Thursday, February 27, 2014


As I've lamented in the past, it's really difficult getting a decent angle to photograph canyoneering trips, especially people on ropes as they rappel down a cliff or waterfall. I'm either shooting down on their heads or up at their butts. And neither view is all that exceptional. On a recent trip to Coffin Canyon in Death Valley, I had a rare chance to go down a separate rope, lock off (meaning, wrap the rope around my rappel device in such a way that I'm basically stuck there) and photograph my friends as they went by. This meant having to carry a (really heavy) 300-foot rope up a long, steep approach to the top of the canyon and using one of the few permanent anchor bolts in the entire park (they're illegal, actually, but this one has survived). 

Considering this was a nearly 200-foot rappel, there was plenty of dramatic air underneath them and canyon in the distance for good shots. Even rarer, I got pictures of me dangling from the rope as I was doing all this. I had to bring a second camera body and long lens just for that purpose (ah, the things we do for a semi-selfie). The lens I used on the rope was a 16-35 set as wide as possible because I was pretty close to everyone as they rappelled past me, plus I wanted to get as much of the canyon in the shot as possible to show just what a spectacular place it was. If I hadn't gone for the wide shot, it would have just been a picture of someone on a rope with no context. Big deal. 

So there I am dangling about 180 feet above the ground, I'm finished shooting and I have to release in order to go down the rope. My camera was hanging off my hip with a Black Rapid strap and vulnerable to whacking against the hardware on my harness. But the bigger thing is yanking the rope out from the rappel device so I can slither down the rope. When you do that, you jerk down a few inches, just enough to scare the bejoobies out of you, especially when, as I said, I was hanging 180 feet off the ground. My suggestion to anyone who wants to try this is practice, practice, practice before getting into extreme canyons like this. Just a suggestion.

There I am on the right, braced against the rock as I shoot Annette on the rope. It looks comfortable enough, I guess, but remember, I'm high off the ground.

The resulting shot. The sun visor on her helmet is a handy add-on she wears. I was so close to her, you can see my pants leg in the lower right corner.

Jerri on the same rappel. Notice how Rich who's belaying her at the bottom is teeny weeny tiny. Directly below her is a vertical wall of rock that turns into an overhang.

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