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Adventure photographer Celin Serbo spends the year photographing top tier athletes, often taking on the same challenges the athletes face to get the shot. In the summer of 2013, Serbo headed to Utah’s Green River with climbers Alex Honnold, Daniel Woods, Matt Segal, and Renan Ozturk to explore a 45-mile section called Labyrinth Canyon, which is only accessible by boat. The team established ten new single- and multi-pitch routes, and Serbo was there to photograph the expedition. Follow Serbo’s work at www.serbophoto.com or https://www.facebook.com/
Adventure: Tell us about what led to you joining the Green River expedition—you all were an all-star cast of climbers.
Celin Serbo: I had done this trip a few years earlier and had mentioned the first ascent possibilities in the area to Alex [Honnold] on a couple of occasions. I think that piqued Alex’s interest and shortly after that he proposed it to the North Face as an expedition. Once we received final approval, the rest of the team fell into place based on their locations and availability.
The main story goal of this trip was to capture the exploratory nature of searching for unclimbed routes in this unique and beautiful desert environment by means of traveling on a river. Anytime you can combine climbing with water, it usually works out well. A sub-story was the fact that this was Daniel Wood’s first trad climbing trip and his first time in southeastern Utah desert as well. Daniel picked things up frighteningly fast.
A: You had to paddle the 45-mile Labyrinth Canyon to locate the climbing routes you’d tackle. Was everyone in agreement on the routes, or was there debate? What were you looking for from a shooting perspective?
C.S.: The main thing we were looking for was probable high concentration of unclimbed routes per location. Moving camps is very time consuming, and we wanted to limit that as much as possible. We selected two locations that I had both climbed at and scoped on a previous trip. There wasn’t too much debate, as no one else had been down there before. There is so much possibility down there that you could climb just about anywhere and have a great adventure. Photographically I wanted to highlight the routes these guys put up while giving the photos a scene of place.
A: You’ve shot in Utah a great deal—what were the particular photo challenges on this expedition?
C.S.: Power, dust, and light were the challenges on this trip. Luckily, Renan [Ozturk] brought ample power due to his video requirements, but it’s amazing how much power you can use for laptops, backing up files, and recharging batteries. We came close to running out, but managed to get by. The dust is so fine down there and it gets into everything. Keeping photo gear clean is a constant battle.
Another major challenge is the limited amount of “magic hour” light you get in the morning and evening due to the tight canyon walls. When the light is really good on the canyon rim, we were completely in the shade. This affected timing for shooting and gave us roughly an hour in the morning and evening of great light. In the shot of Alex climbing the Green Dragon, we were literally racing the shade line up the cliff and just managed to stay ahead of it.
A: What stands out in your mind from the expedition?
C.S.: The one thing that still sticks with me was Alex’s complete mastery of crack climbing. I’ve shot with Alex several times previously and I’ve been around alot of great climbers over the years but I have never seen anyone that solid on very difficult crack climbs. I really feel like he has taken things to another level and it would be a hard argue that he is not the best crack climber in the world. Incredible!