Five a.m. is early for a weekend alarm, but winter’s back. There’s too little daylight to waste it. The ice is in, the days are short, and the mountains are calling. Roll out of bed, pull on long underwear and fleece. Fill a water bottle, grab the already packed backpack by the door and go.
The warm car is the final bastion of heat. Don’t waste it. Don’t open the door a moment too soon, even if it means tying your boots hunched over the steering wheel. Soak in the final few warm minutes. They are precious. Once in the landscape it’s the sounds you notice: the crunch of the snow underfoot, the wind as it whistles through the trees, the rustle of nylon rubbing nylon. The hike is the warm up stretch before the fight begins. It’s a moment to look at the mountains, the snow, the trees and wilderness before the landscape rears to blanket your view.
The final walk below the ice is always a nervous one. The columns have a way of dwarfing and dampening, reminding you of how small you are. But in that frozen space the sounds continue—the zip of extra layers, the clink of carabiners and ice screws, the hiss of rope running through gloves—and are amplified by the cold.
Then it’s time. Tink! Tink! Sink a tool. Tink! Tink! Sink the other. Thunk! A boot. Thunk! The other boot. Ice climbing, the frozen symphony, has begun. The whir of ice screws cutting into the depth, the tap of the belayer dancing to stay warm, the drumbeat of falling ice. The movement becomes its own language, emerges in the winter quiet, echos through the canyons and reverberates through the ice. It is a landscape without heat but full of songs. Climb higher, into the breeze and creek of swaying trees. The scrape of steel mingles with the sounds of the forest. The hush of the falling snow only leaves the chorus ringing louder. The noise of belayers, other climbers, the human race and the world as a whole fades. Only you are left. You and the mountain. And you hear each other.
In the 100 years the National Park Service has been in existence, they’ve created 58 parks as well as 82 national monuments, providing a place for both recreation and conservation. In this homage to one of our greatest national resources, we explore the magnificent National Park system, which enables some truly spectacular and unique interactions between visitors and nature. Each park has it’s own story, and our photographers embrace them all, from icy glaciers in Alaska to fiery volcanoes in Hawaii.
Our photographers are solitary in many ways, and their adventures are often only shared with one or two others. Despite the number of solitary subjects in Au Vol. 7, there are connections being made in every image, on every page. The moments captured reveal the triangular nature of outdoor photography: the connection between the subject, nature, and the photographer. When Rob Hammer captures a solo trail runner cutting across a lonely ridge, or Alasdair Turner photographs a young couple sharing a first canoe trip on an Alaskan lake on their wedding day, Aurora contributors connect us from our far away places to the beauty of man (and woman) exploring nature, and making connections of their own. It’s why Michael Wilson hiked the Appalachian Trail and took portraits of the people he met along the way, and why Craig Moore goes out to stand up paddle on Lake McDonald at sunrise. They take us where we’d like to go and introduce us to who we’d like to meet, and in that way, we are all connected.
New year, new images and new photographers! 2016 starts off with action packed days, exotic adventures around the globe and some fun ways to keep your “get fit this year” resolution in the outdoors. From oyster beds in Vietnam to night skies over Yosemite, zip lines near Marrakech to rock climbing in Armenia, paragliding near Geneva to dogsledding in Minnesota, our photographers were everywhere! There’s fly fishing, trail running up a mountain, celebrity athletes, a road trip in Namibia and Spain with new contributor Sergio Villalba, avalanche rescue, SUP and whitewater rafing in the Grand Canyon, skiing and welcoming a new addition to one contributor’s family!