I was born in 1956 in Verdun, France and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. In the 1970's, I read an article by Sierra climbing and skiing legend Doug Robinson in which he described skiing the John Muir Trail without carrying a stove or maps. I had taken up climbing, skiing, and wilderness travel in my teens, and this article inspired me to take a winter tour of the same trail. Actually the inspiration came when I flourished the article in my friend Jim Keating’s face at a party. Jim turned beer influenced cheer leading into the positive action of setiing out food caches. In March of 1979 we started out on what would be a month long test our mettle. The trail affected me in a profound way, leading to my becoming a climber and a photographer.
Our trek took us to vistas of indescribable wilderness beauty. At times the mountains would seem to embrace our presence; then Pacific-driven storms would rage at our youthful audacity. We heard the deafening roar of avalanches, a sound that was both terrifying and exhilarating; at other times a winter stillness would surround us for days on end. I found that the mountains brought out more emotions in me than I ever knew I had. They seemed to grab hold of my very soul, and I had the clear sense that these mountains were where I belonged.
I had chronicled our trip on film but was not satisfied with my visual journal. I made one photo of Jim skiing down Mather Pass that summed up the trip for me. One picture repeated the story of the Muir Trail. I never took another snap shot.
Note on article: The following article was sent as a side bar to Sierra Magazine article by Andrew Beckers titled I Was Here, in the July/August 2008 issue. I received the request from magazine editor Paul Rauber who I had contacted six months prior letting him know that I had rescued the oldest register in the Sierra and was interested in doing an article.
The recent spate of Sierra summit register rip-off and destruction finally pushed me to retrieve the oldest register in the Sierra.
The secret wouldn’t last; but it just might. I‘d kept my mouth shut for fifteen years. I didn’t even tell Steve Roper, my longtime Sierra buddy, where the register was!
I did tell Robin Ingraham Junior. I owed it to Robin. An avid Sierra peak bagger and register aficionado, Robin had figured out that Mount Woodworth might have the original record still in place.
In 1992 my wife, Nancy, and I made a trip to see if Robin was right. The summit itself was nothing special, a Class 2 grunt over some miles of loose terrain. After a few minutes of searching, we carefully opened the metal cylinder and found the frail scrap of paper with Bolton Coit Brown’s signature, route description and 1895 date. The list of mountaineers in the register was a “who’s who” of Sierra climbing. There was plenty of space left to sign on the pages that had John Muir listed as Sierra Club president. We added our names and left.
Last fall, Robin called to tell me he had seen an internet post that included pictures and a description of the Woodworth register. While we chatted, I googled the website. Sure enough, there was the campsite to campsite account leading to the register! Robin was seething. It was agreed that the register was in peril. Now it’s time to take it down.
But then I hesitated, I needed to button up construction projects for the winter, it had just snowed 6 inches, and the days were short. I didn’t have to care about a bunch of old paper! I finally cut the excuses and drove to the trailhead.
I trudged through slick loose powder up Bishop Pass. Crossing into Dusy basin, there was not a soul in sight this November day. As I traveled, I lost myself in memories of skiing the John Muir Trail and traversing the Devil’s Crags. These youthful adventures had really set the course of my life. I thought of meeting and talking with Dave Brower, Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson, and Richard and Doris Leonard. Their names preceded mine in the registers; their history blended into mine.
At the summit of Woodworth, I was greeted by an icy blast of wind. Snow grains whipped through the air and drummed the hood of my parka. It was with immense relief that I saw the register. Time for this old thing to get down the mountain before it’s too late.
The time is past when the air was clearer and a register could sit undisturbed for over one hundred years. What’s next, I wondered. What will my daughter see? I jammed my hands into my gloves and headed back to camp.
Afterword: Of course after I retreived the register there was a spate of recriminations for the action. For the record I hand delivered the register to the Bancroft Library.
The following article by Robin Ingraham Jr. will decisively round file the arguments against preserving historic Sierra registers at the Bancroft Library.
Ghosts in the Clouds
by Robin Ingraham Jr.
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Jago River This video about the August 2007 trip I made with my old ski patrol, Denali, Mount Michelson, El Cap, Noatak river buddy Tom Rambo to Mount Isto and the Jago River. We climbed the East face of Isto; a hair raising class 4 first (maybe) ascent. After Isto we paddled a SOAR inflatable canoe one hundred miles down the Jago River. This may well have been the first complete descent of the Jago. We ran one five mile stretch of class four rapids. Most of the paddling involved moving back and forth in the current dodging ever present boulders. A two mile pull across the river delta mud flats and a twelve mile open ocean paddle back to Barter island iced the cake.
I drowned my Canon video camera on the first river dayr but did keep my 4x5 camera and FILM!!! from swimming.
Crowley Lake, 2009
Noatak River: The Noatak traverses four hundred miles of Alaska wilderness along the south side of the Brooks Range. This video explores a trip from the headwaters to Kavatcharack creek.
Robert Glenn Ketchum: An interview where Ketchum tells it how he sees it. The “it” includes the environment, art shows and of course photography. An intelligent and no holds barred delivery from this contemporary master of color photography.
John Wawrzonek: Quite simply John is the finest large format photographer in New England. John takes us to many of what he calls the, “Hidden World of the Nearby”. He talks about his photographic and personal history including his dye transer prints and his stint as CEO of Evercolor.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A raft trip down the Hulahula river and a climb of Mount Michelson. The Hula is one of the many Alaska Brooks Range rivers that flow off the spine of the peaks. This video is a look at the character of the Brooks range and the unbelievable light that happens there.
Landscape Composition in the High Sierra: This is a photo workshop on landscape composition that takes place in the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park.
Traverse: Large format photographer and adventurer Claude Fiddler talks about his photography and photographs.
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