CABO SAN LUCAS AND THE GREAT ARCH AT LANDS END.
The odyssey continues…..
In early February 2011 Melissa and I traveled to Cabo Can Lucas, Mexico for a ‘vacation’. But really it was so that I could shoot my obsession; The Great Arch or ‘El Archo’ at Lands End (shhh don’t tell her! she’ll kill me! he he he).
I had seen this iconic landmark before in 2008. And thousands of images of it are available online, virtually all of them shot from boats out on the water.
But now I intended to shoot it as had never before been done.
I need to touch the thing, to climb around on it and I did, and it touched me back.
The only problem with this absolutely brilliant plan is the massive ocean swells or ‘surge’ that rolls in off the vast Pacific Ocean. These swells up to 8 feet tall (or even larger) can knock a house down flat.
This is an extremely dangerous location and I was pushing my limits as well as the limits of landscape photography in general. All of this to take pretty pictures.
Sometimes I do question my own sanity.
No really, I think I might have OCD when it comes to planning how to get a shot.
The phrase “Extreme Amphibious Landscape Photography” (EAL) was born. I’m sure people had done stuff like this before but I’m also pretty sure that nobody had ever tried this here, and not like I was doing either.
EAL involves being able to get to wet locations with pro level camera gear, to set up that gear and shoot under potentially dangerous conditions, and then retreat safely with the gear and the shots in the can.
It means being able to keep the gear dry, to keep yourself protected, focused and afloat. It means to be prepared for possible ‘complications’ such as undertow, ‘keeper hydraulics’ and foot traps in river situations, falling objects, hypothermia, or just plain drowning in general. Doing it safely requires a support person or persons keeping an eye on things. Unless it’s a frog pond down at the city park and really even then this is not a solo activity.
Initially I planned to access this location from above. I had brought all of my climbing gear to Cabo. The plan being to rappel into the arch from above, thereby avoiding the surge altogether. But the rock proved to be too unstable and rotten to support anchors so the gear stayed back at the hotel.
Plan B: I had also brought my wetsuit, dry bag pack and dive gear, this is where it got fun.
Hiring a local boat driver named Carlos we went out and scoped the neighborhood of the arch from the water.
As long as I live I will never forget that first scoping mission; pulling around the corner of Lands End in this little boat bobbing up and down on these huge swells.
The Great Arch looming overhead, it called to me, it challenged me to realize my vision and get the shots.
It was treacherous, imposing, & downright scary as well. We didn’t belong here and I got a little queasy. A feeling that I call ‘The Creep’ was strong here.
The ocean swells seemed to come from all directions, they were extremely unpredictable. the power they contain is nothing short of immense. They thundered up onto the sea cliff next to The Arch. If one of them caught you it was taking you where ever it went. You would become a ‘cork in a washing machine’ or worse. We retreated back to the hotel and thought about this lunacy over dinner. Melissa, who already knows I’m nuts was now convinced I was losing it completely or had some sort of death wish. She had been out on the scoping mission that afternoon too and she’d seen the swells up close too, at one point she put down her fork and said “Really Cameron? You’re really going to do this?”
Yes, yes I was.
“I’ll be fine honey, I’m a pro”
But inside I was starting to question my own sanity as well. This was the real deal.
The next day after scoping the arch from the water again, I went over to Divorce Beach from Lovers Beach. Getting my nerve up and timing the sets, I dashed around a couple outcrops of rocks at low tide waist deep between these massive waves and got up onto the beach next to the ‘other side’ of The Great Arch.
There it was right in front of me looming overhead.
It looked scary.
I was 100% alone, ‘the creep’ was back too.
Ever try taking pretty pictures when you’re scared?
I got up into a huge cave next to the arch and captured some amazing images inside of it. Then I floundered up onto the sea cliff beneath The Arch itself, ever mindful of the massive surge which roared beneath my feet.
This was surreal.
I felt like Indiana Jones; I wasn’t supposed to be here.
I was only half way done too, I still had to get back around the corner and up onto Divorce Beach, and the tide was coming in.
And then it happened.
On the way back around the corner I mis-timed the set and one of the swells caught me.
Now I was the cork in the washing machine.
I was swept out to sea a dozen or so yards and then slammed back into the rocks on the returning surge. I had the wind knocked out of me with numerous lacerations on top of that.
Only through sheer terror did I barely escape back around the corner up onto Divorce Beach.
There was a couple there sunbathing, enjoying their vacation like normal people do.
I must have freaked them out when I ran up out of the surf and around the corner, bleeding.
“So, how’s YOUR vacation going?” I asked trying to deflect the terror showing on my face, I must have been white from it, they said nothing, they just stared.
I was hyperventilating. I had to sit in the sand near them for a moment and get my head together.
The next morning, two Canadian tourists drowned in this very same surge right there on Divorce Beach about a hundred yards from where I had been sitting, bleeding the previous afternoon. I’m not making this up. They were taking a simple family picture with their backs to the sea when the surge, maybe a little larger one than normal roared in and took them. Their families had to watch in horror as Mexican Navy divers fished one of the bodies out of the sea.
This “Extreme Amphibious Landscape” is serious and potentially lethal business.
There is no help at this location. I was doing this solo too; a violation of one of “Extreme Amphibious Landscape” (EAL) principals.
Not that it would have mattered much, for 911 does not exist at Lands End.
EAL is not for the faint of heart, normal people weren’t going to do this either.
I was pushing limits and taking risks. I nearly paid dearly for that too.
I should have been wearing a floatation vest, gloves and a helmet and I should have had a spotter too, next time I will.
I was evolving as a shooter and learning how to do something new, the hard way.
Lets try this again, shall we?
The following day, Carlos carefully pulled up under the front side of The Arch in his little boat and again, timing the sets dropped me chest deep into one of these swells. It carried me up onto a tiny beach where I fled up away from the surf. My heart in my throat again. There, perched on a slimy barnacle encrusted sea cliff as the swells roiled below my feet, I captured more images that will probably never be taken again.
Just like The High Points Project itself, I was developing a craft with no instruction manual that combined several skills to capture unique images. The failure of any one of these skills could spell failure to the shoot itself, or in this case, possibly my life.
You don’t learn this sitting in a class room or on some internet newsgroup, you learn it by hanging it out there. Slowly upping the anty, getting smarter, and improving your skill sets.
This is not over dramatic B.S. for the sake of this writing, this was really dangerous. And I positively LOVED it too. I can’t wait to return to this magical location for another go. I’ve got some more ‘ideas’ about my dear friend The Great Arch at Lands End.
The Cabo set can be seen here