Huge storm clouds tower above the snow-covered peaks. The wind is picking up. The light of the low sun adds drama to the menacing backdrop as two cars pull up at the side of the road. Four men step out and take out their cameras. Hannes Becker, Johannes Höhn and Lennart Pagel are part of the German Roamers, one of the best-known German Instagram photographer collectives. Together with film maker Mathias von Gostomski they are pursuing a shared goal – to capture the soul of Canada and Alaska on camera. The route is taking them along the Alaska Highway from Whitehorse in Canada, along the Top of the World Highway and northward to Dawson. From there, they head to Alaska and through the Denali National Park on to Anchorage. Over ten days, the German Roamers soak up spectacular landscapes, meet extreme climber Hansjörg Auer, and savour the all-terrain mastery and comfort of the G-Class: “All in all, North America is an absolute dream for any photographer,” extoll the foursome. –#MBfacingthenorth
Sunsets that last for hours.
It never really gets dark in June this close to the Arctic Circle. The soft twilight bathes the landscape in gentle lilac and glowing orange. The so-called golden hour, the period just before sunset and immediately after sunrise, lasts up to six times longer in Canada. “At times, we had perfect light conditions until four in the morning,” recalls Hannes. “For photographers, you can’t get better than that.” It allows plenty of time for breathtaking images of rugged mountain vistas, dense forests and mirror-smooth lakes. Added to that are cloud formations that alter the scenery with every passing minute. The shutters click at record-breaking speed.
Wild horses grazing by a stream make excellent photographic subjects and are the reward for arduous creeping through dense undergrowth. Suddenly, shouting is heard from the direction of the road. The horses are quickly forgotten – no time to hang around, they have to move fast. They run back through the brush, up the bank and over to the cars. A huge bear trots across the road less than a hundred metres away. Even professional photographers rarely have the chance to snap a full-grown grizzly. Johannes crouches down low, focuses in on the animal and presses the shutter. “On the flight back, I worked up this picture to create the perfect shot. I’m amazed I caught it exactly like that,” says Johannes, who is clearly proud of his photo.
The endless Yukon.
Clouds of mist hang like a wreath around Canada’s highest mountain. Mount Logan towers 5,959 metres above sea level and stands in the middle of the Kluane Icefield, one of the world’s largest contiguous non-polar icefields. After two days of delays due to bad weather the small propeller aircraft is finally cleared for take-off. It’s not until airborne that you can truly appreciate the sheer vastness and inaccessibility of the Yukon. There are no signs of surfaced roads, cable cars or chairlifts out here. “In the airplane, I consciously put my camera aside for the first time so that I could enjoy the beauty of the landscape undisturbed,” says Hannes. “Despite the plane’s engines, we could still feel the silence of this place,” recalls Mathias. For the four men, the flight over the massive glacier is one of the highlights of the trip.
The adventurer won’t find the most beautiful photo locations in any travel guide. It takes experience and gut feel. Hansjörg Auer has both of these. The experienced alpinist from Tyrol joins the German Roamers for a few days to take them on a voyage of discovery and to provide the photographers with a few tips on life in the wilderness. During a lunch break on the Alaska Highway, Lennart finds a business card on the counter with a photo of an ice cave. Less than half an hour later, the men are sitting in an inflatable dinghy belonging to the restaurant owner, who takes them almost 25 kilometres upriver. To reach the cave takes almost three hours of marching across fields of ice and scree, through streams and across jagged rocks.
It feels like an eternity until Hansjörg’s group finally finds the entrance to the ice cave beneath masses of brown stone. However, the search is well worth the effort. The cave glows with a surreal pale blue light. The walls are smooth. “Thanks to this business card, I was standing in one of the most incredible places on the whole trip,” raves Lennart. Melt water drips from the roof and soaks their clothes. Their hands are so frozen that even pressing the shutter release is hard work. But laying the cameras down to warm up doesn’t cross anyone’s mind even for a moment.
Surrounded by silence.
An idyllic campfire in the middle of a broad, flat riverbed provides a beautiful backdrop for one shoot. The group takes plenty of time to enjoy the silence and solitude. “Without the cars, we would never have gotten this far. We’ve seen so many things because of them,” says Mathias. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to get where you want,” adds Lennart. And that’s far from a given in Canada. During the subsequent search for overnight accommodation, the German Roamers suddenly find themselves once more between an orange sunset and violet storm clouds. They race to capture the best moments on their memory cards. “We were jumping around like little kids trying to get as many good shots at we could,” recalls Johannes. The light and atmosphere changes and shifts with every passing second. One minute, huge lightning flashes are darting across the sky then, a moment later, the evening sun is once again bathing the mountains in warm yellow. To put it into Hannes’ words: “An unbelievably thrilling photo adventure that would never have been what it was without the G-Class.”