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Thread: Ascent to Moose Pass

  1. #1
    ahockley Guest

    Default Ascent to Moose Pass

    Ascent to Moose Pass

    Aaron B. Hockley
    Click any image for the full size photo

    Moose Pass, located on the Kenai Peninsula north of Seward, Alaska was the first major natural barrier faced during the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Today, the railroad routing southward from Anchorage to Portage is mostly water-level along Turnagain Arm, with grades quickly increasing after departing Portage on the climb towards Grandview and ultimately to Moose Pass.

    On June 16, 2005 I walked into the Anchorage depot along with my wife and daughter, obtained our boarding passes, and walked out to board Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic for a 117-mile, four-hour journey which would take us though some of Alaska's most beautiful scenery. Departing Anchorage on time we soon passed alongside the mudflats which make up the east end of Turnagain Arm (which is an extension of Cook Inlet from the Pacific Ocean). The body of water is so named because when Captain Cook's ships sailed up the inlet, they had to "turn again" and "turn again" to avoid the shallow water and mud flats at low tide. Today these mudflats are a dangerous natural phenomenon, and every year someone ends up walking out on them in low tide only to find that the mud acts like quicksand, trapping its victim until the incoming tide robs them of air.

    I set out to explore the train while my family took a brief nap, tired due to the early departure of the train. Alaska Railroad prides itself on the upkeep of their equipment, with passenger cars and locomotives washed daily and the interiors kept in good repair. The seats were clean, woodwork was polished, and the atmosphere was one of the comfort and luxury found on passenger railroads of the past. The next car forward was the Tiki RailBar, a festive car featuring a neon sign, friendly server, and assorted food and beverages. The train also featured two dome cars, which had dome seating available on a first-come, first-serve basis for all passengers. By asking visitors to limit their stay in the dome, all of the train's clientele can partake in the elevated viewpoint the dome provides, looking forward over the train to the vistas ahead.

    The Alaska Railroad caters to its guests pleasure, and one of the ways to keep tourists happy is by leaving the vestibule windows open throughout the trip for better picture-taking opportunities. I spent a large portion of the trip feeling the brisk Alaskan air on my face, my camera in hand, ready to take a snapshot of whatever trackside vista or curiosity might pop into sight. I took a few photos of our train as we snaked along Turnagain Arm and admired the mountains across the water... the very same mountains which would soon challenge our consist.

    After meeting a freight train at the junction of the line to Whittier, we crossed Portage Creek and began our ascent of Grandview Hill, working on gaining the elevation we'd need to reach Moose Pass. The hillsides were full of lush green vegetation, but every few miles we would pass a reminder that I was far from my native Washington forests. To the left of the train we looked down on a lake as we climbed, with icebergs breaking the surface as a testament to the temperature of the chilly waters.

    Our train began climbing the grade, putting our two locomotives to work. As the train climbs, the route traverses a few tunnels and begins a series of curves to lessen the grade. Looking forward, one could see our locomotives working hard as they lead the train through the curvy mountain route. As we climb, the Spencer Glacier was visible off to the left of the train, named for an Alaska Railroad employee who died there in 1914.
    The area here is so scenic that it becomes a tourist destination unto itself during the summer months. The Alaska Railroad runs daily trains south from Anchorage to this aptly-named area of Grandview, where visitors can enjoy the mountain scenery, view a glacier up-close, enjoy time away from the city, and partake in some of the natural beauty of this area, which is only accessible to the public by train or foot.
    The various curves and switchbacks weren't always the only method to gain elevation here. As originally constructed, the line here was called "The Loop". A huge wooden trestle was built which carried the railroad in a large circle and looped over itself. This was a major engineering feat for its day, but over time the high maintenance costs of maintaining the large loop trestle became prohibitive, and in 1951 the trestle was abandoned and torn down, the line replaced by a series of switchback turns.

    From the train, our locomotives would be visible curving to the left, then the right, and then back to the left again as they would up the hillside. Eventually we passed a small section house that once housed the crew used to maintain the loop. Soon the grade began to flatten, our locomotives quieted a bit, and the train picked up speed. To our left was an abandonded wye, once used to turn helper power for the hill. In a few miles we found our train traversing the southeastern side of Trail Lake, with mountains across the lake reflecting into the glassy water, and our train now approaching Moose Pass. Thirty miles later we would be in Seward, our destination after this morning of mountain climbing.

    (Duplicate image for thumbnail preview)
    Last edited by Bob; 06-17-2006 at 06:02 PM.

  2. #2

    Thumbs up


    I like the essay. You avoided the traditional railfan approach, and instead went for a more of a human interest/travelogue. This make the essay appeal to a wider audience.

    The photos are well done, and look good. They're all interesting, even the mudflats, thanks to the mountains in the background. They do an excellent job of illustrating the text.

    I vote to approve this one.
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  3. #3

    Thumbs up


    A very good essay. It gives me a brief, but good idea of what this train trip is like.

    Here are some of the things that I noticed along my way through.

    In regards to the design, I like the way that the images are placed throughout the text. The image "Service with Style" seems to me to be placed beside the wrong paragraph. Would it not fit better with the paragraph that mentioned the Tiki RailBar?

    "Mountains Loom" - When I first viewed this image I found the merge in the upper right (between the sky and the railcar) somewhat bothersome. Traditionally, it would be better to ensure that items do not blend together this way. However, the more I looked at the image, the more I found that merge to take on a somewhat magical feeling. Instead of detracting from the image, I think that the effect of allowing the train to blend in with the scenery and sky makes this image something special.

    "Turnagain Arm Tideflats" - I know you would have had not control over this, but I think that the image would be a lot more powerful (and give that "from a train" feel) if the sun was at an angle to the train such that the shadows of the cars were separate, rather than merging together. I am noting this more as a suggestion for what to look for in future (and a reminder to myself), not as a comment against this image.

    The image does seem a bit light to me. Then again, if you were intending to give the image a bit of a soft, dreamy feel, you have succeeded.

    "A Vestibule View" - I like the colour contrast created by the bright yellow of the train within the cool shadows across the scene. I also like the nice detail that you have achieved along the undersides of the cars and locomotive.

    The parallel lines of the train and the nearby highway do a good job at controlling where my eye travels within the image. None the less, I do find my eye drawn up to the hydro wires. I wonder if this image might by just a bit stronger if the wires were cropped out, even if the result is an image with non-standard proportions.

    "Curving and Climbing" - For me, this image lacks depth. While I think that increasing the contrast would help somewhat, it is more likely that the direction of the sun and the texture of the environment are creating this two-dimensional feel.

    The fact that the roadbed is hidden by the high growth of the trackside trees makes for an interesting and mysterious image, but it also prevents the image from having any dynamic line.

    As for the scenic images, a couple of them seem a bit stagnant, but then you are very limited in how you can make your compositions form a moving train.

    Overall, I did enjoy the essay, and would be pleased to recommend it be accepted as submitted. I would feel even stronger if some of the images had a bit more contrast, though.

    Thank you for your submission.
    Last edited by aciphoto; 10-29-2005 at 09:12 AM.
    Rob Scrimgeour
    Victoria, BC

  4. Default


    Thanks for sharing your experience on the ARR! As you know from my GorgeRail presentation I'm a big fan of documenting a journey like this.

    I'm particularly fond of the layout you used to present your work. It gives me the feeling I'm reading a magazine article and accentuates the photographs in context. In the final paragraph I would have enjoyed having a bit less of an abrupt finish. The last sentence is good and strong, but I felt like I needed something else to transition me to Seward...not a lot, but maybe another sentence or two to help wrap it up.

    Photograph wise, I enjoyed the selection. I though you had a good mix of exterior (of the train), scenery, and interior photos to complement the story. I felt "Mountains Loom", "Turnagain Arm Tideflats", and "Spencer Glacier" lacked a bit of 'pop'. I'm just guessing, but I think they need a bit more contrast.

    I'll vote for approval. If you have a chance to make some tweaks to the story and the photos, I think it would be just that much better.

  5. #5
    ahockley Guest


    Thanks for the reviews so far... I see a recurring theme of "more contrast".

    I'm going to update the images and I'll have Bob post them (or tell me how to post them) so I can re-link before this essay goes public.

  6. #6


    > I see a recurring theme of "more contrast".

    As I suggested in a PM, you might want to check your monitor calibration. The type may also make a difference, LCDs tend to be much brighter, which may mean more contrasty?

    There are some free calibration image sets on the web, as well as a bunch of more expensive options.
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  7. #7
    FoamersNW Guest

    Thumbs up

    For the Review:

    Very well written article on your rail adventure. I know nothing of the Alaska Railroad, and you placed us right there with you, painting us a mental picture of the grandeur of this spectacular place.

    The photos to me all seem appropriate and I see no major issues with any of them. The Tiki one is a nice touch.

    Perhaps an accompanying map would help showing this route as compared to the rest of the system. If there was an Alaska RR logo, it would go great
    between you title and name on the top of the essay.

    By design are there supposed to be so much space between the photos and the text, or are they all uniformed.

    I believe that the different photo locations within the story layout makes for a nice touch.

    I agree that this could move forward to post.
    Last edited by FoamersNW; 10-20-2005 at 06:17 AM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Hillsboro, OR


    Very nice Aaron, a very good primer for your Centralia presentation.

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