Sunday, December 20, 2009

Looking Ahead...

The Kennicott Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

"One must work and dare if one really wants to live."~Van Gogh

This post is way overdue! I seem to focus this blog on travel adventure and art happenings of note, however I have not traveled for a few months. Fortunately I have had time to complete more paintings and, most excitedly, made plans for new adventures in 2010!

One particularly exciting piece of news to share is that I have I will be involved with the creation of two books in the next two years. One will be a pictorial book about Christopher McCandless and his 2 year odyssey that he embarked on back in 1990-1992. Chris took many photographs on his journey and I have begun to do paintings based on some of these photographs, as well as a large painting of the belt that he crafted beautifully out of leather. I will post updates on this project as they arise. I am thrilled to be involved in something so close to my heart. I am grateful to Chris' parents Walt and Billie, dear friends who have included me in this exciting project! Here are some paintings that I have completed based on Chris' photos thus far:

"Chris' Canoe, Near Golfo", oil on canvas, 18"x24"

"Chris' Pack, Stampede Trail", Oil On Panel, 24"x30"

"Diary Of A Supertramp(study)", Oil On Panel, 8"x10"

"Pilgrim's Dinner", Oil On Panel, 18"x24"

As a corollary of the pictorial book about Chris, the paintings that I produce will be exhibited as a group, probably also happening in 2010 or 2011. The location has yet to be determined but in all likelihood it will be held at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Ideally I would like for the exhibition to travel, because Chris was an explorer through and through. Stay tuned for details surrounding the exhibition and book!

The Newfoundland Portraits exhibition was a huge success in November 2009. Many friends and supporters came out to the show...I will never forget it! As for current artistic projects I am continuing to work on individual figurative paintings, commissions and work for galleries. There never seems to be enough hours in the day but it is wonderful! Please check out my website for new paintings from the show and out of the studio! I am also listing songs, posting paintings and offering daily tips on art and creating paintings on my Twitter profile here.

Adventure travel and travel in general, along with art, are my two favorite things. 2010 brings with it many opportunities to explore the world, meet new friends and create some paintings based on these experiences. The second book that I will produce will be a travel/art book based on explorations of Alaska, British Columbia, Newfoundland, The Yukon, Arizona, France and New York City...and that is just so far! This book will come out in 2011 or 2012. I will this blog updated with travel journalling and the status of this project.

With the onset of the colder weather it is easy to go inward, into a period of emotional and physical hibernation. In addition, the holiday season brings with it its own set of emotions, bittersweet ones sometimes! During this time I think it is particularly important to be easy on ourselves, to open our hearts and minds to others, and to care for ourselves as holidays can be very stressful. Our society is so often linear, rushing from A to B as quickly as possible..when perhaps we could circle back around to A and rest their for awhile.

As a painter I am always wondering how I can improve, but for the most part I simply do what I do and not overanalyze how and why I do it. If you dissect something too much, eventually you will have is best to keep it as whole as possible and preserve its integrity and beauty as it is...although I blog about my paintings and their creation, ultimately it is up to you, dear readers and viewers, to glean from them what you will :)

I wish you and yours a Happy Holiday season and a prosperous New Year!!

Best wishes!


“To a true artist only that face is beautiful which, quite apart from its exterior, shines with the truth within the soul.”~Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, October 19, 2009

Speaking Of Art...

"Gayle With Sheet", Oil On Canvas, 30"x24"

"A good orator is pointed and impassioned"~ Cicero

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. I was asked to be a guest lecturer for the fine art student body and some faculty. It was exhilarating yet a bit terrifying as well...which I suppose is a good thing. Adrenaline can do such wonders for the mind as well as the body!

The purpose of this lecture was to discuss and talk about my background, past work, present projects, accomplishments and anything else pertaining to the life of a full-time artist that the students might enjoy learning about. I have included some images in this blog of paintings that I showed to the audience.

"Bed (head)", oil on canvas, 12"x12"

I had a lot of fun preparing the lecture, partially because I was able to use Power Point finally. It was so straightforward and I almost couldn't believe it was a Microsoft product! All bias aside, I had a great time organizing, planning, editing and honing the talk around slides of older and present work, a brief bio and selected quotations that keep me inspired and moving forward when there are inevitable but rare dips in enthusiasm about one's work.

"Coming", oil on canvas, 48"x36"

The talk went really well and I was quite excited to see that a total of about 115 people attended the lecture! All of the chairs were taken and people were sitting on the floor and standing at the back of the gallery where the talk was held. I had a microphone. I had a laptop. I was I dove in and began to talk about what I do and why I do it.

After some initial nervousness I settled into speaking earnestly about how I came to be a full-time painter: how in college a small group of us decided to embark on a more traditional route of approaching our work as we had a calling to do more studio/gallery work than commercial work...and the beautiful thing is that our instructors at Sheridan College supported and encouraged this rerouting of creative spirit. I will never forget that.

"Gayle (stool)", oil on panel, 48"x36"

The main point that I tried to emphasize to everyone listening is what we have heard time and time again: that anything that we dream of is possible, that we can do whatever we want with our lives, with our careers as artists and creative people, that the only limits are those which we place upon ourselves. I was pleased to see some people nodding their heads and some were jotting down notes too. I spoke of the value of discipline and most importantly, I stressed to the listeners to find out what makes each of them unique as creative people, what sets them apart, and to capitalize upon that. The key is finding that beautiful and individual ingredient within each of us...and cultivating it.

Below are some quotations from my talk that I wanted to share here. They resonate with me very much and I use them as touchstones when I need a little push of inspiration:

"Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life."~Confucius

"In the depths of winter I finally discovered that there was in me an invincible summer." ~Albert Camus

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler." ~Henry David Thoreau

"The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time." ~Mary Oliver

"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." ~Sylvia Plath

"Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is."~Jackson Pollock

"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" ~Vincent Van Gogh

"Gayle, Snowshoeing", Oil On Canvas, 36"x48"

Speaking to these artists was very rewarding. I spoke to a few people afterwards who wanted to talk briefly and I was pleased to hear that they enjoyed the talk and were inspired. There's no greater feeling than to inspire another artist to pick up their brush or approach the copper plate with more gusto! There was a certain bliss felt in that moment, in speaking and communicating verbally what you are compelled to do with your life and work. I look forward to doing more lectures and speaking engagements in the future!

I can hardly believe it but the Newfoundland Portraits Exhibition is less than three weeks away! I will be doing an informal artist talk on November 14th at Abbozzo Gallery from 2-4pm where I will speak about the creation of the paintings and the journey to Newfoundland. I hope to see you both at the opening and at the talk!

With warmest wishes,


Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm
179 Lakeshore Road East, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Come out, see some artwork and listen to special musical guests
The Killin' Time Band who will be playing
some East Coast-inspired songs for your enjoyment!
Informal Artist Talk: November 14th, 2-4pm, Abbozzo Gallery

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Of breaks, bruises and the message behind it all...

Painting with my cat Sasha

"The world breaks everyone and afterwards some are strong at the broken places." 
~Ernest Hemingway

Nine days ago I broke my foot. Six days ago I put my hand through a glass window, badly cutting it in the process. Granted the glass in the window was old and my hand slipped off of the wood frame, but this injury and my foot in an aircast after fracturing my fifth metatarsal have caused me to wonder about what the universe is trying to say here. There is a message and meaning to everything that happens to us in life. The answers I know will be revealed in good time. Patience, ever the virtue and something I struggle with, will win in the end. 

The irony is that for weeks this summer I trekked through some of the burliest country in North America in the Alaskan Interior, slashing and hacking, climbing and slipping. Yet, here not ten minutes from my homes, the simplest of twists when I was not looking where I was going changes your life in a large way. However, instead of wallowing in the situation I am trying to use the time to accomplish some solid work and continue to prepare for the Newfoundland Portraits exhibition which is now less than three months away. I am also continuing work on paintings based on Christopher McCandless' photographs of his odyssey around North America which will eventually form an exhibition as well, happening in either 2011 or 2012. 

My physician advised me to keep my cast on as often as possible and to elevate my foot frequently. I have had to devise a way to paint with my foot raised up, which is no feat (pun intended). However I think the greatest lesson that I can discern from this break, at least for now, is how much we take mobility in life for granted. I realize now that running is out of the question, that moving quickly is not in my vocabulary for the next while, how fortunate we are when we can move as swiftly as our feet can carry us. It makes me appreciate each day and each task that we can do ourselves with even more humility and gratitude. Plus, it is an opportunity to focus energy that might have been spent on other things, towards my painting. I have included a photo of the cast on the edge of my easel while I paint below. Not terribly exciting but fortunately I have a job where I can work in this condition. 

I have about five weeks left with the cast and other than learning to hobble as well as possible with this aircast my work is coalescing and paintings are being completed, new ones begun and I am thankful for the support of friends and family too. My friend Gayle brought some fresh vegetables from her garden and some  homemade  vegan! chickpea salad for me. Thank-you almost doesn't do justice to these beautiful acts of kindness. 

In terms of what is happening in the studio I will include two pictures of paintings in progress for you to see what I have been up to. 

This is not a great photo but you get the idea here. This gentleman is a great character and kind soul who I met while in Wesleyville, Newfoundland last September. I loved his small shed with the low door frame and asked him to stand in that space. I enjoyed the darkness behind him and love to do paintings with doors and frames that are echoed in the shape of the canvas itself. Thus George posed for me for a few minutes and I am working hard to have this painting completed by month's end. 

This painting is one that is very near and dear to my heart. I expect to have it finished in one more solid day's work. It is a painting based on Chris McCandless' photo of his backpack on the Stampede Trail in the Alaskan Interior on or around April 28th, 1992. He had just been dropped off by Jim Gallien, an electrician who gave him a lift as far as he could down the uneven Stampede Road that becomes Stampede Trail eventually. Chris would have been alone on the trail for the first time and probably his pack was the first and logical thing to take a picture of as a symbol of himself, his journey, his philosophy. There is almost an Ansel Adamsesque quality to his shot, a quality that I wanted to capture in my painting as faithfully as possible. I will post the completed painting on my other blog, Heather Horton Artwork as soon as it is finished and Chris' parents have seen it. 

On a side note, I am trying to start thinking about a way to make the exhibition of paintings related to Chris' life and photographs a traveling exhibit. Christopher was a traveler, and I thought how appropriate a traveling exhibit would be for such a peripatetic man, a beautiful soul who turned thought into action and his incredible odyssey is a testament to that philosophy. I am sure Chris would agree with Henry David Thoreau, a hero of his, to "not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live." Therefore if anyone reading this blog entry has any ideas about publicly or government-funded galleries looking to exhibit these paintings about Chris' life and journey, please send me a message. I would like to start planning this exhibit now, because the time to show them will arrive soon!

Here are some other paintings I have done based on Christopher's photographs so far. 

"Chris' Canoe, Near Golfo", oil on panel, 18"x24"

"Odyssey By Train", oil on panel, 18"x24"

"To The Sea", oil on canvas, 24"x36"

My apologies for the delay in blogging lately. A constellation of factors have contributed but I wanted to let you know about why I have not written in that it really is a time of production and distillation..a quietly exciting time, a time like no other :) 

Take care and have a beautiful weekend,

"We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world"
~Helen Keller

Here is some information on my solo show, Portraits Of Newfoundland. This exhibit will focus on the beautiful people and places I encountered on a journey there last September. I hope to see you at the opening! 

Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sharing Happiness: Camping At Rockwood Conservation Area

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, 
to front only the essential facts of life,
 and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
 and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Henry David Thoreau 

Thoreau's words have resonated and connected with people throughout the many decades since he wrote them. He speaks the truth. To live deeply, mindfully and authentically, benefits everyone, from who we are at our deepest levels to who share our lives with. I found this very passage amidst much graffiti in Union Station in Toronto, shortly after my friend Jay had arrived from Cape Breton for three weeks of camping, socializing and Blue Jays games. This passage stood out in bold green in between declarations and admonishments, dreams and fears that were scribbled all around it. I took note.  

Part of Jay's journey out to Ontario from the rugged and remote island of Cape Breton on the east coast of Canada was to go with me camping to Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph. Rockwood had been recommended to me by other friends who have camped there many times over the years. We booked a campsite far in advance according to their suggestion. 

To say that experiences differ from one place and time to another is a huge understatement. Just a few days previous we had been surrounded by thousands of people at a Toronto Blue Jays game, deep in the company of multitudes cheering and enjoying the festivities. Here however, was an altogether different adventure. It was quite a place, possessing a good degree of civility without being a distraction from the experience of being in the woods. I had returned not one month previous from the backcountry of Alaska that you can read about here, and Jay is from a very remote area of Canada so there was plenty of discussion surrounding the contrasts and similarities to each place. We took every opportunity to appreciate Rockwood for what it was, very special, a unique and beautiful place to explore a quiet little pocket of Ontario. 

Our tent at the campsite. 

We spent a total of two nights and two days at Rockwood. On our second day we explored the two main trails that are found within the park. They were beautiful and easy to negotiate. It gave us a chance to really see the area and there were some lovely cliffs and rock formations that we encountered along the way. We saw quite a few people on our hikes but we didn't feel crowded, instead focusing on what we saw along the way and appreciating this unique place: beautiful mirrored ponds, foliage of every shape and colour imaginable, birdsong in almost every tree and the sheer enjoyment of experiencing each turn in the path for what it was. 

I loved the juxtaposition of vertical trees and horizontal rocks here.
 Perhaps a future painting?

These reflections captivated us as we walked past

Jay and I are inspired by the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Mary Oliver, John Muir and others. These are people who have outlined a philosophy of living that we respond to strongly. We possess an appreciation and reverence for the beauty of the unexplained and the sublime complexity of the natural world that surrounds us. Thus, Alaska and crashing waves in Cape Breton were not needed...all we needed was the trees, a path (or not) and our openness to experience as much as we could from what we encountered along the way. These authors and poets move us deeply and have profoundly affected our lives. I will include a poem by Mary Oliver at the bottom of this entry that illustrates what I am trying to say more succinctly than I can here. 

A path through cedar trees winding down to the water below

We rented a canoe in the afternoon of our second day, which provided another form of hypnosis: instead of the quiet crunch of foliage underfoot we listened to the soothing rhythm of the paddles cutting the water and the vantage point the lake provided us as we gazed up at tall rock with pockets of caves, framed by cedars on either side. We paddled by the old Woolen Mill which was build over a hundred years ago. It seems almost out of place in such a forested area, this shell of a regal building standing in a clearing, surrounded by the woods. 

The old Woolen Mill

We enjoyed ourselves at Rockwood and took away as many experiences as we could in that short period of time. It is very close to where I live (about an hour away) yet seemed much more remote. My tent held up beautifully in the rain and was easy to put together (so easy that it made me realize how easy it will be to travel on other adventures with Jay). Co-operation is key. We had some great fires and great conversations too, exactly what our goal had been. Half the fun of going on camping and hiking trips is the company, who you share your memories and experiences with. Sharing happiness in your life with others makes life worth living, without question. Solitude has its place too of course, but when we choose march briefly with a similar drummer, whole new vistas of appreciation and potential open up to both of you. 


Mornings at Blackwater Pond

by Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable 
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination, 
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live 
your life.

My solo exhibition of Newfoundland paintings is fast approaching! I hope you can make it out to the show. Here are the details:

Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wrangell St-Elias National Park: Walking on glaciers and wrestling with moraines.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth 
are never alone or weary of life.” ~Rachel Carlson

On our last morning in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, Michael and I knew we had to get organized early for it would be a solid day's hard trek ahead of us. However, we looked forward to it with much anticipation. It seemed as though the black flies had come out overnight and were swarming around us as we packed up camp. I looked upon the little site in the middle of nowhere where we had spent two nights. We were perched on the edge of the Kennicott Glacier in an area of rocky moraine mixed with scrub brush. This area was at the Donoho Lakes area of the park. Other than one or two people passing by we were utterly alone, and the silence and vastness had made their mark on my mind and spirit. 

Click on this picture to see a large panorama
 of Donoho Peak and the area we camped in.

This journey into the backcountry had left me blistered, bruised, inspired, elated, overwhelmed, humbled...all ingredients that by design and circumstance transform you, literally. My experience in the Wrangells really helped me know what I was capable of...that a little danger does a body good, and I desperately wanted to bottle those feelings, to preserve them and not let them be diluted with time. 

Although my aim was not to do paintings from my experiences on this trip, you can add inspiration to your internal creative cache using memories and sensations culled from intense experiences such as these to feed your work at a later time. I was simply enjoying the moment, every moment, as much as possible, and I knew that to take out a sketchpad would have prevented me from soaking up as much as I could. Instead I shot photographs, many, many photographs, trying to preserve it all; the smells, the vistas, the aches and pains, the entire, mindblowing uniqueness then and there. 

Do you see that tiny yellow dot in the bottom
right hand side of this shot? That is our tent. I'm not kidding.

Here is a slightly blurry, but closer shot of the yellow tent.
This illustrates the sheer magnitude of the landscape.

Below are some shots from our departure across the moraine, the seemingly endless sea of moraine that stretched ahead and arched down and away from us like a veil of rocks. Miles and miles of rock-covered ice that framed the glacier proper, the wonderful white ice that we climbed towards and on to. We hiked for six hours on our crampons, across ice and moraine. It was epic in the truest sense of the word.

Here you can see the glacier appearing like a folded blanket,
 with moraine and mountains behind it.

I took this shot the night previous. 
You can see the white ice of the Kennicott Glacier that we climbed towards.

We came across pools of glacial water
 that were blue beyond compare. Surreal.

So apparently there are special boots that you wear that are designed for more rigorous walking with crampons on glaciers...we didn't have them and let me tell you, wearing crampons for hours and hours is a sure way to bring on blisters! The exhilaration superceded the discomfort however as we clinked our way down the glacier as mile after mile of wilderness at once opened up and closed in all around us. We stopped to refill our water bottles at some of the countless glacial cold water right from the source. I can still taste that pure, icy goodness that propelled us and fueled us as we made our way carefully down the glacier. 

One of the tidal pools we stopped at.

My mind could not process such a raw beauty that we encountered out there that day. Physically it was unpredictable, unplanned, mapped but not by us, intoxicatingly alien and held lots of questions: which route? to rest or keep going? should we turn back? This is like life isn't it? Choosing paths and accepting the consequences, persevering, stumbling, picking ourselves up and looking back with an exhausted happiness at the trials we have surmounted. 

We continued down the narrowing glacier, occasionally skirting the edge of a cliff or making our way around some obstacle or another. The walking was lovely..."like a sidewalk" at times, as Michael said. And speaking of Michael, this entire journey would have been impossible without his supreme organization, knowledge of the land and his amazing enthusiasm to top it off. We had a great time traveling together. Never under-estimate the power of laughter, the importance of preparedness, and the supreme enjoyment that you get from experiencing these pieces of paradise with such a wonderful friend. As I stated previously, Michael has summited Denali as well as countless other peaks in Alaska and loves a challenge. Ergo, a perfect traveling companion; someone who would push me, encourage me and keep me thinking positively when claustrophia and bushwhacking frustrations set in. 

Making our way down the narrowing glacier.

A crevasse typical of the terrain on the glacier. 
I was petrified of falling in some of the moulins
we encountered.

There was one particular leg of our journey that I had been quite nervous about...the moraines at the end of the trek that were situated between the Kennicott and Root Glaciers, not far from where we camped our first night. We ended up taking a slightly different route than the book suggested, crossing onto the moraine from the glacier a bit earlier. The distance across the moraine was probably only a mile and a half...and on paper that is not a large distance. However, the terrain we negotiated made the distance feel like 5 was amazing, stressful, challenging...I loved it! Michael continued with his pretty unblemished route-finding record as we made our way on to the moraines and had periodic discussions on which was the best path to take.

This was the sea of icy/stoney craziness that we had to make our way through. 
You can see the glacier in the distance behind it.

Michael standing below a typical boulder found perched on the glacier, 
the detritus from such an immense, moving mass of ice.

It felt truly as though we were on an alien planet at times.

This shot shows just how massive some of the moraines were. 

We kept cracking jokes about this area of the trek looking like Tatooine , Luke Skywalker's home planet from Star Wars. Keep in mind we often slipped and slid on the ice underneath the rocks, even with the crampons on and clinging feebly at times. It was very...interactive and many scrapes and tussles with the land were had. I lost each battle but in the process found another layer of respect for this place. It takes no prisoners. It has no feelings. It simply exists in its perfect homeostasis that we had the opportunity to step briefly upon.

Here is a video clip from walking along Kennicott Glacier

And finally, after much exertion, we made it back onto the Root Glacier and home
towards Kennicott where we had stashed the bikes in some bushes off the trail.

I display my  badges of courage.
 I will be back to settle the score with the moraines!

After we retrieved our bikes it was an easy bike ride down to Kennicott and then on to McCarthy. It was an uphill bike there so we essentially coasted, with lighter packs to boot. We took a side trip to McCarthy to check out the scene there. It was a quiet, quirky little place, with a quiet hum to it that the locals knew well of course. On we went after a short stay, headed back to the truck, and were off towards Valdez for one more night of camping before heading back to Anchorage. 

Even after seeing this photos weeks after the adventure happened, their poignancy still lingers. As I mentioned, I do not want these feelings to dissipate but cling to them as fiercely as I clung to the rocks which threatened to give way from their icy grip on the moraines. But I will not live in the past but cherish these feelings and energy gleaned, experience gained and passion for the outdoors ignited even more from this trip to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. 

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” 
~John Hope Franklin

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Call Of The North: Wrangell St-Elias National Park

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
 ~John Muir

I had a great opportunity to hike and camp in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve recently. This amazing hike came on the heels of a wedding at Delta Junction (see previous post). At the wedding we car camped but in Wrangell-St. Elias, camping took on a whole new meaning. The interesting thing about journeys into the wilderness is that often the true impact and amazement of such a pilgrimage is protracted; it seeps into your being and consciousness over the course of weeks or even years. At the time the experience is so acute, so immediate and tangible, with your safety and abilities being constantly challenged at every turn, that you cannot absorb it all. It is only later, directly, or sometimes a feeling caught on the edge of your mind that the sublime beauty of it all softly settles in your bones. 

I can already feel this sensation happening. It is quite surreal. I wonder if those living there continually marvel at the wonder of everything around them or if they see the mountains but don't really see them, after they have lived there for awhile? My instinct tells me that those who make Alaska and The Yukon their home do so because they love it, and there is simply no other place they would rather be. 

 I was quite excited to drive much of the 1,200 miles that we covered in 10 days!

My friend Michael and I headed out from Delta Junction and drove all day to reach the infamous road to the town of McCarthy. This 62 mile stretch of road is quite rough, but honestly it wasn't as bad as we anticipated it would be. McCarthy, as of 2000, according to census reports, had 42 people living there...42. Now that's quiet. The winding road to McCarthy is the only way to get to Kennicott, an old copper mining town that is the primary setting off point for intrepid souls venturing out into the park. Both towns have a rich history and are considered endangered national landmarks. We intended to tour the 27 story mine in Kennicott but instead used our remaining time in the area to go into McCarthy and look around. 

A bridge along the McCarthy Road. Acrophobes beware!

We camped at mile 54 near Swift Creek the night before our big adventure. The next morning we jumped on the bikes that Michael had cleverly thought to bring for us to cut down our time along the 6 miles of road between the truck and Kennicott. Our packs were pretty heavy, especially Michael's and the road had a slight uphill grade so we had a good peddle ahead of us before getting out into the park proper.

Thank goodness for this new bridge across the river

Two years ago this bridge was installed so that people trying to get to Kennicott and McCarthy didn't have to do a tyrolean traverse across the river on a wire. We sure appreciated the update! After making it into Kennicott we signed into the log book at the park service building, indicating our destination, probable length of stay in the park and, forebodingly, an emergency contact should we not return at our scheduled time. There were plastic moldings of bear prints to make identification easier within the park. We also grabbed a bear canister which we could place our food in at night and thus deter them (hopefully) from coming too close. In some camping areas there would be bear boxes too, sturdy metal boxes for storing food as well.I noted disconcertedly, the book that we were using clearly stated that the Donoho Lakes area of Wrangell-St. Elias has been heavily frequented by bears lately...the exact area we were heading! The park is 13.2 million acres, larger than the entire country of Switzerland....and we were heading into bear-central. Yikes. 

Here is our route that we followed 

Our goal for this trek was outlined in the great Falcon Guide "Hiking Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve" by Greg Fensterman. Ironically, we happened upon a group of boy scouts and an older gentleman who gave us some tips on our day up to the Donoho Lakes by Donoho Peak. Turns out I think it was the author himself!

Following a path that led down to the glacier. You can see Donoho Peak
 rising behind the glacier

We found a place to leave the bikes off of the trail and turned to see the expanse of the Root Glacier spread out before us. It was quite a sight. The summer previous I had climbed part of the way up the Gulkana Glacier with my friend Trevor which you can read about here. I also had a wilderness baptism-by-fire the week before Gulkana at Kanuti Hot Springs with my Ed and some other friends that you can read about here

I can see how glaciers really do have different personalities. The Root glacier is vast, but small in comparison to many other glaciers in Alaska. We strapped on our crampons and headed out onto the Root. Michael has been on many glaciers, is a mountaineer by passion and has summited Denali (Mt. McKinley). Therefore it was I who experienced a sharper learning curve as I oriented myself on my new "footwear" as we moved out across the ice. 

Michael climbed up a nearby rise so we could have a good look at our route across the glacier

The travel across the glacier was wonderful, the ice crackling and clinking beneath our feet and against the metal teeth of the crampons. We were making good time and managed to cross the glacier, with the odd stop for pictures and side trips in about 3 hours. Getting off of the ice was challenging as the moraine was very soft and a couple of times the going was a bit treacherous as we sunk into the mud that quickly set off a deluge of water from under the ice...we climbed back on to the glacier to climb further north and seek out a less precarious path onto the landmass where we would camp the first night. As we crossed the glacier we looked back near the other side of the glacier and saw a few small groups of day trippers out exploring the ice. We also spotted a small tent way up on the landmass. The area where we camped is a pretty popular spot for hikers to stop for a first night, and bear boxes were about 1/4 mile away for safer food storage. The best decision Michael made on this trip was to bring a second, very light tent for food preparation. It would keep any smells of food away from our sleeping tent and provided a nifty shelter against the cold gales that were a constant presence next to the glacier. 

I loved the monochromatic quality of the glacier on this day. This is a view just looking back after our rather sketchy exit off of the ice.

This picture is small but you can see a larger version if you click on it. This is the view from our camp the first night near Donoho Peak....beautiful!

We arrived and took awhile deciding where best to set up camp as it was far from ideal with rocks and not much level ground. We managed to squeeze our extra food in one of the bear boxes and met up with some men who introduced themselves as Ben and Gary. They were out hiking in the same area as we were. It was lovely to chat with them and get some tips on navigating the trail we were planning on taking the next day. They had two way radios and used them when two of them went out onto the Root glacier the next day to explore. You can see them in the shot below...they are the two small dark dots in the lower right hand corner of the shot. This helps provide some scale for the landscape. It amazed me then and it amazes me now even more to see the sheer size of that place in these photographs. 

There is Gary and one more from their group in the lower right-hand side of the shot.

Once settled in to camp and having procured potable water from a stream and filter Michael and I were happy to flake out after some dinner. It had been a full day and we were anxious to get hiking the next day up to the Donoho Lakes area. I was a little nervous knowing that there would be some bushwhacking involved, bears everywhere, and I am claustrophobic by nature, especially when the brush closes in above my head while I battle through branches. However, it is all a part of the experience and what I may lament at the time become the cornerstones of happy memories when recalling the journey at a later time. For that evening though we marveled at the Root Glacier out before us and its spectacular icefall, the starkness of that landscape and our unbelievably small place within such natural grandeur. 

Here's our little food tent, a good distance from our other one..just in case! The landform was pretty sparse there, like one giant moraine! 

A great view to wake up to. Does it get any better than this?

We began the hike up to the second campsite near Donoho Lakes and the Kennicott Glacier the next morning. The book said that there would be a path that essentially marked the way for us but that some route-finding would be expected too. Well, that was an understatement! We had to back-track many times but Michael was good about forging ahead carefully and planning various routes to try. At least we knew our general direction and with time and patience, some falling down on my part and pacing ourselves, we made great time and found ourselves next to Kennicott Glacier in one piece. 

Here you can see the view of the first lake we passed, complete with lots of brush on all sides.

Route-finding towards the second lake

A large part of me wished that I could keep walking  forever...

This time in Alaska I was overwhelmed periodically; overwhelmed at how totally powerful and fiercely unrelenting  that wilderness was. And its limitlessness! Its sheer size made my head spin with a giddy elation. The thread of life is tenacious yet fragile, and one slip can bring an entirely different reality crashing in pretty quickly. It was a crazy sensation to deal with...yet I knew that that bit of fear would be like a slow-release vitamin to help me through the weeks following as I sat down at the easel in my small, dark studio in Southwestern Ontario and remembered where I had been and what a special experience it had been exploring out there. 

The weather was beautifully tumultuous that day. It threatened but did not rain on us.

I think Ansel Adams would have enjoyed the quality of light against the mountains
and wonderful value variations. 

As we neared the area where we were going to camp in on the second night I looked back to see the sun hitting some mountains near where we had begun our hike earlier in the day. Alaska is a land of paradoxes...there is lots to be said for the patience of glaciers and the timid openings of cold flowers. Yet much is to be said for the sublime hyperactivity found there: fervent weather, tempestuous skies, fleeting rainbows and mile after mile of untouched beauty. I was happy to share a small part in that wild ballet for awhile. 

"Contemplating the lace-like fabric of streams outspread over the mountains, we are reminded that everything is flowing - going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks both in solution and in the form of mud particles, sand, pebbles, and boulders. Rocks flow from volcanoes like water from springs, and animals flock together and flow in currents modified by stepping, leaping, gliding, flying, swimming, etc. While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood globules in Nature's warm heart." ~John Muir

Don't forget to attend my exhibition in November if you are able! I would love to meet you and share my work with you. Have a beautiful evening..

Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm