It was a smoke-choked, triple-digit August Sunday, a day I will never forget. The McNally fire had burned for weeks in Sequoia National Park, its smoke drifting across the Sierra Nevada where it collected like a fog bank in the pocket of the Owens Valley. We were in the Buttermilks most of the day arriving home at 4:30 in the afternoon to the answering machine’s red light. The message, left before noon, brought disbelief, then sadness. Just after 1:00 A.M. two men were fishing for catfish in Buckley Ponds south of Bishop Airport. They watched a small plane pass by, eye-level, wings perpendicular to the ground, then vanish into the darkness behind a rise on the desert landscape.
At 1:00 P.M. the next day, our FedEx driver handed me a box from Hong Kong—the final color proofs for this edition of High & Wild. Before he and Barbara left for the Bering Sea, Galen said, that if they had to go to China to tend to another project, they would be back by August 15th. If not, they would be back Sunday. On Monday, we would look at the proofs, but that was not to be.
Galen and Barbara Rowell moved to Bishop in the late spring of 2001. They bought the old Monument Bank building and opened Mountain Light Gallery. From the day it opened it was the shining star of this rural ranching town’s main street.
It was Galen who suggested that we publish a new edition of his book High & Wild: Essays and Photographs in Wilderness Adventure. He selected photographs, added new chapters, and wrote new material, all of which are as he left them. His photographs were composed with such perfection that an entire image could be used edge to edge without cropping. On my way to and from Bishop, I sometimes saw him photographing the dramatic light of the Sierra or White Mountains through the cottonwoods and poplars, alone and completely absorbed in his work. Galen loved the Eastern Sierra and that is why High & Wild with its many climbing and skiing stories, set here in this beautiful country, held such a special place in his heart.
He stopped by now and then to chat. Once he came by after dayhiking to the summit of White Mountain Peak. On the way down, he wanted to bypass heavy snow then discovered he was in another canyon. To get back to his car, 10,000 became 13,000 feet of gain, he said with a grin. Often he climbed Mt. Whitney’s east face in the morning and was back by noon. More than once he said he was getting too old for such things. He carried the galleys for High & Wild with him to Tibet and back saying it would give him something to read on the long flight. Having outlived his Mt. McKinley ski expedition partners, Ned Gillette, Alan Bard, and Doug Weins, I asked him what it felt like to be the one still here, so he wrote about it. While working on High & Wild, he lost his friend Warren Harding. Always reminders. Galen valued life, knew its precious quality, and filled every moment with living. On August 23rd, he would have celebrated his 62nd birthday.
Galen and Barbara Rowell came to Bishop like two shooting stars. Burning bright and spectacular, they brought dreams. No matter to what remote corners of the world they traveled, from Siberia to Tibet, they always came back to the Eastern Sierra. This is where they wanted to be. This was home.
Wynne Benti, Publisher
(From the book: High & Wild Published 2002)