My two newest paintings come not from the forest, but from high in the mountains. Each year since 2002, when I served as Denali National Park's first Artist-in-Residence, I've spent a week or more in summer--and twice spent a week in winter--in a cabin in that extraordinary wilderness preserve. I've hiked and climbed and skied and snowshoed in many parts of the park on the north side of the Alaska Range, and I've made scores of images responding to and recollecting those places and experiences.
One of the areas I've painted most often is the high country near the park's Eielson Visitor Center--dramatic Gorge Creek and the highlands surrounding it, from Stony Dome, 62 miles in on the Park Road, to Grassy Pass, six miles further west. While staying in the East Fork Cabin the last week of August this year, Dorli and I hiked up the well-used path from Eielson Visitor Center to Thorofare Ridge, but instead of turning at the ridgetop and descending as most visitors do, we kept going up, from one visible, nearby, higher ridge to the next, until we eventually reached the top of Mt.Thorofare.
It's just a hike, not a climb, but at 5629 feet, Mt. Thorofare is one of the highest peaks on the north side of the Denali Park Road that far west, and it affords wonderful views in every direction. The tapestry of fall colors and the deep shadows that day, from the canyon of Gorge Creek to the glaciers on Sunset and Sunrise Peaks, were amazing. We looked at and talked about the places we could see that we'd hiked to before, and we identified others for the future. It was a perfect day in one of my favorite places anywhere.
As much as I've explored Denali National Park on the north side of the Alaska Range, I had spent almost no time in the part of the park on the south side of it before 2012. My friend John Gimbel has been urging me for years to accompany him and his friend Nanne Myers to the Sheldon Mountain Hut, high on a rocky promontory in the icy wilderness of the Sheldon Amphitheater of the Ruth Glacier. Finally, last May, Dorli and I flew in with them and were dropped off, spent five and a half hours getting our gear and food up to the small, hexagonal hut built by pioneer aviator Don Sheldon, and enjoyed five days of near-perfect weather in what is without question the most spectacular setting I've ever visited.
The tiny bit of peak at the very top of the painting is the summit of Denali, just six miles away. Everything around us was ice, snow, and blinding light. In the mornings, as the sun hit the sheer, corniced peaks all around us, avalanches of snow fell a thousand feet like waterfalls, followed seconds later by sounds like thunder. I took it all in for five days, filled with awe, and was so overwhelmed by it that it's taken me a year and a half to find a way to begin to respond to it on canvas.