Locations



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Top Rock


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

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Conjoined with three other volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa form the island of Hawaii. Mauna Kea, rising 30,000 feet from its sub-Pacific floor, is the world’s tallest mountain. Nearby Mauna Loa is the world’s most massive.
Top Rock: Mauna Loa And Mauna Kea
“Native Hawaiians consider Mauna Kea a sacred mountain,” says Muench. “On top, I found a graphical image of scalloped snow against the black cinders. It’s a rare, almost abstract design that I’d only seen once before, on Mt. Kilimanjaro.” Muench conducted two workshops in Hawaii in 2008. “What shocked everybody was the dramatic change from the 80º, 90% humidity down below to the arid, otherworldly expanse on top, where it was 28º! It was like sticking your head out of an airliner at altitude.”

Some of his students suffered nausea from the sudden oxygen deprivation. When he offered to lead the group up the next night to photograph the moonrise, “I couldn’t get anybody to go!” Undaunted, he worked the precise patterns in snow. They drew him back to one of his favorite forms from Utah’s Canyonlands: “The big drifts melting onto black cinders were like arches.”

Born of Fire. Tamed by Ice and Time. This is Top Rock at its most otherworldly.

Breathing rapidly in the thin air at the summit, you’ve discovered again what you’re made of.

You look out across the massive island. Commanding the distance, another monster rises: Mauna Loa, largest volcano on earth. Here you stand, anchored between the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last of mountains, high above the magical isles.

Top Rock is more than a place.

It’s the evocation of desire. A reward for struggle, vision—and surrender.

Sometimes you wonder: Will my work endure? Will it stand, in memory, like the bristlecones?

In that way, Top Rock is the ultimate pilgrimage. A place you go to wrestle with immortality and know yourself anew. It’s the height you reach, but never own.


David Muench has photographed the landscape in all its grandeur for half a century. Lately, he has been experimenting with digital cameras as a result of his work photographing World Heritage Sites for UNESCO and Panasonic. Visit www.muenchphotography.com.

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