When Denali National Park asked if I could assist their efforts to create images that they could use to educate the public about the vast Alaska Range I was pretty excited. There was so much potential to make such a vast, stunning and inaccessible region more accessible through photography and the web.
Soon I was in a small bush plane breathing oxygen through a mask while photographing the vast Alaska Range. Then the bush pilot said a terrible thing to hear at 20,000 feet. “Shit!” A small tank of oxygen supplying the other passenger was empty. After waiting two weeks for the flyable weather we had today, my only chance to complete the assignment was about to run out of air. We’d have to descend – and fast.
I’ve spent years photographing under some of the most difficult situations you could imagine – in different cultures, climates, countries and war zones with fixers, translators and almost any form of transportation. The oxygen issue was really no different than talking myself across a border, photographing while paddling a class V river, or climbing a remote, cold mountain. It was no different than working my way into the middle of a situation where I could create the opening spread of a story.
I unbuckled, removed my mask and rummaged in the back of the plane until I found a mask we could plug into the main oxygen tank. Climbing back into my seat and my oxygen, we were able to fly for another hour while I shot Denali and adjacent peaks from as high as 23,000 feet.
What Denali National Park received was a tightly organized, GPS coded collection of thousands of images from across the range that they immediately began using for public education and outreach. Seeing opportunity to improve the outreach further, I additionally developed a search engine optimized website tying the images to google maps, ecommerce and automated printing so that climbers and explorers could access the images for research and planning from anywhere they had internet access.