January 17th 2016 – In and around the Yosemite National Park Wilderness, photographing the stars with Marcus Bowen
Somehow, our afternoon meet up in Yosemite National Park did not materialize, storytelling, an unforgettable meal and conversations with the wait staff at Yosemite’s famed Ahwahnee hotel were to blame. Neither Commonsense or a forecast that promised a surprise dumping of snow from El Nino deterred us, starting our adventure in a motel was not an option. A wilderness trip that was planned over coffee at Avoca for the very specific dates of the 17th through the 19th left no room for error. Donning our 50 pound plus backpacks and flipping on our Petzl headlamps, Marcus and I headed out into the darkness. Our destination was Yosemite’s canyon rim that allows for unparalleled views into one of Gods most beautiful sanctuaries. From there we would capture epic photographs of El Capitan, half dome and Yosemite valley below. We were told with a chuckle, “if you walk to far you’ll know it, the fall is several thousand feet”.
Given the nighttime departure and weather conditions, Marcus Bowen is the only one that I would have headed into such an unforgiving environment. Marcus’s strength and vast knowledge of the outdoors allowed me to put common sense (as if I had any) and fears aside. With our headlamps in red light mode we illuminated a path for our snow shoes, the moonlight provided the rest. With El Nino’s promise of a heavier than normal snowfall becoming a reality, our progress was slow. With our wristwatches now slipping into the AM and still short of our canyon rim destination, we looked around for a place to pitch our tents in the snow. Somehow this is when the separation occurred.
Standing there alone in the middle of the night at an elevation where temperatures dip into the teens, I was reminded of the unforgiving side of Mother Nature and how much we take for granted the safety of our modern day lives. I knew that if I did not move from the point of separation, Marcus’s outdoor skills would surely bring us back together, so I stayed put. Fatigued under the load on my back, I succumbed to the overwhelming urge to lie down, slipping my headlamp into it’s flashing red mode as I did. Using my photography pack as a pillow I laid in the hushed silence of the forest, wondering how long it would take for the snow to cover me if I fell asleep…. the wait was probably shorter than it felt but it was long enough to once again ponder the miracle of life and its fragility.
The next day as Marcus and I accomplished our goal of photographing from the awe inspiring Yosemite rim, a passage from one my favorite adventure photographers, Chris Burkhard echoed through my mind.
“Now, it was this trip and probably that exact experience where I really began to feel like every photograph was precious, because all of a sudden in that moment, it was something I was forced to earn. And I realized, all this shivering had actually taught me something: In life, there are no shortcuts to joy.
Anything that is worth pursuing is going to require us to suffer just a little bit, and that tiny bit of suffering that I did for my photography, it added a value to my work that was so much more meaningful to me than just trying to fill the pages of magazines. See, I gave a piece of myself in these places, and what I walked away with was a sense of fulfillment I had always been searching for.
So I look back at this photograph. It’s easy to see frozen fingers and cold wetsuits and even the struggle that it took just to get there, but most of all, what I see is just joy.”