That the triumph of the human spirit over adversity should appeal to this avid climber, who is also a The North Face athlete and adventurer, is of little surprise. Richards is himself a survivor of a class-four avalanche – one deemed large enough to destroy several buildings. In Feb 2011, a treacherous wall of churning wall of snow and ice struck the American and his team, as they were descending from the peak of the 8,034m tall Gasherbrum II (G2) in Pakistan.
“Once the avalanche took us, there was no more fear,” says Richards, whose used the footage captured during the whole episode in his short film, Cold. “You’re dying. You are trying to swim in the snow, stay on top.”
Tell us more about this picture of yourself.
This self-portrait was taken immediately after the avalanche on G2. I didn’t expect to survive and this was an extremely vulnerable moment. We had just dug ourselves out of the slide and were still being battered by a storm. I was scared, tired and breaking down emotionally – both from terror and relief. The avalanche had hit us just six days after we’ve been on the mountain – when we were nearly back at our base camp. It took everything we had left. And so, it was at this point when I decided to turn the camera on myself.
How does a person survive a class-four avalanche?
Talking about images of otherworldly beauty, you’ve some pretty mean ones of your own. Which of your photographs are you most pleased with.
Nothing fazes you – certainly not blizzards and extreme conditions!
When you’re climbing, to what extent will you go to get the perfect shot?
Probably too far. But if it’s worth it, I’ll do just about anything which I feel is still safe. That could mean waiting for days just so that I get the right conditions – or climbing a separate feature to photograph across. A great image is always worth the effort.
Climbing is one of the most incredible ways to expose our inner selves. You strip everything else away and you are left with the simple human form just struggling to make the best of the situation. It’s beautiful. It’s natural then if you are in love with storytelling, like I am, to simply pick up your camera and document the process. I didn’t really decide to combine them – they are two equal elements within me that found symbiosis with one another. Best of all, I get to do both in my job because I’m on The North Face team. Going on expeditions to tell stories of the other adventurers – as they discover and overcome their own struggles – is what I do for a living.
All photographs courtesy of Cory Richards.