[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  Field Notes From
Stikine River

<< Back to Feature Page

Stikine River On AssignmentArrows

View Field Notes
From Photographer

Sarah Leen

Stikine River On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Author

Wade Davis

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 Jesus Lopez (top) and Sarah Leen


Stikine River

Field Notes From Photographer
Sarah Leen

Best Worst Quirkiest
    The variety of geography in the Stikine River basin was an inspiration for me. Many parts of the area are inaccessible by road, so I did a lot of traveling in floatplanes and helicopters. Flying over this incredible landscape was always a joy.
    There is a marvelous helicopter pilot out of Dease Lake in British Columbia named Jim Reed. Jim's a transplanted New Zealander, and he operates his machine like it's an extension of his body. The first time he flew me through the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, it absolutely blew my mind. He took the helicopter right down into the twisting turns of the canyon, and the sheer walls seemed close enough to reach out and touch. It was a ride I will always remember.
    We flew together many times and, without his help and that of other capable pilots like him, I wouldn't have been able to access these areas and make the photographs that show the diverse beauty of this landscape.

    Pouring rain forced me to sit in Wrangell, Alaska, for three days before I could take aerials. I was there to photograph the mouth of the Stikine River, and all I could do was sit there and cross my fingers. When you're shooting aerials of mountains and rivers, it's so important to have some decent light. It's impossible to take pictures when it's raining hard, because you're flying with the helicopter door off.
    It was depressing. Every day I had to call the helicopter people and cancel.
    So I drove the entire length of Wrangell Island several times, trying to come up with anything to add to the story. When you're stuck, the time ticks by so slowly. I just read a lot and drove around.
    Then on my very last morning the sun finally broke through. At that time of year it can rain forever up there. I just had to wait it out, and I got lucky. Photographers depend on luck a lot.

    My husband, Bill, and I joined Reg Collingwood, an extremely competent guide and hunter, and his crew when they led a team of horses from their Bug Lake camp to Hyland Post. The trip was about 25 miles (40 kilometers), and progress was slow through the thick brush and boggy terrain. It became obvious that we wouldn't make it before dark, so Reg decided to have his guys drive the horses to Hyland. He told Bill and me to wait at a campsite by the river where they would pick us up by boat. Before Reg left, he told us to watch out for grizzly bears since someone had been killed at that campsite the year before.
    We huddled around a huge fire with our small ax, listening desperately for the sound of an approaching boat engine. We were sure every tiny sound we heard was a bear. After waiting several hours, we decided to put down our sleeping bags.
    But just as we were going to bed, Reg arrived. River conditions made it too dangerous to return by boat at night, so we stayed at the campsite. But having Reg there relieved all our fears. We slept like babies.


© 2004 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe