Photographic Memories, 1000 Words

Posted on November 6, 2011


Normally, I talk about the technical details that make a great photo, which for me would be a photo worth printing. Of course there are many things that make photos great.  Some are just intensely personal, regardless of the artistry they capture.

A few years ago, Bernard Hymmen and I went to Mt. Baker ski area. As is often the case at Baker, it had stormed so much that some of the sweetest spots were closed for avalanche danger. This included the back country area known as “The Hemispheres.” The only way to describe this terrain is to imagine a gigantic bowl of ice cream piled scoop upon scoop and drizzled with creme fraiche. The terrain’s curvature is such that the horizon is always just a few yards away. You feel like you are always just about to ski off the edge of the world, and if you are not careful, you just might. Especially as the fog and foul weather are wont to roll in below you.

The road not taken, the fork to Shuksan Arm and Rumble Valley

As it so happens we arrived at the gate to the hemispheres right after the ski patrollers decided to open it. There is some complex equation about how many snowboarders have to duck the lines and survive before it’s determined safe. Crude, but way cheaper than dynamite. And so, up we went.

Bernard in the distance

The whole way up, I imagined Bernard nipping at my heels in anticipation and so I floored it . You have to understand, it was about three in the afternoon, and the race was on, so to speak, for the untracked snow. Here we were standing on acres of it. You have to move fast, really fast, up a vertical stairway you are kicking in knee-deep snow, before it becomes a mogul field.

It turns out, I’m much better at going up than going down. So I got to the top and turned around and, no Bernard. Weird. Well, I snapped a few photos. This was when I was playing with “pushing to the right” (read over-exposing) under the impression I would someday learn to post-process digital images. As you can see, that hasn’t happened yet.

At any rate, while I was thinking, I decided this would be a good time to pay Bernard back for the hundreds of photos he’s taken of me skiing, and learn to get a few good ones of him. Say, from the ridge a couple hundred feet above us.

The bad news is, I think it would be great if you climbed the ridge and I shot it from here.

Being the great sport he is, up he went.

Stairway to Heaven

And the sun came out.  And for a change, I got some shots.

We live for this.

And this

Only a true friend, or a fellow photographer stops mid run to wait for you

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, Bernard’s signature tracks

I’ve actually been on the mountain when Bernard was there and I didn’t know it, but figured it out when I saw his tracks. True story and I have witnesses. That guy can trench a turn, and nobody has early pressure like him.

I cannot remember if Bernard radioed up to me or we did it spontaneously, but once he was set, I pushed off. Okay, well, I didn’t have a good head of steam and fell off the cornice, but after that, it went pretty well and I “eighted” his tracks.  When I got down, it looked like this, and I laughed the whole way down while I was skiing it:

A picture I honestly didn’t remember taking until I just recently stumbled across it .
In an incredibly rare circumstance Bernard and I both took a similar shot. Usually, I don’t even bring my camera out when he does because, well, what am I going to add to his superior eye and technique?
Then last year, Bernard gave me a book Photographers@Microsoft Volume 2, and as I’m thumbing through it, on page 7, I see this. It even has the same little cloud above the peak. Out of all of the thousands of images Bernard has, he chose that one for the book. When I saw it, I just laughed and laughed again. I still get a warm feeling in my belly when I look at it. I remember every turn on that run, and this picture really does speak 1000 words about our friendship.

We put the cameras away, and turned around to face a wall of fog, screaming up the Canyon at us, and making the rest of the trip down surreal in that kind of way only the Hemispheres can be. Sometimes, you literally cannot tell up from down. I once double ejected and lawn-darted into a wind drift none of us saw, almost drowning because my friends were laughing too hard to come dig me out, just my feet kicking away in the wind.

Not only had we put fresh tracks on the dome at the end of the day, we did the most important thing of any day at Baker: ski until 3pm, when the North Fork Brewery (and Beer Shrine) opens so we could have a beer on the way home. Cheers Bernard! And many happy (re) turns!

More of Bernard’s images from that day.

Posted in: Photography