Landscape Photography by A. Jackson Frishman
A small dream came true for me a few weeks ago: I got to go see the Selway River at really high water. I’ve run central Idaho’s wild rivers at pretty high levels, and those high-water trips were always exciting, intense, wonderful experiences. But these rivers can go much bigger, way bigger than is safe for rafting. I’ve always looked at the spring hydrographs, watching for peak runoff and wishing I could go see it for myself. Thanks to my recent move to far eastern Washington, these rivers are finally within striking distance for me in late spring, and I’m very happy to take advantage.
So a burst of warm, snow-melting weather at the end of May sent me up to the lower Selway. The river was running about 29,000 cubic feet per second (for river-folk keeping score, that translates to just about 9 feet on the Paradise gauge; 6 feet is generally considered quite high water and was our cut-off for running commercial trips). It was raging, with ordinarily nondescript riffles in no-name spots transformed into massive surging wave trains.
The river trail was beautiful, with whitewater views, current through the trees and late spring flowers.
But the real show was definitely at the massive cascades of Selway Falls. I enjoyed some beautiful evening light at the top of the falls.
One reason rafters don’t run these rivers at really high flows is the logs. All afternoon I had watched a steady stream of tree trunks heading downstream. Watching a 25-foot log drift into Selway Falls and virtually disappear certainly gave a dramatic sense of scale to the whitewater.
Sense of scale: it’s really hard to show in photos how big Selway Falls is. The upper rapid is strewn with 8- to 12-foot-high boulders, while the lower chute plunges ten feet into raging hydraulics. It’s a powerful place even at low water, and at these flows it was thunderous.
I miss living in the desert, but it’s really nice to spend time around moving water and wild rivers again! This may become an annual pilgrimage for me. I especially want to see the Main Salmon when it’s flowing at 100,000 cfs.
A final report: Thank you all very, very much! When Greg and I started our fundraising print sale to benefit COVID-19 relief in Navajo country, I thought maybe we’d pull in a few hundred. Today Greg donated our net proceeds – $1525 bucks! – to the GoFundMe started by Ethel Branch, the former Navajo Attorney General, which has raised over $4.4 million dollars so far. This money will be used to provide basic necessities to families on the Navajo and Hopi reservations who have been extraordinarily hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thank you so much, all you who bought prints and you who donated independently. You came out for this way more than I imagined and I’m very grateful! And many, many thanks to Greg for doing the lion’s share of the administration on this.
Almost 11 months ago I spent four days getting my first real taste of the North Cascades*. It was a challenging trip in many ways, and somewhat frustrating, but I certainly came home with many good photos. Please forgive the massive photo dump, but I’ve been sitting on these too long. I also shot a number of black and whites which I’ll be posting later. Please forgive the rather pedestrian trip report, but enjoy the images!
*There are a variety of opinions regarding what counts as the North Cascades. Washingtonians, many of whom seem rather foggy on the existence of other states, call this area the “Central Cascades,” as if Oregon did not exist. I favor respecting the geology, which changes dramatically once you get north of I-90. If the bedrock is mostly metamorphosed terrains with plutonic intrusions, as opposed to all recent volcanics, it’s the North Cascades.
It’s a bit of a long slog up the trail to Buck Creek Pass, and the hike began humid and hot. Within a mile I was stickier and smellier than I’ve ever been backpacking in the California desert. Mountain views were limited to teasers through the trees, and the trail seemed pigheadedly determined not to spend any time near the creek. I hadn’t planned on hiking all the way to Buck Creek Pass my first day, but campsite possibilities were highly limited in the valley and the few I passed were occupied, so I pushed on.
Every Washington photographer needs a few of these images, right?
Views, temperatures and my mood improved as the trail pushed up towards 6,000 feet. There were plenty of people camped at the pass ( it was Fourth of July, after all), but there were lots of campsites spread through the glades and while it hardly felt isolated, neither did it feel crowded.
The big, young, active volcano Glacier Peak is undoubtedly the star of the show at Buck Creek Pass, and I had some great views of it in the morning even as fog began rolling up from the west.
Glacier Peak is a rather obscure mountain compared to other big Cascade volcanoes, but it’s massive.
After a mellow morning ramble out to Flower Dome, which was disappointingly flowerless and limited in views, I had a nap and lunch, then started up the trail towards High Pass to explore and wait for evening. Moisture from the Salish Sea was continuing to stream up into the high country.
Summits poked their heads out of the sea of clouds:
Glacier Peak Wilderness geology in a nutshell: The bedrock was hard schist, gneiss and granite, but much of the ground was strewn with pumice pebbles from recent volcanic eruptions.
It was only barely summer, but some meadows had wildflowers making their best efforts:
I did get a brief clearing with a view back towards the pass and Buck Creek’s headwaters, with Helmet Dome, Fortress and Chiwawa Mountains presiding.
The break in the weather was short lived. I drank tea as rain began spitting and the upper Suiattle River Valley began boiling with mist like a witch’s cauldron. I managed to keep my lens dry for a few images before the clouds closed in and I retreated to camp.
The next morning broke dank and dreary. I slept in a bit, but eventually rallied to head back towards High Pass in the hope of some clearing. It was not immediately forthcoming. I rambled on in near white-out until I started entering more complicated terrain of bare rock and steep snow near the pass. I parked, made tea and amused myself making abstract images of mist, rock and snow (black and white work will be forthcoming).
This was essentially my view for several hours. It’s a color photo.
Finally, finally, the fog began to break up a little. A couple more intrepid groups with ice axes passed by and headed across the snowfields to High Pass and Napeequa Valley (a place I’d love to see someday). I was very tired of being still, so I headed up a nearby ridge to a not-very-significant peak called Mount Cleator. It proved to be a wonderful easy perch with fantastic views of the huge north face of Buck Mountain.
There was still lots of mist around, but the sun was breaking through. I watched a herd of rather indolent mountain goats a few hundred feet below me (just visible lower left in the photo above) and soaked it in.
Clouds stayed stubbornly parked on the Cascade crest, but I had glimpses of sunny peaks to the northeast. This view almost literally is the Cascade rain shadow:
Views back towards Buck Creek Pass were also wonderful:
Despite a little sunlight breaking through, Glacier Peak was not coming back out, and the atmosphere was thickening again. I took reluctant leave of the summit and left to get a good night’s sleep before an uneventful, unphotogenic and hot hike out.
All the mist definitely limited the hiking I was able to do, but it also provided many truly beautiful moments. Carrying a stove during the day to make tea helped a lot. I also learned some lessons, viz. that viable campsites in the Cascades may be scarcer than one would expect; that just because a Washington trail follows a creek doesn’t necessarily mean you get to see or enjoy the creek; and that in the future I’ll definitely be preferring steep approaches to long approaches. It’s substantially harder to reach truly alpine terrain in Washington than in the Rockies or the Sierra, but it’s very impressive once you’re up there.
It’s been six days since we threw this out there and we’ve netted over $1,000 from print sales! A couple other folks also said they’d donate but didn’t need a print now (guess their walls are full). Thank you, thank you for the support!
If you’ve been thinking about it, we’re definitely still accepting orders. The need has not diminished. As of Friday, the Navajo Department of Health was reporting 1,540 cases: more than West Virginia, which has a similar land area but over five times the population. And those numbers do not capture the need for assistance with food, water and other basic necessities in remote areas. Please give something if you can – if you don’t want a print (we understand!), then please give directly (though we’d appreciate hearing about it if we’ve inspired you!)
Again, many thanks and best wishes to all!
What is your COVID-19 story? We are all affected by now, and we all have stories to tell about lost income, thwarted opportunities, jury-rigged education, loneliness, boredom, concern for friends and family. But many of us also have plenty to be grateful for. I’m very aware of my good fortune right now in having a comfortable house, reliable utilities, access to information and entertainment. But not everyone has such advantages, and two communities that are particularly struggling right now are the Navajo and Hopi nations in New Mexico and Arizona.
I was born in New Mexico, lived there for many years and still have family in the state. When you live in this region, Native American culture and history touches everyone’s life and it contributes greatly to the fascination and love many of us have for the place. The landscapes of Navajoland are woven into my sense of the world and have certainly fueled my photography. So when my friend Greg Russell, another photographer with New Mexico roots, said he wanted to sell prints to contribute to COVID-19 relief in the area, I was eager to join in. I am currently cash-poor but rich in images, and if my photography can help make a difference for someone, I will be very glad.
The Navajo Nation is roughly the size of West Virginia and is home to around 356,000 people. The Navajo Nation has more COVID-19 cases per capita than the entire US, except for New York and New Jersey. Native Americans currently make up more than 37% of all COVID-19 cases in New Mexico. Most of the coronavirus activity in my own parents’ county is happening on the Alamo Navajo reservation. Many, many Navajo homes have poor road access and poor or nonexistent utilities. Communications are poor and distributing accurate information about COVID-19 is a real challenge. Lots of people have to haul in all their water by truck. Supplies and medical care are often very far away. In normal times, families and neighbors provide assistance and a safety net. But right now, the situation is sadly primed for spreading infection and exacerbating poverty.
Ethel Branch, the former Navajo Attorney General, has launched a GoFundMe to help Navajo and Hopi families affected by the pandemic. To date, it’s raised over $600,000. Greg and I each chose four favorite images from Navajo country as a way of offering support. We will donate 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these prints to this GoFundMe. By purchasing one of these 8 x 12 prints for $45, you will be making a direct contribution to the Navajo and Hopi Relief Fund. Why not get a print for your home and help a very, very good cause?
Every year, millions of tourists and landscape photographers flock to see the amazing natural wonders of the Navajo and Hopi Nations. If visits or images from these lands have touched your life, please consider offering what you can to help the people who call these landscapes home.
Greetings to all from a stormy and isolated Palouse! Unsurprisingly, I haven’t been getting out much. My neighbor’s woodshed, pictured above, is about as far as I’ve gone for a week. But we’ve got a cozy home and I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for years now, so this is not a huge change for me. I’d like to be getting out, but I’m pretty happy lying low, keeping my family fed and snuggling with my cats for now.
There’s been a lot of talk in the photo community of how this is a great time to edit images, learn new things and tackle projects. Perhaps, and if that works for you, congratulations and best wishes. But I do feel the need to point out that such things may not make sense for everyone. This is a crazy time, and for many of us, just keeping the wheels on is an accomplishment, especially if there are children in the mix. I hope no one feels guilty or inadequate at seeing all the wonderful suggestions and work floating around out there while feeling they don’t have time or energy for such things. With my son home, I actually have little spare time or creative energy right now and I don’t feel very ambitious about photo projects at the moment. It’s okay to hibernate right now!
That said, I did feel moved last week to start a new project. Lots of my friends have had homeschooling thrust upon them, so I was inspired to start posting some classical music resources for people stuck at home. I’m not a trained musicologist, I’m just a guy who really likes classical and opera and thinks about it a lot. My goal was to share some pieces most people probably aren’t familiar with and offer some food for thought, without making anything too ambitious or committing. If this sounds useful or fun to you, please head on over to Home with the Orchestra and check it out! This week, I’m doing a series on music inspired by birdsong.
If there’s anything the universe has been trying to teach me lately, it’s that nature does not mean the same thing as wilderness. Like many folks, I miss my wilderness access quite a bit right now, but nature is still here and still inspiring. I hope all my readers have some glimpses of it wherever you are. I remain grateful to see the spring and the sky.
Born in New Mexico, raised in Wyoming and Montana, the mountain west has always been my home. I come from mountaineering families on both sides: my maternal grandfather was a pioneering climber in the Sierra Nevada, while my father guided in the Tetons and climbed in China and Nepal. Both my parents guided for Outward Bound. I ran my first river at nine months old, and have been hiking and backpacking longer than I can remember. My other major influence has been my step-father, Stephen Bodio, a nature writer, falconer and traveler, and as fine a family member as I could hope to have.
I studied black and white photography in high school, under an excellent teacher, but failed to apply myself. After high school, I began guiding for ARTA River Trips, and my interest in photography gradually rekindled as I endeavored to share with friends and family my work in the finest landscapes of the American West. Meanwhile, I studied classical literature, philosophy and history of mathematics at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in 2005. I am currently living with my wife and son in Deep Springs Valley on the Nevada-California border.
Photographically, I travel light and prefer to shoot off pavement and explore unknown locations. My favorite landscapes include the unknown expanses and little-visited mountains of rural New Mexico, the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument, and the vast wilderness of Central Idaho. I have also been fortunate enough to travel in Turkey and Mongolia, and can’t wait to do more.