August Photo of the Month: Stop and Smell the Flowers

Photo © Galen Weld

Photo and writing by Galen Weld

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have grown up in Seattle, the son of two avid climbers who carried me into the mountains before I was even old enough to walk on my own. Living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest seems like an unfair advantage to a mountain enthusiast such as myself — no matter what direction you look, snow-covered peaks dot the horizon. It wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast to attend university that I truly realized how truly special the Northwest is.

As I grew older, my trips in the mountains grew longer and more challenging. I remember when my father gifted me my first sleeping bag, my first ice axe and my first pair of crampons. All of these “firsts” are my most fond memories of growing up — not only the gear, but the adventures as well. I remember my first multi-pitch rock climb (The Tooth, at age 8), falling asleep on the drive home afterwards — exhausted but infected with the desire to reach more summits.

Inspired by my dad’s many-year campaign to climb the highest peaks in Washington state, I begged my parents to take me up Seven Fingered Jack in the Entiat Mountains when I was 9. It was my first summit over 9,000 feet and fed a hunger for more.

Moving into adolescence, my father became my best climbing partner, and together we knocked off many of the peaks remaining on his list. Around this time, he also encouraged me to adopt another of his passions: photography. I started carrying a camera of my own on our adventures together. My summers became sun-burned flurries of trip after trip, and I couldn’t get enough.

Eventually, however, the realities of adulthood began to set in. With high-school graduation came the need for a summer job, college applications and less time to spend outside. Concentrating on my own peak-bagging, every weekend I would set out, alone, to ascend as many summits as I could while still stumbling back to work by Monday morning.

The satisfaction of standing atop a new mountain was still there, but I was moving so quickly I didn’t have as much time to stop, breathe and enjoy the incredible wildernesses our state has to offer. Instead of camping in the prettiest places I could find, I was sleeping in the back of my car on the side of the road.

I decided to slow down and focus on the parts of the mountains that were most important to me: the solitude in the wilderness, the natural beauty and the contrast between dramatic features like massive glaciers and the delicate details like fields of wildflowers. Photography became the activity that helped me find the part of the mountains that are dear to me. In a sense, composing a landscape photograph is a challenge — the best images are the ones that capture the essential parts of the scene that tell its story and omit all superfluous elements.

With this in mind, last weekend my father and I set out for an evening of photography in Mount Rainier National Park. We had no set objective, just the desire to enjoy our time together in a beautiful place. From Mowich Lake, we traveled cross-country into meadows full of wildflowers. The setting sun lit Rainier’s glaciers with pink, red and orange tones, and wisps of fog settled in the meadow with the dew, giving the landscape a dreamy quality.

It was a truly magical sunset, and I’m so happy to share this picture of it. I know that when I'm someplace far from the mountains, such as when I return to school in the fall, I’ll be able to glance at this photo and be reminded of the Pacific Northwest’s grandeur. I hope you can do the same.

Galen Weld is an undergraduate studying Computer Science at Cornell University. Having grown up in Seattle, he has worked the past two summers as a researcher in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science at the University of Washington. An avid photographer, you can find more of Galen's work on his website or follow him on Instagram.