Nine more New New Topographic images (again, all made in the vicinity of Pike Road and Heatherhill Circle, Longmont, Colorado):
They may look like boring images of nothing at first glance. After all, these are scenes we have all seen and now they probably don’t even register in our reptilian-mammalian brains as we drive past in our dinosaur-fueled chariots.
But, there is an intention with these photographs…
–Note what is included. I very often try to include within the frame a sense of what was and then what will be, along with the line of transition between the two.
–The Earth–the ground–is an important element. Often I will frame with more foreground–dirt and weeds–than you might think strictly necessary. That is because this is about what we are doing to the Earth.
–Note where the borders of the frame fall on the landscape. I am very careful to do a meticulous “border patrol” to include or exclude items from the image. Often, I’ll include a piece of new construction right on the edge…or a hint of what was…or a portion of the destruction that occurs as the transition from “undeveloped” to “developed” occurs…or a port-a-potty. Also, horizon elements are often placed where they are for balance.
–Note that wild Nature is nearly always visible in the scene, even if it is just a glimpse–in this area of the country it happens to be the foothills and high mountains of the Front Range of the Rockies. The 14er, Longs Peak, is sometimes seen in the background–watching, waiting, and monitoring the busy-bee, ant-like, developments on the grassy plains below. Often, remnants of the human agricultural landscape are also present…but threatened and disappearing with the passage of the bulldozers and the investors.
–Note the use of leading lines and curves. There is often a certain rhythm and rhyme, pattern, order, etc. to new construction…even a particular beauty.
–Note that humans are never present. The big machines are idle. Waiting. Resting. The new houses hold their occupants as prisoners within. Although the human presence is heavily implied, the focus is on the land.
–Note how the Earth is treated…the textures…the holes and ditches.
–Note that there are almost always clouds–usually growing storm clouds–in the sky and on the horizon…harbingers of what is to come as a result of our sense of entitlement to the Earth’s resources, our greed, our wants… And, yes, I am part of the problem, too, after all, it’s hard to escape being yet another cog whirling about within this crazy, contradictory, convoluted system we have created.
Eight images (all in the vicinity of Pike Road and Heather Hill Circle, Longmont, Colorado):
This scared-straight tale (an 80-foot, factor 2, fall directly onto a single, 3/4″ angle piton belay) happened 40 years ago when I first started rock climbing with my high school buddies, Stan Robinson, Rick Fritz, Rick Parizek, and Marshall Campbell. On this particular day, I was on the crag with Rick Fritz.
[NOTE: My brother Brian reminds me and my notes tell me…Brian, Néstor Cifuentes (Chilean high school exchange student), Rick Parizek, and possibly Craig Lahlum were with us for the first pitch. They then rapped off and departed–good judgement on their part!]
Oh, the excitement of it all! What freedom o’ the hills!
And what lack of judgment we had! At least initially…
The story, then, is an object lesson on why it’s important to get proper instruction before diving in to your new passion, whatever it might be…free diving, wing suit flying, bungee jumping, crochet, golf…
Youthful innocence and exuberance, and the associated sense of immortality, probably filtered out most of the trauma of the incident at the time. However, as I make a return this summer (after a 30-year hiatus) to the sport of what is now called “trad climbing”, I find that visual snippets of “the fall” come speeding back, flashback-style.
Damn, but did we come close to biting the big one, eh, Rick!?
Below is a direct transcription from the Arizona Republic newspaper, dated Sunday, February 2, 1975. The article has the basic facts fairly correct (maybe 80% truth), but was enhanced with a slather-thick coating of western melodrama and some crunchy conjecture. It was fun to write, I’m sure. Also note how Rick’s mother was named–she didn’t even have a first name of her own back then! Signs of the times…
My comments/corrections in brackets and italics were written on the news clipping the day the article came out.
by Jack West
A 16-year-old youth fell 80 feet [fairly accurate] down the side of Camelback Mountain Saturday but survived when his rope was snubbed [fancy language!] by a single piton, a spike hammered into the soft rock of the cliff [it was a fixed pin–we didn’t hammer it].
The injured youth, Rick Fritz, of 3933 E. Shangri La, was under observation Saturday night at the emergency room of Scottsdale Samaritan Hospital, where his condition was listed as fair. First reports indicated possible arm and rib injuries [he had a punctured lung and a cracked pelvis].
Fritz had been climbing with Dan Joder, 16, of 3902 E. Cholla, when the accident occurred. Both are members of the Arizona Mountaineering Club [wrong, Rick wasn’t yet a member]. The club’s rescue team used specialized equipment [is there any other kind?] and ropes to lower the injured climber to safety.
Police said they were told that the two youths were climbing above Echo Canyon on the mountain’s north side [a route called “Suicide” or perhaps “Suicide Direct” as we were likely off-route] when rock crumbled beneath Fritz’ boot, causing him to fall.
Joder said [ha ha, no idea where he got this quote] the rope tied to Fritz popped out one spike after another [we didn’t carry any pitons; natural runners zippered] until the last small piton held, yanking him to a halt near a ledge.
“I was attached to that rope, too,” Joder said. “He fell right past me, and he went bouncing and sliding down and I thought the rope would pull me down, too.” [True enough, but the thought didn’t cross my mind at the time–things happened too fast. And the quote? From whom? Not me!]
Instead Joder found himself swinging at the end of the rope [How exciting! I wasn’t affected except for rope burns–Sticht belay plate] high above Fritz, who reached a ledge safely. Joder then lowered himself to a safe spot and climbed to Fritz [I did not, a long-haired guy did, although I eventually rapped down].
Police and firemen soon arrived and the rescue team was summoned. At dusk a fire department utility truck equipped with powerful lights illuminated the rescue efforts as police and Department of Public Safety helicopters whirled overhead [oh, the drama of it all].
Shortly after 9 p.m., the rescuers carried Fritz to an area where he could be taken aboard an ambulance. His mother, Mrs. John Fritz, rushed to the stretcher.
“Has this cured you of mountain climbing?” Mrs. Fritz asked.
“Hey,” Fritz answered, “I don’t know.” [This last exchange was indeed true]
After this lovely experience that endeared us so to our respective mothers, we actually took some real rock climbing classes–the basics, self-rescue, leading, etc–and we started working a bit with the Arizona Mountaineering Club Rescue Team. Finding mentors with some patience and experience was the key to our survival through those formative years.
A big thanks, then, to folks like Bill Sewrey, Larry Treiber, Herb North Sr. and Jr., Humberto Urbina, Monty and Dana Hollister, Bob Box, Bill Jefferies, Dan Langmade, Kay Alderton, Stan Skirvin, Bill Kelsey, et al…and hang-out places like Sewrey’s friendly shop, Desert Mountain Sports…and even “Piton Joe” (you know who you are, Marty!).
There is an old saying among aviators–and climbers and other “risk-takers”–that when you begin working your way up the left side of the learning curve you are given two sacks. One is a sack labeled “LUCK”, and it is stuffed full. The other is a sack of “EXPERIENCE”, and it is drooping and empty. The goal is to fill up that sack of EXPERIENCE before you completely empty the sack of LUCK. Ideally, you’ll fill the bag of EXPERIENCE and still have a few teaspoons of LUCK remaining to help tide you through your remaining years, just in case.
That February day in 1975, Rick Fritz and I came way too close to dumping out the entire contents of our respective sacks o’ LUCK over the talus and boulder-strewn slopes of Camelback Mountain.
“Oh, we were young and our hearts were an open book…”
Here, you have a couple of crappy scans of even crappier old snapshots:
Rick Fritz, in an official Royal Robbins hat decorated with a United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) patch, coils a rope on top of the Crying Dinosaur in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. I guess I’m contemplating my navel (I am definitely not texting)…
Rick Parizek (foreground, in Royal Robbins big wall shoes) and Rick Fritz (in back), my first climbing partners, on the Crying Dinosaur. Sometimes we actually used helmets back then! Note the rope. It is the same one I used for the photograph above, which would make it at least 35 years old now–a perfect age for use as a greasy vehicle towline…
In an old photo album, I ran across some notes I made shortly after this incident. Here they are…
“Lets do Suicide. Here’s a bolt. Lets anchor to those trees, too.
Rick Fritz leads first pitch…one bolt, a #9 hex, another bolt, a natural runner on a chicken head, then a belay ledge with one bolt. Brian, Néstor, Rick P and me up the first pitch.
We look at the second pitch. Brian, Néstor, Rick P rappel and go (4:00p.m.) It’s late.
Fritz leads second pitch…one natural runner, two bolts, one fixed piton, one fixed angle piton…we belay here.
Second pitch has more difficult moves (5.7?). Fritz belays me up to the angle piton (I have bad feelings).
Fritz on third lead traverses off left 20 feet with no protection, then a natural runner, then up trough, bad rock, out of view. I heard him place a second runner…possibly a total of four. At least a 40-foot runout at this point.
Body comes flying backwards out of the trough. His helmet comes off, so does equipment sling. All protection pulls (bad placement of first runner, zipper effect).
There’s a jerk on the rope as it slides through my hands. I eventually lock the belay plate. Maybe ten feet of rope went through the plate before he stopped.
Is he dead? I call to him. No answer. I call for help. People come running from other side of Echo Canyon.
I call to Rick. He answers sounded pained. I ask him if he is coughing up blood. He says no.
He calls for slack. In total I give him about 20 feet of slack [he was working his way to the first pitch belay ledge]. Meanwhile, several other climbers have set up a belay to start up the first pitch.
Other climbers finally reach Rick, tie him in to the belay ledge anchor, and free the rope. I set up a rappel on the 3/4″ angle piton with a #3 hex for a backup. The rope runs through two carabiners in each of those anchors.
The rappel is a bit difficult as I have to go down diagonally to the first belay ledge.
I reach Rick and he’s tied in and this other climber is trying to figure out how to lower him. People argue. Rick gets cold and we give him someone’s coat.
The Fire Department arrives and there are about five police units in the parking lot. The Arizona Mountaineering Club Rescue Team finally gets there just after the Fire Department turns on their lights to illuminate the wall as night falls.
Humberto Urbina jumars up on a fixed rope…”
Rick was eventually lowered and carried back to the parking lot in a Stokes litter. He was back doing some easy climbing within a month or so. We, along with Rick Parizek, immediately got religion and became involved with the Arizona Mountaineering Club (our rescuers!), took some classes, helped and learned with the Rescue Team, and so on. Our bag of experience started to fill up. Rick Fritz eventually went on to do what was back then some pretty hard climbing, including a few first ascents in the Phoenix area and big wall ascents of El Capitán in Yosemite. He also set several records for long distance flight in hang gliders during the 1980s–his (and our) other hobby of the day.
But, boy howdy, are there lessons to be learned from this experience, or what?
“When as pilgrims we come to revisit thy halls,
To what kindlings the season gives birth!
Thy shades are more soothing, thy sunlight more dear,
Than descend on less privileged earth…”
–From “Hail Harvard”, the alma mater of that institution
These words could just as easily apply to the mountain, eh? I wonder if any Harvard folks ever make the pilgrimage out west to climb their namesake peak, the third highest in Colorful Colorado?
Mt. Harvard is tucked away behind Mt. Columbia and is one of the longer hikes among the Colorado 14ers. The mountain itself is massive–although perhaps not quite as massive as Mt. Massive. The long traverse between Harvard and Columbia is a goal of many a 14er ridge walker and would make for a huge day well above 13,000′. And, of course, the Horn Basin is itself an alpine Eden.
On this trip, I planned a bivouac at treeline so as to get to the summit in time for some sunrise photography, but I ended up sleeping on the rocky summit itself. The fading evening light, the stars, the half Moon, and Venus all conspired to draw me ever upward. Sometimes I wonder if this is a physically measurable phenomena–that the human body can actually manufacture caloric energy from the metaphysical mind-state of being in exceptionally beautiful surroundings. There has to be something to it, no?.
As I worked my way up the tundra and talus by headlamp and intermittent moonlight, I also pondered yet another motivation I have for climbing 14ers and for spending time in the wilderness: I am creating a bank of memories. I thoroughly enjoy reading back through my trip reports, or looking at photographs from past expeditions, or talking with friends about our trips–it is a way of savoring and reliving the intensity of those moments.
Someday–and I am hoping to stave off that day as long as possible–I will no longer be able to do these things. In those last golden years, maybe parking the car at a scenic pullout in the mountains will be all I can manage. When that time comes, I can augment this slightly lesser “income” with occasional withdrawals from my wilderness savings account. Just a random thought.
The great thing about photography is that anyone can do it!
Now, hold your horses there, Buckwheat!
No, I don’t mean that just anyone can go out and make powerful, mind-blowing, supremely-profound, images on Day One. You could be forgiven for thinking this given how easy it is to press the button on your mobile phone camera or on the latest point-and-shoot and get a well-exposed frame on your memory card…and the general uber-ubiquity of photographic images in today’s visually-saturated world.
No, I meant something a bit different.
To wit: Anyone has the potential to make wonderful images because each of us is a unique individual, with unique and very personal life experiences and, therefore, each of us has a one-of-a-kind way of seeing our surroundings. With a bit (years!?) of practice, and self-exploration (“the unexamined life is not worth living”), this personal vision can translate into photographs that no one else could possibly make–even if they were standing right next to you, with the exact same camera and lens.
This idea of individuality = unique personal vision is not new to those with even a tiny bit of background in art. After all, no one confuses a Dalí with a Goya, or a Picasso with a van Gogh…or even a Mozart with a Charles Ives. And the same applies to photography as art–you certainly won’t confuse an Ansel Adams with a Cindy Sherman.
As an example, take a recent outing I had into the foothills above Boulder with three other photographers: Kate Zari Roberts, Dana Bove, and María Rosa Fusté. The four of us carried different machines…Dana with a Canon full-frame DSLR and a macro lens, María with a Sony point-and-shoot, Kate, with her iPhone 6 Plus and various filters and apps, and me with my full frame Nikon DSLR and a telephoto lens.
But, we each carried something far more important–completely different life experiences as men and women in this strange and marvelous world. We all grew up differently, lived in different places, suffered different traumas and embraced different joys, and thus learned to see reality in different ways.
Here, then, is some of what we each saw on that short stroll in the woods:
First, Kate Zari Roberts. She does some incredible things with that iPhone Plus, and her personal style comes across quite clearly…
Then, María Rosa Fusté. Nature photography is not really her thing and she was more interested in the social aspect of our walk than the photography, as she herself will readily admit, but you can see an example of what caught her eye here….
Then, Dana Bove. He always does great flower work in color. Today, he also experimented with a monochrome version…
Finally, me and my B&W obsession…
So, all four of us walked the same path together that day, but we each experienced our surroundings very differently. And your photographs would have been just as different as well!
“Mountains are the means; the man[woman] is the end. The goal is not to reach the tops of mountains, but to improve the man[woman].”
– Walter Bonatti
On this climb, I came very close to bailing. It was 2:30a.m., dark and cloudy spooky, and yet another wave of thunder and lightning rolled in from the west and threatened to catch me (with my tripod, ice ax, and hiking pole lightning rods) in the open tundra just above treeline.
I counted after each flash…one, two, three, four…and waited for the answering boom. There is roughly 1,000 feet for each second, thus five seconds would be about a mile. I like storms to be at least 10 miles away, 20 miles even better (lightning can hop ridge lines and instantly zap you to a galaxy far, far away), but this one was closing in quickly…twenty-five seconds I counted…then fifteen seconds…then ten seconds…
I made a quick, half-running, dash back down to the safety of the taller trees below and huddled under the relative safety of the vast umbrella forest. Surprisingly–a nice surprise–the storm wave skimmed by just to the north (maybe over Princeton?) and petered out somewhere to the east over the valley. The stars began to come out again.
I started, very warily, back up the trail, the hairs on the back of my neck finely tuned to any possible distant flash or rumble.
Lightning is one of the big threats on Colorado’s high peaks and one of the several reasons I have for my very early starts (photography, avoiding crowds, and it’s just plain beautiful are the other reasons). I am usually back down at the trailhead before the first threatening cumulus even think about puffing out their darker chests.
On this trip, though, the weather pattern was frustratingly deviant. The electrical storms began the day before at about 8p.m., shortly after I arrived at the trailhead, and continued, wave after wave, into the wee hours. Zeus and Thor were obviously battling it out with all available weapons in the hell of the Hall of the Mountain King. I got up at 1a.m. and made my hiking preparations slowly, sure (hoping?) that there would be a celestial truce at any time. On the surrounding horizons, thunder rumbled…lightning flashed…
In the end, it worked out and I made the summit just after sunrise as the formerly menacing clouds flattened out and floated innocuously off to the sacred four corners of the Earth. It was nice to climb this mount while semi-winter conditions still prevailed up high and the 4WD and ATV gem-hunting crowd had yet to descend on the peak.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Yes, time for a splash o’ color…and a little filter play in the Topaz Glow plug-in…
So, you are out and about (or, oot an’ aboot as the northern hockey fans say) and you run across a handful of elements that grab your instinctual attention, but you aren’t exactly sure why. It’s not an obvious scene, but there is definitely something there to explore.
Say, for example, a wheat field, a distant horizon, and a massive irrigation system with Stegosaurus-like characteristics.
Possible next step: stop the car safely off of the road and start workin’ the scene.
Try different angles…into the sun (contre-jour)…various angles to the sun…shoot from high, shoot from low…walk up and down the road experimenting with different compositions…try mostly earth and a smidgen of heaven…try lots of sky and just a bit of ground…try close and far…wide angle, telephoto…try everything. Contemplate what it is you are trying to communicate to the future viewer of the final print. What story are you telling? What mood are you capturing?
Once you are home and looking at the large images on the computer screen, look carefully at the scene once again. You may very well discover that what you initially liked as you composed in the field is different than what you like as you click through the images on your computer screen. Maybe there was a perspective you didn’t think much of during the shoot, but once home, it looks much, much more attractive.
The insurance, then, at least when the landscape in the viewfinder isn’t an obvious David Muench postcard, might be to work the scene to exhaustion in the field so that you maximize your possibility of recognizing a gem once you get home.
Just a thought.
Some examples of workin’ the wheat field scene (sort of a short “American Ag” photo essay):