American photographer Parker Yost is also an intrepid adventurer, enjoying mountain biking, ski mountaineering and backpacking across his homeland's great wilderness. He tells us more about his impactful mountain shot.
I backpack to “hit pause” on everyday worries, strip life down to its essentials, escape mobile phone service and clear the mind of the latest politics
This image was taken on the third day of a solo backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado. The summer was coming to a close and I was looking for one more trip that really pushed me, physically.
The first day started in a deep and wooded valley but within hours I was starting the 5,000+ ft climb to my first campsite well above treeline. Trails at this altitude are very intermittent and the terrain here mostly consists of talus – endless miles of boulders ranging in size from a basketball to a school bus. I spent the next 48 hours or so exploring these long and arduous talus-fields with endless giants of peaks and lakes all around me. I was here mostly for the experience and the views but also to photograph. I had mapped out points of interest for potential campsites where I knew I could capture great shots of alpenglow on the nearby towering peaks.
This trip wasn’t the backpacking trip I’d often envisioned, of sleeping between trees and strolling through dense forest with the hum of life all around me. It was more of a barren landscape with towering piles of rock, rising above flat plains of rock and nearly all life existing somewhere more hospitable.
On the third morning I rolled out of my tent in the frigid high-alpine air about an hour before sunrise to gain a lookout point and capture the alpenglow on a row of nearby 13,000 ft peaks. After this photo session I strolled back to my tent to pack up for the day while eating a cold granola bar, because leaving the camp stove at home shaved another pound of weight from my load.
When I was a mile into my retreat I noticed the moon lined up perfectly over one of the peaks I had spent the last three days in close proximity to. I grabbed my camera, mounted with a prime 45mm lens, and took a quick handheld shot, not thinking too much of it after my more purposeful shots earlier that morning. The alpenglow had long passed, and the light was fully bathing the peak that the moon was crowning, but the valley I was in was still half dark as the sun had yet to climb above the peaks behind me. This led to a dark foreground and bright subject in the background, creating the dreaded histogram every landscape photographer hates with a peak on both sides. I didn’t realize at the time that the black foreground would lend itself to be an integral part of the photo.
After driving home and spending hours pouring and editing over my photographs, that quick shot ended up being a favourite of mine. I was disappointed I didn’t take the extra couple of minutes to swap to my 110mm prime lens because this photo is cropped well over 100% and will not print very large, but I didn’t think much about that while photographing it.
Eight months later (as I’m writing this), I’m looking at past submissions to this series Beyond the Frame and attempting to get a feel for what’s expected of these articles. Almost everyone has incredible photographs and stories that evoke such strong emotion, often about social injustice or heartwarming stories of loved ones. I’m sitting here thinking about how my solo trek and photo of a mountain can have some profound revelation about humanity; after some frustration I come to the realisation that it doesn’t have any deeper meaning. It’s an admittedly more selfish endeavor than the photographers implementing their craft to bring awareness.
I backpack to “hit pause” on everyday worries, strip life down to its essentials, escape mobile phone service and clear the mind of the latest politics. I think the minimalism of this photograph helps to portray how simple life is for just a few hours when on the trail, where the lack of notifications and unpromising news affords a moment of harmony.