Seven Summits (Art Wolfe)

I’m homesick for the mountains. Or simply The Mountain. I can usually see Mount Rainier out an upstairs window if I lean against the shower and hope the wind blows enough to strip the neighbor’s tree of its leaves. But outside right now it’s dark and gray and rainy.

From the previous postings you might think the author of this blog reads all the time. Actually nothing excites me more during the summer than a brisk hike above the timber line at Mt Rainier. I’ve got an annual park pass and most years I wear it out. Bicycling was my mainstay this summer, though, and I only did three Rainier hikes. I miss The Mountain. So I’m leaning against the window now, hoping for a break from the rain, a parting of clouds, and a brief gust of wind. Just a glimpse. Please.

This whole sad episode prompted me to take another look through a beautiful book given to me two Christmases ago called Seven Summits: The High Peaks of the Pacific Northwest [LibraryThing / WorldCat]. Seattle nature photographer Art Wolfe has wandered the world but the Cascade Range is his home. In Seven Summits, he’s collected some wonderful photographs of all five Washington volcanoes, plus Mt Shuksan and Oregon’s Mt Hood. The images transported me to the rocky altitudes I love, the high country meadows I enjoy hiking past, and the wildlife I see only from a distance (if at all). Wolfe’s large, glossy color photos are spectacular. A few –the meadow on page 51, for instance– seem almost too vibrant to be real. But photographers are magicians with light.

Wolfe also added some amazing depth-of-field photos to the mix. Down near sea level — where most of us toil — it’s a long slog from place to place, dodging traffic and circumnavigating hills. High country hikers know that once you’re above, say, 5000 feet, the world of long-distance appears. Far off peaks rise on the horizon, sometimes looking like islands floating on a sea of clouds. Wolfe has quite a few photos from that “zone”, with the next volcano in the chain lying just over the shoulder of the nearest one. The photo on page 37 erases the distance between Mt Adams and Mt Rainier. You’d think you could jump from one to the other if only you had a running start and a soft place to land.

Quick aside: The most amazing distance-viewing I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience myself was on a peak near Crater Lake, Oregon. On one very clear morning I could see both Mt Shasta in California and Mt Rainier in Washington simply by turning around. The entire state of Oregon and half of Washington lie between them, but there they were, above it all.

You might also like Art Wolfe’s earlier Pacific Northwest: Land of Light and Water [LibraryThing / WorldCat]. There’s another Mt Rainier book (or two) that I’ll tell you about next time. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this one.

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