I like to describe Valdez, Alaska as one of the most magical places on earth. This end-of-the-road town is set back in a stunning fjord within the idyllic Prince William Sound, hugged by the iconic Chugach Mountains, and dotted with collasal ice-blue glaciers. Bears wander the forests, bald eagles soar the skies, whales swim our seas, otters dot the harbor, and, weirdly enough, feral rabbits wander the town’s streets. It’s this insane convergence point of all the best elements of nature, and due to its extreme remoteness, is well intact and vast. It is an eden, a jewel, a wild paradise. Those that make the long journey here tend to be a special kind of person.
Like most others, my adventurous spirit led me up here, but it was the access to wilderness, option of solitude, and authenticity of the community that kept me here. My documentation of all the skiing, wilderness, camping, and exploring this magical place offers led me to ultrarad photographer Will Saunders meeting via instagram, and we decided to coordinate a shoot up here. I gathered up three stellar friends- Sarah, local a sea kayak guide; OJ, a student on work exchange from Jamaica; and Peter, a professional ski guide. After meeting over coffee and breakfast burritos, we were off!
First stop is a hike up the ridge of Worthington Glacier. This stunning hairline ridge trail boasts a rainbow of wildflowers and multicolored tundra on one side, and gorgeous blue and white glacier ice on the other. Of all the local hikes, it’s a clear favorite here at Thompson Pass because of the extravagant views and terrain diversity. Steep, rugged, stunning.
One of my favorite parts about living up here is being surrounded by glaciers-I love exploring them, documenting them, and understanding them ecologically. With global climate change causing average Alaskan temperatures to rise to unprecedented levels, our precious glaciers are melting at accelerated rates, and I feel grateful to spend time with them while they’re still around.
Now when I say terrain diversity, I mean it. After basking in the alpine sun, we drove back down to sea level and ventured into this densely vegetated forest. Technically Valdez is a subarctic climate, but we also have a temperate rainforest! Our high northern latitude coupled with that intense midnight sun produces some of the LARGEST, most lush, most crowded, most vibrant vegetation you’ve ever seen- like these massive but prickly Devil’s Club leaves. They’re fun to play with but be careful, not only are these things thorny, the red berries they produce in summer are a favorite snack for our local bears. Also, we see you OJ!
Kicking back after a long few days of strenuous hiking, beer drinking, and smiling for the camera. This cozy little wooded nook is my go-to spot for catching sunshine, hosting picnics, and watching otters swim as the waves roll into the port. Valdez is the country’s northernmost ice-free port, making it an important destination for oil tankers, fishing vessels, and other ships. You may know if it because of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989- one of the country’s worst environmental disasters. Since then, rigid environmental policy has been enacted to protect the Prince William Sound from a future spill, and we now boast one of the world’s most proactive oil spill response operations. I know, because I became a trained responder last year! It’s a privilege to enjoy this glorious ecosystem and all the wildlife that resides in it, and it is our responsibility to protect it for generations to come.
We couldn’t have asked for better conditions on this last stop of the shoot. Picturesque sunset, stunning warm colored tundra signaling the onset of fall, and crisp cool temps that just call for your coziest puffy and a mug of tea or a flask of whiskey (maybe both?). I can’t remember what joke was being told here, but it must’ve been a good one. This crew of kindred spirits had no shortage of laughs together. Like i said, it’s a special type of person that finds themselves here. After Will snapped his last shots we packed up our bags, drank the last of our beers, and hiked back up the trail to head home in the last of that generous late evening Alaskan sun.