One More Run

This was my first real assignment. The Snowboard Journal, a good publication now out of print, sent me to Haines, AK, to go to Alaska Heliskiing’s guide school.I had one lens, and  a Minolta Maxxum 7000i that my dad gave me. Hot stuff in 1988 — still makes great images. Back in prehistory, when people made photographs with film, you didn’t know if you got anything good until it came back from the lab. This was one of the last days of the trip. I had already burned through the budget the magazine had generously given me. But I wanted a little more time in the heli, to be sure I got the goods. I talked my editor into a couple hundred more dollars, basically another run or two in the heli.

It was a brutal day — sunny but windy, and really cold. We went out anyway. It was just me and a few of the guides. As we approached this zone, the gusts were blowing the heli around and it took Mike, our pilot, three passes before he could land. We honestly weren’t sure he’d be able to get back in there and pick us up. As the boys were scoping lines I got this shot of Ted Purdy. Imagine what it was like for him, looking over that cornice, into that line with that wind blowing up in his face! It was -40 with wind chill.

Camera’s sometimes don’t work in those temps, so you have to keep it under your down jacket, visualize the shot and do as much as you can in your head, then pull the camera out, pull off your goggles, and hit the shutter. As soon as you pull your goggles off, your eyes go watery and you can’t see much, so you put it on autofocus (stopped way down in this kind of light) and hope you got the composition right. I was stoked this one worked.

Ted dropped that cornice where he’s standing, Fishbone took a line further left, Jeremy dropped about where I took the photo from, and stopped mid-slope as safety for me. I took Ted’s line, and once I was out of the steeps, Jeremy and I pointed it and ran for the heli, which was waiting at the bottom. Fishy took one look at my face, already going waxy frostbitten, and said, “Get in, we’re going home,” with a seriousness I hadn’t heard from him before.

Some days are just too damn cold — you’re really pushing your luck going outside. Luckily we still got this shot. Thanks boys!





Here are the rest.

Johnny Would Go

It rained this weekend. Almost everyone I’ve talked to was bummed about it. They’re disappointed with the weather, as if rain is unpleasant, certain elements of the natural world, annoyances. I wonder if they feel that way about gravity. Or certain shades of green. Or the way the big bang strew the constellations. John Muir didn’t. He loved the natural world in all its moods. He didn’t just like sunny weather. He liked weather.

I heard  he would jump in the path of an avalanche and ride it down the mountain for fun, which I doubt. But I do believe he climbed tall trees during fierce storms just to feel the driving rain stinging his face and the branches flexing in the gale. Windsurfing meets Qigong.

“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing,” he wrote in Mountain Thoughts.

Maybe he found some special mushrooms on his hikes. Or maybe he had a desire to be deeply immersed in the experience of the natural world that is alien to us now. I’m sure he knew how to find or make shelter in a storm, but for the times when he was caught out, well, Gore-Tex was still 117 years in the future in 1868 and there were no space blankets; Muir’s wool and leather gear would be soaked through. Hypothermia deep in the backcountry was serious back when a shot of Scotch was considered rewarming.

In Laguna Beach, if there is a sign of rain, people get their $400 synthetic jacket, their $200 Hunter boots, and layer up to brave the five minutes of the day they’re not able to avoid the rain by staying indoors. Even if the ocean toxicity spike after rainfall was a thing of the past,Orange County lives across a deep divide from the self sufficient aesthetic of Muir and company.

That’s why I was amused to see the fellow above. I was shooting photos of the biggest storm of the winter a few years ago. Unprecedented rainfall, flooding, landslides, closed roads, high winds blowing down tall trees. I was running around Laguna shielding my camera from the maelstrom when I saw this guy at Main Beach, going for a swim like a modern day Muir, heading out to ride the rip currents in a roiling ocean, in February. No wetsuit.







Here are some other images from that day.

Aliso Beach was closed as storm surf washed over the beach and flooded the parking lot.

I wasn't the only one who came out to watch the show.

The storm front hits Heisler Park.

Aliso Beach serving it up. Bodysurf?

Bigger than it looks.

As the storm cleared, the beach was slowly populated again.