Alaska is my favorite place in the world. Mountains tower up out of the ocean, glaciers carve across the landscape, weather is unpredictable and roads are few and often unkempt. Alaska has an overwhelming sense of remoteness, coupled with a powerful proximity to wildlife — it is paradise for any outdoor enthusiast. We drove a Land Rover Discovery Sport out from Whitefish, Montana, up the spine of the Rockies to Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, which we took all the way to its terminus. We crossed rivers, wound down decommissioned forest roads and climbed up glaciers carving through the southern fjords.
4,400 Miles From Whitefish to Tutka Bay and Back
This was a shot I had in mind for a long time, from up in the plane as people biked underneath along a gravel ridge, skirting the glacier. Something about the contrast drew me to the idea of biking surrounded by ice, in such an inhospitable environment. We drove up unmapped roads until we were skirting the glacier. Initially, the terrain was difficult: soft black sand mixed in with larger rocks. And the arial view was even more incredible than I imagined.
The Knik River Lodge was our first taste of true Alaskan Hospitality. Peter, the owner, mentioned he had access to a helicopter and offered to tour us around the glacier. From above we saw this incredible blue lake that had formed atop the glacial ice, and immediately we wondered if it was possible to get our kayaks up there. Peter told us that if we could get the kayaks to the mouth of the glacier in the Land Rover, he could probably sling load the kayaks up to the lake and land somewhere nearby. The ephemeral nature of the lagoon drove a deep desire to paddle through it, under its ice bridges and above its dramatic depths, surrounded by one of the least hospitable environments on earth.
There is something very profound about islands and being isolated by the water. We sat down with local fishermen to ask about islands in Tutka Bay. They suggested a small unnamed island not far from the coast and we were sold. Grabbing our kayaks, known for seaworthiness and cargo space, we loaded up the Land Rover and took off. We got to the island late in the evening, just as the sun was falling behind the thick clouds. Hiking through the forest we had trouble finding a suitable camping spot.
Because we were going to clock a lot of miles, we wanted it to be comfortable on the road. We also needed to be capable off-road. We swapped the stock all-season tires with a set of All Terrains, and we were ready.
Flash-forward 14,000 miles, and the DS was impressing us. At first we weren’t sure how the car would do on aggressive trails, like the ones rated 4/5 in 4×4 guide books, placarded with signs like “High-clearance 4×4 only,” “short wheel base obligatory or you will die.” But, after so many tricky moments — crossing a river or going over wet, rocky uphill sections — I have to admit that we were impressed when the Land Rover trundled along to the finish line. Every single time.
Alex Strohl is a photographer/adventurer/man-of-the-world based in Whitefish, Montana and you’ve almost definitely seen his work in one place or another.
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