Svalbard: Lilliehook Glacier

The first morning out….August 20, 2015, Svalbard.

After a rough night sailing through stormy arctic seas (motion sickness medicine was a lifesaver).  The ship, Sea Spirit, made its way through the Krossfjord and King’s Bay, finally entering Lilliehöökfjorden. We dropped anchor and manned the zodiacs to explore the Lilliehöök Glacier. We faced a horseshoe shaped wall of ice. 7 km across, 80m tall, and stretching to the horizon with jagged peaks poking through the ice and clouds.  

Arctic, beluga, birds, glacier, ice, icebergs, Krossfjord, lilliehook, Spitsbergen, svalbard, whales, wildlife
Lilliehook Fjord, massive glacier bay with mountains poking into the clouds, and ice stretching as far as the eye can see.

The only place ice didn’t meet the sea was where a mountain stood instead. In-between these mountains, glaciers spilled out into the fjord.  At least 14 glaciers!  This was the biggest glacier bay I had ever been in.  Of course, this “accomplishment” would soon be “defeated” by other, more massive fjords of Svalbard, it doesn’t detract from the impression this fjord made on me.

The green-blue water was silky smooth and looked thick with glacial silt.  The underwater housing was working, but the  “thickness” of the glacial water limited visibility. Nonetheless, I practiced using this new piece of equipment.  Afterall, this was my first time doing underwater photography in the field!  A bearded seal swam lazily around the smooth water, coming close to a zodiac that I was not in.  Shortly after spotting the seal, a pod of beluga whales surfaced for a few minutes, before diving deep and moving on. 

In terms of photography, the stop in Lilliehöök provided a gentle warm up session to get into that “photo-mindset”. Not all the zodiac expeditions would be nearly as smooth and easy.  In fact, many times the arctic sea conditions were not conducive to producing interesting photography, that is, unless the photographer was adequately prepared and exercised sound judgement in the field….For me the learning process never ends. and the conditions I experienced in Svalbard forced me to re-evaluate and adjust some of my preparations.

Alaska: Kenai Fjords NP

Part 1 Kenai Fjords + Seward

The September Alaska photo expedition began in Anchorage where my parents, who were on their way back from a week in Denali, picked me up. The time here was spent hiking, hunting for wildlife, and taking a boat ride to view Fjords from the sea.

Day 1- Anchorage to Whittier, Portage Glacier hike
Day 2- Seward, Exit Glacier hike. Kenai Fjords National Park
Day 3- Seward, tour of Northwestern glacier and fjord. Kenai Fjords National Park

The definite highlights of this portion of the trip was the Exit Glacier hike to the Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjord National Park. This is a beautiful, but relatively strenuous, 8-9 mile dayhike with a 3000 foot elevation change. However, the rewards for this trek are plenty.  Wildlife dotted the hillsides, and the view of the Harding Icefield is spectacular.  Ice stretching to the horizon as far as you can see, with mountain peaks poking through. 

The next day was a Kenai Fjord boat tour.   9 hours in length, it leaves Resurrection Bay  and hugs the coastline all the way down to Northwestern Fjord/Glacier. The views afforded from a seaside vantage point were spectacular. This is one place that is best experienced from the water (unless you are an expert glacier traverser).  The only way to improve on this boat experience is to go by kayak, gliding silently between the icebergs and camp on some isolated beach.  Wildlife was also abundant. Wildlife photography from a boat is typically never easy, and when you are using a fixed 600mm lens with 1.4x extender, the challenges are increased even further. But despite this, I was able to get get some decent bird, seal, sea lion, and orca photos. However, my mom was able to capture a couple orca breaches! Very jealous of that!

The Seward area is tucked into a bay surrounded by seaside mountains, therefore there isn’t much sunrise or sunset light getting the ground, save for the highest peaks.  But each night I was take walks and use this period of gentle light to search for eagles in the surrounding areas.  I was even able to use the fiery sunset colors with some eagle “headshots”.