McGinnis Glacier June 2019

 
Sunrise on Mount Moffit’s southeast face, viewed from a pass near McGinnis Glacier.

Sunrise on Mount Moffit’s southeast face, viewed from a pass near McGinnis Glacier.

I returned to McGinnis Glacier in early June to photograph the big mountains of the eastern Alaska Range from close distance. McGinnis Glacier is easily reachable in a day, but the Delta River crossing adds extra complexity to the trek and a bit of danger — especially for my camera gear. As I hiked to the edge of the river carrying my pack raft, I spotted bison resting on the far side of the river next to McGinnis Creek. After I floated across, the bison eventually noticed me and moved away toward the brush. I followed the ATV trail on the north side of the creek above tree line, then veered off toward the glacier.

The first time I hiked up McGinnis Creek, I didn’t know the ATV trail existed so I fought through 1000 vertical feet of steep, dense forest.

View of the Delta River looking upstream at the McGinnis Creek crossing point.

View of the Delta River looking upstream at the McGinnis Creek crossing point.

I ditched the tent on this trip to save weight. I brought my rain gear and made note of a few places I could shelter along my route just in case, but the weather forecast was good and I planned to hike overnight and sleep during the day, so I wasn’t worried about staying warm. If the mountain weather stayed nice on Day 2, I was considering heading to Trident Glacier as well. If not, I would just head home.

The mosquitoes harassed me constantly as I plodded across the wet tundra. Clouds rolled over the summits of McGinnis Peak and Mount Moffit in the distance, but I expected them to clear later.

Hiking over tundra toward McGinnis Glacier with McGinnis Peak (left), an unnamed 10K+ foot mountain (center), and Mt. Moffit (right) looming in the distance.

Hiking over tundra toward McGinnis Glacier with McGinnis Peak (left), an unnamed 10K+ foot mountain (center), and Mt. Moffit (right) looming in the distance.

As I gained elevation after sunset I noticed ice forming on the surface of the small tundra puddles. I threw on a pair of light gloves to keep my hands warm, but I stuck with shorts until I reached a pass near the glacier where I put on my heavy layers. Sunrise was still an hour away, but the sun began lighting up the clouds over the horizon well beforehand.

View of Granite Mountain at sunrise. Granite Mountain dominates the southeast horizon from Delta Junction and Fort Greely, sitting across the Richardson Highway from Donnelly Dome.

View of Granite Mountain at sunrise. Granite Mountain dominates the southeast horizon from Delta Junction and Fort Greely, sitting across the Richardson Highway from Donnelly Dome.

The clouds over McGinnis Peak, Mount Moffit and Mount Hayes cleared overnight but just before sunrise new clouds appeared in the sky, interfering with the mountain alpenglow. I caught a few good sunrise shots but not exactly what I desired. All the smaller peaks of “the Deltas” were visible (Silvertip, Institute Peak, White Princess, etc.) as well as Donnelly Dome and Granite Mountain across the river, and I even spotted Mount Sanford glowing over 110 miles away to the southeast.

Crisscrossing ridges at sunrise. Mount Moffit is at upper right.

Crisscrossing ridges at sunrise. Mount Moffit is at upper right.

The thick slabs of ice hanging above the steep east wall of McGinnis Peak are quite intimidating when viewed from near McGinnis Glacier. The same goes for Mount Moffit’s massive southeast face. The level of detail visible on these mountains from the Richardson Highway just doesn’t compare.

McGinnis Peak’s summit glows at sunrise.

McGinnis Peak’s summit glows at sunrise.

Patchy clouds moved in and blocked the rest of the early morning light on the mountains. The sun would briefly light up small pieces of the landscape for the next several hours, but the clear, sunny morning I expected didn’t happen. I hiked to the edge of a steep scree slope overlooking above McGinnis Glacier to rest for awhile, hoping the clouds would clear by the afternoon so I could catch some more shots I had in mind.

Pausing for a selfie.

Pausing for a selfie.

McGinnis Glacier is almost entirely covered by rock debris. I crossed it last summer and it’s one of the most rugged glaciers I’ve traversed.

View of McGinnis Glacier.

View of McGinnis Glacier.

I spied about a dozen Dall sheep grazing on the slope a couple hundred feet below me. I watched them cross the scree and play around on a steep rock outcropping, then descend out of view toward the glacier. I began descending toward the rock outcropping when I spotted a ram resting just a couple dozen feet below me near some rocks. He heard me and disappeared quickly down the slope, only to emerge a short time later accompanied by several more rams. They ambled away over the scree and parked themselves on an alpine meadow above the glacier, far out of reach.

Dall sheep ram sporting a full curl.

Dall sheep ram sporting a full curl.

From my mountain perch I could see the Delta River was bathed in sunshine, but dark clouds were drifting over my location. Soon, light hail started falling and I decided to retreat to the other side of the pass where the sun was still shining. I spotted some caribou on a snow patch about a half-mile away, but they disappeared while I took shelter under some rocks until the hail passed. When I neared the snow patch the caribou suddenly appeared out of nowhere again and they approached me. They passed back and forth closely several times while checking me out, giving me plenty of time to take pictures. They eventually walked away over the pass and I didn’t see them again.

Curious caribou.

Curious caribou.

The clouds had grown very dark in the direction of Trident Glacier so I nixed the idea of hiking there. I had brought enough food for a few nights but the mountain weather apparently wasn’t going to cooperate with my photography plans, so I decided to hike back to the Delta River. As I hiked down a ridge from the pass the hail resumed, dropping enough pea-sized stones to coat the ground in white. The hail mostly bounced off me so I stayed relatively dry, though it did sting my hands a bit. The sun was still shining on the tundra below and when I made it there I took a nap in some dry grass while the dark clouds continued swirling over the mountains where I had just been. I awoke a few hours later and the weather over the tundra had deteriorated, so I continued to the river and floated back to my car.

Hail on Alaska poppies.

Hail on Alaska poppies.

I’m looking forward to floating across the Delta River at least a couple more times this summer.

 

dead delta: the auto shop

 

This is the third installment of a photographic series called dead delta, which examines the shuttered, decaying, and derelict structures in Delta Junction, Alaska where I live. 

the auto shop

As you pass the old Clearwater Auto Center on Jack Warren Road it might not be obvious at first glance that the shop has been shuttered for decades. Except for a little rust, the metal exterior seems to be in good shape. However, the faded sign and the vegetation growing in front of the garage betray the property’s disuse. Out back is a junkyard full of dead vehicles, trailers, metal scrap, and tires. The cars and trucks seem almost artfully arranged, and the trees that have grown around them (or, in some cases, through them) help distinguish them as individual curiosities. Some of the vehicle models are long since extinct, and most of them appear to be from the 1960s or 1970s. A couple old Alaska license plates ironically display the state motto “North to the Future”. While most of the shop entrances are still chained or locked, one of the back doors has fallen off. Inside, it appears as if the shop was abandoned overnight. Shelves are still stocked with parts, notes are still pinned to a bulletin board, the office desk is full of records, a calendar still hangs on the wall…

As far as I can tell the shop closed in the early 1990s. The property is one big environmental hazard and liability so I doubt anyone would want to buy it, and it will probably continue to deteriorate for decades to come. Take a stroll through the junkyard and shop via the images below.

The faded sign on the front of the shop appears to be hand-drawn and includes the old phone number. The office window is boarded up and the front doors are locked. Power has been disconnected.

The faded sign on the front of the shop appears to be hand-drawn and includes the old phone number. The office window is boarded up and the front doors are locked. Power has been disconnected.

An eight-foot spruce tree grows through an old Chevy Impala.

An eight-foot spruce tree grows through an old Chevy Impala.

Many of the vehicles in the junkyard still contain bumper stickers, decals, and other additions like the shag carpet seat cover in this Datsun 1200 that recall the personal lives of their past owners.

Many of the vehicles in the junkyard still contain bumper stickers, decals, and other additions like the shag carpet seat cover in this Datsun 1200 that recall the personal lives of their past owners.

A rock on the hood of this truck was probably used for smashing windows. There are only a few intact windows among the dozens and dozens of vehicles in the junkyard.

A rock on the hood of this truck was probably used for smashing windows. There are only a few intact windows among the dozens and dozens of vehicles in the junkyard.

This Chevrolet Vega still features a Fort Greely decal. The Vega was last produced in 1977.

This Chevrolet Vega still features a Fort Greely decal. The Vega was last produced in 1977.

Some of the vehicles were hit by a graffiti artist. I found a homemade bong made out of a Smartwater bottle on one vehicle but other signs of partying and drug use were unexpectedly light.

Some of the vehicles were hit by a graffiti artist. I found a homemade bong made out of a Smartwater bottle on one vehicle but other signs of partying and drug use were unexpectedly light.

A modern art reference in an abandoned rural Alaska junkyard?

A modern art reference in an abandoned rural Alaska junkyard?

The graffiti inside the garage isn’t quite as refined.

The graffiti inside the garage isn’t quite as refined.

The 1991 calendar still hanging on the wall of the office was my best indication of when the shop last operated. I picked up one of the work orders scattered on the floor and the date entered was 1983. A soiled mattress with blankets in an adjacent room suggests one or more vagrants inhabited the building in the past, but not recently. Another room with a ragged couch and chair may have been a waiting area, but it’s now missing a wall and opens directly into the junkyard.

The 1991 calendar still hanging on the wall of the office was my best indication of when the shop last operated. I picked up one of the work orders scattered on the floor and the date entered was 1983. A soiled mattress with blankets in an adjacent room suggests one or more vagrants inhabited the building in the past, but not recently. Another room with a ragged couch and chair may have been a waiting area, but it’s now missing a wall and opens directly into the junkyard.

The garage is still stocked with parts and tools, some of them still neatly arranged on shelves. Insulation hangs from the ceiling and is scattered across the floor. The structure seems relatively stable but the sound of the breeze rattling the metal roofing was a bit concerning.

The garage is still stocked with parts and tools, some of them still neatly arranged on shelves. Insulation hangs from the ceiling and is scattered across the floor. The structure seems relatively stable but the sound of the breeze rattling the metal roofing was a bit concerning.

A custom sign with the business name still hangs next to a boarded window in the office area.

A custom sign with the business name still hangs next to a boarded window in the office area.