It’s funny how sometimes you think that you’re headed in the right direction, but when you stop and take the time to look around, you realize that you need to tweak your priorities just a little bit. The end goal is usually always the same, it’s just the path that you take to get there might be a little different than what you had imagined.
I think a lot people who are looking to get into photography are really concerned about the technical specifications of different cameras; which camera shoots more frames a second or which one has a higher pixel count, but I think those are the wrong questions. To me, the main question is what kind of camera is small enough that I’ll want to take it with me on my adventures, but good enough to express what I’m seeing in an adequate way. Maybe that’s more about the style of photography that’s being pursued.
I very much love trying to be an objective observer, documenting the realities around me, so for me, accessibility is key. There in no sense in bringing any camera if it’s just going to stay in my backpack. Having it in it’s own pouch, or in my chest pocket increases the chance of pulling the camera out in time to document a moment that will only happen once. This is something that I’ve known for a long time, but have only recently put into practice. It’s definitely been a learning experience, and I’m excited to see what comes out of it.
What life exists for the wretched?
Do they break free from the judgements of their present self
Or are they trapped in the past, cloaked in the forest of their beliefs?
Clouds rain down silence, extinguishing the fires within.
Isolation and misery thrive, taking hold in one’s doubt.
Blossoming into hatred, spread by whispers on the wind.
Crawling out of the forest, aged in the confidence of thousand wrong choices,
They seek the light that beckons them forward.
Always around the corner, just out of sight.
They claw at the walls of their innocence, desperate for one breath.
Trapped in the darkest corners while the earth crumbles around them.
Falling into an ocean of what might have been.
For all that we are is the struggle, drowning in a sea of helplessness.
And all that we were is what is left behind for the world to see.
A fragment of everything that we had hoped to achieve.
A few years ago, I spent some time in Norway with my good friends Cameron Sylvester and Angela Percival. Cameron was filming an ice climbing piece for Arcteryx and had asked me to come along to help out in the vertical world, while Angela was shooting stills. During the planning process, we had heard about giant formations along the coast, however after showing up, we quickly realized that the unusually warm spring had left all the coastal climbing rotting in the sun. After sitting down to discuss logistics, we decided to push inland. Cameron and I weren’t super enthusiastic since we had our hearts set on filming on the coast, but what we found was more amazing than either of us could have imagined. After a few hours of hiking, we came upon Storfossen, a colossal 500 foot monster that is formed in the Gorzi canyon located on the outskirts of the Lyngen Alps. Technically we didn’t stumble upon it. Cameron had briefly scouted it on a previous shoot, but because of time and logistics, they weren’t able to film on it.
The climb was accessed by either a 3 pitch rappel, or a diffiuclt down climb further up the canyon to the east. Since we hadn’t scouted the down climb, Cameron and I decided to rap down in order to get the approach shots we needed. Arcteryx athlete and badass Slovenian, Luka Lindic and his climbing partner Blaz Markovic (aka Lobo, which I think translates roughly to “Meat”, which would make sense since that is all he ate the entire trip) led the charge and after about 30 minutes, we were all at the bottom, staring up at the days project.
After filming a portion of the approach, Luka and Blaz started climbing, while Cam and I headed back up in order to film the last pitch. It was a long day, but the footage ended up looking really good, so we were psyched.
The following day, after making our way back up to the formation, we decided to rappel in from the top and film the individual pitches. While getting ready to rap in, we could feel the water that formed the climb underneath us, vibrating the entire column. Rapping down a few pitches, we arrived at a chamber that seemed to be much more stable than the upper pitches and also felt like a good place to start. The two of them geared up as I moved into position above them. About halfway through the 2nd pitch, after getting drenched by the melting ice, a huge windstorm came blowing up the canyon. The wall of white pushed toward us much faster than I had anticipated and didn’t have time to prepare for the inevitable blizzard. The intensity of it all caught me off guard.
Between the near impossible visibility and my soaked camera (sorry Cameron), the three of us quickly made our way up to the ice chamber that served as the last belay. As we waited for the storm to pass, we all exchanged glances. None of us were terribly excited to still be on the formation. The vibration was noticeably stronger at the last belay, and after a few minutes, the storm let up enough that we were able to leave the cavern and quickly make our way to the top.
Later that evening, after we descended in the dark, we stood by the car, watching the northern lights dance across the sky. The laughter faded as the group fell silent. Ribbons of green snaked past constellations and all at once, everything was perfect.
Whenever I spend time people watching, I always like to imagine what their lives are like. What are they doing? Where are they going? Do they have many friends? Are they lonely? In certain situations, I inevitably end up feeling sad. Not because I feel like my life is so much more grand than theirs, but because I understand that everybody exists living with some degree of hopelessness, and I feel theirs, just as I sometimes feel mine. Their lives, or whatever story I create in my mind, unfold before me, and they disappear from my life just as quickly as they’ve entered it. I think it’s an inevitable outcome for anyone who enjoys photographing strangers, but it seems necessary to me.
It’s funny how most everything that you learn about life is based on a mistake. If not a mistake, then maybe an unfortunate situation. For a long time, I put work over friends and family. I would break plans constantly, all because I had this idea that if I just did one more job, it would set me on the path to success. And while I still wouldn’t consider myself successful in any right, and occasionally I have to break a plan or two, I realize that having a group of people that will support you in everything you strive to become is far more important than making that little bit of extra money.
On Aug 8th, 2015, around 930 am, Alexis Baum-Crellin and I met Stacey Pearson at her home near the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon to do some last minute gear shuffling. We stood around the large room filled with expensive looking exercise equipment debating the minutia: How much water we were bringing, what sort of food, etc. . . Aware of the task at hand, we quickly wrapped things up. After a few minutes we all fell silent. Alexis grinned, “Well, should we get going?” I let out a heavy sigh. Both of the girl’s excitement made me feel like I had made a wrong choice somewhere along the line. While visibly unfazed, my true excitement was buried deep within, and wouldn’t be awaken for quite a while.
All three of us piled into Stacey’s car and drove the couple miles to the trailhead at the base of Ferguson Canyon. We exited the car and geared up. The problem with running is that it takes very little equipment, so it took almost no time to get ready to go. Usually, on different adventures, the process is a little more complicated, so one gets time to work it out in their head what it is they’re about to embark on, but this time It happened so fast. One moment, I was safe in the confines of a nice warm car, and the next, I was running behind Alexis and Stacey, trying to convince myself that I had made the right decision.
The WURL, or Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup, is a 33 miles ridge traverse that circumnavigates Little Cottonwood Canyon just outside of Salt Lake City. With a little over 20,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s not something to be taken lightly. Jared Campbell was the first to complete the run, and less than 20 people have completed it since.
Stacey and Alexis had been plotting to run the WURL for quite a while, rehearsing sections that would need to be accomplished in the dark, and running water up to the top of the ridge for a resupply. A week prior to there departure, Alexis posted something about the WURL on Facebook and I immediately took interest. It’s something that I had always wanted to do, in the same vein that i’ve always wanted to go into space. Sure, it was something that was technically achievable, but i hadn’t actually made any sort of effort to make it happen. This time, however, I decided to pull the trigger. This seemed like a great opportunity for me to tick this one off the list, as well as shoot some photos throughout the process. After a little bit of thinking, I texted Alexis and told her I wanted to come. If I had fully understood what I was getting myself into, I might not have volunteered my time up quite so easily.
Cruising up Ferguson Canyon, we gained the ridge that led to the top of Twin Peaks; the first of many summits. The wind howled, moving clouds quickly up and over the ridge, occasionally blocking the sun. The terrain was difficult; moving from Twin Peaks over O’Sullivan, then onto Dromedary was slower than we had anticipated. There were a handful of no-fall zones that had to be navigated with caution, however after Dromedary, things eased off and we were able to make better time. We topped out Mt. Superior and searched for a water stash that had been placed earlier, but came up empty handed. We weren’t too concerned, though since we had a friend meeting us a ways down the ridge, but when we arrived at the resupply location, no-one could be found. After a few phone calls, we found out that a road biking race had closed the canyon and they weren’t able to make it up to us. Slightly frustrated, Alexis, Stacey and I pooled our water and after a few more phone calls, had Alexis’ husband lined up for meeting us at Catherine’s pass, which was about 5 miles away.
Over the next hour, we made our way along the more mellow parts of the ridge, passing Honeycomb Cliffs. The pace picked up as steep jagged hills gave way to rolling runnable terrain. This was by far the easiest portion of the run. We made our way through aspen groves, up and over Mt. Wolverine and down to Catherine’s Pass where we finally we able to restock our food and water. We rested briefly and spoke with a nice couple who volunteered to take some of our trash for us. Since it was already a supported run, none of us really felt bad about offloading our protein bar wrappers on to them. We set off on a slow pace, headed for Devil’s Castle. As the sun inched closer to the horizon, I noticed the silence. We hadn’t been a very chatty group, which was fine. Sometimes the biggest motivator is the sound of your own breath.
By the time we got to Devil’s Castle, night had fallen. We broke out our headlamps and navigated the technical no-fall zones at a slower pace than we had anticipated, but because it was dark, everything felt focused. We were only really concerned with what was immediately in front of us. Before we knew it, we had made it up and over Sugarloaf and were sitting in the warming hut near the tram dock, which was a little over halfway. If the tram had been operating, I might have considered just heading down and calling it, but fortunately for my ego, it wasn’t. We rested up for about 30 to 45 minutes, eating delicious fruits that I had stashed, then reluctantly made our way back out into the darkness. The next few hours before sunrise were a blur. The hiking turned to scrambling, which made an already slow effort even slower. Route finding became hit and miss, and a lot of time was spent down climbing massive boulders, only to have to climb back up and head a different way.
We arrived at the Pfiefferhorn cold and exhausted. Up until this point, we had all crashed at least twice, however they were never at the same time, so when one person was having issues, the others could motivate them until they were able to get out of the funk. Now, however, the traverse was beginning to take it’s toll. Despite all of this, we were excited at the prospect of being finished, which I suspect was the biggest motivator. After our amazing friends had left, we watched the sunrise as we made our way off of airplane peak. The finish was in sight.
Sluggishly, we made our way across Lightning Ridge, and topped out Thunder Mountain’s south peak. Mentally, this was the hardest section. Despite being on the true ridgeline, it felt as if we were hiking in the wrong direction. The last two peaks were slow, but uneventful. Alexis, Stacey and I topped out Lone Peak about 24 hours after we had started. Chatting briefly with a couple on top, we bailed off the summit and worked our way down a sketchy couloir to the north. There was no trail off of Lone Peak, so we bushwhacked a while until we found Upper Bells Canyon Reservoir, then ran on pristine single track to the bottom, only getting lost once, when the trail abruptly ended at a rocky section. The last few miles were difficult. Bones ached, muscles were sore, and tendons felt tenuous at best. All three of us finished about 3 hours after topping out our last peak, with a total time of 27 hours and 15 minutes.
It was cool to see Stacey and Alexis take about 10 hours off the women’s record. Their motivation definitely kept me going when I didn’t really want to, and I’m sure that I just would have thrown in the towel had they not been there. After taking a month or so off, I’ve been able to look back and appreciate what we did. It’s helped me realize what’s possible with the right motivation, and I look forward to future adventures with amazing people.
It’s hard to comprehend all the hate in the world sometimes. We all watch the same sun rise and fall each day. We all feel pain and grief when friends and family leave this life. We can all feel the peace and solitude of a lonely lake shore, or the cool breeze on a quiet evening.
As I write these words, I know that I’m wrong, and maybe that’s the problem.
Auyan-tepui, Venezuala - Mike Call traverses along the lip of a boulder just outside of base camp on location for the Point Break remake last October. A few days prior, I had taken a 45 minute helicopter ride from Canaima to the top of Auyan-tepui. Criss-crossing rivers, winding over the jungle canopy, I could see the camp in the distance. The scene was something straight out of a dream. About a dozen tents sat atop pallets dotting the rocky uneven landscape. It was free of vegetation, however a thick jungle was just a stones throw away.
I left the confines of the helicopter and was completely taken off guard by my surroundings. No longer was I suffocated by the thick jungle air, but instead had ascended into the clouds high above the valley floor. That evening, after I had met with Mike and the rest of the crew, we wandered off to explore the surrounding landscape. Giant sandstone boulders sat within sight of camp, however finding a route over was tricky. After working our way around several large chasms, we found an amazing array of boulder problems. Crooked relics formed for a millennia. Overhanging slabs that defied the laws of gravity shot out from all angles. It was perfection hidden in a hostile jungle.
Looking back through old photos is always interesting for me because as time passes, my tastes change, and things that I felt were whatever, have now taken on a different meaning. While looking through some old 35mm scans from a trip I took back in 2004, I found this one. It’s a fairly simple photo of Swayambhunath Stupa in Bhaktapur, Nepal. There is nothing crazy going on, no incredible human feat, aside from the creation of both buildings, but It brings back great memories of my first traveling experience. I look at it and feel the same sense of awe and inspiration that I felt at that moment, and I think maybe that’s what photography is about sometimes.
The song of the open road. Sheet music for a life less ordinary.
From ridge tops and ghost towns we conduct,
Looking down on the orchestra,
Comprised of stranded vehicles and bruised egos,
Measures filled with broken hearts and broken bones.
Standing on the precipice, we lift our hands toward the sky.
The symphony of adventure unfolds across time.
Dotting our lives with accented notes
Of campfires and starry nights.
Tales told tall like the rising smoke.
Memories we think will last a lifetime
Crescendo as we approach the finale.
In our greatest moment, we relinquish control.
Crumbling into dust, taking with us our score.
As children, we dream of the improbable. And as we enter a new phase in our lives, those dreams fade, and new improbable dreams take their place. This happens again and again, year after year; dreams fading in and out of existence over and over. But sometimes, for reasons that I do not know, a dream stands out above all the others. It’s different than all the rest. It takes hold deep within, and doesn’t let go, gnawing at the subconscious.
When I was younger, I never dreamed of Sarajevo. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of hanging out with friends or playing outside. But as I got older, I discovered the world, and the most important thing it had to offer; a perspective other than my own. It seems so trivial, but when I realized how insignificant my problems were compared to others, it forced me to face how juvenile my life had been. And while I will never claim to be anything other than a twenty-year old at heart, the empathy I have for those around me grows with every trip into the unknown.
A wash basin sits unused in the small mountain town of Monchinque, Portugal. Later that afternoon, as we hung around in the shade waiting for someone, A small woman hobbled her way up and proceeded to wash her clothes. I approached her, thinking that I would like to capture the moment, but she looked at me and held up her hands, as if to say, “no picture”.
I feel like situations like this happen, and that’s ok. I don’t think everything needs to be photographed. Sometimes, I just try to enjoy the situation that I’m in.
Lisa navigates through the washed out bowls during a day trip through Trail Canyon, a popular weekend adventure in the San Rafael Swell. Slot canyons are such a nice break from the sweltering heat that bakes Utah every summer. The key is to go completely unprepared so as to make it more of an adventure, because nothing says adventure like getting stuck in a keeper pot and having your friend climb you like a ladder to get out.
The beginning of the year, I went on a ride down in Death Valley with my brother Mike. It was supposed to be a warm respite from the the winter up in Utah, but we ended up with freezing cold temperatures in the morning and burning hot temperatures in the afternoon, which is exactly what we should have expected had we spent any time at all looking on the Internet.
Despite being underprepared, desert environments are some of my favorite. The smell of sage, open valleys, cool evenings. I’ve spent so much of my life laying out under the stars, that I’m surprised it caught me off guard. Seeing the shapes of the landscape in the moonlight while cruising along a perfectly paved road was definitely a highlight for the new year.