Aug 13, 2018
Lesson Learned at Lake George Glacier
In July of 2018, I was photographing the Lake George Glacier 40 miles from Anchorage. I scouted from the air to find a safe face of ice to photograph. I landed the helicopter out of harm’s way and proceeded on foot towards a section of ice I deemed to be comparatively benign—and utterly otherworldly with its scalloped patterns of indigo and black.
Slowly and cautiously, I approached, listening intently for signs of calving, and scanning overhead to make sure I wasn’t positioning myself under ice cornices or obvious fracture lines. Truthfully, it’s probably not even worth photographing in these areas. It’s hard to concentrate on art while also concentrating on minimizing objective dangers.
I set up my tripod between a large fallen iceberg and the face of the glacier. A fallen iceberg means something fell off the glacier—but it could have been any time in the previous week or more. I was alone in the wilderness, a long ways from help, so in the spirit of “speed is safety,” I worked quickly to set up my camera and tripod. The last thing I remember was extending the neck of the tripod for a higher angle of view.
And then I heard a thunderous collapse somewhere above. It came from an unexpected direction. I don’t recall the instant when my mindset shifted from photography to survival. I just remember making the instinctive decision to run for my life and leave the camera behind. All I could think of while running is, “Have I been hit yet? Have I been hit yet?” I ran so fast, I tripped on the rocky riverbank, got flung across the ground, and waited…
It was over in a moment. The sound went quiet, and I was safe. My camera was not so lucky. I went back to retrieve it. Hundreds of pounds of ice had buried the spot I had been standing on and crushed the tripod legs.
I’ve been around a lot of glaciers in my life. I tend to be overly cautious. This episode just reminds me why–the unexpected can happen. It’s not worth putting yourself in that situation just to make an image.