The Adventure

5 Favorite Mountaineering Photos

Posted by Topher Donahue on Fri, Jun 04, 2010

For the past 20 years I’ve been trying to capture the mountain experience with a camera.  It doesn’t work. 

Somehow the experience is always so much more.  In choosing these five favorites, I learned that I am partial to pictures that show the person small and the mountains big - just like it feels when you’re out there.  Here are my top five, a little taste of the adventure surrounding the photograph, and why I like each photo:

#1 Summit Ridge, Silberhorn Arete, Mt. Tasman, New Zealand
Mt Tasman is, to put it simply, the most geometrically beautiful peak I’ve ever touched.  From the summit you can see the Tasman Sea on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other.   We spent nearly two hours on the summit, gazing out over this awesome planet.  I like this photo because of the depth.  The footprints on the sharp ridge in the foreground, the climber in the middle distance, and the summit at the edge of the photo combine to tell a story about the mountaineering process in a single photo.

#2 Paso Superior, Fitz Roy Range, Argentine Patagonia
The otherworldly light and shapes in this photo put it easily in my top 5.  This thrill-filled trip included three first ascents in three weeks, rappelling through one of the most violent storms the locals had seen since the 70s, and watching from a Buenos Aires hotel window as Argentina’s economy collapsed and people took to the streets. The story of the epic trip was chosen for publication in the anthology Adrenaline 2002: The Year’s Best Stories of Adventure and Survival.  

#3 Jan’s Perch, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada
A trip to the Columbia Mountains with CMH introduced me to the region’s fantasy-like mountains and fantastic ease of access.  It was a great awakening for me to learn that you don’t have to endure white-knuckles, thin air, and bad food to get to these kinds of places.
This shot stood out among the 100,000 others in my archive because this is the way I want to feel when I’m in the mountains: Being part of an intimate team of adventurers having a great time while surrounded by pure wilderness for as far as the eye can see.  

#4 Mills Glacier, Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
My first time to the top of the 4000-meter Longs Peak was when I was 7 years old.  Since that time I’ve spent several months of my life climbing, skiing, hiking, taking pictures and learning on the peak’s diverse terrain.  
This photo reveals an unusual perspective looking almost straight up with a fisheye lens to capture the vertical walls of the Chasm Lake cirque and the infamous Diamond; however, it is the climber’s body position of enthusiasm, motion and awe that put this photo in my top 5.  
#5 Rinrijirca, Cordillera Blanca, Peru
According to the guidebook, this was supposed to be an easy route – a good warm up for harder climbs in the region.   And at one time the guidebook was right.  But by the time we got there, a couple of decades after the first ascent, global warming had changed the peak so dramatically that an easy snow ridge had turned into an overhanging ice climb.  
This is the only photo I have taken that does alpine climbing justice.   I like the gymnastic element of the climber’s figure juxtaposed against the tortured high-altitude ice  - that, and I don’t think I’ll go back to this particular route again!

It would be fantastic if you let us know by posting here which my photos is YOUR favorite - and why.  Thank you!

Tags: Adventure Travel, heli-hiking, For Fun, CMH