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  Field Notes From
Alaska's Giant of Ice and Stone


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On Assignment
Arrows
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From Photographer

Frans Lanting



On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Author

John G. Mitchell



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Paul Claus (top), and Brian Strauss


 

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Alaska's Giant of Ice and Stone

Field Notes From Photographer
Frans Lanting
Best Worst Quirkiest

    It was a thrill flying over glaciers in small planes. Wrangell-St. Elias is six times the size of Yellowstone, so very few people traverse the park on the ground. It's just too big, so you have to fly. I worked with two ace bush pilots who flew sometimes at 100 feet (30 meters), sometimes at 1,000 feet (300 meters). It was great to see this huge wilderness from that perspective.



    I had to fly much higher in a larger plane to photograph the highest peaks of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range. We went up to almost 18,000 feet (5,400 meters) to get shots of Malaspina, an enormous glacier the size of Rhode Island. But to have good visibility for taking pictures, I had to open a window. So for about two hours I sat in a slipstream at 18,000 feet, suffering from a lack of oxygen while trying to make photographs. That wasn't so good! I could endure it for a short period, but then I had to close the window, regain my strength, and do it again.



    The Super Cub is the preferred plane of many bush pilots in this area. It's a very lightweight plane with balloon tires, so they can land it just about anywhere on the tundra without damaging the vegetation. I flew around with a bush pilot who had lightened his Super Cub to the max by stripping out all of the electrical systems. It saved him about 200 pounds (90 kilograms). But that meant the only way he could get it going was to stand outside, hand-crank the propeller, then jump into the cockpit in front of me for takeoff.





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