As I take stock of the year, I’m in awe of the beauty and kindness that envelopes my life. I’m surrounded by thoughtful, motivated, curious, kind people who elevate life in myriad ways and fortunate enough to often find myself intimately engaging with stunning places (through climbing/cycling/skiing/photography). I’m simultaneously overwhelmed with gratitude and struck by how starkly my experience stands in contrast to most of the human existence. Obviously, as a white middle-class American in the 21st Century, I’m already one of the luckiest minds to ever have existed. This fact is never far from the forefront of my thoughts and I’m often thinking about how to best engage the world in light of this fact. I’m stumbling and actively searching for my path to be a better steward to the earth and ally to those outside the dominant power structures and with less opportunities. The question of how best to spend our finite time and energy has been at the center of human inquiry for as long as we’ve had the time and energy to ask questions. Needless to say, I haven’t figured it all out quite yet.
I hope I find better ways to spend my time and energy every year. My goal is to increase my positive impact on the world around me but there are no black and white answers or maps guiding toward the best path. Much of what I do is more self serving than I’d like, but I’m actively pushing to make more of my work beneficial to others.
I also believe that there is something to the philosophy of making the most out of every moment and finding the things that make you come alive. So I’ll also keep doing that as I continue to totter through life trying to figure it all out. Thanks for joining me on the ride.
Much has been said about the inherent selfishness and uselessness of both climbing mountains and skiing. I don’t disagree, but of all the selfish and useless things I put my energy toward, this is the pursuit I question the least. The mountains can certainly be deadly but they also bring joy, heal wounds, build character, and teach us about ourselves, our limits, and our possibilities.
When I look through the list of notable moments from 2019, this peak is one of my proudest. It is something I’ve had my eye on for over a decade but it came together, almost spontaneously, in a matter of days. I had been in recovery mode from my second minor knee surgery last year and hadn’t spent any time on snow (save gimping around for a couple photoshoots). I desperately wanted to get back into the mountains as the Colorado snowpack stabilized and the gravity of life pulled me towards the top of one of the most aesthetic summits in the Rocky Mountains. Whit, one of my favorite mountain partners throughout the years, and I barely had to exchange words about what we wanted to do before we set our sites on Pyramid began planning the attack. Pyramid has always loomed large in my mountain consciousness. It is one of the most aesthetic, magnetic, and dangerous of the Colorado 14,000’ peaks. Chris Landry and Michael Kennedy pioneered it in 1978 and in 2006 @steepskiing, @nealbeidleman, and @Tedmahon skied this line for the first time since. Davenport said of the line, “I have been a skier my entire life, and have had the incredible privilege of skiing many great mountain ranges all over the world. With that said, I can honestly claim that today was one of the best runs of my life. This is a run that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, something that I will always be extremely proud of. That face is now part of my soul, and I couldn’t be happier about it!”
Though the majesty of the mountain has not diminished we are definitely standing on the shoulder’s of giants and bow humbly to those innovators before us (one of whom was Neal who we were lucky enough to climb and ski with on this day).
The night before we set our alarm clocks for 1am; 2 scarcely perceptible hours of sleep. We shuffled through the morning motions and checklists, loaded sleds, and pushed up the dark trail until we hit impassable avalanche debris and started our walk: 10 miles and 6,800’ of vertical (including an accidental bonus lap up the Bannana Couloir’s neighbor). We walked under a heart achingly beautiful night sky. We kicked steps up the steep exposed face of one of the most aesthetic peaks in the Rockies. We wallowed through sections of impossible sugar before dropping in on some of the most focused turns of my life.
I plunged my ax into the rotten snow but found no purchase. My feet swam in a granular shifting mess and I groped for a handhold with my wet mittened hand. The thin aluminum of my crampons scratched and scraped against hidden rocks underfoot. I gave a quick glance below to remind myself of the gravity of each adjustment. Directly below, the shadowed rocky North face of Pyramid Peak fell away almost vertically into the valley 4,000 feet below. The hungry void groaned in the back of my mind as I shifted focus. I grappled with the hollow snow and loose rock. An upside-down ski pole plunged into rotten sugar and wedged between rocks, a half-hold on a red fin of choss, and two tiny points of metal extending from my ski boot; the closest I was going to come to three solid points of contact with the mountain. I let the dark void groan and pushed upward.
12 hours of constant motion; some glorious, some painful, some frightening, but all felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be. Skiing: I love you with all my heart and soul. .
Beyond stoked to have experienced this legendary line with a legendary crew.
THOR FD Montana
I’ve said it before but First Descents is one of the best things I’ve ever participated in. There is so much richness from the experience that is hard to find anywhere else in life. The programs are designed to immerse both the participants and the staff with the most potent aspects of humanity and connection to the natural world.
Nothing sharpens focus on life’s real priorities like a true encounter with mortality. Each of the participants in every one of these programs is in intimate contact with the brief and impermanent nature of our human circumstance. Some are terminal, some are recovering, but all have at least glimpsed first hand what we all tend to push to the backs of our minds. Check out the video piece here.
Spending extended and engaged time with people who have touched the void and fought sometimes unimaginable battles is powerfully effecting. Firstly, it gives you immediate access to the most compassionate version of yourself. It’s hard to be judgmental or petty with someone you know is fighting a cancer battle. If somehow the situation doesn’t grant you this, the First Descent program and culture is a paragon for compassion and holding space for others. It is an example of how I want to be towards ALL people all the time. It’s a hard order to hold yourself to but it’s achievable, worth striving for, and experiencing an FD program gives you a model that you can always reflect upon.
All of this is amplified by the outdoor adventure education component of the program; something I’ve always believed wholeheartedly.
The fact that we were able to connect THOR Industries with First Descents, tell the story, and then watch a truly mutually beneficial relationship grow out of the connection is the pinnacle of what I want to be doing. Check out the video piece here.
I still can’t believe how lucky am I to get to go take pictures in places like this for a living.
This incredible place was enhanced immeasurably my the company. Steven Nyman, Alice Merryweather, Jared Goldberg, Drew Roberts, Max Nolan , and the rest of the US team athletes and staff made this trip. Not to mention all the fanastic people that keep the Portillo cruise ship running all season.
What a trip: Skiing in August, swimming in a mountain lake at 9,360’ and surfing the Chilean coast within 24 hours.
More photos and stories about Portillo from the ‘gram.
This place is out of a glimmering dream. Giant fox bats constantly soar overhead, as big as hawks. Flying fish, rainbows, perfect breeze, gleaming water under sharp morning sun and then deep powerful dark greens under afternoon monsoon downpours. Massive runneled granite boulders comprise the surreal shorelines edged by vibrant palm fronds.
Located in the Indian Ocean, Seychelles is an archipelago of nearly 155 islands, most of which are uninhabited.
There are two regions within the archipelago: the granitic islands and the coralline outer islands. The granite’s are the only islands composed of granitic rock in the world, as well as the oldest islands; conversely, the coralline islands are mainly younger.
The island of Mahe is the largest of the group, and has a rocky landscape with a narrow coastal strip. The central part of island consists of a range of hills that rise upwards of over 2,000 ft. .
This water series is one of my favorites from my recent shoot in the Seychelles. @Smmydbs asked me if there were any shots that I personally really wanted to create while I was there. I realized that I had embarked on a huge mission to an amazing far flung destination without this mental list or real personal creative aspirations and I was a little ashamed of myself. Then, almost instantly, the entire catalog of one of my favorite photographers flashed through my head. I’ve been a huge fan of @morganmaassen for a long time. I think he might be my favorite image maker out there. His images and films are simple, evocative, often haunting, always beautiful. So I decided to try to steal his style for the day (I’m actually usually trying to steal his style a little bit). If you haven’t seen his portfolio or his Water films on vimeo, I suggest you do yourself a favor. Thanks @morganmaassen for the constant visual inspiration!⠀
More about the Seychelles here.
The Public Works is lucky enough to have a great portfolio of clients. Ghostland, who I saw live just after this came out, was kind enough to let us use the song! Check it the finished piece!
Great booze, better people. I ended up sleeping in my truck till 3am on top of Boreas Pass while the star time-lapse finished up. Video dropping soon.
2019 Book List
Last year, because of this email, I got called out hard.
I always try to include a book list in each of these updates. The last one it started a number of conversations, which in itself makes this whole thing worth doing, but one of the conversations caught me seriously off guard (in the best of ways).
A writer friend from my old eccentric coffee shop haunt sent me a note and let me know, in case I hadn’t realized (I hadn’t), my list was almost exclusively male authors and it was strikingly white.
My first instinct was to go on the defensive: My 2018 book list was heavy on the science and philosophy books, thus disappointingly and unsurprisingly, it was almost exclusively white male authors. It was society’s lack of diversity in those realms that was reflected in my booklist, not my own bias! And shouldn’t my intellectual patronage be solely about ideas and art and be unconcerned with race and gender?!
Luckily, before I finished hammering out my knee-jerk screed, I took a moment and reflected. Really, why were my choices of books so heavily skewed toward my own gender and background? The first thing I did was look to see if other more diverse options existed for the subject matter I was interested in. Of COURSE they did. I wasn’t surprised, but it made me dig a little deeper into why I had chosen the authors that I had. I came up with two primary reasons: The books had won awards and/or the authors were the anointed expert on the particular subject. Both great timesavers when choosing books but a poor way to build a diverse, healthy, free-thinking world view. Who is on the award committees? Who anoints experts? The answer to both is generally those within the intrenched power structure, which is more often than not white men.
I believe that it takes a concerted effort, at all levels of society, to elevate the disenfranchised and bring more voices to the table. This is obviously a MUCH bigger topic than I can cover right here and I certainly don’t harbor any illusions that I’m making any real difference in the world with my book choices, but I realized that I wanted to make an effort to hear other voices. Still, even with this personal goal, my list is more than 50% male and many of the female authors are the token anointed. Here it is. Hit me up. Call me out. Let me know if you’ve read any of these titles and what you thought. I love these conversations, especially the challenging ones.
Ted Chaing – Exhalation
Overstory – Richard Powers
Ruth Oseki – A Tale for the Time Being
Colston Whitehead – Underground Railroad
Anika Harris – Conscious
Nella Larsen – Passing
Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Water Dancer
R.O. Kwon – The Incendiaries
Martin Luther King – Why We Can’t Wait
Margaret Atwood -Handmaids Tale
Margaret Atwood – Testaments
Tim Ferris – 4 Hour Work Week
David Mamet on Directing
From Bacteria to Bach and Back – Dan Dennett
William Finnegan – Barbarian Days (re-read)
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius (re-read)
In case you missed my last email: https://www.ianfohrman.com/killing-and-connection/
Also, check out recent work from The Public Works.
I hope everyone has an amazing 2020. Thanks again for joining me on this strange ride!