Although I had only three summits, one rising sun, and an infinite sea of clouds to focus on, it was impossible to take it all in. It became difficult to separate this moment from a dream. As we banked to the left, and Mt. Hunter (pictured here) passed along side us, the clouds opened broke and revealed what we had come to see…..
As we broke through the clouds the fear of not seeing the summit were erased. Even more vast than forest below, the sea of clouds stretched across the horizon. We were alone in the sky with the summits of Mt. Foraker, Hunter, and McKinley. The otter’s engine drowned out the sound of voices as it struggled to gain altitude. I had to share this moment with someone. I looked back, but Shauna was busy making this image, all I could do was turn to Richard and say…”This is so F#@%ing awesome!” I’m pretty sure he read my lips because he grinned and gave me a thumbs up. We continued to circle in this sea of clouds as we approached the island in the sky…..
Once we had settled into the flight and gotten over the surprise of how fast we had taken to the skies, we began to come to terms with our surroundings. As our otter lumbered along, the vastness of the Alaskan forest expanded before us. Had I not been sitting in the co-pilot seat, I would have thought the forest was never ending. However, I could see ahead, and it was clear the forest ended at the base of mountains we were flying towards. The approach was slow. I watched as rivers cut wide swaths trough the trees below. I was able to take my time and scan the banks for grizzlies. I was alarmed by the sound of rain spattering against the windshield. It was a subtle reminder of how exposed our tiny aircraft was to the whims of nature. As we passed what our pilot called the foothills of Denali, I looked on in awe. Any other place in the world, this image is of a mountain, a final destination. Today, it was simply a foothill. A small stepping stone along our journey to a something three times its size. In front of us, hidden behind a low ceiling of thick gray clouds, was a mountain standing over 20,000 feet tall. We couldn’t see it. We didn’t know if we would see it. Our pilot reassured us that Denali was directly ahead……
Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) is big. Actually, it is huge! When we circled the peak, our pilot noted our altitude as around 12,000ish feet. That means, the summit we were staring up at towered another 10,000 above our small aircraft. Thoreau or Emerson might have been able to put in to words the sheer magnitude and scale of this mountain. I only have my camera. Over the next 5 days, I will be posting images of our approach to Denali. I hope I can do with my camera, what they would have with words. Heck, I would be happy if my camera could do half of what Thoreau did. Stay tuned for our flight through the foothills, the island in a sea of clouds, final approach, and a lucky break.
For the Adventurers: If you are ever considering visiting Denali and are looking for a quality flight operation, I would recommend Talkeetna Air Taxi. We had an incredibly long and scenic flight. Also, our pilot Richard lands on a glacier like Sully lands on the Hudson…smooooooth!
For the Photographers: I have been part of the new Nik HDR Efex Pro beta test team and using it for several months. This image was completely created using the most recent beta version of the toolset. I got the OK from Nik to post a couple of processing screenshots. You can find them over on twitter. Again, this is only a beta release so there are still some pending cosmetic and preset naming convention changes. I will continue to post information and impressions until the release date. As of now, I can say that is is all that you would think it would be coming from Nik. Intuitive, powerful, and fits very nicely into my workflow.
After a quick review of the camera’s controls, and a lesson in polarization, I turned my wife Shauna loose in a small airplane (an otter to be exact) for a flight around the summit of Mt. McKinley. I knew she had the eye, I just didn’t know how good her eye was. When we landed and reviewed our images, she thought I would dig this one. She was right, I’m pretty sure everyone else is going to like too. There is a good chance you might be seeing more of her work in the future.