I love trying to capture unique images of the Northern Lights! The sheer variety of shapes and colors you can see is hard to grasp. If you want to view the Aurora, check out my quick guide on what I look for.
After deciding that all 4 of my criteria for a perfect aurora borealis were met, I needed to pick where I wanted to photograph from. Due to the mountains in Juneau, I wanted to get up to a summit so that I could have the best viewing angle possible. My favorite panoramic peak in the area is Mount McGinnis. I’ve photographed some amazing panoramic images from here before. Now it was time to add some glowing northern lights to this epic landscape.
I put out some feelers to a few friends of mine to see if anyone wanted to tag along. It turns out almost everyone I asked already had plans for other mountain peaks 🙁 In the end, Josh was the only person to decide that my plan was better than everyone else’s. Fine by me.
The Mount McGinnis trail starts at the West Glacier Trailhead. Since I knew we were going to be exhausted on the way back down, we decided to bike the first 1.3 miles so we could coast the final leg on the way back down. Not necessary, but it sure feels nice when you’re almost done with a big hike.
We found that our 60+ pound packs were a bit on the heavy side.
We burned through West Glacier trail relatively quickly. However, we found that our 60+ pound packs were a bit on the heavy side. Our plan on the way down was to hike down to the glacier and rappel into a moulin. With that in mind, we had a 70m rope, crampons, harnesses, etc. At the 3.6 mile mark where the McGinnis trail officially starts, we made a cache in the trees with the stuff we didn’t need until the following day.
I’d like to say my pack got a lot lighter, but most of my gear was camera stuff that I needed. Josh’s pack probably dropped 20-30 pounds in heft at this point. The final 2 miles of the McGinnis trail goes from 1,100 feet in elevation to 4,282 feet. Needless to say, that’s a lot of uphill hiking.
There tends to be a fair amount of water along this trail so I decided to not carry a full water bottle.
I brought along my water filter and planned to fill it as needed along the trek. This was a great idea as 3 liters of water weighs almost 7 pounds! That’s a lot of extra weight when you don’t need to carry it. About 1 mile from the summit was the last known water source so we filled our bottles at this point. My pack was noticeably heavier the rest of the way to the top.
After 5 hours we finally reached the summit. We could have made it faster, but I saw some mountain goats along the way and I wanted to photograph them. We also weren’t in a hurry so there was no need to rush things. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
At this point, I was tired and hungry. Josh set to boiling some water while I started to setup my multi-row pano rig for an epic night of photographing the northern lights!
To be continued…