I made a huge mistake. When I made the mistake I was hanging on a fixed rope from the top of “Neat,” a 5.10 crack where I found my rhythm. Tears washed a week’s worth of dirt off my face and I kicked the sandstone cliff, finally feeling pain in my numbed toes, to get out my frustration. But I had to compose myself because Morgan Foster was starting to climb up “Hayutake,” and I wanted to take advantage of my vantage point from above.
This was the day before I left Indian Creek, the crack climbing mecca in Utah where sandstone buttresses are clustered in a desert valley. Approaching the cliffs involves trudging up scree fields of fallen boulders and the road to our campsite out an unmaintained road at Bridger Jack was an off-road adventure. We had spent the past week relishing climbing sustained cracks, the lack of cell service, golden light that swept across the cliffs each morning and evening and sleeping under the stars. I had taken countless photos of the climbing culture and my friends and family dancing up hand-size splits in the rock. Sunshine peeking through ominous clouds and perfectly positioned boulders where I could get shots of climbers’ faces gave me the chance to work on photographing a sport that I love. I even had filmed a bunch of b-roll to compile a video about the trip.
Jamming your hands and feet in cracks is a masochistic hobby, but it’s a fun one. I have a fair share of bruises dappling my legs from gear swinging against my body (I bruise easily), and all climbers get gobies (open sores) even if they plaster their hands with athletic tape. I climbed a variety of routes that had me squeezed under chock stones and 120 feet off the ground. Every time I got back to the bottom I was stoked, even if I cursed my way up because I was jamming my calf in an off-width crack or pulling with only the fingertips of one hand.
I was stoked because climbing requires me to focus. I zone in on the problem in front of me; thumb down, twist wrist, scoot feet up, stand, pull up. A bird nest lies nuzzled in the crack where I squeeze my fist and I reach the top of a climb, look at the landscape spread around me, and break into an ecstatic grin. Pushing my physical limits and appreciating the natural world just makes me happy.
This is all while I’m constantly thinking about how I can document the world of climbing. Experience drives my photography and I want to capture moments that make a viewer feel as if they were there. My photographs are my livelihood and my memories. Which brings me back to my mistake.
As I was hanging from that fixed line, I had just pulled my camera out to start shooting. And then, who knows why, I formatted my card. I thought all was lost and I’d never be able to recover my pictures from the past week, but luckily when I got home I was able to download Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery and retrieve the pictures I had accidentally deleted. The shame I felt making that mistake was replaced by the relief of recovering tangible memories and photos that mark multiple learning processes in my career. Needless to say, even though I now have the software, I will never make that mistake again. Maybe it needed to happen so I won’t make a careless mistake when it really matters. What an unfortunately fortunate lesson.
And here’s a few photos from a week of sand and stone in Indian Creek: