When it’s hot outside, I find myself dreaming of winter adventures; trudging up a sketchy spine ridges, or skinning up toward a summit before the sun breaks. I love seeing my breath in the light of my headlamp, and listening to my slow and steady breathing. It’s therapeutic. Winter can’t come soon enough, but I will settle for fall.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fisher Towers, Utah - Something I really enjoy creating are large panoramic stitches. Usually, this involves getting into a position where you’re excited with the landscape in front of you, then shooting a huge plate, upwards of maybe 20 photos. I’m not sure if it’s totally necessary, but I overlap quite a bit, to give the program a lot of information to work with. If at all possible, i’ll photograph using a lens with a focal length of at least 50mm, in order to avoid distortion which can be a real pain in the ass to deal with. Once you’ve created the plate, then you wait for the action. In this case, I was filming climbing for an Australian television show. While we were waiting for the TV host to get into position, a random climber summited Ancient Art and rapped back down. I shot a series of photos that captured him/her climbing the last little portion and standing on top. I eventually chose this one over the summit shot, because I liked the idea of the anticipation right before reaching the summit of something. Once you’ve created the plate and picked your action shot, it’s just a simple matter of dropping him/her into the scene. I think what I love most about it is that often times you can create a pretty awesome sense of scale that you wouldn’t be able to create otherwise.
The silence that extended out across the lake was as tangible as the water beneath us. Birds circled high overhead, darting down toward the water, landing on the distance. All around us the Universe continued its violent expansion, and yet the only sounds we could hear were our own. Josh’s rhythmic breathing cut through the air, while our paddles propelled us closer to our objective. Hardly a word was spoken between the steady, methodical strokes.
On a whim, Josh and I had left Salt Lake City at 9 o’clock the night before, driving the requisite four and half hours to get to Jackson, Wyoming. By the time we arrived and found a place to crash, it was 2 am. Exhausted, we spent an hour packing, unpacking, and repacking the kayak, in order to get all of our gear to fit. When we were finished, we decided to take an hour nap, a decision that would later prove to be frustrating.
Waking up at 4, we carried the kayak about ¼ mile to get to Jackson Lake. It was dark when we put in, and not a soul was in sight. The stars above arced out across the heavens, illuminating the lake with a billion points of light. 30 minutes into our paddle, the sun was lurking below the horizon.
To our west, we could see our goal, Mt. Moran, rising above trees that crept down to the shore. As the sun rose higher, light moved down its slope onto the lake, warming the air around us. Within minutes, we realized the day was going to be much hotter than we had anticipated.
After about two hours of paddling, we arrived at the base of Mt. Moran, pulling the kayak up onto the sand. The snow was still deep from the heavy winter, so we were able to start skinning just pass the edge of the lake.
Climbing higher and higher, we realized that we had misjudged how long it would take us. Arriving just below the final couloir we stopped to assess. Disappointed in our time management, exhausted from our lack of sleep, we briefly discussed our goal and decided to pull the plug. The weather was just too warm and the snow was quickly turning into crud.
The skiing wasn’t anything memorable; shitty concrete, pockets of creamed corn, mixed with some aggressive tomahawking down to the flats. What stood out to me though was the paddle earlier that morning; The blisters covering my hands. The water dripping down the paddle, soaking my shirt. The cool air against my face, The silence. It was definitely the silence.
Through a series of poor decisions that culminated with a ripped off oil pan in the middle of mine-filled Croatian forest at 2am, I realized at some point, I had strayed from my travel plan.
To be fair, I didn’t really have any plans, but being stranded in the middle of nowhere by myself, 2 days before my departure back to the United States, wouldn’t have been on that list had I written them down.
It all started when I was sitting above Sarajevo in an old bombed out hotel, enjoying a beautiful sunset. The air was crisp, the scenery was magical, and I was in a strange yet exciting city. I felt like I was on top of the world. Nothing could bring me down, except maybe, I don’t know, a group of Bosnian assholes standing next to my car, breaking my window and stealing my things.
I got up and started walking back, but the damage had already been done. They raced off with the contents of my laptop bag and disappeared into the sunset. I ran to my car and drove down the road, but it was all in vain.
Leaving town the next day, I couldn’t help wonder where my computer was, or if it had a nice home. Were the thieves currently accessing all my files? My thoughts drifted off as night fell. I had crossed the border into Croatia earlier in the evening and was currently looking for a place to sleep. For the past week, I had just slept on a pad near my car wherever I could, usually on a dirt road outside of town, and tonight was no different.
I drove down a dirt road for a while, but couldn’t ever find a good spot. There were no pull offs. After a while, a two track emerged on the left, leading up into the forest. “This will be a good spot”, I thought to myself. Driving up the rutted road, I doubted my tiny cars ability to handle the deep grooves, but continued anyway, searching in vain for a nice spot. About 15 minutes into the two track, I scraped the bottom of my car quite hard. Thinking nothing of it, I continued driving, working my way back down the mountain. Shortly after the scrape, I rolled up to a creek. I got out, checked the depth, and swiftly drove across it with great success. Up ahead, the two track merged back onto a gravel road. I pulled up onto the road and my car suddenly died.
I exited my vehicle and walked around the front. Crouching down to look under my rental car, I could see oil dripping out from a mangled oil pan. Electrical wires dangled down, looking very out of place. Dirt and mud fell down from the undercarriage onto the gravel road below. The smell of burning oil hung around in the muggy, stagnant air. I stood up and sighed.
It was dark out, and I was far from any place that resembled a town. I hadn’t seen a vehicle for hours. I stood there motionless for another minute. If it were a movie, the scene would have started pulling up into the skies to reveal me standing in the middle of a dark void, pulling up further would reveal the earth, sitting among the stars. It was at this moment that I realized the succession of bad decisions that let to this point. Exhausted, I pulled my sleeping bag out and laid down in the dirt near my car.
A couple hours later, a vehicle approached, waking me from my slumber. It was an old red jeep. The driver slowed and poked his head out the window. I got out of my sleeping bag and approached him. “English”? I asked. He shook his head and continued staring at the situation in front of him. I tried miming what a broken car would look like, but the hood propped up did a better job than I could. The man got out of his jeep. He was huge, dressed all in cammo. After another 20 minute miming session, It appeared that he told me I could sleep at his house. I reluctantly got into his jeep and we sped off. On the drive, he introduced himself as Marko, I introduced myself as matt, and the conversation took a nosedive from there.
30 minutes later, we pulled up at a small brick house. I followed him inside and was immediately greeted by a huge wasp, buzzing around. There were quite of few of them. Marko ran into the other room and grabbed a fly swatter. We spent the next 10 minutes on a seek-and-destroy mission. I was the spotter, and he was the killer. I would run into a room, shout after seeing a wasp, and he would run in after and kill the wasp. It was a bizarrely awesome experience that I hope to never have to participate in again.
When the wasps were all killed, we sat around a small round table in the kitchen. Marko went to the pantry and pulled out some coca cola. He proceeded to mime out that he was out hunting when he ran into me and that he was going to head out in a minute to try and find something to shoot that night. I expressed how tired I was and headed to the guest room.
As tired as I was, it was hard to fall asleep. My mind raced, thinking about what I was going to do with my broken down vehicle. That coupled with the sound of pacing outside my room left me wide-eyed and alert.
The pacing continued for quite sometime, from the kitchen out on to the porch, back to the kitchen. At one point, I heard a couple rounds of gunfire empty into the night. It was a stressful sleep at first, but my mind became heavy and I eventually wandered into dreamland.
The following morning, I awoke to the sound of pacing, once again. I exited my room and walked over to the small kitchen table. Marko came in and went to the fridge. His back was to me, but when he turned around, he was carrying more Coca-Cola as well as a large assortment of meats. We sat at the table, sharing pictures of our family, miming our life histories, all the while eating meat for breakfast. It was delicious.
Marko walked outside briefly, and came back with a handful of my worst nightmare: Tomatoes. Just to be clear, I hate tomatoes. I would rather poke myself in the eye than eat a tomato, but here I was in a situation where I was definitely going to have to eat tomatoes. My stomach sank. The inevitable was upon me. I watched Marko’s thick hands slice the vile vegetables into small pieces. He slid them toward me. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I vigorously salted the slices and reluctantly shoved them into my mouth.
They weren’t bad.
After polishing off the rest of the Coke, Marko pulled out a big map and laid it on the table. It was a map of the local area accompanied with large zones marked with red cross hatches. Marko pointed to where we were, and where I was last night, which was smack dab in the middle of one of those red zones. It wasn’t until his miming became clear that I realized what he was saying. Apparently I had been driving through an area that had a lot of landmines. Fortunately for me, I didn’t wander off the road and find any of those. I laughed nervously, grateful that my fate was so far favorable.
A few moments later, Marko pulled out his cell phone. I handed him the number to the rental company in Zagreb, and he made a couple phone calls. An hour later, a flat bed tow truck arrived; ready to take me back to the capitol city. It was a moment of extreme thanks and relief. A man that I had met in the middle of nowhere had turned my catastrophe into a lesson in human kindness. I hugged Marko, and climbed into the passenger seat of the tow truck. As the truck slowly drove off, we waved goodbye.
4 hours later, I was at the airport chatting with the rental folks at the counter. They came out to do the mandatory post trip inspection. I thought it was rather funny handing back the keys to a vehicle that looked like it had taken part in a demolition derby.
I checked into the airport hotel and promptly climbed into bed. I stayed there for the rest of the day, snacking on a loaf of bread and jam that had accompanied me throughout the ordeal. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to leave the hotel. I was content just laying there, thinking about the adventure that I had just survived, wondering where my next one might take me, and what sort exciting things would happen in the future.
Baffin, Canada- Post-holing up The Beak was one of those memories that, in my mind, i've relegated to Type 2 fun. Had I not been with an amazing crew, It most certainly would have been closer to type 3 fun.
We departed from our base camp down in Sam Ford Fjord on Baffin Island, early in the morning. It was light outside, but only because it's always light outside at that time of year. We glided across the frozen sea on snowmobiles, the arctic wind whipping at our covered faces. Rolling up at the base, we geared up for the long climb ahead. This was a scouting mission so the BASE jumpers could get some test jumps in. Filming would begin the following morning. As we trudged up the backside of the cliff face, the sun beat down on the snow, burning our already tan faces. Wind blew by us, drowning out the heavy breathing. The group slowly crawled up the backside, hitting false summit after false summit.
When we finally reached the ridge, the launch point stuck out like a sore thumb. We stood there looking around at some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. In front of us, a wind swept frozen fjord extended into the vast arctic wasteland. Behind us, a glacial remnant of the forces that have shaped the landscape for a millennia, creaked and groaned as it scoured it's way down through the rock. The silence was deafening.
The build up of adrenaline was electrifying as the BASE jumpers checked and rechecked their equipment. After what seemed like an eternity, they were ready. The three of them perched at the edge of the cliff, issuing words of encouragement, and in a moment they were gone, rocketing toward the frozen ocean below. My eyes were transfixed on the spot where they had been standing, but I looked down in time to see their parachutes open up. Screams of excitement interrupted the unnerving silence, and we watched as they effortlessly steered their canopies down to the valley floor. Once again, we were soon bathed in an inescapable quiet. Our reason for being there had just jumped off the cliff. We looked around, exchanging congratulations of our own, and started packing up our things for the hike down, which ended up being substantially easier.
It's interesting how fleeting these moments seem. Timy Dutton, one of the BASE jumpers on the shoot, died last week in a skydiving accident at one of his favorite jump locations. Time stops with the passing of friends, and while he is no longer here, the impressions that Timy made on all of us will last forever, which is a comforting thought.
In 2011, Luke Nelson and Ty Draney ran over a hundred mile length of the salmon river in the remote Frank Church wilderness area. Luke, a friend from college, asked me to come shoot photos and I eagerly agreed to it. We packed up, and drove north, stopping in a town so the two could eat some giant hamburgers, carbo-loading for their "fun run" the following day. We picked a spot at the beginning of the course to crash, while Luke and Ty ran over gear. Between the two of them, they were packing a Spot Tracker, which is a device that allows them to send out texts, as well as allowing others to follow them via GPS. The only problem is that it's one-way communication, meaning they can send out texts as well as their GPS location, but can't receive any, nor can they see where they are. Accompanied with a map, and enough food for about 24 hours, they set out early the next morning. Their quiet footsteps slowly fading into the distance was an indicator that I needed to start my 3 hour drive to find a trailhead where I would hike in from the following morning.
The next day, I woke up at 3 and set out, holding a monopod in one hand in case I was attacked by a bear. Running through the wilderness at 4 in the morning by yourself is a very interesting experience, jumping at every sound. Birds and bunnies turned into bears and cougars. After waiting for 13 hours in a location that I thought they would run through, I watched the sunset and decided to head back to the car. Running back, I wondered If I had gone to the wrong location. I drove back to where I thought they would finish, thinking that they were waiting there without a ride, but when I showed up, they were no where to be seen. I camped close by, thinking they might show up at any point, but the next morning, when they still hadn't arrived, I set off up the canyon in search of the two.
After a couple hours, the trail disappeared, which left me wondering if I was even in the right canyon. I climbed halfway up the canyon wall to get a better view, and continued onward. An hour later, I saw them far down below in the river bottom, bushwhacking through thick brush. I shouted and started running down toward them, relieved that I had found them. I met up with the two survivors and found out that they had taken a couple wrong turns and were also concerned that they were in the wrong drainage. I gave them some much needed food and started heading toward the finish. When we got out of the canyon, we slowly crossed one last river, found the truck and plopped down, exhausted. Luke and Ty both completed their journey after more than 40 hours on the move. When we finally got cell phone service, I received Luke's text message from the day earlier saying "very lost getting serious more soon". As we drove away, I chuckled at the cryptic text that spawned several distraught messages from family members, relieved that we were all safe, ready for our next adventure.