Thursday, January 01, 2015

2014 in photos

 I've fallen behind in blogging but didn't want to miss out on the "Year in Photos" review that I've been posting since 2006. It's always fun to pick one favorite photo for every month of the year. However, as I scrolled through my blog archives here at Sea-Tac airport, there was a sense of disappointment about this past year's selection. "I need to diversify my repertoire," I thought. "Too many variations on the small people in big places theme." But this is what 2014 was for me — a year of ambitious adventures coupled with feelings of insignificance in bewildering expanses.

The above photo is my favorite from this past year, as those who have seen my blog banner might have guessed. I took it in late February during the Iditarod Trail Invitational, in a region near the South Fork of the Kuskokwim River known as Egypt Mountain, while Beat and I dragged (and I mean dragged) sleds across a barely-frozen swamp. Beyond this day being one of my most physically strenuous days of a physically strenuous year, this place was spectacularly surreal. It was February, in the Far North, and we had been hauling for three days through subzero cold and snow. We crossed over the Alaska Range, into what is often the icebox of Alaska, only to watch winter disintegrate with breathtaking rapidity. We were far from the outer reaches of modern civilization, where the air was warm and still, and yet devoid of any signs of life. It looked and felt like a dystopian wilderness — the world after the end of the world, and for that reason had a special kind of uniqueness to an already unique place to visit. Now that it's over I can say it was worth dragging my sled over fifty miles of glare ice, alders, swamps, roots, and mud, just to stand in that place at that point in time. But it was one of my most difficult days of the year (it's a toss-up between that day, bushwhacking through the Stettynskloof on the last day of the Freedom Challenge, and the day I tore my LCL in the Tor des Geants. The TDG probably wins.)

 January: Tree house, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California. January was a heavy training month of long bike rides and 50K runs, and I didn't take time to compose the most interesting images. But I love a good oddity, and this tree house on Gazos Creek is a fun place to roll past while descending from a high chaparral ridge into a dark, dense forest.

 February: Loreen Hewitt on Rainy Pass, Alaska. This is another image from the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Rainy Pass is a special place that commands awe and often terror. We were fortunate to visit in beautiful weather, even if the warmth and sunshine would become more of a nightmare on the eastern side of the range.

 March: Placer River, Southcentral Alaska. While Beat continued to make his way toward Nome on the Iditarod Trail, I enjoyed a full month of rambling around Alaska. There were many fun mini-adventures that month that culminated in the White Mountains 100 in Fairbanks, so it was hard to choose one photo. I like the lighting in this image of a fat bike ride near Turnagain Arm during a failed attempt to see Spencer Glacier (three of us were stopped by unwillingness to cross a waist-deep river. My friend Jill chose a different route earlier on and managed to reach the glacier.) Despite no glacier, it was a fun and beautiful outing all the same.

 April: Santa Cruz, California. April and May were heavy on all-day bike rides to prepare for the Race Across South Africa. One upside was exploring an array of places close to home but new to me.

 May: Henry Coe State Park, California. I like this photo because it's a quintessential image of mountains in the Bay Area. In all honesty, after living most of my life around mountains in Utah, Alaska and Montana, it took me some time to develop an appreciation for the subtle beauties of grassy peaks and oak-dotted hillsides. In four years I've grown to love California's landscapes, and miss these curvy ridges and deceptively steep slopes when I'm away.

June: Lehana's Pass, Eastern Cape, South Africa. There were many images I liked from the month-plus I spent in South Africa, but I had to go with the hike up and over the Drakensberg Mountains during the Race Across South Africa. The elements of this photo illustrate the experience well — the ways in which the route was difficult and stunning, often simultaneously.

 July: Jonkersberg Nature Preserve, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Following our completion of the Race Across South Africa, we spent a few more days in Cape Town and I had a chance to embark on several trail runs in the area. The day before we left, which was the fourth of July, there was a cold and wet storm that dumped fresh snow on the rocky peaks above this preserve. Despite a pounding soreness in my legs, I ran through the downpour and relished the chance to reflect on the past month and soak it all in. This was a rewarding way to wrap up my adventure in South Africa.

 August: Mount Baker, Washington. Beat joined Bellingham runners Daniel and Aaron on a hundred-mile run from tidewater to the top of this volcano in Northern Washington, then back. I served as part of the support crew and joined the run for two choice segments, including an 18-hour summit bid that started with a treacherous river crossing and continued along a difficult bushwhacking route. The lower reaches of the route — which was the closest access point from the sea — proved to be far more challenging than the glacier climb. I took this photo on a lower snowfield in the morning, before we roped up.

 September: Alta Via, Aosta Valley, Italy. This photo is from the Tor des Geants, and thus my favorite thing about it is the stance of the runner in the foreground. The Alps make you feel very small in different ways than Alaska, and at this point I felt very, very small and very, very slow. (But not as small or slow as I'd feel two days later when I faced an extremely difficult descent with significant pain and without the ability to bend my knee.) I still believe it's rewarding to gain these perspectives, even if the Tor des Geants proved to be an admittedly large disappointment in an otherwise fantastic year.

October: Highway 6, Juab County, Utah. I was injured an unable to run or hike, but headed out to Utah anyway for my favorite tradition with my Dad, the fall Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon (instead of hiking I joined the shuttle drive-around with my Mom, which was enjoyable.) On the trip out to Utah I enjoyed a fun driving adventure by traveling small two-lane highways through the desert. Although I clearly value my health and ability to be physically active, it was rewarding to reinforce the aspect of adventure that matters most to me — the experience of moving through the world.

 November: Prewitt Ridge, Big Sur, California. Before Thanksgiving my friend Leah and I were able to steal away for an overnight bikepacking trip on Cone Peak and the surrounding ridge. In this photo you can see Cone Peak in the center, framed by this beautiful old tree.

December: Tolovana Hot Springs, Alaska. Beat and I hiked into this backcountry hot spring, joined by our friend Tom on skis, on Christmas Day. Temperatures were mild (around 10F), and it was for the most part an overcast day. But the low winter sun peeked out as we descended the upper ridge where thick hoarfrost clings to the trees, illuminating a appropriately Christmasy scene. This is the third solstice-Christmas-New Years that we spent in Fairbanks, and we had a fantastic trip. More on that in the next blog post. 


  1. Jill - Love this photo review you do at the end of each year. A great tradition. All great choices. Can't wait to hear more about your recent time in Fairbanks. Before living in Juneau (and now, Wisconsin), I lived in Fairbanks for 18 years. Love that December shot. (And, before living in Alaska, I lived in San Jose/Los Gatos, where my husband grew up, for almost two years, so enjoy reading about your explorations/adventures there. Actually, I enjoy reading everything you write.)

  2. I really respect you and your work. I also appreciate your patience with my comments, and being a kind enough person to engage me in an occasional discussion.
    I wish only the best for you in 2015!

  3. Great photo recap of the year. It makes me realize how much you guys did this year. It was an incredible year for you. Hope 2015 has as much adventure in it. It sounds like it will.

  4. I discovered your blog this year and read three of your books within a week. Thanks for sharing your adventures, I really enjoy reading about them! Happy 2015!

  5. Great selection, Jill! The Rainy Pass photo is chilling. You also had one of giraffes in a canyon that was quite striking and is one of my favorites of yours. Best wishes in 2015.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photographs and stories about your adventures across the globe. I hope 2015 is a wonderful year for you!

  7. Amazing, as always. Can't wait to see what 2015 has in store for you!

  8. Hi Jill!
    I have been inspired reading your books, such as Be brave, be strong, and Ghost Trails. I have yet to take the leap to winter endurance. In the past year I did the Resurrection Pass 50 mile race, the AlaskAcross race, and also the Willow Solstice Marathon, but the Susitna 100 looms yet. I want to do it! But I am afraid of some things -- for example, what if there is no one around me and I take the wrong turn? I'm also nervous about overflow, with which you had at least one unfortunate encounter, as have I. Did you buddy up for your first winter race? Do you buddy up now? Thanks for any advice. Also -- are you racing the Susitna 100 this year?



  9. Super amazing shots. So many beautiful places to see in the world. Thanks for sharing.

  10. This has to be the most inspiring outdoors adventure blog ever. I used to read Up in Alaska all the time but kept missing posts here since Google reader was taken away. So glad I found your site again! Awesome images!


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