Climbing Idiot Wind, San Rafael Swell, Utah
"The rock feels a bit like fine-grained sandpaper," says Jesse Mease, seen here trad climbing 70 feet up the route Idiot Wind (5.11c) in Utah's sandstone San Rafael Swell. "Basically I was wedging and torquing my fingers into the crack and scumming my feet along the wall because they wouldn't fit—great fun." With ample pitches to climb and no camping regulations, fees, or rangers, the San Rafael Swell is one of the state's best kept secrets. "I still don't know how to get there—I was blindfolded during the drive in," notes Salt Lake City-based Mease.
Getting the Shot
“The Swell is an amazing place. You have huge sandstone walls that seemingly run forever in every direction," says photographer Tobias Macphee. "And unlike Yosemite or Indian Creek, you can go days without seeing another person."
“Shooting climbing in the desert is always a challenge," notes Macphee. "In order to rig the ropes to shoot from, you also have to be able to climb the routes,” says Macphee. “For this shot I knew that I wanted to capture more of the open space around Jesse, so I climbed a different route off to the right. I wanted to shoot this route at sunset, so most of the day was spent waiting for that 15-minute window of perfect light. It all boils down to communication and team work,” says Macphee.
Macphee shot with a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 17-55mm, f/2.8 lens.
Big-Air Telemark Freeskiing, Winter Teva Mountain Games, Vail, Colorado
“The flame was pretty gnarly,” recalls 23-year-old telemark freeskier Chris Ewart. “But the size of the jump itself was enough to make me completely forget that there was even a flame there!” The local freeheeler took first place for landing a huge double front-flip off a 70-foot jump during the Telemark Big Air competition last Saturday on Golden Peak during the inaugural Winter Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.
In the first event of its kind, the skiers alternated with ten of the world’s best freestyle mountain bikers, who dazzled the crowd in the Best Trick Bike competition. BMX rider Chad Kagy took top honors for his backflip tail whip. Many of the riders had never practiced on snow until the day of the event.
Likewise, Ewart had never tried this trick in competition before, but decided to go big. “All the bikers and freeheelers were super positive in the drop-in gate and it was crazy to see people from both sports throwing down. The crowd was cheering and getting excited. The whole mood of the night got me really stoked up to try it out,” says Ewart, who is also an EMT.
Such audacious feats happening in the air come with some carnage in the landings. Yet after each crash, the competitor shook it off with great style to the delight of the crowd of 5,000 people. “I crashed a couple of times,” says Ewart. “Some of the other guys had some nasty falls, but props to them for continuing and throwing down hard even afterward.”
For the mountain bikers, the frosty terrain brought some benefits. “The snow makes it much harder to land, but it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad when you don’t,” says rider Cameron Zink.
The festival’s events included races for elite and amateur athletes in mixed climbing, Nordic skiing, ski mountaineering, snow biking, snowshoeing, and running, as well as gear demos, bands, parties, and great conditions for skiing and snowboarding.
Getting the Shot
“Photographing the Teva Mountain Games is always a blast for a variety of reasons, but mainly the vibe they create is so fun you want to be there,” says photographer David Clifford.
For this shot there were two big-air competitions going on at the same time, within about 20 to 30 feet of each other. “It was tricky. I was under the jump, shooting from a lower angle to get some big-air perspective. The telemark skiers and mountain bikers would intermittently take turns on the jumps and the bikers could choose from two different ramps,” says Clifford. "We had different focus points and lighting adjustments to make each and every time. Often times the skier would be way past the zone I was lighting, and then the fire would go off.”
Photo shoots always come with unexpected challenges, and Clifford had his fair share during the Winter Teva Mountain Games. Just an hour before the competition his Elinchrome Quadra completely died. "I ran down the ski slopes, borrowed a bike, got my Profoto 600-watt backup pack and head. The reflector was missing, so we placed the head inside the head of the Elinchrome, upside down, and bounced the light off the wall of the jump. It was brilliant because we got some direct light for the bikers and some reflected light on the foreground for the tele guys.” Later, Clifford was about to head to cover the ski-mountaineering race and discovered someone had stolen his ski boots. “I pride myself on getting the shot and over coming anything, but that was a new twist.”
Clifford used a Canon Mark IV with a 16-35mm, 2.8L lens. Clifford’s lighting gear included two MultiMax pocket wizard transceivers, one built-in pocket wizard, a Profoto 7B with two heads, and a Profoto AcuteB 600R.
Highlining at Cathedral Peak, Yosemite, California
"On the highline my thoughts are simple and clear," says pioneering rock climber, BASE jumper, and wing suit flyer Dean Potter. "Fundamental needs shine through the mental clutter. I focus completely on my breath, my connection with the line, and making it safely to the other side." This highline was set up on the summit of Cathedral Peak, in Yosemite National Park, at an elevation of 10,911 feet. Though Potter is untethered, he is in control. "I’ve always been a 'free soloist.' Whatever I do, I long to be untethered and free," notes Potter. "I am completely confident with my ability to catch the line if I were to fall. I’ve practiced this catch move successfully for the past 19 years."
This shot is just one spectacular scene from "The Man Who Can Fly," an episode of Explorer airing Sunday, February 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (see a photo gallery). The show captures Potter's quest for true human flight, with first feats in free soloing and wing suit flying in Yosemite, California, and British Columbia, Canada. The episode examines Potter's unique blend of daring, determination, and pursuit of the unknown.
Getting the Shot
“Hands down this was the most complicated photo I've ever taken,” says photographer Mikey Schaefer. “It started a year earlier with Dean [Potter] seeing the moon rise over Cathedral Peak and noticing that it would make a great shot.“ A bit skeptical, Schaefer used an app called The Photographer's Ephemeris to locate where the moon would rise from a relative location. “I went out the night before the shoot with a GPS and lined everything up. Sure enough, the moon rose exactly where I thought it would,” says Schaefer.
In Tuolumne Meadows, Schaefer set himself on an adjacent ridge from Potter, about 1.2 miles away, and began shooting at 7:30 p.m. “Thankfully the light was absolutely perfect, as it was just ten minutes before the direct sunlight would be off of Dean. This allowed me to balance the exposure evenly between Dean and the moon, as there weren’t too many stops difference between the two,” recalls Schaefer.
Schaefer worked throughout the filming of the show, from rigging ropes to operating video cameras, all while shooting still images as well. The image of Potter against the moon stands out from the rest of the shoot. “The whole scenario seemed crazy,” Schaefer says. ”I was over a mile away from my subject, who was walking a tightrope with certain death consequences if he fell. I was running through the woods with $20,000 worth of camera gear, making the most unique photo of my career. I'm still a bit amazed that I managed to stick the shot."
This image was captured using a Canon 5D Mark II and an 800mm, f/5.6 lens with a 2X doubler.
Ski Superpipe, 2012 Winter X Games, Aspen, Colorado
"It is very exciting to perform at a high level in front of a massive crowd like this," says freeskier Tucker Perkins, seen here completing a switch right-side cork 720 in the Men's Ski Superpipe Finals at the Winter X Games on January 28, 2012. The sculpted superpipe, located on Aspen, Colorado's Buttermilk Mountain, measures 22 feet in height. Perkins came in fifth place in a competition that was considered the most exciting men's ski superpipe thus far, with epic performances, unexpected crashes, and some newcomers on the podium.
The spirit of pioneering, world champion freestyle skier Sarah Burke was felt throughout both the men's and women's events. In her lifetime, Burke won four golds at the Winter X Games and successfully lobbied to get the ski superpipe added to the 2014 Winter Olympics. She died on January 19, 2012, from injuries sustained during a training accident. "I knew Sarah Burke well," notes Perkins. "It was an extremely unfortunate accident, but she would have wanted us to ski our hearts out at this event. We all did it for her."
Sidecountry Skiing Mount Baker, Washington
"Shoot, I can't really spot my landing because there is so much slough [snow] moving with me, I hope I stick it!" thought Elyse Saugstad while skiing the sidecountry at Washington's Mount Baker Ski Area. The Olympic Valley, California-based skier was hucking a 20-foot cliff during a weeklong Mount Baker shoot with phenomenal snow conditions for Salomon Freeski TV's "Pacific Northwest Road Trip" (watch the video).
"Mount Baker is a great spot for skiing because the terrain there is vast and challenging," says the Girdwood, Alaska, native. "It snows a great deal at Mount Baker and since a skier is always in search of fresh powder, Mount Baker is a great place to ski."
Getting the Shot
“Mount Baker is probably one of the toughest places there is to shoot skiing, but I love the challenge," says photographer Grant Gunderson. “We were dealing with some pretty insane avalanche danger the day this photo was taken.”
To get the shot, Gunderson set himself on the opposing ridge from where Saugstad was skiing. “We took our time to find some lines that could be safely skied and shot. Towards the bottom of her line, Elyse hit air off this cliff and the image lined up perfectly.”
Gunderson photographed using a Canon 1D MK4 camera body with a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.
Big-Wave Surfing Jaws, Maui, Hawaii
On January 4, 2012, at the famed Hawaiian break Jaws, photographer Zak Noyle captured some of the world's best surfers, including Ian Walsh, Shane Dorian, Mark Healey, and Maui standout Kai Lenny (pictured), paddling to catch the enormous waves. "There was a lot of excitement in the air and many nervous surfers,” recalls Noyle. “These are some of the most extreme surfers at the forefront of big-wave paddle surfing. They were all nervous, but ready.”
Due to the large take-off zone needed for the surfers to paddle out to the wave, Noyle needed to adapt his position. “With tow-in, they can just zip over to the perfect spot. This day more waves went unridden.”
"The surfers wore the Shane Dorian Billabong Vertical Acsent suit. It has a cartridge if you are held under the water, you can inflate the suit to bring you safely to the surface. Luckily no one got hurt, but man, boards were broken," says Noyle. Learn more about the wetsuit in our Gear of the Year.
Noyle photographed from a Jet Ski using a Canon Mark IV 1D with a 70-200mm, f/4 lens. His camera was encased in a custom made SPL water housing.
Ice Climbing in the Western Fjords, Norway
"I am so cold," was the thought going through ice climber Chad Peele's head on the third and last pitch of this 500- to 600-foot first ascent outside of Eidfjord, Norway. "By most standards, it was not an incredibly difficult route with a rating around WI4-4+, but it was so cold that day that everything felt so much harder!" recalls Peele.
Frigid temperatures aside, this is paradise for people who love to ascend frozen falls. "Norway's glaciers carved a labyrinth of fjords that hold plenty of water at just the right temperatures to form long flows of ice," says Peele. "Scouting for first ascents relies on local word of mouth. It takes a lot of walking around with binoculars in the cold and can be quite tricky sometimes."
Getting the Shot
“These fjords rise up out of the ocean and the cliffs lead to vast rolling, windy terrain,” says photographer Celin Serbo about shooting this photo of Peele during a First Ascent expedition in western Norway's fjord country. An experienced climber, the Boulder, Colorado-based photographer was prepared to suffer: “It's cold. Your gear takes a beating. You must be very mindful of the climbers to not knock ice down on them.”
Though the team mostly climbed in areas protected from the wind, the elements were challenging. “I would hear snow coming, cover my camera, and wait it out. After 30 seconds, the snow would pass. My gear—and myself—were completely encrusted,” he says.
Serbo captured the unique point of view by shooting from a cave along the route. “We had a fixed line on the first two pitches of this three-pitch route. Once the climbers started up the third pitch, I decided to stay in the cave because of the great framing it provided.”
Serbo carried two Nikon D300 camera bodies and four lenses: 10.5mm f/2.8 DX Fisheye (used for this shot); 17-55mm f/2.8; 70-200mm vr, f/2.8; 300mm f4; and a 1.4x teleconverter.
Ski Mountaineering Huyana Potosí in the Cordillera Real, Bolivia
Photographer Christian Pondella joined friends Giulia Monego (pictured) and Dave Rosenbarger to ski in the Cordillera Real mountains in Bolivia. “As a photographer and a skier, I was really excited about skiing in Bolivia and knew there would be amazing photo opportunities,” Pondella recalls. “The mountains were so beautiful that it was easy to get great photos. You just had to be confident and comfortable with the ski conditions."
The beautiful scenery is also serious terrain. On their last day of skiing, Pondella, Monego, and Rosenbarger rescued an injured skier. "We watched two climbers fall down the mountain," Pondella says. "They were lucky to fall into a crevasse, which kept them from sliding to their death. One climber broke both her legs and we spent the next eight hours rescuing her from 19,000 feet and eventually getting her to a hospital in La Paz.”
To get this image, Pondella was on top of Huayna Potosí, a 6,000-meter peak. “Standing on top looking down at Giulia with a wide-angle lens, I was able to capture a great perspective of the mountain face we had climbed up and were about to ski back down,” says Pondella. He shot this image using a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II lens.
Dual Moguls in Freestyle Skiing, Méribel France
Skiers Denis Dolgodorov of Russia and Mikael Kingsbury of Canada compete during the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup Dual Moguls on December 20, 2011, in Méribel, France.
Ice Climbing the South Fork River Valley, Wyoming
"At this moment, I was wishing I wasn't so close to the top," says ice climberAaron Mulkey, who is seen on a formation named Ice Fest in the South Fork River Valley located outside of Cody, Wyoming. "While on climbs, the troubles and stress of life fade away below. And although I am always seeking the summit, I'm on a constant mission to find that never-ending smear of ice."
The Cody resident, who is always on the hunt for virgin ice, spent the last decade making treks into the valley to see if the Ice Fest formation would freeze in a way fit to climb. "After ten years of waiting, Ice Fest was in great shape and I was able to enjoy nature's gift," he recalls.
The South Fork River Valley is one of the best ice climbing destinations in the world. "The concentration of ice and feeling of remoteness are unmatched," says Mulkey, who has more than a hundred first ascents to his name. The season typically begins in November and runs into April. "Hiking through cactus and sagebrush, then climbing high into remote alpine terrain is a trademarked feeling that only the South Fork Valley can create."
Getting the Shot
"For me, ice climbing is the hardest thing I shoot—and for that I love it," says photographer Jay Beyer. Part of capturing amazing ice climbing images is battling the elements and gear. "You have to deal with not feeling your legs for hours while hanging in a harness and keeping your batteries and hands from freezing," recalls Beyer. "One time I was getting dripped on while I was shooting. By the time I was done, there was a quarter inch of ice on the back of my camera."
Capturing this image was straight forward for the seasoned shooter. "Shoot from above and bend a wide angle past the point of natural—without getting your feet in the shot," says Beyer. Beyer carried two camera bodies, a Canon 5Dm2 and Canon 1Dm3, as well as four lenses, a 15mm, 16-35mm f/2.8L II, 24-70mm f/2.8L, and a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS.
Biking the Salt Flats, Utah
"They race for the world land speed record in this area, and, although I wasn’t going for any records, when it’s just you, the bike, and the road, it’s time to go for it," says Park City-based triathlete Rob Lea of riding along the salt flats in northwestern Utah for this shot. "I had just picked up this amazing Giant TT bike, and between the flat road, my new baby, and the bleak but beautiful landscape, I was in heaven."
Lea and photographer Mike Schirf took this shot after a rain had brought down the temperature and formed a rainbow. "I was riding and Mike yelled out to me to look up and then to turn around and come back at him. It was just good timing."
Getting the Shot
Photographer Mike Schirf headed to the Utah salt flats with triathlete Rob Lea, intending to shoot a great image. “I was really excited to see what I could come up with,” recalls Schirf. “That place seems to create great imagery on its own.”
“One of the biggest challenges I have while shooting biking versus other sports is creating the feeling of motion,” says Schirf. Working his environment, Schirf stood on the hood of his car for a better angle. “I really liked the rainbow, so we tried a few shots to pull it in closer. The light was amazing and we definitely worked it until it was gone.”
Skiing Powder Mountain Resort, Utah
"Most things like this take a few times to get right,” says photographer Erik Seoof his shoot with skier Nick Martini and Poor Boyz Productions, “from the sheer difficulty of landing a large drop to a flat landing, to Nick getting his style just right, to the filmers and photographers getting their shots perfect." The photo was shot during filming for the upcoming film The Grand Bizarre. The shoot was fully approved and supported by Powder Mountain Resort in Utah.
An experienced ski photographer, Seo is always looking to capture an athlete at “the closest to the apex of the jump, at the best point of the skier's style.” Working on the roof without a ski jump ramp, the team needed to create speed for Martini. “We brought out the tow rope and the Silverado 2500 to drive away in the adjacent parking lot, with Nick pulling on the rope for speed,” recalls Seo.
To light the scene, Seo set up an Elinchrom Ranger strobe on the left side of the frame, providing fill light as well as balancing the exposure against the sky. He shot with a Nikon D3 camera body and Nikon 16-35mm f2.8 lens, as well as "a tow rope, a huge Chevy truck, and one redneck Canadian driver to do burnouts in the parking lot.”
Surfing Haleiwa at the Reef Hawaiian Pro
Australian surfer Taj Burrow claimed the first jewel in the VANS Triple Crown of surfing on November 23, 2011, by winning the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Ali'i Beach Park in Haleiwa, Hawaii. The three-part competition will continue through December 20, depending on conditions.
Founded in 1983, the Triple Crown is set at a trio of distinct breaks on Oahu's legendary North Shore—Haleiwa, Sunset, and Pipeline. Just as the winter swells arrive in Hawaii, so do the world's best surfers to take on some of the hardest waves on Earth. From the towering walls at Sunset Beach to the infamous barrels at the Banzai Pipeline, the Triple Crown champion will be the surfer who has the diversity, ability, and stamina to excel in the varying surf conditions at all three locations.
Ski Mountaineering on Cerro Castillo, Patagonia, Chile
Freeskier Forrest Coots makes a solid turn in firm snow with sluff moving all around him midway down a narrow, 50-degree couloir in the heart of the Cerro Castillo National Refuge in Chilean Patagonia.
"Cerro Castillo is ski mountaineers’ dream location," says Coots, who has made three trips to the region. "Due to the vastness of the area, you could spend a lifetime down there skiing and never ski the same point twice. It’s a couloir heaven—everywhere you look there are lines to climb and ski."
Coots and Jason Thompson were likely the first two people to climb and ski in this particular narrow hallway during their 21-day expedition with Drew Stoecklein. The trio horsepacked into the mountains with the goal to shoot a ski mountaineering film from the athletes' perspective. "Checking out the countryside from a horse makes you feel like a true cowboy," notes Coots. "But after a day in the saddle, I discovered the meaning of soreness. I was beyond ready to get off that horse and start climbing into base camp."
Getting the Shot
“The rumor is true: There are some very windy conditions in Patagonia, as we found out,” recalls photographer Jason Thompson. Changing weather conditions and avalanches forced the team to alter their Patagonian plans for this shoot. “We climbed up into this tight and steeper-than-expected chute. From below it didn’t look like much. As we climbed into the chute, the rim ice and granite walls gave the surroundings a sense of magic. I wanted to portray the feel of skiing in Patagonia with its classic granite walls.”
Pressed against a rock wall and laying in the snow with the camera held on his chest, Thompson photographed Coots skiing very quickly. "If the skier misses the spot there is no image.”
How did the three men get all the gear high into the mountains? They carried it. “The amount of gear we had to schlep into the zone that we were skiing in was tremendous.” Thompson shot using a Canon 5d and 7d, as well as carrying 8 Canon lenses.
Freeriding Whistler Mountain Bike Park, British Columbia, Canada
"On this mossy rockface on Fatcrobat, the last three feet are totally vertical, so I had to jump off of it," recalls freestyle mountain biker Jinya Nishiwaki of riding this new line in Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia, Canada. After spending a year trying to find it, Nishiwaki rode this line for the first time for this photo. "This line is about 45 to 50 degrees, but I didn't notice if it was slippery or not because I didn't hit the brakes after I rolled in—you don't hit the brakes in a situation like this, otherwise the tires will lose the traction and you may lose your balance and fall." The Japan native has lived in Whistler for the last three summers to tap the incredible mountain biking. "Undoubtedly, Whistler has one of the world's best biking communities. People and mountains are great and beautiful too."
Getting the Shot
Robin O’Neill had three days to shoot and edit a slide show for judging at Kokanee Crankworx’s Deep Summer Photo Challenge in 2011 at Whistler, British Columbia. Not only was O’Neill the first female photographer invited to the competition, but she also won the event.
Because Nishiwaki had been searching for this line for a year, O'Neill had to think fast to get the shot. “I barely had a chance to lift my camera to my eye before he came down the face," says O'Neill. "Luckily I had scouted it before, so I had an idea of where to stand."
At the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, getting a great shot means working hard to get to remote locations. “You have to ride, walk, or run the trails with your equipment to get to the good locations, and some of the terrain is too technical to ride fully loaded with a pack,” notes O’Neill, who shot the photo challenge using a Canon Mark IV and 14mm, 50mm, 70-200mm, L series lenses.
Your Biking Photos: See Images Submitted to Us by Adventurers Like You
Backcountry Skiing Sugar Bowl, California
"The sky was gorgeous that night," says freeskier Carston Oliver of this 360 off a cliff in the backcountry of California's Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, California. "I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the clouds and sunset for a moment before dropping in every time."
He and photographer Grant Gunderson were hiking fast laps between the resort and Donner Pass to get as many hits as possible on these cliffs before the sun went down. "The conditions were pretty close to perfect," recalls the Salt Lake City, Utah-based big-mountain skier who has been hooked on the sport since he was ten. "It had just snowed a little more than a foot, we had a little bit of sun, and the temperatures were cold enough to keep the snow good all day, but warm enough to be comfortable."
Oliver appeared in this year's impressive film Solitaire, an all human-powered backcountry ski film that was shot entirely in South America.
Getting the Shot
Photographer Grant Gunderson used a flash to capture Oliver in this image. "Donner Pass is quite easy to shoot. There are so many cool terrain features, and you can shuttle gear [to location] with a pick-up truck," he says. No shoot is ever without challenges. "The thing with shooting ski action with large flashes is that you get just one shot, so your timing has to be perfect in order to get the skier in the right place in the frame at the peak moment of the trick."
Gunderson placed an Elinchrom flash pack above and behind the cliff, as well as another one further down the hill. He used a Canon 1DMK3 with a 15mm lens.
Highlining the Trollveggen, Norway
"This was a very cool moment because I've been into highlining for a relatively long time compared to Alexander, and he's already better than me. It was like passing the torch," says Frenchman Julien Millot (right), who was on the shorter, "easier" line. He and German Alexander Lauterbach, both avid adrenaline seekers, are seen walking toward Troll Wall, or Trollveggen, the tallest cliff in Europe at 3,600 feet. This was the first time anyone had highlined in this spot overlooking the stunning Romsdalen Valley in northwestern Norway. Though both men are roped up to the line, that's not always the case. "When we fall, we either catch the line, fall on the harness, or sometimes we go BASE jumping—don't forget to wear your parachute rig!"
Getting the Shot
"Highliners are not so very fast, so I had a little more time to get the shot," says photographer Branislav Beliancin, who happened upon this duo while hiking in Reinheimen National Park. Baliancin aborted his hiking plans to spend the day shooting adrenaline shots with a 24mm wide lens and making panoramics, like this one, with his Nikon D700. "You need to be careful because you are directly on the mountain's edge. One bad step and bye-bye."
Free Climbing Century Crack, Canyonlands, Utah
"You climb upside down with your legs inverted inside the crack above your head the whole way," says British rock climber Pete Whittaker about completing the first free climb of Century Crack, the longest and hardest known roof crack climb in the world, in October 2011. Here he is seen upside down 200 feet above the floor of the canyon near the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Whittaker and his climbing partner Tom Randall trained for two years for the offwidth crack, meaning the gap was too wide for fist-jamming techniques and too narrow for chimney techniques. Instead the climber must fill the space with a combination of body parts to make slow, grueling progress. "Tom built a small replica of the climb in the cellar of his house. We did continuous training laps on this to prepare ourselves," says Whittaker. "We also did thousands of hours of offwidth-specific abdominal, bicep, shoulder, and leg conditioning."
While across the pond from home, the Brit duo hit every difficult offwidth crack they could find.
Getting the Shot
"Fortuitously, the evening before Tom and Pete made their ascents, a rainbow appeared over the Canyonlands with its apex directly above Century Crack," recalls photographer Alex Ekins. To capture the image, Ekins had lain in a gully, bracing his camera on a rock for stability. "The length of the crack meant that I had to begin shooting at the back of the cave at the top of a gully. Then I had to scramble down as the climber moved horizontally." The trip's other adventurous elements—a bumpy ride to the White Rim, bivouacking the night before, and rappelling into a dangerous gully—were easier to shoot. "The main difficulty was in doing justice photographically to one of the longest and most magnificent roof cracks in the world," says Ekins.
Ekins captured this photograph with a Canon 7D and Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens.
Ice Climbing in Banks Lake, Washington
"I have been blessed with natural flexibility, but this route was still physically demanding!" says climber Craig Pope of crossing from an ice cave to a free-standing, 82-foot-tall icicle—without ropes or protection. An ice climber's paradise, Banks Lake has one of the highest concentrations of easily accessible ice in Washington. Pope, a longtime rock climber, got hooked on ice climbing three years ago. "I fell in love with the movement, environment, companionship, and danger," recalls Pope, who lives in Moscow, Idaho. "I began ice climbing every day. During the winter of 2009/2010, I climbed more than 400 pitches!"
Getting the Shot
"For this shot the real challenge was the constant dripping water from the icicles on the cave ceiling above. And there was the small possibility of Craig skewering me with his crampons," recalls photographer Ben Herndon. "I decided to move directly underneath Craig. The trick was to time the shot when he was looking down to find feet placement, so you end up with this sprawling profile on top of the intense eyes."
This photo was taken with a 16-35 mm, f/2.8 lens. "The 16mm wide-angle allows you to shoot within a few feet of the climber, so you get awesome expressions and emotions while still getting the stunning environmental information of the climb," says Herndon.
Heli-Skiing Rogers Pass, British Columbia, Canada
"I just let my skis guide me," says Canadian big-mountain skier Leah Evans of threading through pine, hemlock, and cedar trees while backcountry skiing Rogers Pass outside of Golden, British Columbia. "I grew up tree skiing at Red Mountain Resort, so I'm very comfortable navigating in the trees," says Evans, who started Girls Do Ski, an initiative to get more young women on the slopes with special ski camps. Her next competition is the International Freeskiers Association World Tour, which kicks off in January 2012 from her home turf in nearby Revelstoke.
Getting the Shot
"I'm a big fan of aerial perspectives and tree skiing—so I combined the two," says photographer Jordan Manley. While photographing for Great Canadian Heli-Skiing, an operator located between Golden and Revelstoke, Manley captured the unusual perspective. "It isn't very common to get a view of tree skiing from just above the canopy. We took the doors off the helicopter and strapped in." The photo was taken using a Nikon D3s and a Nikkor 17-35, f/2.8 lens.
Mountain Biking Mount Åre, Jämtland, Sweden
Competitive mountain bikers John Alm Högman and Linus Sjöholm ride the slippery rocks at the top of the mountain biking park at Mount Åre, a popular skiing and biking area in Jämtland, Sweden. "John and Linus are good friends, ride often, and it shows," says photographer Dan Barham. "The trust built up over time means they're able to hit the trail closer together than normal, which made the close framing of the shot possible." This image won the 2010 Scandinavian Photo Challenge, a race between teams of riders and photographers to capture the best shot. "When the scenery's as beautiful as this, there's very few challenges," says the British Columbia, Canada-based shooter, who used a used Canon 1D Mark IV digital SLR and a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L wide angle lens. "Just f/8 and be there."
Rappelling into the Black Hole of Calcutta, Blue Mountains, Australia
“It feels like being swallowed by the Earth,” says photographer Carsten Peter of the first of three rappels into the Black Hole of Calcutta in Claustral Canyon, located in Australia's Blue Mountains. Experienced canyoneers avoid it after heavy rains. “The immense power of the maelstrom is responsible for the wide, rounded shape. I liked the transition from dim daylight (ferns on top) into the darkness.”
Getting the Shot
Leave it to adventure photographer Casten Peter, who specializes in erupting volcanoes, crystal caves, and any dangerous locale he can find, to take a couple risks to get this shot. “My assistant John Robens had to swim with a strobe light below the climber in a deep basin within the spray and the noise of the waterfall,” recalls Peter. “He could not hear through Walkie-Talkies, nor by shouting. He was freezing in the cold water. I was on a slippery ledge on top of the waterfall, unsecured," says Peter. "We ended up with a lot of failures, but finally we shed some light into the darkness."
Learn more about the daring Aussies who use ropes but no GPS to explore the Blue Mountains in "Australia's Slot Canyons," by Mark Jenkins, in the October 2011 issue of National Geographic.
Surfing the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia
"I was just hugging the face of the wave waiting for it to barrel," says pro surferBruce Irons, who was willing to give his pal Sam McIntosh's "flare surfing" idea a try off Indonesia's Mentawai Islands.
First the crew tested the idea in the very early morning. "I really didn't know if it was going to work, or if the flare would just burn right through my board," notes Irons. Once they felt confident in the mechanics, they set out at night. "We took a Jet Ski out to where the waves were meant to break," says Irons. "I couldn't see more than 20 feet in front of the ski."
When the wave approached, a friend pulled the flare chord, and Irons jumped. A world-class surfer like Irons makes it look easy, but do not try this at home. "Considering my buddy Peter almost lost his eyesight pulling the flare cord on this night, I would say stick with what you are taught as a kid: Don't play with fire."
Getting the Shot
Having recently photographed the Nike “Just Do It” night ad campaign, photographer Jason Kenworthy was familiar with photographing surfers at night. “It was dark and there was only one chance to get it ... no do-overs,” recalls Kenworthy.
To make this photograph, Kenworthy was located on a skiff looking directly into the barrel. “Focusing was a challenge due to the darkness. And with the dropping light, you are constantly guessing on your exposures—and then second-guessing," says Kenworthy, who used a Canon Mark IV. “The 2.8 and instant stabilization worked great, and the high ISO settings came in handy.”
Trad Climbing the Needles, Black Hills, South Dakota
Imagine climbing one of these granite spires. Or ten. In a single day.
Climbing legend John "Verm" Sherman, 52, first considered climbing the Ten Pins in a day—known as "the Strike," in the Needles of the Black Hills—two decades ago. One partially paralyzed arm, a separated right shoulder, and two artificial hips later, he gave it a shot last July with climbing partner Cheyenne Chaffee, a local guide. "Even though the Strike requires a degree of physical stamina, the main challenge was mental—holding it together on run-out terrain where a fall could be a career-ender," says Sherman.
Here, Sherman is seen leading on Super Pin, an elite-level climb and the most iconic of the Ten Pins. It is known for its "X" factor, which, in climbing, is the potential for a deadly fall due to lack of protection. "I stood up very, very carefully on the summit," recalls Sherman. "It's about the size of a 12-pack on top."
Getting the Shot
Shooting all Ten Pins in one day is as much a challenge for the photographer as it is for the climber. For this shot, photographer Dawn Kish, a longtime rock climber, set herself on a nearby pin, Tent Peg. She then rappelled up and down a line to get the best angle. “We were tired in the middle of the day, but we had some Coca-Cola and Cheetos,” notes Kish, who captured the image using a Nikon D7000. “This camera is fast and light. For climbing shots, you need that flexibility.”
Cliff Diving in Boston, Massachusetts
"This was the first time I dove from a building—it was amazing," says diver Cyrille Oumedjkane of completing a reverse somersault layout from an 88.5-foot platform attached to Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) building.
With skilled precision amid dramatic clouds, the Frenchman and his fellow divers dazzled some 23,000 spectators surrounding Boston Harbor on the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. In cliff diving, competitors dive outdoors at heights ranging from 66 to 92 feet and enter the water toes first; regular divers launch from 33 feet or less and enter headfirst.
For Oumedjkane, who has been practicing his sport for 25 years, plunging into water is a way of life. "I dive because I don't like soccer, and I like the adrenaline."
Getting the Shot
“With the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, we get to some really unique locations,” says photographer Romina Amato. Indeed, this year's tour also hit Ukraine, Italy, France, Greece, Mexico, and Chile. “Each location comes with its own challenges—and Boston was no exception, as we had very limited angles from which to shoot.”
To capture this image, the veteran cliff-diving shooter was positioned in a parking lot next to the ICA building. “Cyrille’s dive looks both graceful and powerful as he launches against the natural drama of the weather front,” says Amato, who used a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and 50mm f/1.2 lens.
Backcountry Skiing Squaw Valley, California
"I better stomp this!" This was on the mind of freeskier JT Holmes before he launched off the "Drifter," a 35-foot cliff in Squaw Valley's Silverado Canyon, during a shoot for the upcoming Warren Miller film, Like There's No Tomorrow.Holmes has been doing such stunts for ski flicks since he was 15 years old. "The Drifter offers a clear view from takeoff to landing—if you stop above it. But I was skiing for film and for fun, so I came in nonstop, blind," recalls Holmes, who grew up and still lives in Squaw Valley. "I was psyched. I had just become airborne to find that my trajectory was good, and my vision of the landing was only partly obscured by the falling snow."
Even after seeking out the world's best backcountry, Holmes says nowhere compares to his home turf. "Squaw Valley offers the best skiing experience and community. The layout creates a great vibe on the mountain ..." Holmes says. "On top of that, we tend to enjoy mild temperatures. I am not so keen on skiing when it is cold outside."
Getting the Shot
"When I get the call on the radio that he is ready, I've got about ten seconds before JT drops into the line," says photographer Alex O'Brien. "This is the point when I take a deep breath and steady myself." To get this shot, O'Brien was positioned directly across a small valley at the same elevation as the cliff, which gave him a good perspective. It also showed where Holmes was coming from and where he was headed, which is something O'Brien always tries to communicate in action photos. He chose a Nikon d700 handheld with a 70-200mm lens for the conditions: "I use this lightweight setup when I am shooting a subject that requires me to cover a lot of ground in a day."
Big-Wave Surfing, Punta de Lobos, Chile
"I just paddled so hard to take that wave, and I knew, in this moment, it would be one of the big ones!" says Chilean big-wave surfer Ramon Navarro of catching this 26-foot swell during the first stop of the 2011 Big Wave World Tour. Navarro placed second in the competition, which was held in chilly May in his hometown of Punta de Lobos, Chile. The beach is Chile's premier surf spot, thanks to getting pounded by the most consistent waves in the country—and some of the most consistent in the world. "This is my favorite place to surf," says Navarro, who began catching waves here when he was 12. "I will come in first next time."
Getting the Shot
Photographer Alfredo Escobar captured this shot of Navarro while shooting only a hundred feet from breaking waves. “It was intense! A huge set of waves came in and we had to quickly get out of there," recalls Escobar. "When my Jet Ski was passing the wave, I turned around and, at the last minute, I took this picture.“ When he set out for the day, Escobar knew the challenging situation he would face: “At Punta de Lobos there's a very threatening wave that comes in from the west that usually catches you unguarded.”
BASE Jumping Utah's Ancient Art
"At this very moment, the thinking is over and your mind is in 'enjoy' mode," says climber Mario Richard (center) of two-way BASE jumping with Steph Davis(lower center) off the Corkscrew summit of Ancient Art at Fisher Towers near Moab, Utah. "It’s time to take in some amazing visuals and savor the fruits of all the efforts it took to get there." The pair free climbed three short pitches and one long one to get to the narrow summit of this iconic desert tower recognized by most rock climbers.
In a two-way the jumpers take off nearly simultaneously, just a split second apart. Timing is important because if they don’t have enough separation, they could jump into each other’s parachutes. "We jump together a lot, and it seemed like it would be a fun twist to jump together from this tower where it’s hard to even fit one person at the top," notes Davis, of the two BASE jumps she and Richard did that day. "We do two-ways off Castleton quite a bit, too—and with our wingsuits."
Getting the Shot
There is a tenseness that I can't shake every time I watch my friends BASE jump. This cold January day was no different. Hanging from a rope about 40 feet lower than the summit, I shot the still frames of this jump via a cable release in my right hand while follow-filming with a video camera. It was a daunting task to time the still frames in one camera while also capturing the motion in a separate video camera. Both cameras were mounted on the side of the cliff on a dangling tripod that I hung next to. Mario's body position in the frame has a wildness to it as he tries to get as far away from the cliff as possible. —Photographer Keith Ladzinski
Backcountry Skiing Crystal Mountain, Washington
"The lighting and light snow were unreal for so early in the year," says skier Tyler Ceccanti of this early December backcountry skiing shoot on Washington's Crystal Mountain with photographer Ian Coble. Though Ceccanti has spent the last four years sampling the world's best terrain as a pro, the 22-year-old says there's no place like home: "I grew up exploring this mountain every weekend and I love being here," says Ceccanti who still lives in nearby Lake Tapps. "It also has some of the best skiing in the Northwest and a beautiful view."
Deepwater Soloing Poda Island, Thailand
"Deepwater soloing provides the perfect combination of adventure and serenity," says Jessa Younker of climbing the stalactites hanging from a giant limestone cliff on Poda Island, Thailand. "Without a rope or harness to distract, I can purely focus on how to make the next move on the natural features." With this style of rock climbing, a fall is followed by a splash: "Sometimes my hand would slip off the wet rock and send me free falling through the air. Then I would be engulfed in the warmth of the Andaman Sea, swimming towards the surface, watching the sun dance across the gentle waves."
Paragliding Bazaruto Island, Mozambique
"Flying a site like this is like having an out-of-body experience," says Gavin McClurg of paragliding above the shape-shifting sand dunes on 20-mile-long Bazaruto Island. "You are looking out at the Indian Ocean's turquoise waters churning endlessly from one huge lagoon at high tide to massive sand islands and rivers at low." And they had the added rush of being the first to paraglide there. Seasoned adventurer McClurg and photographer Jody MacDonald found this spot while sailing the world to kiteboard, surf, and paraglide where no one has done so before on an expedition they call "The Best Odyssey." "There was no sign of people—just serene beauty in every direction," says McClurg. "And you're flying above soft sand, so no helmet or shoes were even necessary! Rarely is paragliding so stress-free and just pure fun."
2011 Tour de France
Cyclists race down Massiac pass during the 9th stage of the 2011 Tour de France. This stage of the race—there are 21 total—covered 129 miles from Issoire to Saint-Flour in central France and was the scene of several accidents due to pileups and wet roads. Over the three weeks of the race, which ends July 24 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, cyclists cover 2,132 miles.
Bodyboarding at Shark Island, Australia
"I just wanted to get a bomb and was really enjoying the ride," says bodyboarder Chase O'Leary of catching this six-foot wave during the Shark Island Challenge, in June 2011, near Sydney, Australia. "But I didn't read the wave properly, hence why I got smashed into the reef." Surfing's little brother, bodyboarding is a sport that's growing up. "There's been a real boom in the younger generation—not just in Australia but around the world," says O'Leary, 19, who has been bodyboarding for nine years. "People see it as a more functional way of riding a wave than surfing. Once you start to get the hang of it, it becomes addictive."
Climbing Near Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
"Being in this crack was surprisingly secure—when I was not moving," says climbing guide John Furneaux of tackling Public Image, a 4-pitch route on the North Walls of the Stawamus Chief. "Whenever I tried to make upward progress it felt like I might be spit out into the abyss at any moment." The tight squeeze afforded amazing views of giant old-growth cedar and douglas fir trees and Squamish, British Columbia, a gateway to world-class climbing, whitewater paddling, wind sports, and mountain biking. "As much as I hate to give away my secret playground," comments Furneaux, "I have to say that if people are looking for adventure, Squamish is truly the destination they should visit."
Ski Jumping in Alta, Utah
"When I pop out into the open air and get that first look at how far away the ground is, time stops, it gets really quiet, I hear birds chirping, I drift around in my own thoughts—all in a nanosecond," says professional skier Julian Carr of front flipping off a 60-foot cliff at Utah's Alta ski resort. Carr loves launching himself off cliffs on skis so much that he holds two world records in the sport. And with more than 500 inches of annual snowfall, Alta is his favorite place on Earth for cliff jumping. "Light powder with a great base—Utah snow is the best! But don't tell anyone."
Sunset Highlining Near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"Climbing, and life in general, in Brazil was totally mind-blowing—the relaxed culture, varied climbing objectives, and an inspiring landscape that combines jungle, mountain, and ocean," says climber-artist Renan Ozturk of this trip to film a documentary about Brazilian friend who died—and to capture the adventures of her homeland. Here, Ozturk carefully makes his way across a highline at Gavea Stone, overlooking the glittering lights of Rio di Janeiro. "This was a scary moment to capture on film because I had to mount the line in the dark over the void and then keep my balance in the strong wind as my good friend Tim popped a huge flash in my face. It was a great adventure."
Climbing the Arch of Bishekele, Ennedi Desert, Chad
"Fifteen feet above me was the top of the most incredible piece of rock I had ever seen," says climber James Pearson of ascending the 180-foot Arch of Bishekele in Chad's Ennedi Desert. Traveling for more than 10,000 miles over four days, a team of all-star climbers—including Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold, Renan Ozturk, and Pearson—became the first to scale the arid sandstone stacks and sheer walls of this remote desert. "The climbing looked harder than below, but my gut told me to try, and after five very tense minutes I arrived on top of my wildest summit yet," recalls Pearson. "As my eyes took in the vista, I realized I was the first human ever to see this view."
Kiteboarding in Cumbuco, Brazil
"The leading rank was at stake, so I was putting every ounce of focus I had on that move," recalls competitive Brazilian kiteboarder Guilly Brandão of the final heat in the Volkswagen Kite Tour 2010 in Cumbuco, Brazil last November. "I was thinking about nothing, just feeling the board, the kite, and starting to aim for the next move on the wave." Located in northern Brazil, Cumbuco is a kiteboarder's paradise with strong winds blowing the entire season, from June to November. Brandão won his fifth wave title during this competition.
Stand Up Paddle Surfing in Tahiti
"I had surfed and tow surfed here before," says big-wave surfer Chuck Patterson about Teahupoo, a renowned surf spot in Tahiti. "But I always wondered what it would feel like to get tubed on my stand up paddle surf board—this is what I came for." The water is sucked off a shallow, razor sharp reef, making the barrel break below sea level. "This wave is incredibly challenging to paddle into, let alone surf," notes Patterson. "Any mistakes could be costly." The photograph was taken by a camera mounted to his board.
Biking South Africa's Table Mountain
"Riding on top of Table Mountain was something I had to do," says professional mountain biker Kenny Belaey. "The landscape is just perfect for trials—but I had to be really careful." Belaey pulled out every daredevil trick imaginable, from wheelies to bunny hops, to explore the famous 3,559-foot flat-top sandstone mountain overlooking Cape Town. To reach the top at sunrise, he hiked through the night, carrying his 20-pound bike on his back.
Kayaking Nepal's Upper Seti River
"Nepal's Upper Seti Canyon is one of the most beautiful places I've been," says kayaker-filmmaker Josh Neilson of this exploratory expedition to run a rarely accessed steep section high up on Seti River. "You'd think your heart would be racing at the lip of a drop like this, but it's just the opposite," says Neilson. "The rushing water is silenced by concentration, and time almost stands still."
Bodysurfing the North Shore, Hawaii
"At this moment, Paul Mclaughlin and I were throwing ourselves into crazy huge barrels trying to fly right over the camera," says competitive bodysurfer Ryan Hailstones (left), who just placed fifth in the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic in February. Ke Iki Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, is a famous bodysurfing spot, but also very dangerous. Only the pros can take on the shallow water and fierce waves, which literally break in dry sand.
Ice Climbing in Eidfjord, Norway
"It felt like climbing a chandelier," says world-renowned ice climber Will Gadd of completing the first ascent of 650-foot Skrikjofossen during a frigid February in Eidfjord, Norway. "This was, by far, the most difficult frozen waterfall I had ever climbed—or plan to." But for Gadd, the opportunity to explore the caves behind frozen waterfalls makes the risk worth it. "The mix of light, atmosphere, and the temporary nature of these jeweled rooms inspires awe." Gadd's route has not seen a second ascent.
Jumping the Mount Baker Road Gap, Washington
After a long day of exploring Mount Baker’s backcountry, a group of expert skiers, including professional telemarker Paul Kimbrough (pictured), ventured toward the legendary Mount Baker Road Gap, a rite of passage among local skiers and snowboarders. It took a few hours to build up the jump, consider all the safety precautions, and set up flashes. Because it was so dark, the car was actually parked, so Kimbrough could have a sense of where he was. "When I dropped in I could barely see the in-run as the light faded," recalls Kimbrough, "but I was confident and it felt great to 360 through light snowflakes and ride out clean."
Free Soloing in Yosemite National Park
With no rope to save him from a fall, daredevil climber Dean Potter free solos a route called Heaven on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California. Half Dome appears in the distance.
Watch videos of amazing feats by Potter and other superclimbers of Yosemite featured in the May 2011 issue of National Geographic (read the article or see the photo gallery). Then unlock bonus video clips when you share them via Facebook or Twitter.