Arctic Light in the Arrigetch Peaks, Brooks Range, Alaska

In July and August, I was part of a team of four people who made a mountaineering pilgrimage to the most northern mountain range in North America. The central Brooks Range (Gwazhał in Athabaskan) is the traditional territory of the Inupiaq-speaking Kuuvanmiit and Nunamiut people and the Athapaskan-speaking Koyukon. Today, the landscape we visited is in included in Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Forest McBrian, Steph Williams, Drew Lovell and myself spent 3 weeks exploring the Arrigetch Peaks region which comprises two drainages of the Alatna River. My first trip to the Arctic, learning about the beautiful long and low light of summer in the far north was amazing as a photographer. Here are a few shots celebrating the season of light in this expansive and wild mountain range. 

Long-tailed duck nest in the Arctic

Granite spires drew me to the Brooks Range, but finding the nest of a Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis) on the banks of a remote lake in a stunning mountain valley was one of the highlights of a 3 week expedition to the most northern mountains in North America.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks construct their nest in a shallow depression on the ground that they line with their own down feathers. The coloration of these feathers is an important part of identifying the nest when the duck is gone. In this case it also helped that the only duck I saw on the entire trip was a pair of long-tails with a single juvenile following them around on the adjacent lake to the nest! Unfortunately it appeared that the remaining egg in the nest had failed to hatch.

Summers are very short in the arctic tundra and already by the end of July when we discovered the nest, fall was just around the corner in this remote part of Alaska. By the second week of August there was snow dusting the high peaks and the race was on for that young bird to amass the energy to begin a fall migration. 

 Mountaineer Forest McBrian points to the Long-tailed duck nest we discovered on the banks of an alpine tundra lake in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Mountaineer Forest McBrian points to the Long-tailed duck nest we discovered on the banks of an alpine tundra lake in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

 Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks build their nests on the ground and line them with their own down feathers.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks build their nests on the ground and line them with their own down feathers.

 A single failed egg remained in the Long-tailed duck nest. We observed the pair and a single juvenile in the nearby lake.

A single failed egg remained in the Long-tailed duck nest. We observed the pair and a single juvenile in the nearby lake.