Preparation

Northern Lights

After Iceland in march I’m determined to try again to photograph the Northern Lights. It’s so beautiful and special. March/april and september/october are the best months.

At first I had in mind to return to Iceland, but because I also want to go back there sometime in june for the nice soft light at night, it’s better to travel somewhere else this time.

Alaska

Alaska has been on my wishlist for years, but everytime something else came in between. A couple of months before departure I read an article about the beautiful autumn tundra colors in september and that triggered a green light to go.

Immediately ordered a pile of books and scanned the internet, because I didn’t know that much about it. Alaska is about three time bigger than France and all roads are concentrated in the south east, except for one road towards the north ending in the Beaufort Sea, there are no roads.

Most of the villages and cities at the south coast are connected via 8000 kilometers of ferries, the Alaska Marine Highway System. The waterway starts in the east in Canada and ends in the south west of Alaska in Dutch Harbor, also known from Deadliest Catch of Discovery Channel.

In the middle south is Katmai National Park, famous for the large Kodiak bears.

There are only 700.000 people living in Alaska, half of which in Anchorage and there are many brown-, black and polar bears, various types of whales, seals, sea-lions, walrusses, sea-otters, beavers, bisons, moose, reindeers and deers.

The problem with traveling in Alaska is that everything is so far away. More than 75% of the state can only be reached with airplanes and they will drop you in the middle of raw nature. There is no civilization out there, no safety-net, nothing. Irresponsible to go there without experience. Even the part that can be traveled with a car, can not easily be compared with other parts of the United States. Fewer things have been arranged and it’s more wild.

These bears have been in my head for the last few months. I do know the feeling too well from a couple of years ago in Canada. The first few hundred meters going into a forest are fine, but it becomes a complete different thing when going further. They also appear in places where you don’t expect them: the parkinglot, only 10 meters from your car.

Bears see us as bears and typically not as food. Which means you have to behave like a bear and not as pray by running away fast, for instance. I’ve again read a lot about it and it’s a quite simple list you have to follow. Good to know. Apart from that I keep as close as possible to ’better safe than sorry’. No unnecessary risks for a couple of photographs.

Rocky Mountains and Yellowknife

Because I would like to have several opportunities to see the Northern Lights (september and october), I’ve decided to do one long trip of 5.5 weeks, even two days longer than Australia last year. This would be far too much for a first visit to Alaska and when I read that the autumn colors start around half august in the north, arrive in the south around half september and the first half of october in Canada (apart from the mountains of course, because there they will arrive sooner), the combination was only natural.

The Rocky Mountains that I visited three years ago in spring, are beautiful by the end of september and first weeks of october as well: Alaska + Canada it will be. The best (for flexibility) would be to rent a car in Alaska and to return it in Canada, but this is not allowed. Renting a car in Canada but close to the border with Alaska proves difficult as well, so I will have to fly in between.

It took long to figure everything out and actually I still haven’t finished. I do have a list of locations I intend to visit and information about things I can see there, but the route and the time it will take, I have not. I have seen the Rocky Mountains extensively already, so this time can be more brief: only the nice spots and places that were closed last time because of the snow. Yellowknife in the north is famous for its Northern Lights displays, so that’s another place I do want to visit. Have thought about adding a week Vancouver Island as well, but I think it’s better to visit this separately. I have come up with 27 days Alaska and 10 days Canada.

Later I find out that lots of facilities in Alaska close down around half september because of the approaching winter and that weather becomes more problematic towards the end of september as well. Usually I check these things beforehand, but this time I haven’t thought about it. It’s sofar north, almost 3000 kilometers higher than Calgary. About the same latitude as Iceland by the way but that has an ocean climate and thus cannot be compared. No idea how this is going to develop, but we shall see. Maybe I’ll have to switch to a plan B but I will find out about that later.

Difficult choice still to make is that glaciers and sea animals can be seen in the south, where all excursions end around the 15e while the tundra colors turn red in the north at the same time. Despite that, I’ll aim for the south, unless weather will prevent it. So, this will be a dynamical itinerary, possibly to be rescheduled at a daily basis. I cannot think of an alternative at the moment.

edit