Walking the Line: Behind the Shot with Forest Woodward
A high alpine quest in the Waddington Range of British Columbia. Lessons from getting the shot with adventure photographer Forest Woodward.


This isn’t going as planned, I realized as I snapped this frame. The rope between Scott and I went more slack than it should have as he stepped along the edge of the crevasse.

climbers ascend Skywalk Buttress
 

“Keep moving. There’s no time to shoot now,” Blake instructed from behind. He was trying to hasten our climb up the broken morass of snow and ice that guards the base of the Skywalk Buttress deep in the Waddington Range of British Columbia. The growing heat of the rising sun dwarfed our slow upward progress. Blake's words, along with my foggy understanding of our current predicament, rendered me too frightened to shoot another photo. I would not fire the shutter again until an hour or so later when we reached the relative safety of the col above. The day had started pleasantly enough. We lounged in camp, ate food all day, played cards, and chased the patches of shade under large boulders. As the heat escalated, so did the sounds of the mountains around us. Avalanches roared down the couloirs across the valley, not to mention both sides of Sunny Knob, our base camp. Temperatures were unseasonably warm, even for late summer. We waited patiently, and as the sun eventually set and the mountains came to a quieter and cooler rest, we set out across the glacier toward the couloir some 3 or 4 miles in the distance. We hoped the path would grant us access to the Waddington-Combatant col above, and from there we would be able to easily access our climbing objective: the legendary Skywalk Buttress. As darkness set in, we soon found ourselves high in the couloir, zigging, zagging, post holing, and eventually standing bewildered in the midst of what had (from below and in daylight) appeared to be a relatively navigable series of crevasses. With some trepidation, we settled down for an unplanned bivy and a restless night. Scott’s snoring woke me every few minutes as I continually mistook him for the distant roar of an avalanche that I was sure would sweep us away. Despite a noisy, nightmare-ridden slumber, we made it through the night without mishap (or much sleep) and rose with the first light. We made the decision to push on and navigate the crevasses by daylight, in hopes of reaching the safety of col before the mountains woke up and hurled their deadly debris at us once more. Moving methodically upward, it wasn’t long before we found a line through the crevasses. As we traversed the last of the deep chasms, I fumbled with the camera and snapped this shot of Scott and Blake’s shadows as they walked the line between sun and shade. I only had time to snap a couple frames before the strained voice of a teammate warned me that this was not the time for pictures. If I have learned anything from shooting in the mountains, it is the importance of teamwork and of clear communication and decisive action. When a partner (particularly one with much more experience) suggests it is time to keep moving, you keep moving. I hurriedly put the camera away, hoping, but unsure if I had gotten the frame I wanted as we continued to push to the col above where we would be out of the danger zone. Weeks later, after a successful ascent of the Skywalk Buttress and a number of other climbs in the cirque, I flipped through the images and found this shot. It would become one of my most successful shots from the trip, published in “Alpinist,” “National Geographic Adventure,” and featured in advertisements by Patagonia. For me, however, the success lies in the experience that this image represents, and the lessons learned through the process of its creation. I am grateful for the friends and partners who have taken me into the mountains, and trusted me to walk these lines with them; this shot serves as a reminder for me to be happy to take what you can get, and leave other parts for memory.


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