Tag Archives: adventure photography

Remote Rivers and Treacherous Terrain: Taylor Reilly’s ‘Escaping Desolation’

Our photographers have a reputation for being adventurous. In order to produce such dynamic imagery, they need to be in the heart of nature, continuously seeking out new and thrilling experiences. And although we get to see the fruits of their labor from the powerful photographs they create, sometimes there’s more to the photograph than meets the eye – an untold story waiting for anyone who asks.

Taylor Reilly recently embarked on one such adventure, which he writes about in a new essay titled, Escaping Desolation.

Escaping Desolation is the story of 3 friends on 1 raft taking a 90-mile 7-day trip down the Green River through Desolation and Gray Canyons in Utah. The trip runs smoothly until the second to last day when disaster strikes and their boat is sunk in an unexpected way. The decisions made after would determine their chances of survival and their escaping desolation.

Rafters tackling a rapid in Desolation Canyon along the Green River in Utah.
Rafters tackling a rapid in Desolation Canyon along the Green River in Utah.

Taylor writes,

There we were, laughing at the top of our lungs about everything, and enjoying every second of rafting 91 miles on one of the most remote stretches of river in the country, the Green River through Desolation and Gray Canyons in Utah. Then it struck us and the laughing came to a halt. We were out of beer! It was day six of our seven-day voyage and our three man crew only had one six pack of pumpkin beer left in the cooler. Obviously times were desperate, we were floating through an expansive desert canyon in the middle of nowhere, and all we had was a flavor of beer that made unfiltered river water seem appealing. The mission was clear; we needed to find more beer. Somehow.

Just three weeks ago my good friend Tres called me excited that he had just picked up a last minute permit for a rafting trip through Utah. He had just spent most of the summer rafting rivers all over the west and was trying to find friends to join him on one last trip before ski season began. It didn’t take long before Tres had convinced myself, and our long time friend Bobby to join him for a mid-October Green River trip.

Rafter accompanying a standup paddleboarder through Desolation Canyon along the Green River, Utah. ©Taylor Reilly
Rafter accompanying a standup paddleboarder through Desolation Canyon along the Green River, Utah.

Our 3-man crew has all been friends for many years. Bobby and Tres had grown up together and I had met them both in college. Since then, we have taken many trips together and we had all gained a substantial amount of outdoor skills and experience. On top of skiing, climbing and backcountry hiking, Tres, our captain, has been piloting his raft on multiple big rivers across the country, for several years. Bobby grew up hunting and backpacking but now he spends most of his weekend’s mountain biking and climbing. He has worked in the outdoor and action sports industries for years and he is extremely organized and motivated when it comes to any outdoor adventure. I myself have ample experience recreationally and professionally in the outdoors. I have been a climber for just about 20 years, I guided for 6, and I have been around water, rivers, and boats my entire life having grown up in Texas. While we all had various and ample outdoor experience, this would be the first big multi-day rafting trip for Bobby and I.

Setting up camp in Desolation Canyon, Utah. ©Taylor Reilly
Setting up camp in Desolation Canyon, Utah.

Our vessel was a 14ft raft with a 4 bay oar frame, and a pile of gear in the back so big that we could have been mistaken for a floating version of the Beverly Hillbillies. For a bit of relevant rafting knowledge: Rafts used for overnight trips use an aluminum frame that holds dry boxes, an ice chest and oar mounts/oars on either side. The captain rows the raft using two 10 foot oars while two passengers can either relax and drink or pitch in as “paddle assist” to help keep momentum through pushy rapids. This is how our 3-man 1-raft team was set up. We had just paddled out of Desolation Canyon the night before and into Gray Canyon earlier that morning, and the “take-out” for our trip was only 12 or more miles, or 1 day, downstream. The plan for this last night of our adventure was to camp just after “Rattle Snake” rapid (2+). First, though, we had to get some beer.

It was around noon and we hadn’t seen anyone on the river since the previous night, and being that it was off-season, we didn’t expect to see anyone from here on out. So imagine our surprise when we came around a large bend and found a group of people spread out over 5 rafts and some paddleboards. They seemed to be having as much fun as we were, and the rules of the river dictate that we had to strike up a conversation in search of a trade. When we found out they needed ice, we gave them two of our solid 5-10lb blocks for an 18 pack of Tecate. Success! They invited us to do a short day hike on the west side of the river just before Rattlesnake Rapid, but we decided to keep paddling and get to our camp, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

Standup paddleboarder during sunset in Desolation Canyon along the Green River, Utah. ©Taylor Reilly
Standup paddleboarder during sunset in Desolation Canyon along the Green River, Utah

Heading downstream with a full case of Tecate to get us to the end of our trip, we started into Rattlesnake rapid. Leading into the rapid Tres suggested that Bobby should row this one. This was Bobby’s first big rafting trip and Tres thought it was his right of passage to captain the boat down a “named” rapid. After all, Bobby had put in his time working hard rowing miles of flat-water into headwinds in the days before, now it was his turn to try something a little more rewarding. I looked over and told Bobby to zip up his life jacket, all the way up to the top. He smiled, laughed, and thanked me. It would be his first Class 2+ rapid to paddle. This stretch of the Green River is in general very mild when it comes to rapid strength, especially during the fall. If anything, the river was shallow and slow most of the way. At this point we were all confident that the end of our trip was just around the bend.

©Taylor Reilly

As we entered the rapid, Bobby was on the oars, while Tres and I were relaxing in the front. The rapid formed a wave train down the middle of the river, however the raft spun to the right of the ideal line, and started heading straight towards the 40’ cliff that walled in the right hand side of the river. The raft was now being pushed hard by lateral waves and the three of us realized simultaneously that things were about to get ugly.

As we neared the sandstone cliff jetting out at the apex of the river bend, Tres started yelling, ”Back row right! Back row Right!” Tres started to move towards Bobby to help him slide the right oar into the raft and away from the cliff to keep it from catching and swinging. But it was too late for that.

Continue reading the full story on Taylor’s blog.

See more of Taylor’s work here.

Image Requests

Clients often come to us looking for something very specific, and our sales team combs through the archive to put together a lightbox that fits the research request. Sometimes, however, a client is looking for something ultra specific OR they have a broader, conceptual feeling they want the image to invoke, that we can’t currently match from the archive. At that point, we’ll send out a brief to our extensive roster of photographers to try to bring in exactly what the client is looking for. The results are often incredible, and even if the images aren’t purchased by that specific client, they get added to our archive for future requests. Here are some of the most interesting briefs we’ve received, and the amazing images that arrived as a result.

An electronics company was looking for “amazing action based images,” of a person in a “go for it” moment. Think shots that illustrate motivation, anticipation or the start of an adventure, like a BASE jumper running towards the edge, or a snowboarder about to hit a jump.

Adam Roberts jumps a massive ice cliff while skiing the technical North Face NW Ridge of Mount Adams. Clouds hover below, the sun above and Mount Saint Helens hides in the distance.

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Due to the lack of snow in the West for the past few years, many of our clients were hard pressed to find recent winter fun images at resorts. One ad agency was looking for a deep pull of images from Tahoe in the winter.  The idea was to highlight all of the different things you can do in Tahoe, from skiing and snowboarding to building snowmen to hot tubs to landscapes to admiring the scenics to roasting marshmallows. Photographers were told to imagine it was a shoot they were doing for a resort when pulling photos to send.

Reine Barkered and Jaclyn Paaso on top of Red Dog Ridge deciding where to drop in at Squaw Valley Mountain Resort.

One female snowboarder looking out over Alpine Meadows Mountain Resort at sunrise.

Group of friends taking selfies on the way up the gondola at Squaw Valley Mountain Resort.

A magazine / nature conservancy was looking for images of birds for an ongoing, extensive visual journalism project to show the relationship between birds and people worldwide.

Volunteer scientists and conservationists monitor migratory Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) as a part of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network. Birds are aged, sexed, weighed, and tagged at a banding station in Widgeon Marsh Park Reserve, British Columbia,

Volunteer scientists and conservationists monitor migratory Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) as a part of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network. Birds are aged, sexed, weighed, and tagged at a banding station in Widgeon Marsh Park Reserve, British Columbia,

An ad agency client wanted modern, candid photography of millennials, with REAL and RELATABLE being more important than the expected “hipster” or “cool/creative” crowd. As the brief we got was very broad and could cover a lot, we tried to narrow it down for our photographers. Style and age is more important than action, but some ideas to think about: adventurous travel, connections with people, glimpses into every day life, fitness outside of a gym, waiting in line at a food truck and talking, people at work, etc. You can also think about some potential archetypes, people of certain professions or hobbies like: beer brewer, carpenter, personal trainers, etc.

Amy Harris starts the morning off right, Reno, Nevada.

Joel Oberly tries his hand at the local dominos game, Havana, Cuba.

A carpenter works on a piece of wood with a hand planer.

If you’ve got an image that you’re looking for that you just can’t find anywhere else, or just want some help with a research request, try our new Photo Request form. We’d love to hear from you and get you the image or images that you need.

Staying Adventurous with Kids with Kennan Harvey

You get married, you have kids, you stop going out, you watch lots of cartoons, you memorize all the words to the Frozen soundtrack. Your life becomes about your children, rather than your passions and interests.  Is it possible to do both?

Click here to see our gallery of adventurous kids

We recently asked those questions of adventure photographer and outdoorsman Kennan Harvey, who seems to be able to do it all. We emailed Kennan and waited for his answers and a headshot.  His response? “Will look for a good headshot, but first I need to cut some firewood for next season.”

A young girl camping in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado.

Aurora: You’re an avid outdoorsman and climber – you were once named one of America’s top 10 best climbers by Climbing Magazine. What inspired you to become an adventure photographer, and who or what inspired your love of the outdoors?

Kennan Harvey: My love for the outdoors matured in the deep woods of western North Carolina while home schooled and living simply without electricity – our family even went car-less for several years. My mother worked for Outward Bound and introduced me to climbing. During the 70’s backpacking was almost a national pass time. We walked a lot. Ambling along a trail, with unknown corners ahead lined with green Appalachian lushness helped me develop the keen observation skills necessary for striking images. My transition to photography was initiated through a mentorship with landscape photographer Pat O’Hara, who helped satiate my wanderlust after college in exchange for help hauling his large format gear far into the wilderness. During the late 80’s there were a handful of adventure photographers such as Galen Rowell, Chris Noble and Greg Epperson who showed me the possibility of turning my climbing passion into income. At the time there were no media crews or sponsored athletes so personally combining the two gave me an early edge.

A young girl standing next to al[pine lake with wildflowers,  San Juan National Forest,  Silverton, Colorado.

Prevailing wisdom tells us that youthful adventuresome ways are over once you have kids. That might go double for an outdoor adventure photographers. Has that been true for you?

Having a child only extended my photo career. First, kids are endlessly creative which forced me away from my set routines. I was 40 when Roan was born, suddenly I had more dominating youthful energy in the house. Having children is first about creating a safe and predictable environment for them to thrive, a wise parent then needs to encourage exploration in all things social, academic and physical. My wife and I both believe outdoor education is even more important than classroom learning. Adventures are fun ways to set obtainable goals and build success. They don’t have to be dangerous. But learning about risk management at an early age will be valuable for her teenage years and beyond. Breathing high mountain air may become her addiction or just a memory of youth. Until that point we are very similar to any soccer family – midweek practice followed by a weekend road trip – only to remote and quiet wilderness.

A young girl rock climbing on Grassy Ridge, Bakersville, North Carolina.

Your daughter currently goes camping and hiking with you and has started to rock climb as well. Are there any sports or activities you DON’T want her to attempt?

She really likes backcountry skiing and so we have a small beacon for her to carry. However, we are pretty nervous about steep terrain and avalanche hazard. I would certainly be nervous if she ended up in a ski movie at 18, but if she does she will have way more experience by then than I did at the time. Any sport with objective hazards is a parenting challenge for anyone, but it is important for kids to learn how to make good decisions. Luckily, she likes fun over danger and so far has shown good judgment managing risk.

Young girl walking on Appalachian Trail past rhime ice, Roan Mountain, Tennessee/North Carolina border

Many photographers use their children as free models. Your images of your daughter have an authenticity to them, they’re in the moment, and there’s a bit of wildness there. Has your daughter gotten sick of you taking photos yet?

There is a saying, “Kids don’t come with instructions!” So right at the beginning, we just went family adventuring and now Roan seems to have the bug. When a good photo materializes mid adventure, often with serendipity, fleeting and authentic, it only takes a moment to capture. Any grumpiness is easily dispelled when she hears, “A few photos now and we can start planning our next adventure!” Bringing a friends adds magic. Jumping off a rock into the water a couple times first, for example, keeps the activity organic and sometimes Roan even makes the photo suggestion.

Many might think your work isn’t really work — you get to spend so much time outdoors in nature — but the life of a photographer is often grueling, with long days and heavy equipment.  How do you maintain a good work / life balance and keep the outdoors fun? 

I recently finished climbing a granite ridgeline in a windstorm, in the winter, with skis strapped to full packs. It was way more than anticipated and we wondered about the worth. But then, after an exhausting day we topped out into 5 minutes of glorious light. Above us were dark clouds with the rays of the setting sun bouncing off of their undersides and painting a sea of alpine rock with gold. My life does have more work, but in these moments, there is balance. Parenting is no different. There are days where the work of parenting is exhausting, but then just 5 minutes of glorious light, and it makes it all worth it.

 

Young girl standing below redwoods in California.

In this age of technology, surely even your child wants to be on the computer, cell phone or watching TV.  Do you have advice for other parents who want to get their children to spend more time in nature?

In my view, technological obsession with kids is a sign of boredom. I realize all situations are different, but with 300 days of sun a year in Durango, kids around here would much rather ride a bike or the zip line, even planting peas is more fun than screen time. It also helps that we live in a solar powered house with a hard wired computer and no wireless. Photographer Ace Kvale once told me that the best way to become a photographer is to just start. My advice for parents wanting to get their kids into nature is the same, just pack the car and find a campsite.

Click here to see more photos from Kennan Harvey in the great outdoors