When I first stumbled across Kevin Thurner’s website, I was completely amazed and inspired by his collection of photos from the North Cascades and beyond. I recently emailed Kevin some questions to learn more about his photography.
You have an extensive portfolio of photos from the Washington Cascades. What is it about these mountains that draw you so?
This goes right to the point I suppose, but is tougher to answer than you might expect. I’ve sometimes thought of my time in these mountains as a kind of relationship. It’s been a progression of sorts as most things are.
Not being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know much about the Cascades for quite some time. I gradually became aware of their alpine reputation in a very general way, mostly through news accounts of the Himalayan feats of various Northwest climbers. I remember at one point coming across a few small photos of the North Cascades in an outdoor magazine that tantalized me, but offered little more to go on. They remained in the back of my mind as a kind of mysteriously veiled mountain kingdom.
In the early 80’s I hitchhiked through parts of Washington State more than once and glimpsed Mt Rainier for the first time. Then a few years later, I saw a copy of the Beckey Guides in a climbing store in Boulder, Colorado. The pictures in those books confirmed to me that these were mountains of an altogether different character than the ranges I’d explored. They even intimidated me a little and I began to think of them as mountains of a different caliber.
My first year in the North Cascades was punctuated by many memorable mountain sojourns, but none as remarkable as the four days I spent over Labor Day weekend approaching and climbing Luna Pk. It was my first view of the Picket Range, and man was I hooked. It became clear to me on that trip that these awesome mountains were within my grasp. What I lacked in technical ability I could make up for with stamina, good route-finding and perseverance. These mountains exuded a different kind of wildness, and their northern, alpine character appealed to me immensely.
My time in the North Cascades has often been tremendously satisfying; and now I have been around them long enough to have built up a rather strong affection. It is still very much a Mountain Kingdom to me.
Another great line! I’ll call this one “Chimichanga” (*name changed to protect the innocent). The weather turned nasty today as a storm rolled in; nevertheless, the same powder from our last little storm was still well preserved on this long north face. Like yesterday’s line, this route was also a new one for me. It’s so great to keep exploring and riding all these sweet lines that I’ve had my eyes on all season. Click each photo to see it bigger.
Here I am laying out a high speed carve. Photo by Parker McAbery.
This morning some friends and I rode a nice big line which I’ll call “Champignon” (*name changed to protect the innocent). 4-6″ of fresh powder, perhaps more blown in, on top of a soft base provided perfect conditions for hauling some serious ass. Here’s some photos (click each photo to see it bigger).
Skinning up, almost to the top. In the background you can see more of our playground.
Here’s a shot of me dropping in; photo by Jon Neau. Look at all the terrain in front of me!
It’s April, it’s snowing, and we still have two more months of snowboarding ahead (this is a good thing). But as each day passes I’ve been thinking more and more about summertime. Here’s a few photos from a backpacking trip I did last summer in the San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colorado.
Lily on the lookout for marmots. Lilly carries all her own stuff, and even some of my stuff too! What a team player.
Anybody who does not believe that the North Cascades are the most bad-ass mountains in the lower 48 should take a look at John Scurlock’s online gallery of aerial photographs of that rugged mountain range. Flying low circuitous routes in his homebuilt airplane and shooting though a plexiglas canopy, John has amassed an amazing collection of photos of the mountains of the Northwest. In the spirit of Bradford Washburn, John’s photos are both documentary and flat out stunning at the same time.
Check out his article “Flight to Desolation”, published in the NorthWest Mountaineering Journal (which by the way is great website). Also be sure to browse through John’s own online gallery.
Here’s how it works: If I had an accident that left me unable to walk out of the wilderness, I extend the antenna and press the button to activate the help signal. An internal GPS receiver acquires my GPS coordinates and the PLB transmits them along with my personal identification code through satellites to an NOAA station (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The NOAA station then calls my emergency contacts (friends and family phone numbers that I’ve registered beforehand) to ensure that I am indeed out in the wilderness and it’s not a false alarm. They then contact the local Search and Rescue team, which would initiate a rescue operation – knowing my exact location.
Lured by a full moon and a forecast of clear skies, this last weekend I went backpacking for two nights in the West Needle Mountains in the San Juans near Silverton, Colorado. This area is incredibly photogenic; from my campsite on a 12,200 ft ridgeline, I enjoyed broad vistas of the Needle Mountains, the West Needles, and all the peaks of the Molas Pass area.
Kenzo Okawa is a mountain photographer in China with an amazing portfolio of images from the Siguniangshan, or Four Girls Mountains. I discovered Kenzo’s work years ago on SummitPost.org, where he is a regular contributor. Kenzo was gracious enough to answer my questions via an email interview, as follows.
Judging from your photos, the Four Girls Mountains are incredibly beautiful and spectacular mountains. What kind of travel/trekking is required to get to the locations where you photograph?
The altitude of Four Girls Mountains is not as high as Nepal’s Himalayas, and some mountaineers call them “An ordinary part of lesser Himalayas.” But the mountain appeal is not decided only by altitude. I think that Four Girls Mountains are not stunning mountains, but they are particularly beautiful mountains. A town lying at the foot of the mountain is Rilong town, Xiaojin County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China.
It is around 31 degrees of north latitude, 103 degrees of east longitude. Three hours by range airplane from Shanghai to Chengdu of Sichuan Province. And 7 hours by bus from Chengdu(Chadianzi Bus Station) to Rilong Town.
Because the altitude is not high, from the town it is easy to access the locations where I photograph. Usually it takes one day by walking or horseback.
“On November 3, 2007, Andrew Skurka became the first person to complete the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop, an ambitious journey that links the American West’s great long-distance hiking trails to traverse 12 National Parks and over 75 wilderness areas. Skurka, 26, completed his expedition by walking an average of 33 miles per day for 208 straight days, covering a distance equivalent to 262 marathons or twice the distance between Boston and San Francisco.”
This trek blows my mind. 33 miles a day. 208 days! Just the planning for this trip alone would be a monumental project, not to mention actually DOING it!
Andrew would be appalled if he saw me and my enormous backpack with 20 pounds of camera gear. I take a slow pace and enjoy relaxing and spending more time in each place I go, but I still dream about what it would be like to thru-hike a long trail. How would it feel to hike through the desert for weeks on end and then ascend up into the lush mountains? To experience first hand the great range of landscapes and climate on a continental scale?