Chris Burkard Travel #2
Lessons learned from my trip to Denali National Park and Ruth Glacier in Alaska!
I’ve been to Alaska a few times now, with most of my time spent on the coastlines hunting for cold-water waves with a crew of excited surfers. I have wanted to explore the heart of the state for a long time; it’s one of the few places on earth that still feels wild and completely untouched, especially in the United States. When you step off the plane you feel as if you’ve been transported back hundreds of years. It’s a special place that I always get excited about exploring.
On this particular trip I spent most of my time in Denali National Park. Even though it’s just a small part of what the state has to offer, I feel like you could spend a lifetime exploring this area alone. As prepared as you may feel for a trip, spending time outdoors always seems to teach me something new. I’ve prepared a few favorite “lessons” that I’ve learned from my time in Denali and the surrounding area. Hopefully they help you out on your next trip, whether it’s to Alaska or not!
1. Polarizers are your friend!
While I came prepared, it’s all too easy to catch yourself without a polarizer. You either don’t have one that fits the lens you want to shoot with, forget to switch it between lenses, or simply don’t throw one in your kit before you leave. To avoid all this I keep them on all my cameras pretty much all the time. That’s how much I love them. People think all polarizers do is create super blue skies and puffy white clouds, but that’s only part of it. They also cut reflections! When you are shooting in a place with as much ice, water, foliage, and rock as Alaska has, getting details from what otherwise would have been reflective white areas in my photos is too good to pass up!
“I’ve prepared a few favorite “lessons” that I’ve learned from my time in Denali and the surrounding area.”
2. Don’t use a photo specific pack; get a pack designed for the activity
During my time in Alaska we hiked to the infamous Don Sheldon Mountain Hut deep in the Ruth Glacier. It’s arguably one of the most scenic, spectacularly situated cabins in the world, and possibly one of the most remote as well. Once you get there you are blessed with beautiful panoramic views of expansive mountains and glaciers. . It’s a tough place take a BAD photo, but the hard part was getting there.
After being dropped off by a Cessna in the middle of Ruth Glacier, you have to hike into the hut. With multiple exposed traverses it’s not the place you want to be thinking about uncomfortable camera packs. I used a cross-country ski pack for this trip. It’s designed to carry equipment in snow and over long distances. How could you go wrong?
“I think it’s important to research for sure, but don’t get so caught up in the research and the “plan” that you don’t let those magical moments unfold before you naturally.”
3. RESEARCH, but don’t be afraid to let happenstance be the best part of your trip
I put countless hours into researching before a trip. From locations, activities, travel time, the best time of year to go, weather conditions, and transportation. It can get a bit daunting at times. And after all this preparation you still find yourself up against the unknown. But that’s what keeps bringing me back to travel and the outdoors.
I think it’s important to research for sure, but don’t get so caught up in the research and the “plan” that you don’t let those magical moments unfold before you naturally. One of the highlights of my last trip to Alaska was unplanned. We were driving to get to the next location and we saw hints of the Aurora Borealis peeking through the clouds. We decided to wait it out, even though we weren’t sure the clouds would clear, and run the risk of not making it to our next shooting location on time. Thankfully we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular show’s I’ve ever witnessed.
4. Don’t worry about your camera, keep it easily accessible
Not only is it more likely for you to capture those magical moments that suddenly appear when you have your camera on you, you also simply just shoot more (which is always a good thing). Additionally, when you are shooting somewhere as cold as Alaska, having your camera alternate from warm bag to a cold environment will cause your lens to constantly fog up. This will ruin more shots than you can imagine. It may be hard for you to have you camera exposed to nature but trust me, you’re photography will thank you (even though your camera might not!).
5. Be prepared for wildlife
When researching Alaska before my trip everyone kept referencing the wildlife and how careful you had to be. Definitely don’t take this lightly. Alaska is home to over 30,000 grizzly bears and some weigh up to 700 pounds. They mean business. I ended up getting bear repellent when I landed and while I never ended up using it, we saw our fair share, and it definitely helped my peace of mind knowing I had it, just in case.
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