It’s pretty tough to keep up with Matt and Agnes Hage, also known as HagePhoto. While they call Anchorage, Alaska their home, you can usually find them wandering the globe, looking for their next adventure—camera gear in hand.
A recent assignment that appeared in the January 2015 issue of Backpacker Magazine drew the dynamic duo to New Zealand’s Southern Alps with editor Rachel Zurer, on a quest to photograph the Ivory Lake Hut, which Matt and Agnes say is the country’s most spectacular hut:
Originally built to host scientific teams interested in the regions glaciers and geology, the Ivory Lake Hut is now relegated to sheltering backpackers in the Lange Range. Not too many trampers (Kiwi for hikers or trekkers) actually make it into this alpine shack: records showed less than a dozen annually. The hut is buried deep in the heart of the Southern Alps and whichever route you choose is arduous even by New Zealand standards. The tracks into these valleys have all been washed away or reclaimed by the forests.
When Genny, the photo editor at Backpacker, initially reached out, the assignment sounded like an excellent shoot for the Hages. It involved a difficult hike, backpacking and an incredible destination; it couldn’t be a more perfect fit. Matt and Agnes shared some insight from the trip, which turned out to be more challenging than expected:
Fast forward two months and we’re clinging for our lives to one of the most crumbly, exposed ridge lines we’ve ever been on without climbing gear. Our new Kiwi friend Andrew Buglass, who met up with us for this adventure at the start in Hokitika, moves over this crux section of Dickie Ridge with ease. He waits patiently and offers encouragement as we navigate the fifth-class terrain, trying to pull on the tufts of grass that seem more sturdy than the face of friable shale. We’re clad in hiking boots and have trekking poles, both to help in schlepping our 60-pound packs through this mountain wilderness. Earlier in the day, our second of the trek, we all decided to take the high route. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. Rock crumbles off the face with every move and tumbles through 500 meters of air beneath our boots. A mist moves in, reducing visibility to less than a meter. As the Kiwi’s would say, we were in a bit of a spot.
While the Hages usually like to pack light for a difficult trek, they knew in advance that getting the shots they needed on the first try was essential, so they carried a bit more gear with them then they normally would. Luckily, the extra weight didn’t slow them down and they arrived at the Waitaha River Valley (which lies below Ivory Lake), just a day after navigating through Dickie Ridge.
Water cascaded wildly from every side of the rocky cirque. The water came from Ivory Lake which sat on a glacier carved bench above us. No one dared to speak, but we knew we had made it. An hour later, we picked our way through the rocks and walked up to the namesake hut. Andrew promptly brought out a ragged red arm chair from inside. The pint of bourbon also came out as we basked in the afternoon sun, soaking in this hard earned place in the mountains.
After a couple nights at the hut, the crew hiked back down to Hokitika and went their separate ways.
A week later in a different part of the Southern Alps, in a hut much easier to access, we came across the March issue of Wilderness, a Kiwi backpacking journal. The cover boasted a feature on the top ten most frightening hikes in New Zealand. There was Dickie Ridge claiming the number one spot.
The final photos from Ivory Lake look spectacular, and if you ask me, the difficult hike seems like it was definitely worth to take in the stunning views. Backpacker Magazine’s photo editor, Genny, felt the same sentiment and was happy for a chance to see what the Hages could do:
“For a long time I wanted to get a chance to work with Agnes and Matt on a feature because their photos are beautiful and they do real adventures. I wanted a chance to show off more than just one or two of the pictures. This New Zealand story came up, and with it the need to make sure we had a really great set of photos from the journey in a very infrequently traveled area. I knew the terrain would be very difficult, but had no doubt that they would be up for it.” —Genny Fullerton, Backpacker Magazine