Dreaming Tracks

Reflections on the Endless Journey

Caribou Cabin
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (0)

3 caribou sporting majestic racks walking across the meadow

The weather the next morning was a bit dreary, with strong winds and light snow. The snowfall was juts enough to dust the mountaintops white, and it didn’t last long as the sun emerged from the clouds.

We took it easy that morning, enjoying the scenery from the warmth of the cabin sipping hot tea and eating cookies. When our guide, Thom, noticed a herd of caribou wandering into the valley, we eagerly bundled up and headed out the door, cameras in hand. We wandered outside to watch, then headed inside to warm up while watching the caribou through the windows. They were scattered across the valley, sometimes getting close enough for some good photographs, but most of the time staying a pretty good distance away.

That night, though we didn’t see them, we did hear some wolves howling. It was an eerie yet comforting sound, reminding me of hearing lion roars while in camp in the Serengeti.

Caribou in the meadow below snow-capped mountains

The caribou were still around the next morning. When the wind calmed a bit, we dragged the two canoes down to the lake and paddled across, heading across the bog and up to the point of one of the ridges overlooking the Continental Divide. There were several piles of fresh bear scat as well as a few fresh looking bear digs along the way, but we didn’t get to see the bears. The caribou were scattered all over the valley floor, in small groups of a few to a score.

The Gates of the Arctic
Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (0)

Climbing a small mountain in the evening.

The trip to Caribou Cabin in the Gates of the Arctic National Park was almost as fun as the visit itself. We first flew from Fairbanks to Bettles on a mail plane operated by Wright Air, and had some time to visit spend in Bettles. Bettles isn’t a big town by any means, but it’s a nice place for a short visit. Since the float planes don’t fly in inclement weather, we were concerned that the low clouds might prevent us from continuing onward, in which case we’d be staying in the Bettles lodge for a night. The lodge is pretty nice, and the folks operating are friendly, so it would have been a nice night, but we’d have missed out on a night in the Park.

While awaiting better weather and our float plane, we spent some time visiting with Zach Richter, the park ranger there. He runs one of the few ranger stations for the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and in case you’re wondering, Bettles is NOT in the Park. The Gates of the Arctic is a trackless wilderness, with no services, maintained trails, or support. It’s huge, dominated by the Brooks Range, and the photographs at the ranger station were very enticing; they were beautiful. Plus, it was great chatting with Zach, he was full of information about the park, and very happy to share. Through no fault of his, it made me impatient for the plane to arrive… because his descriptions of what we’d see got me all excited to see it :)

The folks at Brooks Range Aviation tracked us down by radio, calling the staff at the lodge and Zach, asking them to tell us to head on over. They trucked us over to the lake, loaded us into the Beaver, and flew us up to Iniakuk Lake. There we met Pat Gaedeke, who operates Iniakuk Lodge. We didn’t have time to check out Iniakuk Lodge unfortunately, because the flight windows can be pretty short. We picked up our guide, Tom along with his furry princess Dizzle, supplies for the weekend, and then got back in the plane. This time we flew up along the Alatna River valley to it headwaters, just below the Continental Divide.

We arrived pretty late, and having come from Fairbanks where the temperatures were pretty mild, weren’t dressed for the Arctic… so the first thing we did after unloading was get extra layers of clothing out of our packs and cozy up. Tom showed us around a bit after we got the wood stove in the cabin running, and then pulled the grates off of the windows and hooked up the propane for the heater.

We had sandwiches for lunch, and then since the weather was nice, headed out for a “short” trek to the Continental Divide.

This is where we got our first taste of hiking in the tundra. It’s slow going, pretty much no matter where you’re walking. The valleys are broad with nearly flat bottoms, and the mountainsides are steep.

The ground is also very, very wet. The tundra on the valley floor is quite soggy, and due to its flatness doesn’t drain particularly well, so the ground stays wet, especially near streams… and there are quite a few of those. Clean, pure water here is easy to find, and hard to stay out of. The grass growing in these wetlands clumps into tussocks, so it feels like walking on balls of squishy grass. Some are small, some are as large as bowling balls, and not all of them are particularly well anchored to the ground.

Since there aren’t any trails out here in this trackless wilderness, there’s a lot of freedom to wander around and explore. On the spur of the moment, we headed up a narrow valley and then decided to head up and over the mountain behind the cabin. It’s not a huge mountain by the standards of, say the North Cascades, being only about 1000 feet from valley to summit, but it’s steep. The ground was a mix of scree and soft soil, barely held together by grass, so it was very slow going. We tracked our own switch backs, seeking solid(ish) ground to walk on, while Dizzle with her 4 feet made it look nice and easy.

I captured this image here when we neared the top of the mountain. The views were stunning, and we even got some rainbows, and even the brief snowfall didn’t dampen our spirits.

Climb for Clean Air: The Climb
Thursday, August 9th, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (2)

For part 1, visit here.

On Saturday, we met up with the guides at Whitaker Mountaineering shortly before 8am, and followed their shuttle up to Paradise. Once in Paradise, we put on our mountaineering boots, glacier glasses, and sunblock. Our guides started us out at a steady pace.

The trek to Camp Muir takes around five hours. We hike for a little bit more than an hour, then take a ten minute break for food and water and that sort of thing. Then it’s back on the trail. The guides maintain a pretty strict schedule, which helps in getting used to the schedule that we’ll need to maintain on the summit bid.

When we arrived at Camp Muir, we stashed our packs along with our trekking poles and crampons outside, and took everything else inside. The guides brought us plenty of water for drinking, as well as hot water for cooking. While we were eating dinner, the lead guides gave us some advice on how to prepare and what we’d be doing when we left, and then let us get to it. We finished eating, prepped our gear, and tried to sleep.

It’s hard to sleep in the middle of the day especially at 10,000 feet, but most of us slept at least a little bit.

Our guides awoke us shortly after midnight, and started of a bit of a scramble to get ready. We ate some food, the coffee drinkers drank some coffee, and then we started getting our gear on. This time, we were wearing the avalanche beacons and climbing harnesses over our base layers, and helmets with headlamps attached on our heads. We put our crampons on outside, and then met with the guides on the trail to Cathedral Gap.

Once everyone was clipped in, we started the trek, following the trail of lights strung along the Cowlitz Glacier. We crossed the glacier and ascended some rocky switchbacks, then headed across the Ingraham Glacier to the Flats, where there were several tents set up.

Once on the Ingrham Glacier, we could see the aurora shimmering on the northern horizon, silhouetting Little Tahoma. It was an eerily beautiful sight.

After a break on the Flats, we started toward the Disappointment Cleaver, the steepest section of the entire trip. The rocky switchbacks were steep, sometimes almost a scramble, but the sight of the aurora helped to distract from the toil. The moon rose into the aurora, adding to the eerie beauty that accompanied us.

The sun rose before we reached the top of the Cleaver, revealing a blanket of clouds concealing the Cascades. Shortly after, we took another welcome break.

After our break we continued on up the Ingraham Glacier, following steep switchbacks through icy snow, now with enough light to see around us. Mount Adams came into view as we trekked, and not long after, Mount Hood, both towering high above the surrounding clouds. I finally had an opportunity to capture in image of that breathtaking view when we took our last break before the summit.

After that break, we continued to the summit, the wind getting stronger by the minute. When we reached the crater, the stiff breeze was enough to make us feel quite chilly. Most of us waited in the summit crater while a few folks went to the Columbia Crest, and returned to tell us that the wind there must have been reaching close to 60+ miles per hour.

It was cold when we began the descent, but it didn’t take long to warm up. Our first break was at the top of the Cleaver, after which we began the precarious descent down the steep, rocky switchbacks to the Ingraham Glacier. Now that we were in full daylight, the views were epic, rather than dark. Not being able to use the camera between breaks was disappointing, because these were some of the most epic views of the entire trip. Looking down to see the yellow and orange dots in the Ingraham Flats gave a sense of scale to the Cleaver, and the massive rock walls surrounding it dominated the view.

We paused in the Ingraham Flats for another break, and then hiked quickly back across the Cowlitz to Camp Muir. We had an hour to rest, eat, and pack before we began our descent back to Paradise.

Climb for Clean Air 2012
Sunday, August 5th, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (1)

This year I signed up for the Climb for Clean Air, both to support the American Lung Association, and to climb Mount Rainier, something I’ve wanted to do as long as I’ve lived in the area.

Although I had some experience with high elevations, this would be my first experience on a mountain that’s dangerous even without accounting for elevation.

Doing this with the Climb for Clean Air had another benefit: the ALA organizes a training regimen that helps the participants get to know each other, work their conditioning, and even get an introduction to some of the basic mountaineering skills that we’d need for the climb. The guides who coordinate the the training are volunteers, most of whom were participants in earlier years.

Mark Anderson, our lead guide, delayed a hip replacement surgery until after our training. In spite of the difficulty he had with his hips, he was there on the training outings, even though he wasn’t able to hike very far. On the Camp Muir trips he dug himself a snow shelter around half way between Paradise and Pebble Creek, staying in radio contact with the guides on the mountain with us. He also gave us an overview of what gear we would need for the trip during our meetings at REI.

Each team met with their lead guide for a gear check, making sure that weren’t carrying unnecessary weight, but also ensuring that we had what we would need in case of emergencies or unexpected storms. Our guides also gave us an overview of the route along with an introduction to the climbing routine and schedule. Friday was a training day; our lead and assistant guide took us up on the snowfields above Paradise and introduced us to basic mountaineering techniques like rest stepping, pressure breathing, and ice axe self-arrest.

That evening we sat with Lou Whitaker while he regaled us with stories about his early mountaineering days, how he started Ranier Mountaineering International, and how his brother started REI.

It was pretty clear that he not only loves to tell stories, but he very much loves to support the Climb for Clean Air.

To be continued…

In the mean time, I could still use some support.

Earth Portal
Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (0)

The earth portal theater

The Whidbey Geodome, opened the Earth Portal show during the Earth Day 50th anniversary at the Seattle Center. I headed down there with Clifton on Earth Day to do some networking and photography, and we took some time out to watch an Earth Portal show. It’s an interesting theater; they basically put an inflatable dome inspired by the Buckminster Full Geodoem inside the building, and have a planetarium projector inside it.

The show itself is a brief, visually intense tour of the universe. The visuals and the music are worth the price of admission. They’ll be there throughout the summer, and I definitely recommend a visit.

Showcase Seattle
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (0)

Sea stacks and crashing surf at Bandon Beach, Oregon

Last week saw the launch of Showcase Seattle, a new Seattle-based artists’ community, seeking to help local artists market their work to a global audience. I’m one of their member artists. Stop by and visit Showcase Seattle, and have a look at what we’re up to.

In related news, please visit my new web store, which is also part of the Showcase Seattle marketplace.

Mount Rainier and a Workshop, and what’s in stock for 2012
Sunday, February 19th, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (0)

A view of the Tatoosh Range from Mount Rainier

A couple of weekends ago, I went with two friends to Reflection Lake at Mount Rainier. It was one of the few weekends we’ve had recently with clear weather, so our timing was excellent. It’s a short hike from the Narada Falls trailhead to Reflection Lake, which also made this a good opportunity to test out our winter gear.

There weren’t very many people out there, and since there aren’t very many restrictions on where to camp during the winter, we were able to find a pretty private camp site in the trees, that kept the wind down. Out in the open, the wind was pretty harsh, so having the trees for a windbreak was a big improvement.

Next weekend, I am offering a workshop in collaboration with Art on the Ridge. We’ll be touring some of the places that snow geese like to visit, looking for wildlife as well as landscape photographs. During the trip I’ll be offering advice and suggestions on composition and exposure for stills as well as video. How much help I’ll provide will depend on how experienced the participants are, as well as how much help the participants ask for.

To sign up, please visit the signup page at Art on the Ridge.

For anyone who’s curious, some of what I have planned for 2012 include:
Climbing Mount Rainier with Climb for Clean Air
Releasing a book and an e-book about my Africa trip
Visit to Lake Minchumina, Alaska (near Fairbanks) and doing some photography in Denali National Park
Visit to Inyakuk Lodge, Alaska and doing some photography in Gate of the Arctic National Park
Co-lead a backpacking trip in the Glacier Peak Wilderness with Sierra Club National. There are only two spots left for signups, so if you’re interested, don’t wait too long!

On the martial arts side of things, I’m teaching a seminar on applications of kata Seunchin next Saturday at Northwest Martial Arts, and we’ll also be hosting a seminar that my sensei Kimo Wall will be teaching on March 31st and April 1st. Signups for that seminar will open up soon, hopefully next week.

The New Year Dawns
Friday, January 6th, 2012 | Posted by Rakesh | Comments (1)

A flock of snow geese takes to the air after a gunshot rings out

Where is 2012 taking you?

My year began in the Skagit Valley chasing snow geese. It took a while for us to find them; our first couple of destinations turned up very few geese, though I think that we did find a spot with a great view of their night time resting spot, on an island that’s accessible by foot when the tide’s low. Persistence paid off, though; after dragging ourselves out of our campsite at 4am, we tried another spot, where we had the good fortune of a beautiful sunrise pictured below, and after heading out from there we saw a flock of snow geese.

It wasn’t a huge flock by any means, but a friendly farmer let us film from on his property so we were able to get pretty close, until a hunter took a shot at one and scared them off.

So far on the docket I have a photography workshop in the Skagit in the works, the details of which should be available soon. I have managed to get a team together to start work on a documentary, of which I will be writing here quite a bit in the near future. I am also going to be working with Frank Dux on some training videos; in some of them, I might be the instructor. Either way, there is a lot going on, and this promises to be an interesting year.

What’s going on in your year? Let’s not speak of resolutions, but rather of dreams and goals, things that we will actually stick to, rather than things that we’ll resolve to do until our resolve runs out.

the colors of dawn reflected on the glassy waters of Wiley Slough