Robin and Arlene Karpan
March 12, 2019
Everything about Kluane National Park is big. Sprawling across southwestern Yukon, it's home to the world’s largest icefields outside the polar regions and has glaciers, wild rivers and wildlife galore. It encompasses 17 of Canada’s 20 tallest mountains, including imposing Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak at 5,959 metres.
The most accessible of the great icefields is massive Kaskawulsh Glacier, covering some 39,000 square kilometres, with its terminus a few kilometres upstream from Kluane Lake along the Alaska Highway. Hiking trails lead to viewpoints over the glacier, but to really see and photograph the immensity of this magical landscape, it's best to take to the air. We left the airstrip at Kluane Lake with our pilot Charles from Icefield Discovery, and two other passengers for a flight-seeing trip that was the highlight of our Kluane experiences.
We rose above the mouth of the Slims River bordering the lake and then seemed to enter another world as we soared above the massive Kaskawulsh Glacier. Arms of the main glacier, plus side ones such as the Stairway Glacier flow together into an ice sheet six kilometres wide in places. It’s a surrealistic scene, like a giant abstract painting with sinuous curves of ice and rock. Most amazing was that the huge expanse of ice and mountains around us was still only a small part of the wild terrain that lies beyond.
The weather determines how far the flights go. On a clear day, planes can even land on the higher snow pack overlooking Mount Logan. On the day we went, there was good visibility throughout the lower parts of the valley and glacier, but partway up the mountains it was completely socked in with clouds and fog. While this precluded going too far back onto the ice pack, it allowed more time to fly around the different parts of the main glacier with the maze of side glaciers flowing into it.
The plane doesn't have opening windows. While we thought that this might be a problem for photography, the glass is kept clean and free of major scratches, so we were able to work around it. The key is to hold the lens as close as possible to the glass without actually touching it and getting vibration from the plane. We had headphones to talk to the pilot and could ask him to bank to one side or the other in order to take almost straight down shots.
We used lenses from 24mm to 105mm, which covered everything that we wanted to get. With a fast zoom somewhere in that range, it would be possible to do everything with one lens. We also took a longer lens along but never used it. While a fairly wide lens is essential for sweeping overview images of the glacier's massive expanse, we also found it useful to zoom in occasionally on details of the ice or mountains. The plane flew fairly low and in some instances very close to some of the side glaciers far back into the mountains, so a wider focal length was best for the majority of shots.
Besides awesome glaciers, the flight also provided a chance to photograph a recent phenomenon that is alarming scientists - the near disappearance of the Slims River. For over 300 years, most of the water from the melting Kaskawulsh flowed into the Slims River, then after 19 kilometres into Kluane Lake, the largest body of water in Kluane National Park. But the glacier has receded to the extent that, three years ago, the meltwater suddenly took a different route, leaving the Slims no more than a mere trickle. The vast river delta adjoining Kluane Lake, with its tiny rivulets, makes for some compelling images.
Flights cost $295 per person for a one-hour flight and $350 for 1.5 hours, with the longer one landing on the ice pack overlooking Mount Logan when weather permits. Details from www.icefielddiscovery.com.
About the Authors
Robin and Arlene Karpan are writers, photographers, and book publishers based in Saskatoon. They are authors of several books (www.parklandpublishing.com), plus their writing and photography has appeared in over 100 publications around the world. They have received numerous awards for their work, including First Place for the Best Outdoor/Adventure Feature at this year's Travel Media Association of Canada Awards. Robin and Arlene's blog on travel photography www.photojourneys.ca has been named by Feedspot as among the Top 100 Travel Photography Blogs and the Top 100 Canadian Photography Blogs. Also follow their photography on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/@KarpanParkland) and Instagram (http://www.instagram.com/karpanphotojourneys).
Robin and Arlene's blog on travel photography www.photojourneys.ca has been named by Feedspot as among the Top 100 Travel Photography Blogs and the Top 100 Canadian
Robin and Arlene Karpan