Brian's Photo Blog — Article 298
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North Cascades Aerial Photography
Monday 6 January 2014   —   Category: Books & Mags

When I stopped by the Golden West Visitor Center during my September 2012 visit to Stehekin on Lake Chelan, I was captivated by a book I saw there in the bookstore — Snow & Spire: Flights to Winter in the North Cascade Range by Washington photographer, hiker and pilot John Scurlock. The back-cover blurb for this book reads:
This hard-cover coffee-table book showcases photographs taken from the cockpit of John Scurlock’s home-built airplane, a Van’s Air­craft RV-6. In 2002, John embarked on a nine-year quest to fly to and photograph every corner of the North Cascade Range in winter. The images he captured provide a breathtaking vision of one of America’s most magnificent mountain ranges in its most beautiful, dramatic, and savage season.

The North Cascades are 11,000 square miles of nearly impenetrable mountains. They are America’s last redoubt of true adventure. Cut with few roads and even fewer towns, and guarded by 700 glaciers and horrendous weather, the rugged North Cascades remain relatively unknown to most climbers. In winter, when the range is buried beneath up to 50 feet of snow, it is seen by even fewer still. Here, in this remarkable book of aerial photographs, John Scurlock conveys the majesty and mystery of this incredible range that for the rest of us would otherwise go as unseen as the dark side of the moon.
One of Mr. Scurlock’s heroes of aerial photography of the Pacific Northwest was Austin Post. In the handful of years before Mr. Post died, Mr. Scurlock was able to develop a friendship with him, and even take Mr. Post on several flights into the North Cascades. The caption for Mr. Scurlock’s photo of Austin Post and the massive camera reads:
Two Legends: Austin Post and the Fairchild F56 Cam­era: Many of Austin Post’s photographs came from this camera, which carried a 200 exposure film magazine and created 7x7" negatives from roll film. This camera, along with others like it, was fixed-mounted in the airplane and operated remotely by Austin using controls he designed and built. The red filter was used to improve contrast. August 5, 2010.
Apparently, many of the photos taken by Mr. Post and his F56 were used in the famous Cascade Alpine Guide books by the preeminent North American mountaineer Fred Beckey.

After seeing the above photo of this massive and intriguing camera, I started to wonder if such a monster was still available. While checking on e-Bay, I discovered that I could have my very own Fairchild F56 camera for only $2,000! Wouldn’t that make a nice addition to my vintage camera collection?!

Anyway, besides the breathtaking photos of snow-smothered North Cascades mountains, much of the text and commentary in the book is worthwhile as well. I didn’t buy the book at the ranger station in Stehekin because, at $60, I imagined that I could get it much cheaper on Amazon.

Once I got back to civilization I found that I was wrong — it’s the same price online. So I tucked it away on my wish list, but last month when my mom was won­der­ing what I would like for Christmas, this book was at the top of my list. Thanks, Mom!

If you can’t justify $60 on a book like this, and if you don’t have such a generous mom, there’s al­ways thousands of John Scurlock’s images online.

I’m enjoying Snow & Spire very, very much. The sight of those remote, ragged peaks stirs up the same longing in my heart which John Muir expressed so long ago: The mountains are calling and I must go! I probably won’t ever get there in person, but at least I can sit in my armchair, admire Mr. Scurlock’s photography, and dream.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 298
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Reader Comments
On December 15, 2015, Kris Cassen wrote:
If you still want your own Fairchild F56 — I have one that is looking for a home!
On May 17, 2017, Kristin Cassen wrote:
I have a vintage Fairchild F56 still in trunk with lenses and accessories — complete with navy provenance — would be happy to sell to you for a much lower price.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 298
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