Update June 4, 2011: This time last year I was preparing to go down the Yukon’s Snake River with writer Leslie Anthony to shoot a story for Canadian Geographic. Our story on how the clash between conservation and exploitation is playing out in the Peel watershed is featured in this month’s (June 2011) issue of the magazine.
[by Fritz] September 27th, 2010: This summer I returned to the Yukon’s Snake River to work on a new story. Last time I was in the Snake it was a very different trip. Seven years ago Teresa and I joined our friends Peter Mather, Marc Champagne and Christine Cleghorn in the upper Snake for ten days of hiking at the beginning of their month-long canoe trip. We’d hike off each morning and they’d paddle a short way downriver to the next camp, and we’d meet up in the early afternoon – all very mellow. They carried our food and unnecessary gear in their canoes to lighten our packs, and they cooked incredible meals that we hikers weren’t used to eating in the backcountry. We loved canoe-supported hiking.
We camped for four days at Reptile Creek at the foot of Painted Mountain. I knew there was a gorgeous photo of the valley from somewhere on that mountain. Each day we’d scramble to a ridge halfway up to wait for magic light. It took three days and lots of trips and waiting, but eventually we got the shot I had envisioned (we made a Peel Watershed poster featuring the Yukon’s Snake River). Late June light is intense, and the bright green leaves on the dwarf birch had just burst open. I shot many beautiful scenes while we were camped at Reptile Creek including the cover of our 2010 calendar.
On this year’s trip, in contrast, I spent many sleepless nights in the tent stressing about the next day’s rapids and wondering what would happen if my Pelican case got crushed against a rock. I’m not a skilled canoeist, and I found it hard not to get anxious thinking about $50,000 worth of gear getting wet. The pace was fast and we stayed just one night at each camp before pushing on, so it was a lot more rushed than I like for landscape photography. Writer Lesley Anthony was in the stern, and he’s a very competent paddler (he was a canoe instructor years ago in Ontario), and we were under the capable guidance of wilderness outfitters Blaine and Mary Walden. Everything went very smoothly and my capsizing fears never materialized. Without question the photography highlight of our trip was the 2-day layover at Mount MacDonald – it’s an extraordinary place.