7 Surprising Lessons from My First Climbing Trip “on Assignment”

The lens cap wouldn’t go back on. I was fumbling by the greyscale schist, turning ‘round the plastic piece like a steering wheel.

“Uhh, what the fuck,” I mumbled, confusedly, to myself. The circular pissant had started on the lens, I was sure of that, those two pinchy prongs, when squeezed, clearly released the cover from the concave portal. Then why won’t it go back in? I tried jamming it, clomp, clomp, clack, into the hole. 

Turns out the camera needed to be powered off in order for the lens to recede and the cap to fit in place. 

“Ah, just first day blunders, it’ll all be easy sailing from here!,” I reassured myself.


… 

I was recently commissioned to write about climbing at Rumney in New Hampshire, for—humbly—what is my first paid article, in real dollarspotentially… because the check hasn’t been cut yet. 

In order to complete the research and take photographs for the piece, I spent a few days on location. This article is about lessons learned, and mostly the mishaps, from my first climbing trip “on assignment.”



Rumney is the mecca of sport climbing in New England, a destination crag for rock scalers within a 5-hour drive radius. Québécoise? Sure thing. New Yorkers? No problem. Bostononians? Of course.

On good weather weekends the parking lots are stacked before the first Regular cup of Dunks and “crawlah” has been washed down by BPD.

Luckily, weekdays see lighter attendance, and less people to witness my flailing with the flagellating camera around my neck.


Lesson 1: Know How Your Equipment Works

No amount of editing was going to fix the blurred images.

Sitting at home the photo previewer showed one out of focus shot after another: A close up of rock here, faded climber in the background there; Censored cliff and a verdant tree wearing a liberal application of green blush; Oh this shot of my boot and dirt is crystal! 

Eventually I figured out the settings and how to target the focus. I also learned plenty of settings not to use!


Lesson 2: Get off the Ground

The most interesting shots were ones from non-traditional vantage points, like “soloing” a slab slate to grab some setting sun or tying in to a first bolt on an adjacent route in order to capture a climber up close.

The difficulty in framing climbing shots, aside from knowing how to use the camera, came down to not losing the climber in the frame. A fellow photographer I met there remarked on how easy it is for the climber to get lost, whether from the scale of the wall, the muted colors they are wearing, or from poor lighting. Getting closer and properly structuring the shot made a world of difference.


Lesson 3: Plan out the Shoot and Know What You Want to Capture

The next day my thighs felt leaden. I haven’t done much hiking lately, but in reality I scaled a few thousand feet of vertical over those days, often on steep inclines heading up and down to the different cliffs along Rattlesnake Mountain. Some areas are more than half an hour from the parking lot. 

Simply traveling to each locale took a few hours of the day, and time away from photographing.

At the wall, climbers can take a surprising amount of time “hanging out” on the cliff waiting for their next burn. While I took a few of these convalescent frames, they weren’t the epitome of an action shot. Add up travel time, stop and wheeze time, photographing (waiting around) and this became an all day excursion. 

I planned the types of shots I needed—action shots, lifestyle, and ambiance—and I knew generally the order with which I would go to each location. This helped keep me on target and set a route for the day.


Lesson 4: Pretend to Be Friendly and Nice so People Talk to You and Let You Take Photos of Them

Photos of big hunks of rock can be quite boring, lack scale, and generally leave one uninspired if you don’t showcase people demonstrating what’s possible (on them).

So, I had to try talking to people *groans* to see if I could photograph them while they did interesting things on these big hunks of rock. In the end this was less awkward than sitting there taking pictures and leaving without a word.


Lesson 5: Don’t Listen to Someone When They Say Not to Pay for Parking

This one is self-explanatory. Support the local park.


Lesson 6: Shooting Is One Half the Battle, Editing Makes a World of Difference

Do you need to amplify the purple longsleeve of the climber to make her pop out against the wall? Coming right up, alongside the bleaching backlighting! 

The editing process, thanks to a free online program, was instructive and useful. Turns out you can do quite a bit to manipulate a pic, from tinting people’s skin color to look like the Hulk to sandpapering away all the details to leave an image akin to squinting your eyes.

On the other hand, editing made too dark pictures turn out vibrantly, and things like cropping or manipulating contrast did wonders for highlighting the subject of the image. 


Lesson 7: Beats Working in a Coffee Shop, or Library, or at Home

The main challenge was wanting to climb more, which is really a difficulty I have most days.

It was only due to my herculean grit and vast reservoirs of restraint that I was able to complete the assignment relatively on time. And with that, my first paid piece and on assignment trip are officially in the books with maybe a check in the mail as my reward.

In the end, it was fun, and it was work, and I’d like to do more of it.


Photos by the author

I’m the Real Nostradamus: Predictions from My 13 Year Old Self

An envelope arrived at my folk’s home today.

The handwriting was unmistakably mine: The characters bunch up in places, rounded letters proceed along wavy edges, and finishing marks run sloppy from a lazily lifted pen. The return address said, “ECMS / Mr. Waite” (in my hand writing). Hmm. Did I write this to myself in… 8th grade?!?

I had completely forgotten if I had. What would it say? I greedily dove in.

Yes, I do remember now! The class: American History. The teacher: Mr. Waite–taller, lithe, slightly balding and for whatever reason I imagine him with a weak chin that melts into his throat. But I think that’s just an unflattering caricature I’m making up. The age: 13.

This was the year of 9/11. And if memory serves correctly, we learned about the planes colliding into the World Trade Center in that class. (The school had actually restricted information flow on the premises, turning off TVs and preventing access to computers. We only found out because fellow students were receiving text messages. Cell phones had only become a thing a few years before). That event, a framer of world views, took place three months prior to this letter writing exercise, and it clearly influenced the content. I was also clearly unimpressed with the latest homework assignment.

Well, what did I find?

It turns out I was snarky then (and I still got it!), laid on the sarcasm (ala, “All thanks to the great teachings of Mr. T-Waite, I am able to find peace and joy in school!”), and full of ambitious predictions about the future.

For the record, let it be known that I was highly accurate in my guesses, and I still have three years more to run the cycle through. Mark it, Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, will be the richest man in the world in 2022!!

Without further adieu, I present to you, 13 year old Aaron:

(Typed letter below the pictures. Spelling mistakes, etc. copied over from the original document.)

Sec. D
12/19/01

“Rip Van Essay”

January 2nd 2002:

Dear Journal,

Today at school I had a horible day. Our teachers seem to have no sympathy for us, and they simply dumped homework onto us. They pilled it on and it’s like it might take me 20 years to complete. I will write to you later.

As he put down his pen he felt a great sense of sleepiness embrace his soul. He put his journal back to the shelf it called home, and he trudged over to his backpack. Slowly, the books were taken out and placed onto the desk.

“Math, Science, Language Arts, Spanish, and my most favorite subject American History. All thanks to the great teachings of Mr. T-Waite, I am able to find peace and joy in school!” The boy shuffled his books around and then once again arranged them, first by color, then by size, and finally weight, before even looking at the homework he had to initiate.

DOWN went the pen to the clean and fresh piece of paper. Down, further and further still. Down to the unmarked paper, and the excruciatingly long process of homework had begun. He rhythmically began to put the heading of his paper on, as it had been “drilled” into his head earlier that school year. Then, suddenly Aaron had an idea!” Wouldn’t it be great to go into the future? He pondered the question as he automatonically went through his homework.

Slowly Aaron fell asleep. At first only nodding his head every once and a while, but before long he felt it gnawing at him. He wouldn’t be able to fight it for long! At that moment, almost cliche, a commercial with the song “Go to sleep Little Baby” played, and Aaron was done. Off into Dream World for him, little did he know when he would wake up, the world as he knew it would be a thing of the past.

Dear Journal,

When I said I would write to you later, I didn’t think it would be this late! As I’ve come to discover it’s the year 2022, which came with many snickers and sneers from the people I have met. Apparently I had been sleeping the whole time, and my parents hadn’t realised for I simply spend all my time in my room anyways. As it stands I hardly know where to begin. I woke up and had a horrible need to go to the bathroom. After I finished, I looked up to the mirror, but much expecting to see a child, all I saw was hair. That was the first time I knew something was wrong.

That was pretty minor compared to some of the other things I learned. First off, I learned there was a common currency used around the world, my petty change I traded in for the New World dollar. More minor, each sink had three knobs now, one hot, one cold, and one mixed with soap already in it (I found this out the hard way). I also learned that after George W. we had a black president who took charge immediately and finished up the war on terrorism. The string of presidents were all well bread, and intelligent who managed to reverse the economic slump, but where else is there to go after you go up? I even learned a few female’s were running for the next presidency, which had been lengthened for 5 years.

While looking through the newspaper I learned some very startling news. Supposedly America had claimed many countries for itself after the war on terrorism, stating they were obviously inadequote and unable to govern themselves, so America found it their responsibility to take it by force. On a lighter note, I learned the new fashion was baggy clothes once again, after it had been leather and other cow products for a long time. I was also suprised to hear Bill Gates was now the second richest man in the world, second to the one and only man who started Starbucks coffee, where coffee is their life and ambition. You can always count on Starbucks to be there for you. I have learned more, but I have grown weary of writing. I will write to you later. He fell asleep on his journal, and had a peaceful dream.