Rain on a Glacier
by Maria Luci
Over the summer, outdoor adventure photographers Matt and Agnes Hage were contacted by Cascade Designs/Therm-a-Rest to shoot their new line of sleeping bags and inflatable camp mattresses. The assignment started out straightforward enough, with three unique outdoor set-ups, but things got tricky when they moved into the skiing portion of the gig. Since Matt and Agnes share the story so well themselves, I decided to let them tell it in their own words. Take it away, Hages:
The creative brief for the Therm-a-Rest assignment was to shoot their sleeping systems in three camping situations: early spring backcountry skiing, summer backpacking above tree line, and lightweight backpacking in a wooded setting. Each scenario had to be shot in a different region and with different talent. The two summer set-ups were relatively easy once we settled on the locations. We shot one in the Selkirk Mountains of Northern Idaho and the other in a remote pine forest in Eastern Washington. Summer in the Inland Northwest is gorgeous with predictable weather patterns and morning/evening light that arrives on schedule. Each segment was done as an overnight backpacking trip to allow for an evening and morning shoot session.
Getting the backcountry skiing set-up was a bit more of a challenge (understatement of our summer). The prototype sleeping bags weren’t available until July and the client needed the entire project wrapped in time for the August outdoor retail show in Salt Lake City. Finding a snowy mountain location was not a problem in Southcentral Alaska. We’d just had a record breaking snow year with over a hundred inches in May and were in the middle of one of the coldest summers ever recorded. The challenge was that the summer also saw relentless storm cycles that brought thick cloud cover, lots of precipitation and very high winds. Everything was ready to go: our talent, the equipment, local helicopter pilot, and an anxious art director in Seattle. We were on a critical weather watch, waiting for a break that would allow us to fly into the mountains, and shoot the job in the desired conditions. Finally, a short 24-hour break appeared in the forecast and after agonizing about it for a couple hours, we decided to pull the trigger. The AD got on the next flight to Anchorage (3 hours) and arrived in his ski pants. We already had the talent, product and everything we’d need for our overnight out on the glacier when we picked him up at the airport.
Within an hour we were on a helicopter making our way into the mountains. The weather was holding. Kind of. Some cloud cover was moving in from the southeast, but the shoot was still doable. At this point, the job was getting done to best of our ability with what we were given. Everything was set to shoot in thirty minutes, but then the weather moved in. Big time too. I remember looking over at one of our friends on the crew, an aspiring photographer, and telling him, ‘Pay attention. You’re about to see a big budget commercial shoot go really bad’. Exactly one hour after the heli deposited us on the glacier, the storm began to blow rain in our faces.
There are few things more miserable than rain on a glacier. Everybody gave it their best for a couple hours until we were beyond wet and cold. These were very dangerous conditions: 48 degrees with no shelter from the wind and rain equals deadly for hypothermia. We hunkered down and rode it out for the night. The storm showed no sign of letting up so we decided to ski and hike out to the road the next day. Everyone in our crew was an expert skier (our model Rachel is a former Olympic champion), though, it was a bit much for the AD from Seattle. We skied tough conditions with heavy packs across glaciers, down rocky chutes and added the skis/boots to our packs for a long bushwhack out to the road. Muddy and wet, we pointed the rig to the nearest bar and grille. By that time the AD had forgotten about the shoot and was just happy to have survived. He later told us how impressed he was with how we handled a very challenging situation.
We ended up going back in the next week and shooting the job in much better conditions. The work was delivered in time for the trade show and the client has since called us back in for a few upcoming projects. Guess it’s true that the true judge of character is how you perform in the face of adversity.
Below are a few of the final shots that are being used to promote Therm-a-Rest’s new line of sleeping bags:
View more of Matt & Agnes’ work at hagephoto.com.