A version of this story appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Uncommon Path.
Four top outdoors photographers each share a treasured image that still resonates long after they captured it.
I traveled to Ecuador in January 2011 with a good friend just after being handed down my first DSLR camera from my brother, who was my photography mentor. One of the things my brother instilled in me was to take my camera everywhere. The thing was big and heavy, but I didn’t care. My friend and I were in Ecuador to climb, and this image was while on Volcán Cotopaxi. We started out at 1am and climbed through a storm. When it finally began to get light, we were taking a short break and I captured this image. My friend, exhausted and cold, is looking down with another climber in the background.
In 2014, I traveled to Réunion Island near Madagascar. I went alone but became friends with a couple who lived there, and we climbed one of the volcanoes together—the Piton de la Fournaise. This is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and when we got to the top, we peered down into the caldera at smoke and lava. There happened to be a woman up there playing accordion for a small crowd of people in green T-shirts. Eventually the people in the T-shirts picked her up and put her in an all- terrain wheelchair. My friends explained it was an outdoors group that brings people with disabilities on adventures to places they would never get to otherwise. The chair was transported down the volcano across the lava rock by a line of a dozen people link-ing arms for stability. My friends and I were welcomed to join them, and we took turns in the human chain, helping this exuberant human to enjoy this wild volcano.
This is my dad in Ilulissat, Greenland, in July 2015. We went paddling in the middle of the night above the Arctic Circle to get that midnight sunlight. At first, you can miss that there is even a paddler in this photo. Then you realize just how big that iceberg is. There’s something about the balance—the calm of the water and the paddler juxtaposed against such a large, glowing block of ice—that I just keep coming back to.
Photography offers windows into other worlds that even the family members of our subjects don’t often get to see. I didn’t fully realize how important this can be until I lost friends in the mountains and my photos were used by friends and family to memorialize them. It’s an amazing privilege to be able to share. This is the late Kyle Dempster on an ice climb at Utah’s Strawberry Pinnacles in February 2012. He disappeared along with his climbing partner, Scott Adamson, while attempting a first ascent on the Ogre II in the Karakoram range of Pakistan. After their deaths, I realized even more how important our time climbing together really was.