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.
Temperatures are cooling down, but things are heating up over here, with an air of competition to our new images for September! There’s the story of a 750-mile boat race from Washington to Alaska, and a longboard slalom competition in Moscow. We’ve got athletes hardcore training with weights and CrossFit, or running outdoors to stay in shape, and excitable fans at a soccer match in Brazil. Continuing around the world, we’ve got imagery from volcanoes in Indonesia, epic landscapes in Banff, mountaineering in Iceland, rock climbing in South Africa, snowboarding in Japan, and intense battles with wind in New Zealand.
See all of the best in outdoor living and exotic travel, plus secret underground tunnels, free diving at night in Lake Tahoe, and some spooky images in time for Halloween in this month’s curated gallery embracing the outdoors: http://www.auroraphotos.com/result?webseries_id=14734
Any worthy outdoor adventure must also be a quest. Whether physical, emotional or geographic, the art of exploration and discovering the unknown is what distinguishes historical importance. Being the first to ascend a newly formed frozen waterfall contains a lot of unknowns and, as a result, is quite a prize. This is exactly what Aurora contributor Kennan Harvey witnessed and photographed while he was visiting Banff National Park in Canada with his close friend and professional athlete Will Gadd.
After giving a talk at the postcard-perfect Chateau Lake Louise, Gadd walked out onto the ice and the snow-covered Lake Louise to the base of the frozen Lake Louise Falls which tumbles steeply down a side creek. Intending to just gather his thoughts for another motivational speech, he noticed a slender and elegant column of ice had recently formed along the right side of the 330-foot cascade. Being a local, he knew this was a rarity – and an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.
Harvey was also visiting the area, so Gadd asked him to go along the next day to photograph while he climbed the icicle. The resulting images appeared on media outlets and outdoor websites including Daily Mail, and one image from the series was even chosen as the official photograph to represent the 2014 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival sponsored by National Geographic and The North Face.
We caught up with Harvey to hear about the images he produced and to find out more about his experience documenting one of his closest friends perform a very perilous climb.
What kind of gear and what technique did Gadd use to climb the ice?
Will used rigid boots with metal spikes (called crampons) attached to the soles. Gripping an ice tool in either hand – a hammer-like metal shaft with a down-sloping, sharp metal pick – he swung them above his head, very much like a carpenter hammering a nail, often several times until each pick was buried “securely” in the ice. The technique for incrementally moving upwards involves securing both ice tools for hand-holds and then kicking each cramponed foot into the ice to provide enough balance and purchase to stand up and reset each ice tool a little higher. Will also used a rope secured to a waist harness. Occasionally, he would stop and twist in a threaded ice screw with a carabiner, or a metal oval with a spring loaded gate, to attach the rope to the ice screws.
Was there anyone else or anything else supporting him?
At the other end of the rope his partner, or belayer, used a friction device to lock off the rope in the event of a fall. Assuming the ice screw is solid a climber only plummets twice the distance he or she is standing above the last ice screw. As compared to rock climbing, ice climbing falls include many more variables and are phobically avoided. During a successful ascent the rope is never weighted, however, as a “clean” ascent requires that Will holds on and climbs only with his own hands and strength.
How did Gadd originally approach the climb, and what role – besides photographing – did you play in helping him succeed?
The climb is about 100 meters tall, or two climbing rope lengths. The pillar was formed near the middle. I hiked around and rappelled down from the top, kicking the icicle to make sure it was strong enough to hold a climber.
Will is very experienced and although the climbing was not at his limit, he is always very cautious and careful and delicate. There is a saying that “there are no old and bold climbers.” Will has his eyes on the former and believes that the mental aspect of risk assessment is paramount!
Although equipped with ice screws for protection Will decided the slender pillar was not strong enough to use them for that section of the climb. So, as a result, he had to climb for a long length without any protection in case he fell. Essentially he was soloing.
Wow. So, clearly falling was a very real possibility. What else could potentially go wrong? What were you worried about most?
I needed to be very careful not to knock any ice down upon Will while leading but our biggest worry was that the pillar would break under Will’s weight. He climbed it like a rat steeling cheese from a trap.
How did you approach this situation from a photographer’s perspective?
I believe the essence of climbing is the grand outdoor environment so I looked for perspectives including the surrounding mountains and the powerfully sparkling sun which sharply defined the newly formed icicles.
What were some of the challenges you faced when trying to get these shots?
Ice climbing photography is cold, often wet, and vertical. It is important to become as intimately familiar as a blind person reading Braille with ropes and climbing equipment in order to be perfectly positioned and ready to react quickly when the perfect moment arises.
What kind of gear do you use and why?
I really appreciate the DX camera format as it has wider autofocus coverage which I find valuable when operating my camera with only one hand while dangling above an ice climber. I also used a prime, fisheye lens as a prime lens has less sun flare when shooting directly into the sun and the wide angle coverage was important to show the vast environment. Thin gloves made from Windstopper Goretex are also vital.
About Will Gadd & Kennan Harvey
Will Gadd is a multifaceted athlete – climber, paraglider pilot, kayaker and author who has been competing and exploring at the top level for almost 30 years.
Kennan Harvey is even older than Will! After a productive career of climbing and photographing remote granite spires around the world he now specializes in capturing the artistic passion of all outdoor adventurer’s, especially his ten year old daughter, beyond the reach and format of Instagram.
Gadd and Harvey have known each other for many years. In addition to being close friends, the duo often work together to capture the thrill of climbing for Gadd’s sponsors and fans.
Aurora’s contributors are a rare breed, always willing to go the extra mile to capture an amazing image. They thrive in the winter, a season during which many give up on the outdoors and stay inside, sipping hot cocoa and catching up on TV. We wanted to get to the heart of why Aurora photographers connect so profoundly with the harsh conditions and stark beauty of the coldest of seasons. So we asked our photographers to choose their favorite winter image and tell us why — here’s what they said:
“I’ve skied Mt. Adams in Washington 50+ times, and there’s always a risk, either from chance or the failure to recognize dangers. And on this day, I almost got wiped off the North Face by an avalanche. I had climbed the North face North West ridge and halfway up decided to turn around because it was getting too warm. Suddenly, a wet slide was triggered a few thousand feet above me (on a route we had just skied the day before) and came down, missing me by inches. It was only about 20 feet wide, but it was heavy snow and was going very, very fast on a very steep slope. It was a scary moment.” – Jason Hummel
“Mont Blanc is the most famous peak to ascend in the Alps. For me, this image shows how the mountaineers put their lives in the service of the mountain.” – David Santiago Garcia
“I’ve spent years photographing glaciers and ice on six continents, but this is one of my favorite images. It’s shot from a small zodiac inflatable boat in Antarctica, and captures so much of the graceful lines and cold beauty of the massive icebergs there.” – Paul Souders
“This unique frozen waterfall, in a remote area of Utah , rarely forms ice solid enough to climb. You have to hike in a ways to find the frozen falls, which keeps the crowds away. “ – Whit Richardson
“The combination of people enjoying adventure sport in a spectacular landscape is what photography is all about for me.” – Andrew Peacock
“I’ve been snowboarding most of my life and this image always reminds me of the freedom you feel when you launch into the air on a perfect powder day in the backcountry.” – Rachid Dahnoun
“It had snowed all day at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, a beautiful park in the Canadian Rockies. After the sun set, it cleared and I went outside. A full moon had risen, and because of the icy particles in the air, a moondog or paraselene was visible. I had often seen a sundog, but I had never seen the moon variety before. It lasted for several minutes before more clouds appeared.” – Peter Essick
“I went into Cradle Mountain National Park, in Tasmania, with this specific idea: to shoot a pandani plant lit with warm light against the blue cold snowy scene.” – Heath Holden
“I love the vertical symmetry of lights and darks. I love the shadows on the left that mimic mountains, pointing towards the skier. I love the fly-on-wall perspective, along with the speed evoked by the flying snow left by the skier’s wake. And the skier… that’s Seth Morrison, far and away one of skiing’s bigger-than-life legends for the past 2 decades. It was shot in Haines, AK, via helicopter access. It just feels as thought the stars aligned on this one.” – Gabe Rogel
“This picture taken in Mammoth Lakes, California, is of my brother from Texas, snowshoeing for the first time. It’s my favorite because it captures the wonder and majesty of being out in a snowstorm, when the snow muffles all sound except the crunch of your steps and the quiet patter of snowflakes on your jacket. .” – Dana Felthauser
“This image of the Tetons was a look at an old friend in a new way, a position a bit more north than I had seen before. The breaking storm gave the black and white image an even more commanding sense of the balance of the mountain.” – Joel Addams