Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cliff Jump - Grand Teton!

On the descent from Disappointment Peak - Grand Teton National Park

Images taken on June 10, 2007 by Bryan Hill 


The quickest way down a precarious rock face?...  Jump!

We thought you might enjoy this animation of my short jump over a ledge on our descent from Disappointment Peak in Grand Teton National Park. 

Below us is Amphitheater Lake which can be seen in the left of the frame. Upon landing this short jump, I began a quick slide down the steep snow bank. A simple self-arrest with the ice axe brought me to a hault, and we resumed our controlled descent down the mountain toward the lake.

a) Amphitheater Lake looking toward Disappointment Peak . . . b) Climbing up "the spoon" . . . c) Bryan pushes on 


The view of Grand Teton's south face from Disappointment Peak. We'll be back for that one.


Friday, June 15, 2007


Storm over St. Mary's Lake - Glacier National Park

"Wild Goose"  - image made at 22:00 June 5, 2007


At the checkout counter of a mom and pop diner yesterday I recall a wooden souvenir trinket bearing a saying of Mark Twain. It read, “I can live for a month off of a good compliment.”

There are occasions as an artist when an image (like a compliment ) so completely speaks to my spirit that I can easily live off of it for a month. It is these images that keep me going as a photographer. All the beautiful gallery-wall photographs are great. Really, they’re fun. But rarely do they turn my crank, spin me up, and keep me running on the high-octane Life-fuel that I crave. Such works of art far surpass simple aesthetic beauty. The kind “oohs” and “ahhs” are not even necessary and should be put away for later times with other, more mundane images. With such an image there should be no breath left in the viewer to make such complimentary groans. These images tell a story. They are a virtual biography of the artist.

This image overlooking Wild Goose Island is one such image. It speaks of my heart. That is because the image has come from the heart. A simple glimpse at it during a busy day in the city, and I will again be fueled with life. It reminds me not just of a place and time when the brisk wind and horizontal rain was tattering upon my rain-soaked skin at twilight. It reminds me of what makes me come alive, where I have come from, and where I am going.


The damp dreary day in Glacier National Park was drawing to a close. We had designated the day as a recovery day from a very strenuous and painful day before it. 

My brother and climbing partner, Bryan and I had spent not one but two challenging days attempting to summit the lovely glacial jewel, Heaven’s Peak. The snow melt from the warm June days threw a curve ball in our plans to ascend the peak from the east after fording McDonald Creek. The melt-off had created a massive surge of water in the little McDonald Creek making it more like the mighty Mississippi. That didn’t deter us from making a couple foolish attempts at crossing it on the first day. All we had to show for it was one less ice axe (dropped when we were swept off our feet) and lower bodies that turned as red as ripe cherries due to the frigid waters.

On the second day we settled for crossing the river at the only bridge five miles down from our intended starting point. After the heavy five mile bushwhack through a dense forest that seemed determined to eat us alive, we sipped some water, ate some synthetic energy bars, and began our long steep push up toward the east face of Heaven’s Peak. It was clear by late-afternoon when we were hardly half way up the mountain that there was neither enough time in the day nor enough energy in our legs to make it to the summit. In fact, after a disappointing descent back to the shore of the roaring McDonald Creek, we reached an easy consensus that there was no way in heaven we were going back into that stretch of forest we had come through earlier. It had already left enough scars on our legs for us to make up a slew of campfire stories about the grizzly bears we wrestled that morning. The only option left was swimming across the river to the road on the other side. 

We water-proofed the camera gear, covered our packs so they would sort of float along with us, and did some push-ups to get our adrenaline pumping enough to make the initial plunge into the bone-numbing rapids. I shook Bryan’s hand, gave him a nod, and off I went. Half-way across, it was clear my trajectory was not favorable, and I hurriedly stroked my way back to the side I had started from, having now floated about 100 yards downstream. Somewhere along the way my knee struck a rock beneath the water that left me unable to bear weight on it for a number of minutes after dragging my body up the bank into the woods. Bryan learned from my error, started at a more favorable spot much further upstream, and succeeded in crossing. I re-gathered composure, and warmth, and then succeeded in crossing about a half hour after him. All the horror stories of people losing their breath and drowning in such icy waters barrage the mind during such a crossing. (In all seriousness this is extremely dangerous and not something to do under any circumstance.) In our case, things sure did work out well. Within two minutes of emerging from the icy river to the road a compassionate (and a bit awestruck) highway construction worker drove by with a look on his face that said, No you didn't." We gave a simple and exhausted nod that let him know we had indeed swum the mighty McDonald. He screeched to a stop and offered us a ride all the way down the road to the head of McDonald Lake where our car was.


So there I was at St. Mary's Lake recovering from the adventures the day before. I was still very sore and getting around with quite a limp from the minor knee injury I had received. The temperature quickly plummeted as the sun hid away for the night, and a chilly breeze moved in across the lake carrying drizzles of water horizontally into my face and camera lens. 

I was deeply moved standing there alone in the reverence of this rich stormy blue scene. Wild Goose Island rested out in the middle of the lake. While powerful and compelling, something was missing from the image. I recalled an image of my late role model Galen Rowell (one of the world’s leading climbing and adventure photographers) silhouetted in a tree at sunset. The bare tree, whose branches had long-been-cut off, was calling for Life to be engrafted into it. This was my role. It’s where I needed to be right then.

I set a self-timer on my camera and let the lens get pelted with the steady surge of rainwater. Pushing through the pain in my knee, I leapt up into the barren tree and let out one of those warrior cries that such a storm calls for. Soon, the wildness of Wild Goose Island and the wild goose Spirit that resides in me were not all that different. I remained there for a while.

I waited there in the tree, and God drew near. My Father drew near! This is all that matters.

(James 4:8)