks near Black Rapids along the Richardson Highway. 

I turned up a poorly marked hunting trail which led above tree line. After sunset, the sky dimmed slightly but the warm glow of civil twilight persisted on the northern horizon. Around 1:30 a.m. I noticed the sky was starting to brighten again, and soon the clouds hovering above the Alaska Range began glowing shades of pink. I reached my planned vantage point on the ridge above a false summit just in time to catch the alpenglow on the Hayes Range across the river.

 Sunrise on the big mountains of the eastern Alaska Range.

Sunrise on the big mountains of the eastern Alaska Range.

I was expecting completely clear skies at sunrise but the clouds swirling around McGinnis Peak and Mount Hayes added some welcome drama to the sunrise scene. As the pink light began turning orange I started hiking higher along the ridge toward the ridgeline separating the Delta River valley from the Jarvis Glacier valley. I stopped at several locations along the way to take some self-portraits using a timer and marvel at the steep cliffs on the south side of the ridge. The view of Black Rapids Glacier was rather impressive as well.

 View of Black Rapids Glacier. In winter, I cross the frozen lake at the terminus to explore ice caves and other formations in the glacier moraine.

View of Black Rapids Glacier. In winter, I cross the frozen lake at the terminus to explore ice caves and other formations in the glacier moraine.

After climbing roughly 4800 feet Mount Silvertip suddenly came into view and Jarvis Glacier appeared thousands of feet below as I topped out on the ridgeline. At 7:00 a.m. it was definitely below freezing at 7000 feet elevation and I had to put on my heavy sweatshirt while I rested and took in the view for an hour or two. The sun was beginning to warm things up by the time I started descending and the clouds over the Hayes Range had disappeared. 

 The Jarvis Glacier valley. "Item Peak" is shining in the sun at upper left; the base of Mt. Silvertip is in the shade at left.

The Jarvis Glacier valley. "Item Peak" is shining in the sun at upper left; the base of Mt. Silvertip is in the shade at left.

On the way down I hoped for a lucky Dall sheep encounter on the ridge, but I only spotted sheep on the ridge opposite Grizzly Creek where I couldn't frame the mountains in the background. I explored a series of waterfalls along Grizzly Creek below the false summit, and there was some lingering ice covering portions of the creek which glowed a captivating aquamarine color from underneath. 

 Snow-turned-to-ice melts along "Grizzly Creek" with the Hayes Range in the background.

Snow-turned-to-ice melts along "Grizzly Creek" with the Hayes Range in the background.

Later this summer I plan to cross the Delta River for more shots of the Hayes Range from close distance. I hope to get at least one perfect day like this while I'm out there.

 McGinnis Peak (left), Mt. Moffit (center), and Mt. Hayes (right).

McGinnis Peak (left), Mt. Moffit (center), and Mt. Hayes (right).

 

How To Spot A Fake Aurora Photo!

 

As a photographer, nothing irks me more than when another photographer tries to pass off a fake composite image as real. I'm not talking about HDR photography or image stacking, but rather when a photographer blends two or more different compositions together to create an image of a scene that never existed and conveniently forgets to mention that when they post the image publicly. 

Here's an example of a fake aurora photo by an amateur Alaska photographer popular on Instagram, way more popular than the distinguished professional Alaska photographers I follow:

FAKE.jpg

Wow, what a wondrous image of the aurora over the city of Palmer, Alaska! In fact, it's one of the best aurora images I've ever seen! But wait, why did the photographer wait until July 26 to post this shot, about three months after aurora photography is no longer possible at this latitude in Alaska? If you took a jaw-dropping image like this, wouldn't you post it immediately? Seems a bit strange...

In the comments someone asks where the photo was taken and the photographer responds, "Hatcher Pass. Had friend stay by camera half way up Independence Mine and I walked down to where I'm standing in the picture." Hmm, so you left it up to your friend to take this amazing shot and somehow the composition and exposure turned out perfectly, even though the aurora could have shifted and changed brightness during the time you were walking? Must have been lucky, I guess. 

Hold on a second, though...If you're in Hatcher Pass looking toward Palmer, wouldn't you be facing due south? This must have been one crazy show if the northern lights rose in the south in a formation that looks like a typical aurora band over the northern horizon. And you must have been using a fairly long focal length for the mountains in the distance to look so big, which means this must have been a really short exposure to prevent star trails. But if this were a really short exposure, then why are there so many bright stars? And those clouds in the distance must have been moving really fast to appear so blurry.

Something else doesn't look right. Moonlight is illuminating the eastern faces of the mountains, but it isn't illuminating the clouds? And if the moon is bright enough to light up the landscape in this image, why is the sky so dark? Moonlight is scattered by the sky just like sunlight and will make the sky look blue in a long exposure. 

Let's see, I could definitively prove this image is fake by identifying the stars in the sky and demonstrating they could never appear in that direction...or I can just scroll through your Instagram feed to find these:

Fake1.jpg
Fake2.jpg

These two photos look awfully familiar. Notice in the first (which serves as the foreground in the fake photo, albeit with additional processing) that the sky is a shade of blue and there are only a few visible stars, which are leaving trails across the sky. In the second, notice the mountains in the foreground look much smaller and darker than in the fake photo, and the clouds appear much closer. 

Unfortunately, Instagram and other social media platforms are full of amateur photographers who are only interested in building a large following and some of them are willing to dupe their thousands of followers for the sake of gaining more. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is! 

For tips on creating REAL aurora images, read my free Aurora Photography Guide.
Interested in Aurora Borealis Photography ToursContact me for more information!