Running the first ultra

 

At about mile 15 I began to realize that I had not prepared as well as I should have. The cramps were just beginning to set in, and the first thought of not finishing flashed in my head. 

The first 10 miles were a breeze. I felt confident. Unstoppable even. After a quick ascent about 1400 feet over the first 3.5 miles, the next 7 miles was a gentle downhill. I was following a great group moving at the perfect pace. Then we came to our next hill. It wasn’t necessarily the worst hill of the run. Compared to the initial climb this one was a breeze. But here is where I began to realize what I was getting into. Thoughts like “I’m only a third of the way through, can I do what I just did two more times?” started going through my head. I pushed them aside, and thankfully was able to get to the top to the first aid station I’d be resting at. 

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Looking back at how I prepared for the race after having run it, I realize now how little I actually trained. I’m honestly surprised I finished, let alone didn’t fall over when I crossed the line. Before the 50k the longest run I had done was a 13 mile run through forest park, and while that felt like a lot at the time it was nothing compared to what 31 miles brings mentally and physically.  I was averaging about 15 miles a week, mostly consisting of shorter 5 miles runs. I have a buddy who talked me through my training, and he always told me that preparing for an ultra is about preparing yourself mentally. Knowing how much pain you can take and continue to operate through that pain. The 13-mile run brought me to the border of getting to that pain, but the 50k had me running 15 miles and about 3,000 feet in elevation gain after I had crossed from “this is hard” to “this is super hard and everything hurts”. 

I decided to run an ultra for a couple of reasons. The most prevalent was that in high school, I read the classic book Born to Run by Christopher McDougal. Like many others I was incredibly inspired by the near superhuman athletes in the book, and how it seemed that with the proper training any person could become a runner. Unlike other sports, running doesn’t require expensive gear or training. Anyone can put on a pair of shoes and go for a run around their neighborhood. At the time, I didn’t consider myself a runner, and after a couple of weeks trying to get into it I gave up. I wasn’t able to get past the threshold of getting in shape to where I could actually enjoy my runs. 

The second reason I decided to run this race is a little more straightforward. Last year I crewed a couple of friends who were running this same race. I handed them snacks and refilled their water and gave them general encouragement. Then a couple of months later I crewed one of these friends as he ran the Fat Dog 120-mile race in Canada, a brutal affair that included almost 30,000 feet in elevation gain. Watching him push himself through something that I literally could not even begin to imagine made me want to understand it more. I don’t know why but despite all the obvious pain and suffering that an ultra brings, there has always been something glamourous about it. Maybe it had something to do with Born to Run, but running an ultra has been a goal in the back of my mind for years. So, after crewing my friend through his successful 120-mile race attempt, I decided to sign up for an ultra. I figured that if I signed up for one, it would force me to actually train for it.

My friend Andrew on a 10 mile training run near Forest Park.

My friend Andrew on a 10 mile training run near Forest Park.

Elliott and Colton at about mile 90 of their 120 mile race.

Elliott and Colton at about mile 90 of their 120 mile race.

Elliott's battered feet after running the Fat Dog 120.

Elliott's battered feet after running the Fat Dog 120.

Once I had gotten to the turnaround point, I knew I was going to finish. This being an out-and-back race, I knew every step that lay ahead of me. Cramps be damned I felt I could push through. After grabbing some oranges at the aid station, which taste 1000% better when you are so drained, I was ready to tackle the next 15 miles. 

Those next 15 miles didn’t feel like it took a lot from me physically, but mentally it was incredibly tough to maintain a running pace. My feet and ankles felt like they had been run over by a truck, and about every 10 minutes both of my thighs would begin to cramp. I had tried increasing my water and sodium intake but that didn’t seem to have much of an effect. Luckily I had a wonderfully long section of some mellow downhill and then flats, which I was able to coast through. 

The last 3 miles were beautiful. After climbing the last hill, cruising downhill and on the flats was the perfect way to end the race. I was greeted by my girlfriend, friends, and a free burrito and beer. Even though I definitely wish that I had put more thought into my training, I am incredibly proud to have finished. 

I think ultra-running is one of those things that isn’t for everyone, but for those that do fall into ultra-running it can become an incredible experience. There is something about pushing myself further than I thought possible that was liberating. Also, for people who are prone to suffering, ultra-runners are collectively the most cheerful and happy bunch of people I have ever met. That is part of the reason I’ll be back for the Burn next year, and hopefully will be running a few more races in the future. But with much better preparation.

A photo of me, drinking the most glorious post run beer of my life. Photo credit: Grant Perdew.

A photo of me, drinking the most glorious post run beer of my life. Photo credit: Grant Perdew.

 

What Shooting Film Taught Me About Photography

 

Growing up in the digital age, many of us were introduced to photography through the digital camera. I likely would not have gotten so involved in photography if the easy access that digital cameras provide did not exist. I did not grow up in the era of film, which allowed my learning to be accelerated. Trying different methods of shooting and seeing the results took seconds, rather than spending hours in a darkroom to achieve the same result. There are many things that digital cameras have over film, but film still is a vital piece of photographic history and in my opinion is still very relevant today. I decided to put some effort into film photography as a means of testing myself and enrolled in a darkroom course at Portland State. Here are some of the things that I learned.

Focus on the “decisive moment” 

One of the most famous photographic books published is Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment”, and in this book he discusses how important it can be to allow a scene to come together and elevate from a boring shot to a truly spectacular one. It can be as simple as setting a composition, and simply waiting for a person to walk into the correct place to complete the composition. 

It can be easy with a digital camera to ignore this practice of waiting. With a memory card that can hold thousands of images, one doesn’t need to wait for the “decisive moment” to come along. You can just shoot and shoot and know that in those thousands of images there is likely the shot you intended. 

Shooting film, I had to truly focus on the shot that I had in my head and line up the elements much more carefully, because I would not be able to review it. When shooting skateboarders, and especially shooting with a rangefinder, my shooting method was much slower than the constant motion that surrounded me. Focusing on the shape of the bowl and how the skateboarder interacted with the shadows it created, I was able to create exactly the type of photo I wanted by forcing myself to slow down and making sure that what I saw in the viewfinder was exactly what I wanted. 

 
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How to use tones to make an image pop

One of the traps I see many photographers fall into, myself included at times, is to really go to town in Lightroom and create an image that is completely over saturated and over edited. The reason it's such an easy trap, is because it simply is so easy to do. It takes seconds. With film, those simple adjustments of the sliders can take hours spent in the darkroom. 

When I began developing my first images in the darkroom it was incredibly exciting. To see your image come to life from a blank piece of paper is a truly magical moment. What makes the process so interesting is that your editing is largely composed of dodging and burning, contrast adjustment, and cropping (at least in black and white film). These techniques are made even more complicated by the fact that you can't see how your adjustments come out until after the print is made. Each print takes a couple of minutes to make, and you must wait to see how the previous attempts turned out before trying a new adjustment. Printing a single image with the adjustments you desire can take hours. 

When looking at others work, an easy trap that I see is that people often try to make subpar images look great by going way overboard with the amount of editing that goes into it. While these practices can often be used quite effectively, I feel that a lot of great images don't require a lot substantial editing. If you examine a lot of top outdoor photographers today such as Chris Burkard or Jimmy Chin, most of their work isn't actually very saturated or edited too much. Using simple tonal editing can be another way to force yourself to more critically examine the strength of an image or set of images. 

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How to value each shot

When it comes to film, especially today given how expensive developing and scanning can be, every shot cost money. At the local store I go to in Portland, it can cost around $35 a roll to be scanned and developed. That comes down to about $.97 per shot on a 36 image roll, and it can even be a little bit more if you are shooting medium format. 

Knowing the cost of each shot changes how you approach which images you end up shooting and those you don't. You become much more critical of the shot when you line it up in the viewfinder. You take a much more critical look at the composition and how the light plays into it. You ask yourself if this shot is the best representation of the subject, or if another angle might be better. 

It is important to note that this isn't a form of second-guessing yourself, but a way of ensuring that you put the maximum effort into composing each shot. This extra effort can have a phenomenal impact on your digital work, as it allows you to bring this refined shooting approach to a method that allows for multiple attempts. 

Shooting film isn't for everyone, but it represents most of the photography that has been done. Digital photography is the dominate form right now, Most of the most iconic photos ever taken were on film, and the methods behind the medium are incredibly important for any style of photography. Whether you are just getting into photography or find yourself in a creative rut, shooting 35mm or 120mm film for a chunk of time is an incredibly great way to learn more about your own shooting style and how you want to approach your digital photography. 

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Ice Lake

 

Last weekend my buddy Paul and I went on what seems to be our now annual backpacking trip in the Wallowas, this year trekking up to Ice Lake and the Matterhorn. 

Ice lake in the Wallowa-Whitman National forest is probably one of my favorite alpine lakes in the world. It may not be the most photogenic lake, but it where I did some of my first backpacking trips, and is the entrance to climbing the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn is the second tallest peak in the Wallowas at 9,826 feet, second only to Sacagawea which is adjacent and is only 19 feet taller. 

The view from the summit of the Matterhorn is truly spectacular, providing a true 360 degree view of the entire Eagle Cap Wilderness. We did not intend on climbing the Matterhorn on this trip, as we had anticipated that there would be too much snow lingering on the mountain.

But once we got up to the lake we ran into a group of ultra-runners who ran up to the top and were headed back to the trail head all in one day! So obviously we had to do it. 

 

The only somewhat scary section getting to Matterhorn was this section by the lake, in which if we slipped it would have resulted in a quick slide into the water.

The only somewhat scary section getting to Matterhorn was this section by the lake, in which if we slipped it would have resulted in a quick slide into the water.

At the end of our second day we ventured onto the lakeside and were treated to a trace amount of the Northern Lights. The Wallowas make a perfect place to go star watching as there is absolutely no light pollution and the high elevation makes it easy for many  

Backpacking to Ice lake and then heading up to the Matterhorn is one of the best trips you can take in the Wallowas. While the elevation gain can be a bit considering a heavy backpack, there are no incredibly steep portions and switchbacks keep the trail manageable. 

 

Behind the shot - The Grand Canyon

 

This is one of my favorite landscapes I've shot, not only because of the range of color that the Grand Canyon presented, but also because of what we had to do just to get here. While the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular spots in the National Park, and we shared this overlook with at least 150 other photographers, we had quite the night driving just to get there. 

We left Portland, OR around 10am on the start of what was supposed to be a climbing road trip down to Arizona, where we had a friend who had a crash pad we could borrow. As beginning climbers this sounded like all we needed for a great climbing trip (we were hopelessly unprepared) and so we set off. After driving for about an hour or two the question was asked how long it would take us to reach the Grand Canyon. Google Maps said 18 hours. Sunrise was in 19 hours. We thought why the hell not.

So driving in shifts we began the longest drive of our lives. We went through what I am still convinced was a haunted abandoned town in the middle of nowhere Utah, stopped to let a heard of deer pass us by, and arrived at the Grand Canyon with enough gas to get there but likely not enough to actually leave. 

Once we'd arrived I basically saw there being two shots I could shoot: the first being angled away from the rising sun so as to catch the color in the sky and the first light upon an interesting protruding feature within the canyon, and the second angle towards the rising sun down the other end of the canyon. I chose the latter as most of the photographers were shooting right at the sun and I always try and be #different. 

I shot this on my Canon 5D Mark II with a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens and with some help from a 3 stop grad ND to compensate for the sky. 

 

Climbing in Vantage

 

Last winter I drove up to Vantage, Washington to meet some friends and climb for the weekend. I'd been hoping to test out my new ascenders I had gotten to shoot while hanging on the wall. 

I rolled in the the camp a little before the other guys, so I set up some night shots of the stars moving behind one of the more popular spots, the Feathers. While I was shooting another group of climbers began climbing the formation, even though the temps were hovering around 20 degrees. 

The next morning we headed out early to catch the morning light on some climbs. I was able to convince my buddy Garret to set a fixed line for me to jumar up, as it was so cold my fingers were completely frozen. Then once I got in position he headed up a 

After getting these chilly climbs in we went back to camp to eat some food and drink lots and lots of coffee before heading out to the Sunshine Wall to spend the rest of the day climbing. The cool thing about getting to the Sunshine Wall is you have go through a small slot in the rock which is barley wider than one person. After that we spent the day climbing before heading back to Portland. 

The thing I've loved about climbing in Vantage during the winter is that you get to avoid some of the large crowds that gather during the later months in the spring when the weather is better. While it is definitely very cold during the night and early mornings, during the day the temps hung around 50 degrees, perfect for climbing.  

 

Favorite Waterfalls

 

A collection of some of my favorite waterfall photos I have shot. 

I like to mix long exposures and fast shutter speeds when I go about shooting waterfalls. The dreamy look that a long shutter creates is often favorable when shooting some waterfalls, but I feel it can be overdone. I like to use a fast shutter sometimes because I feel it captures the power of the waterfalls better, especially if there are people in the shot for scale. 

 

First Trip to Smith Rock

 

About a week or two ago I got invited to do some climbing with a friend and his friends at Smith Rock for a couple of days. The longest outdoor route that I had climbed before this trip was only about 60 feet, so I was really excited to get on some of the best rock in the world.

Due to pesky things like work, we weren’t able to actually leave Portland until about midnight on Friday night, and ending up rolling into the climber’s bivouac around 3:30 am. After a short nap, we awoke the next day tired but ready to do what we came to do. What I loved about this was that I didn’t get to see the iconic rock formations when we got there, and so when I poked my head outside of the tent I was greeted to the spectacular view for the first time ever.

Smith Rock is incredible crowded. Not only is it one of the best places in the state for climbers, with incredible rock and also easy access, but it is also just popular to all people for similar reasons. This created some challenges in terms of shooting, as I wasn’t really able to post up on a route above my friends who would be climbing since there was always a line for almost every route. The fact that it was over 85 degrees in the sun, driving all the climbers into the limited shady spots, did not help with the crowding.

I did manage to find some routes we could climb that had a hike above option, which allowed me to get at least level with the climbers with my 135mm lens. If I had had something even larger such as a 200mm or 70-300mm that would have been perfect for the spots where I had this hike option.

On the last day we spent there our group decided to split, with two of us going for a long 100 mile bike ride, and my buddy Chu and I deciding to head up Wherever I May Roam. This is supposed to be one of Smith’s classic beginner multi-pitch route, and it did not disappoint. It was my first multi-pitch and I was a little spooked at first as I there were some slightly overhung sections, which reduced visibility between Chu and I at times. I didn’t bring my camera up on the route with us to save weight but also because I mostly wanted to focus on learning the new techniques behind multi-pitch climbing.

 

Coping with Failure

 

This morning I set out from my apartment at 3 am with high hopes for a glorious sunrise and some powder turns. I was going to skin up Tom Dick and Harry mountain, one of my favorite places to photograph Mount Hood from, and hopefully catch some morning rays with deep snow in the foreground. It's a photo I've been meaning to make for several weeks now, but haven't had the weather and my schedule correlate well enough to try until this morning. 

This morning would not be the morning that I got this photo though. I didn't even make it out of the parking area. What I had been hoping would be a partly cloudy if not windy morning had turned into almost blizzard conditions, with little visibility on the roads on the way there. They even had to shut down the road up the Timberline Lodge apparently. With these conditions coupled with the fact that I was alone and had never actually made this trek in the winter I decided it would be best to turn back. It always leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth when hopes are so high for that "one" photo, but it doesn't always work out. 

Since I had already woken up so early, I thought I could try and at least get something out of it and so I headed back and tried to stake out Jonsrud Viewpoint hoping Hood would come out of the clouds. This too proved fruitless. I got a great view of the base and the trees at least. 

Moments like these happen too often. Getting the "shot" takes time and lots of patience. I've learned that there are some things that you can control such as your composition or charging your batteries, and others like the weather which you cannot. The best thing you can do is try and study why things didn't come together. 

Today I tried to not let the lack of any real worthwhile photos get me down. I can't control the weather. It doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying to get the photo though. I've been to Jonsrud Viewpoint 3 or 4 times in the past 2 weeks, trying to get a very specific photo that requires very specific weather conditions. And I've got plans to go there again tomorrow. Maybe it will turn out, and maybe it won't. But by failing repeatedly I can learn from what went wrong, and how I can better prepare myself. 

 

Winter in the Gorge

 

After the recent ice storm that hit the Portland area, I decided it might be worth risking the roads to see the ice that had accumulated in the Gorge. Ever since I moved to Portland a little over a year ago I have seen photos of the winter wonderland that the Gorge becomes when it gets cold enough, and I have been trying to get a weather window that would provide enough snow and ice. 

Lucky for me I had this spot all to myself, which I have never had happen in the normally Gorge. The ice was near thick enough to stand on allowing me to get over the water a bit for my first image. I say near thick enough because right after I took it I took a spill into the creek myself. 

I didn't have time today to check out the other falls in the Gorge and it appeared that they had closed part of the historic highway leading towards Multnomah Falls, but hopefully I'll get another shot like this before winter is over. 

 

Best of 2016

 

Some of my favorite photos throughout 2016. To me these photos represent not just some of my favorite places I went to, but also the people went there with.  We drove from Portland to the Grand Canyon in time for sunrise, backpacked in the Wallowas, and saw beautiful waterfalls in Oregon.