Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Top Rock

Trekking the jagged and often desolate high country, a master of the landscape finds challenge and renewal

Labels: Locations

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Top Rock: Mt. Sill
Mt. Sill is one of the fourteeners of the Sierra Nevada. Part of the Palisades, a stunning group of peaks with small glaciers, it rises 14,150 feet.

“During the day, I’d watch climbers come up the face of Sill,” says Muench. “In the warm, evening light, I used a fisheye lens to give the earth that rounded look. Just gazing out across the Palisades to Mt. Agassiz was big. Earlier, looking up from below, I’d wondered how my son Marc and I—he was around 12 then—would ever make it up!”

Years later, Marc returned the favor. “[Marc] guided me up Mt. Agassiz [13,891 feet]. It was like a StairMaster workout!” The view was an exchange, as well; this time Mt. Sill rode the craggy distance. “When I take in these rocky places sculptured by ice, rain and wind, it’s my communion. Peak tops are sacred. It’s hard to find the right words. I prefer photographs to describe what I feel. It’s all there in the image. All of it. When I look at the image later, what comes back is how rare and special it is up there.”

Top Rock: Fremont Peak
Fremont is named for American explorer John C. Frémont, first to climb it in 1842. It’s part of the Continental Divide, the second-highest peak—13,745 feet—in the Wind River Range, Wyo.

Muench describes the scene: “I remember a hike in late summer. I used melted snow for drinking water and went straight up a meadow toward the peak. There are powerful moods, then: storm clouds, god beams of light, deep shadows. I learned to scramble up as soon as possible for the morning light. You can get nasty lightning storms if you hang around after noon. It’s all luck and patience—but you don’t want to plan on staying up there too late.”

Top Rock: Mt. Langley
Langley, on the crest of a favorite high place—the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada range, which gives California its north/south mountain backbone—is one of the easiest fourteeners to reach. But physical challenge is often the least remarkable part of a hike up. Something as innocuous as a single clutch of yellow buckwheat blossoms clinging to life on a barren, knife-edge ridge can trigger a creative surge of awe and mystery. “I’ll rediscover this deep wonder and mystery: How can living things endure at these barren places battered by storms?”

Top Rock: The White Mountains
The grandaddy of Muench’s deliberations on survival has to be the ancient bristlecones he has immortalized so majestically on film. His photographs of their twisted, storm-blasted bark powerfully evoke a magnificent desolation. Perhaps these ancient life forms reigning over the high rock are his artist’s identification with the painful solitude of creativity. To stand out, you often stand alone.


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