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Ed Cooper

Mountains of North America

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This is an excerpt from the DVD "Mountains of North America," a collection of over 2,700 low-res images of mountains in North America taken over a period of close to 60 years. Many of these images were originally large format film photography, some in color, some in B&W, and some in both. All images are backed up by high resolution images on hard drives in Ed Cooper's office. Many of the images document early climbing history and show various peaks and mountains as they appeared many years ago. This disk will be very useful to researchers but can be enjoyed by anybody interested in the mountains. The mountains are organized by state or Canadian Province. You can buy the DVD here

From Ed Cooper:
I was born and raised in New York State, in a very conventional manner (my father was a minister and my mother was a stay-at-home mom). Until I was 16, I never saw a mountain--except for a drive through the Catskills, where all the views are pretty well hidden by billboards and high fences to entice you to pay for the view. Further, as part of my upbringing, for two years I was sent to a private school associated with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, until I finally refused to return there for a third year.

Every facet of life at the school was run by buzzers or bells which told you when to get up, when to go to morning chapel or evensong, when to eat (to this day, I can’t stand Cream of Wheat), when to report for choir practice, classes, etc. And I detested the summer camps to which my parents sent me, where activities were programmed and you had to participate whether you wanted to or not--for me, the latter seemed to be much more common. At my parents’ summer cottage I’d learned very early to love nature at my own pace.

This no doubt explains why the mountains were so attractive to me when I “discovered” them on my first visit to the Western U.S. in 1953, during a trip with my older sister. We climbed Mt. Rainier with a guide, via the Gibraltar Ledges route, using manila ropes. No hard hats were used then. Due to frequent rockfall from above, this route is dangerous, regardless of what equipment you have. (The guide gave us his opinion: that following this route was rather like being underneath a dump truck which dropped loads of rock at random intervals.)

I had experienced the “freedom of the hills” as the title of the Mountaineers’ book has it. For me, there was no turning back to a conventional life. I attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for 2 ˝ years, and then managed to get a transfer to the University of Washington in Seattle, in order to be close to the mountains. Every weekend, except in the worst weather, somehow turned into a mountain adventure of one sort or another. Along the way, I pioneered some first ascents and new routes, including one on El Capitan, later on.

After graduating, I became a full-time climbing bum for several years. However, supporting myself this way was difficult, even with a climber’s limited budget. I finally had to get a job. I worked as a stockbroker in New York City for two years; this was almost as bad a time as my years in private school. I especially disliked what I called my “business costume,” which I was forced to wear on a daily basis. I transferred to the brokerage firm’s San Francisco office, and immediately things began looking up. I worked as a broker there for less than a year, and then resigned to devote my full energies to photography, especially mountain photography.

By the time I was in my middle to late twenties, I’d known more than 50 people who had been killed climbing, including some partners I had made early climbs with. This makes you realize: Yes, it could happen to me. And in fact, I had been buried in an avalanche (I was dug out) and experienced a refrigerator sized rock fall between me and my partner on a steep ice climb (plus many other minor mishaps that, given the right circumstances, would have been fatal.) This contributed to my decision to concentrate more on the photography and less on climbing some wall or reaching a summit.

After some years I did develop a comfortable stream of income from photography and even developed some techniques in large format photography that were of my own invention. I still make trips to the mountains with my wife, Debby, where we both take photos--most recently during the last week of June 2012, just before I wrote this bio.

I am also busy scanning and restoring many old mountain images using Photoshop, a task that I will never complete in the time that is left to me. This life has been a journey that has been immeasurably enriched by the mountains, and I am grateful for all they have taught me.

Ed Cooper, July 1, 2012.

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Copyright © Ed Cooper

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