Bush Pilot

New book explores Alaska's Wrangell Mountains by air

Just in time for the Christmas holiday comes a wonderful book (and gift idea) that will satisfy pilots, climbers, photographers and those who love the mountains of Alaska.

"My Wrangell Mountains" by Swiss photographer Ruedi Homberger and Alaska artists Jon and Jona Van Zyle will take your breath away with spectacular vistas of a frequently overlooked range of Alaska mountains, glaciers and rivers. The foreword by Chris Larsen, of the Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks, gives the book a technical description.

This high-quality book (in paperback for $35 and hardcover for $50) contains more than 200 pages of aerials, air to air images of aircraft against gnarly peaks and glaciers and some of the most remote landing spots a Cub pilot can make.

The recently published book is all about the ultimate Alaska with paintings by Jon Van Zyle and perfectly crafted descriptions by Jona Van Zyle in addition to Homberger's panoramas. After becoming close friends with Ruedi, the Van Zyles convinced Homberger to produce the book as collaboration.

Jona Van Zyle writes, "Flying over Alaska and the Wrangells is like reading a best-selling mystery novel, it's a pager turner for sure."

So is this book.

Homberger met bush pilot Paul Claus of Ultima Thule Lodge while walking the streets of Nepal, where their friendship began twenty years ago.


The Claus family -- famous for introducing outdoors people from all over world to the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest contiguous expanse of protected land in the world -- befriended the Swiss photographer.

Homberger's work is a collection of images that started with skiing to the summit of Mt. Logan, where he viewed this remote range along the Alaska-Canada border. Later Ruedi joined Paul Claus on many climbs that eventually led them to summit Mt. St. Elias.

"Paul knows the Wrangells like no one else," Homberger writes. "Access is always by airplane and we were a very good team for several first or early ascents."

Using at first an Olympus OM-1 camera shooting negative film, later the Rollei 35, and a Minox 35 and eventually a digital Canon 5D Mark II, the images span 20 years of a love affair with the Wrangells.

Learning how to fly a Cub at 60 years-old, Homberger evolved from skiing and climbing to make his images to shooting aerial panoramas with a Noblex 120 from the air. The book, a mix of color images from negative, slide and digital files details the landscapes in clarity that even the late master photographer Ansel Adams would admire.

In the section about the photographer Homberg writes:

"After seeing Paul's shoulders in his Super Cub many times, I wanted to learn to fly. After a long and slow learning curve, finally I have wings. The freedom of flight in this big and unforgiving mountain country gave me the opportunity to see more horizons and to capture unseen views."

This book is evidence that Homberger, who hails from the mountains of Switzerland and was born into a family who loved and climbed the mountains of the world, has also found a passion for aviation. Many of the images in the book not only document some wild landing spots but show Homberger's love of aircraft and flying.

Another section of the book documents the photographer's affection for the Claus family and their lifestyle at Ultima Thule Lodge.

A better fit of artists and pilots who appreciate the beauty of North could only be found in Alaska, and this book produced by the University of Alaska Press proves it. This book is a must have for the coffee table of your office, home or lodge.

Rob Stapleton is a photographer, writer and pilot who has summited Denali twice. Contact him at robstapleton(at)alaska.net