Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

A Year in Review (in photos)…

Despite fighting injuries that have severely limited my mobility throughout most of the year,  it’s nice to look back and see that I still had a pretty stellar year.  Between travel for family, trips with my wife and various Social Media events (including #Omniten and Outdoor Retailer) I have managed a hell of a lot of travel this year.  I owe a lot of that to finally living in the same city with my wife, thus cutting down on the travel time we spent just to visit each other.

Even though I’ve spent half of the year in pretty bad pain, I still consider myself luckier than the average bear.  The following is my Year in Review through the images that best represent each trip.  Now, where should I go in 2014??

January…

Eastern Oregon

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

Salt Lake City with Everybody!

Snowshoe at Silver Lake Utah

Idaho with @TrailSherpa, @Wigirl4ever, @AColoradoGal, @Active_Explorer

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

 

February…

Chalk Canyon

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

South Mountain with @TheMorningFresh and @BananaBuzzBomb

Simply Adventure-South Mountain

 

March…

Haunted Canyon with @BananaBuzzBomb and @MountainMatron

Haunted Canyon- Superstition Wilderness

Skunk Tank with @WriterintheWild

Skunk Tank in Tonto National Forest

Lost Dutchman with @BretEdgePhoto

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Superstition Wilderness

4 - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

 

April…

Zion National Park with @DavidWherry

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

 

May…

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Big Sur

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

Overland Expo 2013

Epic whiskey-Overland Expo 2013

 

June…

Apparently June was a quiet month.  I only have this image of a giant horn worm from my garden…

Monster in the Garden-Horn Worm

 

July…

Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Mono Lake

Mono Lake-California

Pinetop

(photo credit goes to Mic Waugh)

Crossbows and beards

 

August…

Rogue River, Oregon with the #Omniten

Rogue River Rafting Trip

Sedona L’Auberge Resort

Oak Creek Hike- L'Auberge Sedona

Mount Graham

Mount Graham photography view

 

September…

We technically started our Hawaii trip in September…but…

 

October…

Hawaii

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Arches National Park

WD at Arches National Park

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

 

November…

Oak Creek, Sedona

Oak Creek-Fall Photography Trip

Death Valley National Park with @AmericanSahara and @valinreallife

Death Valley Sunset

Return to the Superstition Wilderness with @HikingTheTrail and @BananaBuzzBomb

Boulder Creek - Superstitions

All in all, I would say it turned out to be a pretty epic year.  I want to thank everyone who joined me and helped make this year’s travel possible, especially my patient and beautiful wife.  And a special thanks to Angela and Tracy for helping to watch our four-legged family while we are off having adventures.

I also started my virtual Photo Gallery this year and many of these photos are available as prints.

Happy New Year and may your travels be a little messy,  heavily spontaneous and never go according to plan!

One Day in Zion…

As night draped over the desert like a thick blanket, Dave and I sat near the small, crackling fire and talked in hushed voices about our grand plans for the coming adventure.  He had flown in to Salt Lake City and made the four hour drive across Utah to Zion that morning.  I had made the robust seven hour drive across Arizona and Southern Utah from Phoenix.  Both of us were short on time.  Saturday was our only day to really see the park, to drink it in until we were intoxicated by it’s unique beauty.  We asked ourselves, “What do you do when you only have one day in one of the most amazing places on Earth?”

Our only answer, “Everything!”

 

The main section of Zion National Park is not terribly huge.  The section of park along the North Fork of the Virgin River from the park entrance to The Narrows is only about 6 or 7 miles long.  But that stretch of canyon houses within it’s hallowed walls some of the most dramatic and iconic scenery in North America.  There are monuments and trails within this sliver of earth that many only dream of visiting.  We’d see icons like The blood streaked Altar of Sacrifice in the Towers of the Virgin, the Sentinel watching over the Court of the Patriarchs, and the Great White Throne of God looking down upon the razor thin edge of Angel’s Landing.  We’d walk among lesser icons like Echo Canyon and plunge our tired feet into the frigid waters of the Virgin River.

Sharp gusts of canyon wind carried a chill through the darkness at camp, rustling the grasses and the cottonwoods.  I fumbled with breakfast in the dark while we packed for the day.  Dave, who is more accustomed to lightweight backpacking than I am, carried a tiny bag with almost nothing but water and a few small bags of snacks.  I had my camera gear to contend with and shouldered a far heavier burden.  The earliest park shuttle would arrive at 7am and by 6:45 we were the only ones stirring in camp, a good sign we’d have the trail to ourselves.  The morning sky was just beginning to glow as we walked quietly among the deer that were loitering at the visitor’s center.

There were only two others on the first shuttle of the morning from the visitor’s center.  The other early risers were an elderly fellow who had plans to see sunrise from further in the canyon and fairly large man in a ponytail who wanted to “hike Angel’s Landing without his wife and kids slowing him down”.  We picked up a few more ambitious hikers before reaching The Grotto, where we would find the trailhead to Angel’s Landing.

Angel's Landing hike-1

We chose to conquer Angel’s Landing first for a few reasons: First, I wanted to shoot from Angel’s Landing in early light.  From all accounts, this would be a technical, heart-pounding hike with serious exposure and there was no way we were going to try to hike it for the first time in the dark just to catch “sunrise” from the top.  I was happy being able to shoot in the early morning light, hoping for something dramatic.  Second, we wanted to beat the crowds of weekend warriors and all-out tourists shuffling up the trail.  The park tells you to plan 4 to 5 hours for your round-trip to Angel’s Landing, but we were confident we could shave that down a little.

Zion National Park - Angel's Landing hikeAngel’s Landing was an absolutely amazing hike.  Short, a little strenuous, and potentially nerve-wracking for anyone with a possible fear of heights.  Since neither of us have ever experienced a fear of heights, the hike wasn’t as white-knuckle-scary as it was made out to be.  There are a few sections where well-worn chains guide you along and give you something to cling to.  I don’t think the chains are necessary though.  We were alone hiking most of the trail, running into very few people hiking that early.  We made short work of it clawing our way to the very end of any navigable path within 45 minutes of leaving the shuttle bus.  We spent nearly an hour at the tip of Angel’s Landing just enjoying the view and taking pictures and never saw another tired, sweaty soul until we packed up and headed back.  On the return hike it was easy to see how this hike could turn into a 4 hour ordeal when it gets crowded.  We never did see Ponytail.

Zion National Park - Angel's Landing hike

Before too long we were back across the Virgin river and waiting for the next shuttle to take us up the canyon to Weeping Rock where we’d catch the trailhead to Observation Point.  This was a busy trailhead, but we were ahead of schedule and doing well to stay ahead of the real crowds.  The beginning of this trail can be busy as it’s shared with those making the short hike to Weeping Rock, or venturing a little further to see Echo Canyon.  A small fraction continue on up the long, winding, never-ending swithcbacks leading to Observation Point.

Zion National Park - Observation Point

Echo Canyon-3This one takes some time, and is one of the most popular hikes in the park for one reason…the view.  From Observation Point you are treated to a plateau level view of the entire valley.  The point itself sticks out from the adjacent canyon wall enough that you are awarded near 360 degree views down into the park.  We sat at the point for a long time, resting the feet, taking pictures and befriending the local wildlife.  We both dreaded the long downhill and what that would mean on our tired, old knees.

I had expressed an interest in checking out Hidden Canyon, which we would pass on the way back down.  We looked forward to a little uphill hiking again after the descent from Observation Point and didn’t lose a step in the transition.  The trail to Hidden Canyon offered the kind of fun we found at Angel’s Landing, narrow trail clinging to the canyon wall, chains provided for the sketchy bits.  We managed to pass a couple of other groups who seemed to be in over their heads on this one.

I really love seeing those people on the trail, sweating with fear and clinging to the chains or rails with a death grip.  They move slow and sure, sometimes swearing and screaming at a misstep or stumble.  This, to them, is the pinnacle of adventure and they are doing it!  It reminds me of my mother on the trail down to the pool below Mooney Falls in Havasupai.  She was scared to death, but she made it.  I’m there because I don’t fear those trails, I love it and I’m comfortable there.  These people are there in spite of their fear and discomfort, pushing past their limits and experiencing wonder.  It’s commendable.

We found ourselves at the bottom of the trail on another shuttle, sore, tired and out of food and water.  But we still had a little more of the most important commodity in our whole adventure…TIME.  So we headed to The Narrows.  After a refill of sweet spring water and a little “Vitamin I” we were back on the trail with a vengeance.  Late in the afternoon, the River Walk Trail leading into the narrows is choked with “tourists”.  These are typically NOT hikers or adventurers but “tourists” in the purest sense of the word and  I’m not ashamed to admit that we bullied our way past the sluggish cattle.  Our time was fleeting and we were moving with purpose.

Zion National Park - The Narrows

Reaching the end of the paved River Walk Trail we scuttled down the concrete steps to the rocky beach.  We continued our brisk pace weaving past the people lingering there.  We reached the water’s edge then, without hesitation, we continued our hike through the cold water.  Further up the canyon the only people we saw were those returning from day hikes into The Narrows wearing wetsuits and drysuits and accompanied by a guide.  We continued to pick our way up canyon, watching our footing in the swift water.  I set up a couple of shots, feet going numb in the cold Spring runoff.  We hiked as far into the canyon as we could, stopping before the water became deep enough to force us to swim.

We hung out for a while, savoring our sampling of The Narrows and mentally adding to our To-Do lists for future trips.  I hear Fall is a great time to hike The Narrows…

We returned to camp at dusk thoroughly used, tired, wet, hungry and sunburned.  Surely a sign we’d done our duty well.  We changed into dry shoes and clothes and walked to the Zion Brew Pub (Dave had convinced me that our day warranted more than freeze-dried backpacking food).  We ended our epic day in Zion National Park the way one should end any epic day…with stories and beer.

Many of these images from Zion National Park are available in print or download from my Gallery.

One Day in Zion Gallery…

A Stranger in Zion…

The late afternoon light was stretched low over the horizon casting long shadows in Zion National Park.  I had unpacked my gear from the dusty truck in Watchman Campground and quickly set up my home for the weekend next to another small tent quietly occupying the same campsite under a large cottonwood.  I didn’t know much about my mysterious campmate yet.  Less than an hour earlier, I had received a single text message – all set in F4.  They have a parking permit for you as you enter watchman campground.  If I’m not in camp, I’m off exploring.  Sounds like we’d get along just fine.

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

The National Parks and Monuments of Utah have always called to me, especially Zion National Park.  I don’t normally make a huge effort to visit the National Parks, preferring instead to explore Wilderness Areas where I can find quiet and solitude.  There are exceptions.  When my dad passed away in 2005 we were in the planning stages of several trips together.  We were on the wait-list for a private trip down the Colorado River, we were just starting to plan a trip through Yosemite along portions of the John Muir Trail and we were talking about touring the Utah Parks of Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands.

In Fall of 2007 I was able to raft the Colorado through Grand Canyon on a private boat trip with several of my dad’s closest river friends.  This Summer I’ll finally be hiking most of the John Muir Trail through Yosemite with a small group of backpackers.  And for years I had been patiently looking for opportunities to visit Arches or Zion…when I received this message on twitter:

The timing seemed to fit perfectly into my jigsaw puzzle of a travel calendar.  I managed to scrounge up some petty cash for fuel, take the weekend off and drive 7 hours across Arizona and Utah to meet up with a fellow adventure seeker after nothing more than a handful of Twitter messages.  Twitter has been funny that way, especially when it comes to the outdoor community.  I see it happen all the time with messages like, “Anyone up for climbing near SLC this weekend?” or “I want to do Humphrey’s next time in Flag.  Who’s in?”  Social Media allows us to connect with like-minded people for outdoor adventures that just wouldn’t be as fun (or safe) alone.

This time it was Minnesota native David Wherry, hell bent on making the most out of his first whirlwind trip to Zion National Park in the shortest time possible.  David would have one day, sun-up to sun-down, to doggedly chase down as much adventure and general badassery (yes, it’s a word) as law would allow…and he was looking for a partner to help him run it down.

As I organized my gear at Workman Campground I knew we were staring down the barrel of a long sunrise-to-sunset day of steep, sweat-stained canyon hiking.  So when Dave came strolling into camp after a casual 7 mile trail run, I knew he’d be the guy pushing the pace the next day.

That night we sat around the campfire and discussed our strategy for the next day.  We didn’t know each other before that night but we both seemed very much on the same page about our agenda.  We listed out our priorities starting with Angel’s Landing at sunrise and worked our way from there with every intention of hungrily devouring as much of this amazing park as we could stomach before sunset.  We would not be content to shuffle along with cattle-like tourists.  We would push hard, move fast and end every trail with an eager and emphatic “What’s next!?”

David turned out to be a great trail companion and bad-ass adventure partner.  Hopefully his work continues to land him in parts out west so we can pull off another epic slam-dunk in another amazing location.  The sooner the better…

The Epic Day in Zion National Park…

Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

Echo Canyon at Zion National Park

Observation Point at Zion National Park

The Narrows at Zion National Park

 

To see more of my images from Zion National Park visit my gallery.

Photograph of the Week: Entering Zion…

I’ve spent the last two days editing and fine tuning photographs from this weekend’s trip to Zion National Park.  I’m very tired, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.  I feel like I have some great images in spite of being overwhelmed by the enormity of such a small park.

I tried not to approach my visit to this park with any specific photographic goals.  Normally I research a location before I visit so that I can figure out which shots have been overdone, which iconic features are “must see”, or if sunrise or sunset are better times to shoot.  With Zion I let all of that go and figured I would simply drive to the park and see what there was to see.  I even resisted the urge to purchase a map of the park before my visit.

I chose to drive in from the lonely east side of Zion.  Coming from Phoenix, the route up through Northern Arizona and across Southern Utah seemed more adventurous and intriguing than zooming along major highways through Las Vegas.  This route meant less traffic and rare views of the Colorado River, Marble Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau.  It also meant there were no lines to get into the park.  The east entrance was eerily quiet.

As soon as I entered Zion, my truck slowed to a crawl.  I’m sure there were the obligatory posted speed limits, but they were unnecessary as it is impossible to drive through Zion without slowing to look at the dramatic scenery.  I don’t think I was inside the park boundary for more than five minutes before I was wheeling my grumbling truck to a dusty pullout and clawing at my camera equipment.  My truck left idling restlessly with the rear door thrown open, I scrambled up a loose, sandy slope to capture my first shots of Zion National Park.

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

I was not alone, other vehicles were strewn at random angles in haste as eager photographers abandoned their cars, trucks and rented RVs to point their lenses toward a dramatic, alien landscape.  I pushed on, stopping here and there, but forcing myself toward camp.

My adventure was just getting started and I had a partner-in-crime for the weekend that I had yet to meet.

 

To see more of my images from Zion National Park visit my gallery.

Photograph of the Week: Sunrise in Utah…

I spent the end of January doing a lot of traveling and trying to photograph as much as I could.  After an amazing trip to Salt Lake City for the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, a small group of us were rounded up before dawn and shuttled off to parts unknown in Idaho courtesy of GeigerRig.  The thick morning storm clouds were beginning to open up as the sun came up behind the snow covered mountains just north of Ogden.  Any good photographer would have wanted to stop and set up for the shot, but I didn’t have that luxury.  As we sped along the slushy freeway, I rolled down the window and snapped off a few shots hoping I could keep the camera steady.

Unedited Photograph…

Sunrise in Idaho-Original Photograph

You can see it was a dramatic sunrise.  The clouds were great, and the snowy mountains were picture perfect.  I knew taking the shots out of the window would give me a blurry foreground (hard not to at 60MPH) and would require cropping.  I framed the shot accordingly, knowing I would crop the road out later.  This sort of shot wanted to be a panoramic format anyway.  Problem is, the raw image muted a lot of the color and intensity of the scene.  So when I got back to the cabin I loaded the image into Photoshop and played with it.  I wanted to get some contrast into the image and bring some of the colors out without losing the clouds.  I did my typical edit of higher contrast, and pushed some light into the shadows and then intensified the blacks.

Photograph edited in Photoshop CS4…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Photoshop

I was initially very happy with this image after I worked it over in Photoshop.  I got the blue sky and intense sunrise colors I was looking for.  Certainly better than the raw image.  After time, I became less happy with the image.  I had lost some of the detail and drama in the clouds and the mountains still seemed a little muted in the color scheme.  The sky just didn’t feel as “big” as it should and the mountains looked pale.  After looking at it I also felt like I had over-cropped the image.  I needed a little more foreground, even though the foreground wasn’t anything amazing it still gave the story context.  Context is an important part of telling your story in writing as well as photography.

Photograph edited in Lightroom 4.3…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

I started from scratch in Lightroom with the raw image.  I played the same game of lightening the shadows and filling in the blacks while playing adjustments to clarity and contrast.  Once I felt I had the nuts and bolts of the image dialed in I worked on coaxing more color out of the clouds to set them off.  The differences are subtle but I managed to keep the clouds intact, bring more weight to the mountain shadows and still bring out some brilliant colors in the sky.  I fine tuned the yellows and oranges to keep the pallet warm but not “sunset warm”.  I cropped the image to include more of the foreground which seemed to maintain the “big sky” feel that the original image had.

Ultimately, I now feel I’ve got an image that has retained the integrity of the original shot but with a much more dramatic story to tell.  This just shows you what minor tweaks to the development and cropping can do for an image.

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/200, F/7.1, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.