I Was Not a Mountaineer Then

I have finally been ensnared by the addiction of Flickr. My old hauntings of a blog site and an art site have been abandoned in favour of Flickr. How I came to fall under the spell and the adventures that led me there could fill another post that would probably be of little interest to anyone else, so I will cut to the chase and offer a preamble to this post that doesn’t amble too much.

I started a group called “100 Famous Mountains of Canada”, which is based on Japan’s Hyakumeizan – the 100 famous mountains of Japan. No such list exists in Canada and so I decided to solicit the help of other photographs and create a pool of 100 or more candidates for Canada’s most beautiful, most well-known, most climbed, most photographed and painted, and most historic mountains. As a result I have been spending much time searching Flickr for photographs of specific peaks, or for photographs of mountains in specific areas. Many of the areas I have searched are very close to where I call home and in fact are actually places I visited once, twice, or even a few times during the years I photographed Canadian landscapes.

Scrolling through the photographs Flickr serves up has been an awakening experience. I have discovered that: 1) there are many extremely talented mountain photographers on Flickr, many of which live around my home territory; 2) there are many places I visited but never knew well enough to find places where these photographers were able to capture world class landscape photographs; and 3) that many of these locations were right outside my living room window and basically within sight every day of my life from the age of 4 to 28. Photographers on Flickr have shown me tremendous beauty in places such as Mount Seymour (both in winter and summer), Golden Ears Provincial Park, Manning Provincial Park, Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park, and Garibaldi Provincial Park, to name some of the locals nearer to my home and where I visited for photography before. The images I find on Flickr are much more striking and inspirational than most, if any, of the photographs I ever captured in those places. That such beauty was within range for so long and I rarely attempted to search for it left me feeling rather despondent. One night last week I text-messaged my wife, asking what the heck I had been doing in Canada during those ten years I photographed the nature and landscapes of south western British Columbia.

I began using slide film in the spring of 1989. My photographs were becoming more creative and getting better and I had called a stock agency in hopes of finding out if any of my prints could be sold through them. They kindly informed me that they handled only transparency film, and so it was that I tried a roll out in my backyard one April afternoon. I still have a few souvenir shots from then. I had already begun my explorations of Canada with my camera and had even climbed my first mountain – the 2,319 metre-high Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park – the preceding summer, and some of the first destinations I chose for testing out more rolls of slide film included mountain areas. But I was no mountaineer back then. I was a nature and landscape photographer with a keen interest in places of geological wonders and oddities. I readily admitted a passion for hiking and a love for mountains, but climbing peaks was not my purpose, nor was it to return time and again to specific locations solely in order to capture that elusive and majestic mountain light. The whole country, or at least the southern portion of it, was my oyster, and I treated the landscapes of the Gulf Islands, the Coast and Cascade Ranges, the interior grasslands of B.C., the Rockies, the Prairies with their badlands, sand dunes and wild grasslands, the autumn glory of the Laurentians (which I captured on an experimental new film and brought home mostly a disaster of results), and the historic and rugged beauty of the Maritimes with the same fervour.

Even when I first came to Japan, I did not rush directly to the mountains. I traveled hither thither across the country, exploring the landscapes as I found them by and near the road or railway. I hiked a little, climbed a couple of mountains, but never imagined myself becoming a mountaineer, which seem to me required expensive equipment and a certain mettle of which I wasn’t certain I was composed. However, in 2003 something changed for me and I decided that I had to traverse the Shirouma Sanzan. The experience was harsh, not so much for the climb with a heavy backpack but because yet again nature threw a miserable sopping rain at me during most of the three days that I was exposed to the elements. Only on the second morning above the Shirouma Ohike was I blessed with decent light to photograph. The hike down was a horrendous ordeal with rain soaking me to the skin and low-hanging trees catching on my pack and knocking backwards every few metres. I recall being both relieved and proud of myself once I reached the bottom, and a poster on the wall that declared, “We Are All Mountain People” nearly brought me to tears of emotional up-welling as I identified with that label in my deepest heart for the first time. From then on I was a mountaineer!

Considering that it was only until recently that I gave my soul to the mountains has brought me some relief from my distress over not having photographed more in the mountains around south western British Columbia. Last week I asked my wife, “What was I doing all those years?” Why hadn’t I been out there hiking, scrambling, and climbing much more often and bagging stunning images as well as local peaks? The answer is simply that it had not been my purpose to do so back in those days. I was ever the more eager to explore the semi-arid regions of the B.C. southern interior and the Prairies. If someone had suggested a climb and invited me to join I happily would have gone along. And I did make some excursions to the mountains for the purpose of mountain photography, and did some serious hikes, and even climbed another peak – Mt. Golden Ears – after I heard it was an easy enough climb with just a bit of scrambling near the end. No expensive gear or guide was required. But all my mountain visits were nothing like what I was finding on Flickr nor like what I would be doing by now were I back in Canada again.

I could then ask myself, why didn’t I climb more when I was back in Canada from December 2004 to March 2006? Yes, well perhaps I failed somewhat there to do as much as I could have done. But I kept busy still. I went twice farther into Garibaldi than I had before, climbing Mt. Price and scrambling part way up Mt. Fissle; I climbed to the upper lake at Joffre Lakes and higher to a nearly vanished glacier; I took a couple of snowshoe trips, though not in prime weather for the kind of photography I found on Flickr; I visited the Rockies again and did a short hike above Lake Cavell; and I finally climbed Mt. Cheam. I also spent time exploring the Prairies a little and the Maritimes again, as well as I made a couple of trips across the border into Washington and Oregon, plus a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. And the biggest expense of them all was my trip to South America. If I had wanted to climb the local peaks much more I would have had to sacrifice those other excursions for the reason of cost. But quite simply, it is unlikely that I would have thought to do so because I was simply unaware of (or hadn’t really considered that I might find) such remarkable photo opportunities if I had only persisted in visiting the local places more often. It took Flickr to expose me to the possibilities that lay awaiting the persistent and tenacious photographer and inspire me with a burning desire to go home, climb, and shoot, shoot, shoot, if only that I could.

It comforts me to think about what I did do while I was in Canada rather than what I didn’t. But the fact also remains that now I can’t go either. Until ten years ago those mountains were just outside my window or two to four hours’ drive away. Now they are far across the ocean and I have to leave it to those still fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of those peaks to capture the extraordinary moments that unfold there. As for my photography, I will have to see how to make the best out of the next ten years, starting with the local mountains around where I live now. The first prerequisite for good outdoor photography is being there. So now it’s up to me to get there.

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3 responses to “I Was Not a Mountaineer Then

  1. > The first prerequisite for good outdoor photography is being there

    Absolutely. But being there is something I’m missing lately!

    Fascinating to read your journey (real and umm, photographic!).

    Do you use film still today (forgive my not reading all your blog to find out – my eyes are about to fail from staring at a monitor for tooo long for a contract – doing it for fun is craziness…)?

  2. It’s sometimes hard not to regret the opportunities that you now recognise. But as you say – that was then.

    I think it can be useful to look back with some regret – it spurs us on to avoid looking back with regret in future!

  3. RedYeti, yes, I still use film. There is a long story of reasons but it is where I am still at. I have decided to purchase a digital SLR but my finances are in a most decrepit state right now. Maybe next year.

    I tend to do a lot of retrospective thinking exactly for the reason of becoming aware of opportunities missed so that when they come again (or when I make them come again) I’ll be better equipped to either do the right thing or to better accept having to let them go.

    At least now I am really fired up with dreams about returning to Canada some day and doing a major mountain photography blitz. I am still young. There’s lots of time. I’ll get there.

    Thanks for the comments. Good luck with the contracts.

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