An adventure photographer leaves his day job and forges on in search of…uh…adventure
Speaking softly, but very often, Jason Hummel is a ski mountaineer/adventurer who has been exploring the remote Cascade range in Washington for over a decade. Fortunately for the rest of us, he picked up photography somewhere along the way and it has grown into a passion, an outlet for expression, and an intrinsic process that stirs up extrinsic emotions. Inspired by the death of best friend and skiing partner Ben Manfredi, Jason initially began shooting photos with Ben’s camera in order to document their adventures in the Cascades. Subsequently inspired by life, Jason’s photos take us beyond the familiar realms and aesthetics of the freeskiing world and imerge us in wilder and more remote mountain landscapes, many of which are visited by few skiers.
Growing up in the shadow of Mt. Rainier outside the small town of Morton Washington, Jason graduated with 28 other classmates and subsequently became a banker, like his father, after attending Western Washington University. While working full-time as a financial advisor, Jason, his twin brother Josh, and friends would squeeze in their ambitious mountain adventures by leaving after work on friday, climbing all night, foregoing sleep, and returning on Monday morning drained yet energized from the weekends breath of life. After the economy fell apart and work dragged on with less return on investment of time at the office, Jason found himself liberated from the constraints of mainstream society and free to pursue his photography.
When did you first start taking photos? What type of photos were they?
It didn’t become a passion of mine until my best friend, Ben Manfredi passed away in 2003. With his Nikon FM3 left behind, I continued on as photographer because it was something he had always done. At that time it was a way to chronicle our adventures throughout the Cascade Mountains. It wasn’t until somewhere between then and now that the camera became more than just a piece of equipment. Like in Junior High when I stayed behind in art class well beyond the point at which all the other kids had jumped on the bus and left for home, paint had become something more. It wasn’t just another way of expressing, more like a way of defying my genetics. I wanted to do as well as I possibly could. It wasn’t until later on in life I realized that good is relative. I only have me to please.
What other sports do you enjoy in the mountains besides skiing?
I’ve always been too distracted to stick to one thing week after week. While skiing is my biggest addiction, now with over 11 years skiing every single month, I’ve been indoctrinated into many other sports. Among those my favorite has become mountain biking but kayaking, climbing and hiking are just as enjoyable to me, especially when I can combine several of these activities into one trip. That’s my true love.
Who were/are some of your biggest influences/motivators in terms of ski mountaineering?
Besides my parents who put me on skis at age 5 and taught me to Telemark Ski on Mount Rainier, it was my best friend Ben. He was a mountain climber and skier and his brother, Troy and my brother, Josh were among the only Telemark Skiers we had met our age in all our years of skiing. A friendship quickly built over the ensuing 8 years. So much so that it was rare we went out with anyone else. It was a tight group even after trial and errors thrust several close calls our way throughout the 100’s of adventures on foot, bike, rock, kayak, ship and ski. Today whenever I go somewhere we’d been in the past, I say ‘hello’ to Ben and there’s no doubt I’m still inspired by him.
Are there any photographers or outside factors that have influenced your photography?
Inspiration is like a flirt. I can never keep my finger on it for long before it is traipsing off. They are ever changing with season and mood. For me a crumb trail of inspiration is needed: a beautiful photo seen somewhere; a great story; new friends, family. They all inspire me.
You have a lot of stories to tell. What stands out as one of your favorite adventures?
I remember it was summer; we were looking to keep up our ski streak at the time. By then it was already toward the end of August and we were more inclined to kayak. As such we cracked a plan to ski Dome Peak. With over 30 miles of hiking for less than a mile of skiing, it appeared foolish, but as skiing every month has done for me in the past, it often forces adventure and excitement your way when you least expect or want it.
What stands out as one or two of the scariest or most dangerous adventures or mishaps?
Unfortunately, I’ve had several close calls. While all of them stick out, depending on the day, each are lessons I have taken to heart, more so than if I’d simply been told, “Be careful here,” or “Don’t forget your flashlight.”
But two that I think about often are an unroped crevasse fall at the 13500-ft level in January, which occurred near the summit of Mount Rainier. Another was during a ski descent of Fortress Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. I’d dropped off the summit, which was just above clouds and fog down into an unknown face. We were attempting to ski a portion of this route and traverse back to our ascent route, since it appeared that cliffs would block our way (hard to tell in the fog). Just as I dropped in, the face fractured and was quickly dragged downward over cliffs until I reached a bench nearly a 1000 vertical feet below.
Are there any other mountains you really want to explore outside of the Cascades?
Recently I’ve been venturing into Canada a lot, and just returned from a trip to the Canadian Rockies. Having spent so many years in the Cascades, it’s difficult to open my eyes and recognize that there are other amazing mountains out there. In the future, I’d like to visit more mountains wherever they may be. Seeing those in Canada have certainly opened my eyes to the potential.
A year ago from today you were a Financial Advisor, how has your daily routine changed since then? How has your focus changed, what are you putting your energy and focus into now?
Not everyone gets a chance to refocus their life. With the economy as it was over the past few years, many were forced to reevaluate what was important to them and whether or not the direction they were heading in was the way they wanted to continue. Many chose to go back to school, change occupations or take lower paying jobs that better fit their priorities. At the moment, I’m in that situation. With all directions available, I have yet to decide. This has left me with time to focus on Photography and being in the outdoors, time that school and work had consumed since I was a kid. I feel like a kid again now, and that is a feeling I’d like to hold onto.
Can you briefly describe how you managed to embark on so many ambitious mountain adventures while holding a full-time job? What was your typical weekend schedule like?
Like many parents who juggle a job and kids, I juggled the mountains and work. There’s a lot of time if you sacrifice a bit of sleep, set aside the excuses, and go for it. That was our mentality. We’d often leave after work and climb through the night to squeeze in as much as we could.
What is it that draws you to the mountains most? The feeling of skiing, or is it more about the adventure and exploring?
Skiing is a mode of transportation for me. Of course it is wonderful to glide down great snow and there’s no doubt I seek that out, but I think of it as an added bonus when it does happen. My biggest thrill is to see a new mountain, to look from its summit, and to experience the straightforward and unpretentious qualities of Nature.