Donnelly

Donnelly

It truly amazes me that a tank full of gas is all it takes to go out and find a wonderful adventure. I’ve been trying to get back to this amazing part of Alaska for quite some time, in fact I haven’t visited or hiked in to this area since 2005. Every time I have tried to make the drive (and it must be in fall to catch the right color) down weather would stop me from even getting in the car. This was the third attempt this month to drive down, but this time the weather is great, not a cloud in the sky.

The Donnelly Region is about 135 miles south of Fairbanks, and right at the doorstep of the amazing Alaska Mountain Range. This region is wonderful, with lakes and ponds dotting the landscape. Groves of Birch trees line the small hills between the lakes, and fields of grass dotted with the occasional spruce tree range out as far as the eye can see.

The trail begins as being very obvious and clear, but by the time I’ll get to Donnelly Lake I’ll be bushwhacking through head high mesquite and other miscellaneous bushes. Now as I make my along the trail I came upon an area that I had photographed in 2005. This area was a plain of grasses where lakes once stood, but now the water has taken over. Ponds have returned to the area, even a substantial small lake has formed further out where I had once stood to photograph the mountains.

The opportunity to shoot photography here is wonderful and lush, and being only about a half mile in is very surprising. I shot several frames of film from my medium format camera, yes I’m still shooting film. It may not be as quick and instantaneous as digital, not to mention cheaper. It’s that shooting digital allows me to shoot tons more images that lower my chances of producing the right image and just getting lucky, versus treating each frame of film as if it is the last frame I have. I am so much more aware of what I am photographing and more conscious of the quality of the image. This is merely a personal choice and in no way reject the amazing quality and usefulness of the digital format, but in the case of medium format photography it is just too expensive for me to move away from film.

I headed off towards Donnelly Lake about another half mile away and when I get there I am amazed to see that the lake has risen at least a foot, just wonderful. It’s fantastic that this ecosystem, I find animal scat everywhere so I know that the wildlife is strong and well. Fish are still jumping out of the lake making a wonderful “galumphing” sound as they splash back beneath the surface. The main drawback of the higher water level is that the trail skirts the shoreline of the lake, it being primarily a fisherman’s trail. Now i resign myself to the Alaskan tradition of bushwhacking. Anybody who has backpacked or travelled in Alaska knows that most of the time when you head out on your own into untracked regions this is your fate.

I spent another hour bushwhacking around the lake stopping here and there to take wonderful pictures and savoring the amazing sounds, smells and views. Even breaking through all the brush was amusing to me, there I am out in the middle of this region whacking noiselessly along, laughing and watching my dog bound through the brush as if it is some great obstacle course. I am in heaven, my Valhalla, this place is what makes me feel human.

I walk through this environment as if it is a part of me and I am a part of it. A sense of calm always flows with me when I am out here. As I pack up the camera again after shooting a couple more frames the not so distant noon day sun is approaching with all its harsh light and flat colors, so I begin the trek back out. I’ll take about an hour to hike out, taking my time and walking purposefully and comfortably to enjoy this place a bit longer. This feeling will wear off after a time as it always does, but for now I’m just basking in the light of this magical place.

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