I can't begin to count the amount of times that I've uttered the phrase, "Photos just don't do it justice". Usually, I'm talking about the three dimensional beauty that I am immersed in, but often I'm talking about much more - about the richness of the experience, the effort expended to acquire the photograph, or the events leading up to the single moment where the camera lens blinks and captures an image in time.
I've taken thousand upon thousands of photos of my trips, and I love so many of them - but there are SO many stories "behind" the image that I usually don't have time to share. So, I wanted to pick a few of my favorite photos and their accompanying stories.
This is me on the summit of Mt. Adams for the second time. What you can't tell from this photo is that shortly after it was taken, I dislocated my shoulder and almost careened, helplessly flailing, down the mountain. I managed to stop myself while my two, inexperienced friends proceeded to have panic attacks about my situation. I gave them my pack to carry, and I set to work trying to "re-locate" my shoulder. When I talk about my bad shoulder history (this was my 10th dislocation), everybody always asks, "Did you slam it into a door like Mel Gibson does in Lethal Weapon?" The answer is, I tried that. It does not work. I tried slamming my shoulder into the snow on the side of Mt. Adams - that did not work either. Finally, I let my arms dangle loosely and I was able to gently coax my dislocated humerus back into place. Alas, about 20 minutes later, I slipped a little bit and it popped out again (yes, I'm a mess). I re-located, and continued down the slope, crying. I was devastated that my mountaineering career was over. Another hiker offered me some pain medication back at camp, which I refused, because I still had to hike out. I hoisted my pack and finished the hike while my two friends proceeded to get into a "lover's tiff". Ah, memories. Good news - my right shoulder was surgically repaired in 2009, and it is stronger than ever. I've climbed Mt. Adams twice more since that fateful day, and I'll do it again in a heartbeat.
This is one of the more beautiful campsites I have ever visited - White Rock Lakes in the North Cascades. It is an extremely remote spot on the infamous, "Ptarmigan Traverse", a mountaineer's high route through some of the most rugged terrain in the United States. This was a special spot, because it took my friend Brenda and I nearly 12 hours of navigating in a complete white-out to reach this location. As serene as it appears, we spent a good portion of our time here worrying about the route the next day, which looked impossibly difficult and steep. I still remember that I ate dehydrated chili for dinner that night, and I was so anxious, that I could barely finish it. Mercifully, the route the next day proved to be straightforward and simple - and we successfully completed our dream of walking the Ptarmigan Traverse together.
One of my favorite photographs of my sister Reese ascending the SE Ridge of Mt. Daniels at sunrise. This was a perfect trip on a perfectly clear and cold weekend in October. Well, it was perfect, except for the extremely loud talkers who decided to camp directly next to us. I don't know if you've ever backpacked before - but one of the things I love about backpacking is the quiet and solitude ... listening to the wind rustling the tent at night. But instead, we listened to two extremely loud talkers trying to find cellphone service in the middle of the wilderness until 10pm. I'm not trying to complain, but hearing, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW???" over and over again, when you know you are going to be waking up at 4am to climb a mountain ... it tends to morph into "icepick into the ear" syndrome with amazing velocity. Nevertheless, it was an amazing climb - probably one of my favorites of all time.
I have a lot of shoulder stories, apparently. This is a photo of Brenda and I hiking out after our successful climb to the summit of Cerro Solo in El Chalten, Argentina. What you can't tell from this photo, is that about 2 hours prior, I had dislocated my LEFT shoulder for the first time ever. It took me completely by surprise - I was descending an easy rock scramble and, BAM, my shoulder popped out of the socket. I managed to simultaneously catch myself from falling and grab my shoulder and re-locate it back into place within about 10 seconds, so the blinding pain was over relatively quickly... but the disappointment, that did not pass quickly. I knew immediately that I was due for yet another shoulder surgery. I spent the hike down quietly crying to myself about my fate and feeling sorry for myself. By this point on the hike out, I had resigned myself to the fact that the surgery would only make my arm stronger, and three days later, we crossed the entire Patagonian Ice Cap. It was an amazing trip - and I also learned that if you dislocate your shoulder while on a climbing trip, it adds about $3500 to the cost of your trip when you have your surgery upon coming home.
This is my favorite photo of my dear friend Brenda. This was on a completely failed attempt at climbing Mt. Thompson in the Cascades. We were totally socked in, soaked, and basically we had no idea where we were. We stopped at this saddle to take a break, before heading back down a wickedly steep slope covered with wet grass and sporadic ice. Brenda and I have a LOT of photographs together, and somehow we are always smiling in them, even if things haven't gone as planned. Just getting out is always better than nothing at all.
One of my favorite photos from my birthday trip last year to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. We did a mostly "off trail" circuit from Circle Lake to Spade Lake. I usually don't screw up with packing for backpacking trips, but this was my biggest "oops" to date. We got to camp on our first day, and somehow I had forgotten our Aqua Mira drops, the water purification method that we use. Luckily, I had some "emergency" chlorine dioxide tablets in my first aid kit, but I frantically spent an hour trying to figure out if we had enough fuel and tablets to last for the entire trip. We had to push ourselves on the last day to hike 15 miles back to the car, but we successfully completed the circuit without contracting giardia from untreated water. This photo shows Aaron on a beautiful ledge above Spade Lakes. We were actually in the process of attempting to find our way down a series of steep ledges to Venus Lake (not seen in photo).
This is looking down an endless boulder scramble from the top of Wind River Peak to Tayo Lakes in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. This was a 5 night/6 day loop that we completed last summer. I rarely get discouraged while hiking, but as we descended from Wind River Peak, it started to rain. My feet hurt. I was exhausted. I had a little pity-party for myself in my own head, and then I pulled myself together and pushed on. We hiked for so long on this particular day - the routefinding was relatively challenging, and once we reached our destination for the day at Coon Lake, we had no idea how to descend from Coon Lake to the next part of our journey. We literally spent hours running around in the pouring rain trying to find the route for the next day. Exhausted, we retreated to the tent, with only a faint hope that the route would work the next day (and I'll have to leave it as a cliffhanger, because writing about our trip to the Winds is on my list of things to do).
It always amazes me how much depth is behind a simple photograph - relationships, emotions, anxiety, moods, frustration and exhilaration. Sure, it might be one snapshot in time, but when you think of everything that it took to get you to that very place in that very moment in your very own life - it can be overwhelming. I truly believe that those non-photograph-able elements are what make an adventure so richly rewarding - the triumphs and failures, the obstacles overcome, the dedication and training and preparation.
My parents took me and my three sisters on an amazing, life-changing (for me) vacation when I was a kid to tour National Parks in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana. I remember being at the Badlands in South Dakota and seeing a family hop out of the car, snap a few photos, and immediately leave. My family camped for a few days, immersed ourselves in the environment and completed some amazing hikes. I often reflected on how meaningful my photographs seemed, since we had truly experienced as much of the environment as possible. A photo without the emotional connection, is just a pretty picture. A photo that sparks memories and emotions - it ceases to serve as merely as a 2-dimensional "proof" of our visit. Even if we can't be in that place, at that moment, it can still exist in our heart.