Looking for Alaska

March 08, 2022

We just wrapped up a 5 day trip to Alaska. It. Was. Beautiful. Excited to share photographs from the trip, and I’ll try to leave some valuable information for future travelers as well! I’ve also been getting really into videomaking alongside deepening my love for photography, so I made a short video thing just for the gram.

We started our trip by flying into Anchorage late in the evening. It was cold and snowing a bit, so we hunkered down at the hotel with some hot pizza and wine. The next morning, we headed straight to Matanuska Glacier. The drive was beautiful and sunny, and we were stoked to have a decked out Jeep rental. Pallavi got to fulfill her dreams of riding a Wrangler, finally! - Weightless Cover Art

We took our sweet time getting there, making a bunch of stops along the way to admire the scenery. Of course, I brought my drone so I couldn’t resist getting some aerial shots.

We booked an excursion through a guide called Glacier Tours. Typically we don’t like doing guided tours, but in the case of a glacier tour I would recommend this unless you’re an well versed in ice landscapes. We did a similar thing in Iceland and seeing some of the crevasses and how deceiving snow and ice can be, I don’t think you should risk hiking on a glacier on your own unless you have significant experience. Plus, the guided tour was quite fun. We were hauled down to the ice on a sled and geared up with crampons. There’s a bit of science / chemistry education that our wonderful guide was bestowing upon us about the color of the ice and the soot that forms on the glaciers.

We continued through some ice caves and ended at the ice field, where we couldn’t go any further due to the gigantic crystalline structures formed by the glacier crashing onto itself. The landscape was absolutely epic here, and I loved how iconic it looked. Composition wise, it was a lot of fun to point my camera at.

By the time we drove back to Anchorage, the sun was already coming down. So we decided to head downtown for some people-watching and walking around. We hit up an amazing Asian/American fusion restaurant called Ginger, which I highly recommend if you’re into Asian fine-dining.

The next day was a bit of a woozy, but we happened to be in Anchorage during the Iditarod festival, which meant lots of road closures and a dog sledding race straight through town. We had to take some backroads around Anchorage and ended up stuck behind a freight truck at the top of a hill, which lost traction and ended up sliding down the entire hill backwards. It was insane, and all the cars behind drove way fully unscathed.

After taking a few hours to recover from the shock of such a surreal close call, we embarked on a treacherous drive to the Chugach Mountains right outside of Anchorage. The snowstorm was raging and road conditions were quite harsh. Lots of cars stuck in ditches along the highway. I was surprised with how poorly maintained Alaska’s highways are, even within Anchorage. It could’ve been just the time we were there, or the timing of the snowstorm, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. As Coloradans, we didn’t have much problems aside from the occasional loss of traction but I’ve learned that 90% of winter driving is just driving 20 MPH below the speed limit, or more depending on the conditions.

We ended up at Eagle River Nature Center, and we were greeted by some very nice folks there who let us rent out some snowshoes to hike through the trails. We had the entire place to ourselves, and it felt like a true winter wonderland. We spent the afternoon hiking through and just taking in the refreshing snow. The quietitude and peace we found there helped us calm our nerves quite a bit, as we had another treacherous drive back to town since the snowing would not stop.

Once we got out dose of snow, we headed back to town, and walked around downtown Anchorage once again. Just enjoying visiting local bars and trying out food, and decided to get some comforting Korean food after a long day. 😌

The next day, we flew to Fairbanks with strong hopes of catching some views of northern lights. If you’re planning on doing this, plan accordingly using the official aurora forecast. Optimize for visiting during KP index values. It was a quick flight from Anchorage and we landed early in the morning. All car rentals were sold out when we were booking our trip, so we rented a car through Turo. The benefit of it was that you’d get a car with a winter plug, and it was ready for the road with studded tires. Alaska gets cold as nuts in the winter so it’s necessary to have a car with an electric plug that can keep the car above freezing temps so the engine oil doesn’t freeze. We also knew we’d be driving far out of town to catch the lights, so this was an excellent choice — the studded tires saved our butts. This is the exact car we rented and it treated us very well. Host was very chill and everything worked out for us. The car was at the airport parking lot waiting for us, so we picked it up and proceeded to our lodging at Billie’s Backpackers Hotel.

Fairbanks is much, much colder because it’s farther up north. We braced oursevles for some extreme conditions. Northern lights don’t start appearing until later in the night, so we stayed until 2-4am to catch them. We got a decent glimpse at Murphy Dome. There’s also Cleary Summit Aurora Viewing Area which had high praise from the locals. There are plenty of services that offer tours and such, too. We brought handwarmers and a hot thermos of coffee to keep us warm, and even then we were struggling because most photos require a decent exposure time of at least 10-15s each if you want to reduce noise.

Catching our first sights of aurora borealis was surreal, and we promptly drove back to our hostel to catch some sleep. The views were great, but being outside of your car to take photos is tough.

The next day, we did a snowmobiling tour through Rod’s Alaskan Guide. It was a ton of fun, and included some pretty up-close moose sightings.

We obviously hadn’t gotten our fix of the northern lights, so this time, we ended up doing a tour through Chena Hot Springs Observation Point that took us to the top of a mountain around midnight. The vehicle was a really cool military vehicle that was repurposed for taking passengers up the mountain in heavy snow. We stayed at the summit until about 3am, and there was a hut with heaters and hot coffee / ramen inside to keep us warm. I, of course, was too busy pointing my camera at the sky and freezing my arse off, cause you gotta do it for the shots. It was pretty hilarious to see all the photo nerds line up with their tripods just waiting for the next bit of solar storm to spark up before they all start triggering their long exposures. A fun moment I won’t forget. I’d grab Pallavi when the lights started going and we’d pose for our shot right when we got the chance.

Prayash Thapa

Hello! Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I hope you enjoyed reading through it somewhat. Photosets like these allow me to share my photographs with more context and depth, and I find them rewarding to create. I hope to do more of these in the future. Let's also connect on Instagram or Twitter.