July 1990: Ace Kvale nearing the summit of “Peak of the Fourth”, aka Peak Chetireh, (6230m) in the Pamirs near Peak Communism, which has since been renamed Ismoil Somoni Peak. On our second trip to the summit we descended on telemark skis – it took about a decade before I saw the light and locked my heels down.
Alex Lowe (aka “The Lung with Legs”) carrying an injured Spaniard at 19,300’ on Denali, Alaska. A U.S. Army Chinook landed Alex, Scott Backes and I on the “Football Field” just below the summit to carry out the rescue. In doing so pilot Bill Barker set a high altitude record for that model of helicopter.
January 1992: Alex Lowe during the first ascent of “Prophet on a Stick”, which is a variant to pitch two three (depending how you count) on Provo Canyon’s “Stairway to Heaven”. I’d done the free-hanging version of “Post Nasal Drip (“Snotty-Nosed Brat) but had never seen anyone mount up on such a stalactite.
January 1991: Alexey Shustrov and Michel Fauquet below Peak Chapayev on a reconnaissance to the south face of Khan-Tengri (7010m) in the Tien Shan range.
May 1986: Alison Hargreaves approaching the summit of Kangtega (6782m) on day nine of our ascent. Earlier in the day Jeff Lowe and Tom Frost had climbed the northwest summit and began the descent toward base camp. Alison and I snapped a few pictures and began racing back to our snow cave on the summit plateau, an affair that lasted well into the night.
Late-90s: Andrew Bielecki introduced me to the idea of sandboarding. He’d done it on the giant dunes of the Great Sand Dune National Monument but we had better access and freedom in Little Sahara. With the right slope angle and fresh furniture polish on the base he could really wail.
Late-90s: Andrew Bielecki in Little Sahara. I was in love with my 20mm lens at the time so I shot everything close and wide.
Late-90s: Andrew Bielecki at Loveland pass. Victorinox had come on board as one of his sponsors and he wanted some images for them. This was one of the first real action shots I made with a Leica M6 rangefinder.
November 1989: Andy Parkin on the 5th pitch of what would later become a new route we named, “Beyond Good and Evil”, Aiguille des Pelerins, Chamonix, France. This was our first attempt, when we realized we weren’t going to run up it in a day, and that we needed more cams and fewer ice screws.
1989: Anne Smith in the Chere Couloir on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, France. To save weight we were climbing on a 8.5mm half-rope – not much use for run-out lead falls but I wasn’t going to fall. Still, once the avalanches started pouring down on us that same rope made for some short rappels, and a lot of down-climbing.
1989: Anne Smith navigating the bergschrund below the Col de la Fourche. I wanted to do the Cretier Route on the east face of Mont Maudit but the ‘schrund beneath it was impassable – or maybe that was just an excuse – so we escaped via the Gabarrou-Steiner route on the southeast face.
1989: Anne Smith high on the Gabarrou-Steiner route, southeast face of Mont Maudit. The 1981 route was described in Mountain as the “South Face of the North Shoulder”. I believe ours was the first winter ascent, and a consolation after getting scared off the Cretier.
Bjorn Andersen and Michel Fauquet wishing they had a spare set of underwear but happy to have avoided the big ride. Bjorn cut the slab, Tchouky (Michel) and I took one for the team. I came out on top. He skied deeper into the slide, was partially buried but got a hand out so he was quickly recovered. If the slab had a little more momentum we'd have gone the distance, about 2000'. Glacier Grande, above Trient, Switzerland.
1996: Scott Backes on an acclimatization run in the Illampu massif. Pico del Norte, where we later climbed a new route we named, “Fuck ‘Em, They’re All Posers Anyway,” is in the background.
1996: Scott Backes navigating the unusual snow features that could make travel in Bolivia fairly time-consuming some days.
Autumn 1991: Barry Blanchard high on the northwest face of Les Droites during the first ascent of the “Richard Cranium Memorial” route. Within the space of fifteen feet he broke two ice tool picks, and in this picture I believe he is following with one whole and one broken tool.
April 1998: Christophe Beaudoin in the "Poop Chute" on the south face of the Aiguille du Midi. I was shooting for a client and testing my Nikon F5 with a f2.8 20-35mm zoom against a Leica M6 with 28mm lens. Until I owned one, I always thought the Leica mystique was snobbish BS but the depth and richness of this Leica image blew the Nikon away – utterly – and I was totally converted.
Autumn 1993: Christophe Beaudoin on the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul. We had just climbed the “Macho Direct”, which is actually the “Macho Couloir” with the “Barton-Shaw” finish. That season it was in great condition with several fine, tough ice and mixed pitches giving us our money’s worth after a storm plastered the face with new snow.
Spring 1998: Bernie Bernthal on the Glacier du Tour. I was in Chamonix to shoot pictures for a client and managed to get a day of touring with Bernie, Mike Hattrup and Bob Mazarei. Looking back, the skis seem really narrow and the heels decidedly free.
Winter 2012: I was told by doctors to avoid the sun as much as possible so the winter of 2012-2013 was pretty dark. I rode a lot at night, skied up and down the slopes at Brighton after closing and eventually did some ski touring on easier terrain. I learned that the bike industry is years ahead of the backcountry hike/ski/climb industry when it comes to lighting.
The day after our second trip to the summit the forecast “wind event” began. Under clear skies the wind gusted up to 60 mph at 14,000’ (snapping a 2x4 supporting the NPS radio antenna), and later that night up to 110 mph at 17,000’. We built higher walls, shoveled plenty, and hunkered down. It wasn’t bad at all.
1987: East Face of South Early Winter Spire in the North Cascades. The splash of white in the upper right corner of the face is a paraglider attached to Jonny Blitz who took an early downwind turn coming off the summit, lost control in the rotor and tumbled down the face like spilt fuck. One of very few trees snagged the glider and kept him from going to the ground. I borrowed a couple of ropes from Steve Swenson who happened to show up on top, rappelled down to Blitz and we jumarred out. Swenson, his partner and I were far more freaked-out than Blitz was.
1987: Jonny Blitz filling the wing on top of Liberty Bell in the North Cascades. The take-off was dicey: fill it, run a few steps, jump to a small ledge and if it wasn’t happening abort or fall off the West Face. I recall he took 17 tries before launching. I had to wait another 45 minutes before conditions were right, and took off just before nightfall.
Late-90s: I was in Crested Butte to shoot pictures for an article about Ski Conditioning. The subjects were among the best extreme skiers of the day: Wendy Fisher, Kasha Rigby, Alison Gannett, Heather Paul and a couple of others whose names escape me right now. We had two good days on trails, at the local soccer field, riding cruiser bikes, and visiting the taco shack for post-workout nutrition.
Spring 2013: Vince Anderson knew I was game for some ski touring and asked if I wanted to be a “client” during a guide’s exam. Of course! I don’t have to pretend to be a shite skier, and I can feign altitude illness as well as anyone. I’d always wanted to ski the Snake Couloir on Mount Sneffels and this was a fine opportunity. Here, Vince observes while Dave Ahrens of San Juan Mountain Guides takes what he can get - seconds.
We left the 11,000-foot camp at about 11:30pm in rather horrible conditions with near-zero visibility and between one and two feet of new snow depending on how the wind moved it around. We traveled from wand to wand, sometimes missing them, veering off route, fighting the tendency to turn out of the wind, and constantly checking ourselves against the compass and a few waypoints stored in the GPS. After traveling through the night we rolled into the camp at 7800’ to recover a cache we left there.
Striding out of the 7800-foot camp toward the day’s reward: a break in the weather. After 11 hours on the move we skied up Heartbreak Hill to the airstrip where a plane promptly landed and six of our guys got on. The rest of us waited for varying periods but all got out that day, rolled to Anchorage that afternoon, and a few sampled the local “rewards” typical to a Denali trip later in the evening.
May 2008: Just below the summit of Denali. It was my second trip to the top from the 14k camp in a three-day period. I was starting to feel pretty fit.
May 2008: Rolo Garibotti with Bill and Rob nearing the summit of Denali. A few of the guys from that trip were killed three years later when they went down with the Extortion 17 helicopter in Afghanistan. We shared a lot of time in the mountains and that loss was especially hard because a lot of former students died at once, not the usual one or maybe two at a time, which is somehow easier to assimilate.
June 1990: Dominique Gleizes exiting the west face of the Eiger. It was his 50th base jump and almost his last as the snowboard flipped him upside down. The extractor hit it when he tossed, which in turn caused a face-in opening, and only instantaneous, instinctive reaction kept him from slamming the wall.
June 1990: Dominique Gleizes at the exit on the north side of the Petit Clocher du Portalet. His trick to gauge how long he could freefall before tossing the drogue was to time how long an orange that he dropped would fall before impact. His descent basically followed the line of “Etat du Choc” a Remy brothers route from 1983.
June 1995: Ed and Betty Pope hiking to acclimatize above La Paz. The trips we took to some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, and the experiences we shared there developed into lifelong friendship.
May 2012: Rich Cetrone at the Paris Racing Club. He had never done any fencing but a lot of boxing and martial arts so he had no trouble with the foot movement or hand speed. Over the weeks we used the space I got to watch him practice with current and former Olympians, for which I felt incredibly fortunate.
Walking out of the 17,000-foot camp into an incredible sunset. Colors and textures were enriched by fatigue and a sense of accomplishment but also by the requirement for complete attention to detail for another couple of hours.
About 12 hours into the day, descending toward Denali Pass. I took our second team of guys to the summit from 14,000’ in a 15hrs 30min roundtrip. Despite it being a big day, I think this is the best way to climb via the West Buttress: hang out at 14k for a few days, take day trips with a light pack to 16k and 17k, rest well, then punch for the top. One avoids carrying a huge load to 17k and sleeping there, where recovery isn’t on the menu, only deterioration. Starting fresh and hitting the top from 14k carrying a day pack is no harder than starting wasted from 17k. One may need a bit better fitness, and certainly the discipline to pay attention for 15 to 20 hours straight, and the sense to take care of hydration and nutrition throughout the day. Still, it ain't easy ...
For hours these guys dug into themselves for something they'd never had to access before. A few steps and collapse. A hopeful look upwards to see if the summit came any closer while they had their heads on their knees. No. Damn. More work. More digging. More giving, everything. Effort upon effort. Until they could climb no higher.
Early-2000s: Zack Snyder was shooting TV commercials in this period and whenever he needed some guys to rig or look after mountain safety we helped him. If memory serves, this was a Chevy spot. Steve House was in charge of helo safety. Rolo Garibotti and I did the drilling and climbing – and falling.
Mid-80s: I was bivouacked on the porch of the old Cosmiques hut at the Col du Midi. They were pouring the foundation for the new hut, flying concrete up to 3800m one bucket at a time.
One of the scarier moments I've had. The helicopter dropped us atop an iceberg floating off the Antarctic Peninsula. We had no boat, an afternoon's worth of food and drink, and a bunch of camera gear. I recall some of us were wearing flotation devices, which seems a bit silly now ... I mean, why bother prolonging it?
July 1990: The Moskvina Glacier base camp is accessed by helicopter. The daily flights were good entertainment during the four weeks we spent there.
1990: On top of the Clochedr du Portalet with Michel Fouquet, aka Tchouky. We were there to film Dominique Gleizes base jump off the northwest face. This was about the smallest summit I ever accessed by helicopter, and quite terrifying until we’d done it a few times. That summer, or the following, I climbed a fine route up the tower named “Chic, Chec, Choc” with Marie Hiroz and was once-again amazed at how small the summit truly is.
January 1991: It took three flights to ferry all of the personnel and equipment to our base camp on the South Inylchek Glacier below Khan-Tengri. The flight from Kegen covered 120km. We had no radio contact with the outside world, only the agreement that the pilot would return in four weeks so what we brought was all we had.
March 1998: Paul Roderick from Talkeetna Air Taxi delivering Jonny Blitz, Steve House and I to the Ruth Glacier where we went looking for the ephemeral ice lines we hoped would be there. After some hit and miss we eventually made the first ascent of “The Gift (That Keeps on Giving)” on the south face of Mount Bradley.
January 2015: These days we live our lives far apart so we take advantage of whatever opportunities we might have to share some time together. Touring with Steve and Eva House in the Wasatch on a day when the conversation was way better than the skiing.
February 1997: Mark Wilford soloing in the Iceberg Cemetery near the Antarctic Peninsula. It was a beautiful and scary place. The ice shelf below the surface gave the illusion of warm Caribbean water but the reality is below freezing, 175 meters deep, and black as coal.
February 1997: There’s no instruction manual for climbing icebergs. We thought it might be better to solo wearing a life jacket, but hitting water from a hundred feet would be like decking anywhere. Because we used the rope, we carried knives to cut tools and rope away, which might let us tread water more easily. Neither of us had dry suits so we wouldn’t last long anyway. Under the 60th parallel the ocean is actually below 32° but salt content keeps it from freezing. The ice itself is weird. Compressed on the continent for several thousand years, after breaking off to become an iceberg , it tries to fall apart. Without support or geologic compression, gravity tugs from all angles while salt-water nibbles at integrity. Icebergs roll over without warning. People have seen them disintegrate for no reason.
Autumn 1998: In the late-90s I was shooting pictures for a living. I recall this was on assignment for Early Winters. Lisa, Andrew Bielecki, Rick McIlleece, Cristina Begy and I road-tripped around southern Utah for a few days, rode bikes, ran, paddled sea kayaks, hiked, drank a few beers and shot some great images. Cristina is a great mountain bike racer, having won a couple of world titles at the 24-hour distance.
Summer 1991: ABC television came to Chamonix to shoot an episode of “The Extreme Edge” featuring me soloing the Frendo Spur on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi. David Breashears filmed me from various locations on the face using a small “lipstick” camera. I had a similar camera on my helmet. We both carried microwave transmitters that beamed the images to receivers at the base of the face. Peter Pilafian shot from the helicopter and covered the interviews. Marie Hiroz recorded the audio. Local legend Jean Afanassieff coordinated the project. He passed away in 2015.