Ever since cameras have been around, adventurers have taken photographs of mountains. I remember a professor of mine telling the class that no historical and natural monuments are ever named after photographers, that honor typically being reserved for politicians and heads of institutions. Mountains however, seem to be the exception to that. Vittorio Sella, famed 19th century Italian mountaineer and photographer, has multiple peaks named after him. Yosemite features mountains named after its two most famous shooters, Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams. The Henry Mountain range in southern Utah includes Mt. Hillers, named for John K. Hillers, photographer of the second Powell expedition down the Colorado River in 1871. He was initially hired as a boatman, learning his photography skills on the river and venturing into the Henrys on subsequent geographical surveys.
During my employ at the Phoebe A. Hearst Anthropology Museum at UC Berkeley, I had time with the materials of both Hillers and Watkins, cataloguing and rehousing glass plates and mammoth prints. And while I’ve never considered myself a “mountain person”, I would frequent the Henry Mountains while living in Southern Utah and think of the pictures I had seen of Hillers, his donkey strapped with camera gear and darkroom equipment. Even today the Henry mountains are difficult to access, isolated and void of any facilities or paved roads. It is easy to imagine the patience and drive required of these 19th century mountaineer/photographers. By the turn of the 20th century, photographing on the mountain was easier. Dry plates and smaller cameras were available, and mountaineering clubs were becoming more prevalent, establishing trails that allowed access to more and more people. One of these early clubs was The Mountaineers, established in 1906 in Seattle. They had 110 charter members, nearly half of whom were women, and one early member being my great grandmother. She and her sister were part of the 1915 expedition to circumnavigate Mt. Rainier, establishing the 93 mile path that would become the Wonderland Trail. The photographs they took have to be my favorite mountaineering photos, partially due to their documentation of early outerwear. But the best thing about these photographs, and the thing that is common among them all, is the aura of pure love of the landscape. More than just adventure seekers, these early explorer photographers had a dedication to their chosen place and a commitment to its protection through education.