As I was looking through my archives I came across this image that I made in the summer of 2018. I was drawn to the strong vertical lines of the aspens that ringed around a small pond and the relationship between the one small tree with the taller ones. The vertical lines of the trees immediately in front of me made me think of bars on a window. I feel caged up when I see this image and yet I feel a sense of freedom by looking beyond to the lone tree beyond. For me it is yet another invitation to escape the mundane challenges of life and to go out into nature and feel the sense of freedom that comes with it.
I often try to make photographs that are looking through something in the foreground. It is a powerful metaphor for me that relates to the need to see beyond my current surroundings to gain more insight and perspective about what is really important versus what is just a waste of time.
I made these images on the same trip while hiking near Mt. Rainier. I hadn’t been back to Rainier for many years. I had never been there for just a day hike. When I was 20 I climbed it once and summited on an intensely foggy day.
The pleasure of that climb was not in the summit view but rather in the experience of the journey.
A plane had crashed on the mountain earlier that week and was closed off during the investigation. A mudslide had washed out access to another side of the mountain so we were left to climb the standard Disappointment Cleaver route along with every other climbing party in the state. The first day’s hike was so crowded with people that we had to camp well below the normal stopping point at Camp Muir. Our group decided that we would start out extra early in the night to get ahead of the crowds. We started our summit push at 11pm in the dark and climbed by headlamps. We tried to be quiet as we hiked passed the other climbing tents. We didn’t want to start a competitive race to the top. After a couple of hours we could see a long line of headlamps below us. It reminded me of an old Coca Cola commercial where people were singing the song “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” while skiing down a mountain.
The path up was well worn and easy to follow but the real difficulty was in breathing at altitudes above 10,000 feet and managing your body temperature so you don’t sweat as you climb.
We made it to the summit dome without too much difficulty. It was daylight by then but a total whiteout. We didn’t linger or even take photos because there wasn’t anything to see. The real challenge in a mountain climb isn’t the summit. The real challenge is safely descending back to base camp.
By the time we headed back down crevasses had opened up that we would need to work around or jump over. Rocks began to loosen from the ice as the daytime temperatures grew warmer and you could hear them rolling down the side of the mountain. That’s a good reason for wearing a helmet!
We made it down safely with the only real difficulty being a bruised rib I sustained while jumping across a crevasse and landing on my ice axe. It was a small price to pay for a great adventure.
Even though I couldn’t see from the summit that day, I could see something bigger about my life and how travel and adventure gave me something deeply important but indescribable. It was in that deep fog where I gained a glimpse of the ineffable meaning of life.