About the Rowells

Barbara Cushman Rowell

Barbara Cushman Rowell was born Jan. 29, 1948 in Hawaii to Lucile and Irving Cushman while her father was stationed in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. At the age of five, her family was transferred to Texas for a brief stay in Kingsville before settling in California.

A gypsy at heart, Barbara eventually moved to Alpine Meadows, then to Tahoe City and on to Truckee to work and ski for several years before heading out to Aspen to design ski wear. She returned to the Central Valley to complete her studies in Textiles and Business, and graduated in 1978 from the University of California at Davis with Highest Honors.

Barbara met Galen Rowell in April 1981 while working for The North Face as the Director of Public Relations. She hired Galen to write text about a parka and a backpack for her company's catalog. They fell in love within the week and were married several months later.

The following year, Barbara quit her job at The North Face and joined Galen and Robert Redford on a month-long trek in Nepal. After they returned home, she began working with Galen out of their home. Initially she directed her energy towards promoting Galen's work before striking out in search of her own passion for flying, learning the Spanish language, and travel in Central and South America.

Barbara joined Galen on the majority of his travels to exotic locations, including his National Geographic assignment in Pakistan to cover the highest war in history where they were flown throughout the Himalaya as guests of President Zia.

She also went on many of her own foreign adventures to photograph. Her photographs have been published in the National Geographic, as well as on book and magazine covers. Had you asked Galen about Barbara's photography, he would have openly admitted that she shot about one quarter of the film but had a higher shooting ratio than he did. Had you asked Barbara, she would have said she shot only when something strongly attracted her since she did not shoulder the responsibility of Galen's assignments.

Barbara was the guiding light behind the business from its inception and was the president of Mountain Light Photography. Although she was not a commercial pilot, she was the company pilot and flew her Cessna 206 for the majority of Galen's aerial photographs.

Prior to her Aug. 11, 2002 death, Barbara had completed a book inspired by her flight to Patagonia: Flying South: A Pilot's Inner Journey.

Galen Avery Rowell

Galen Avery Rowell was a freelance author, photographer, and adventurer who lived beneath the Eastern Sierra in Bishop, Calif., with his wife, Barbara. Together, they owned and managed Mountain Light Photography, Inc., which continues to operate a stock agency to distribute his 400,000 stock photographs for publication as well as a large gallery to sell fine-art photographic prints and books. The company also offers photographic workshops and seminars.

Born in 1940 in Oakland, Calif and raised in Berkeley, Calif., Galen attributed his early exposure to wilderness as the catalyst for his adventurous career of travels to the seven continents and both poles. Annual High Sierra pack trips with his family from the age of 10 led to roped climbs in Yosemite at 16 and more than 100 first ascents by the time he was 30.

In 1973, less than a year after selling his small automotive business, he landed his first major magazine assignment—a cover story for National Geographic. Further assignments and more than 40 international expeditions have taken him to into the mountains of Africa, Antarctica, Canada, China, Europe, Greenland, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Patagonia, Peru, and Tibet.

As a climber and frequent leader of Himalayan expeditions, Galen made the first ascents of technically difficult peaks, such as Cholatse, Great Trango Tower, and Lukpilla Brakk, as well as attempting new routes up K2 and Mount Everest. He was also the first to make one-day ascents of Mount McKinley and Mount Kilimanjaro as well as to traverse the Karakoram Himalaya in winter—285 miles across northern Pakistan most of the way to Afghanistan. Until the time of his death at age 61, he had continued to climb new routes in the High Sierra and was the oldest person to have climbed the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan in a single day. At 54, he won his age group in an ultra-marathon trail run with 8,500 feet of elevation gain, and had stayed in shape with equally long “fun runs” into the Sierra wilderness, where formal competitions aren’t allowed.

In 1984, Galen received the Ansel Adams Award for his contributions to the art of wilderness photography. Some of his other eclectic honors included Time/CNN Hero of the Planet during the millennium year, a National Science Foundation Artists and Writers Grant, the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Photography, the Canadian Tourism Commission’s annual first prize for travel journalism, Annual Guest of Honor at both Banff and Telluride Mountain Film Festivals, and Yosemite’s Photographer Laureate during the park’s centennial year.

Major exhibitions of Galen’s photography were shown at galleries such as Nikon House and International Center of Photography in New York; The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; The Field Museum in Chicago; The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park; The Nature Company’s Wrubel Gallery; and The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. He has also had international one-man shows in London, Toronto, Salzburg, Sydney, and Victoria.

Galen photographed and wrote major features for Life, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Outside, and Time, to name a few, and published an illustrated monthly column in Outdoor Photographer for the last 16 years.

He produced the following 18 books of photo and text:

  • The Vertical World of Yosemite, Wilderness Press, 1974
  • In The Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, Sierra Club Books, 1977 and 1986
  • High and Wild, Sierra Club Books, 1979
  • Many People Come, Looking, Looking, Mountaineers Books, 1980
  • Alaska: Images of the Country (text by John McPhee), Sierra Club Books, 1981
  • Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, Sierra Club Books, 1983
  • Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, Sierra Club Books, 1986
  • The Yosemite (text by John Muir), Sierra Club Books, 1989; Yosemite Assoc., 2001
  • The Art of Adventure, Collins, 1989; Sierra Club 1993
  • My Tibet (text by His Holiness the Dalai Lama), UC Press, 1990
  • Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, Sierra Club Books, 1993
  • Poles Apart: Parallel Visions of the Arctic and the Antarctic, UC Press, 1995
  • Bay Area Wild, Sierra Club Books, 1997 •Coastal California, Compass Guides, 1998
  • The Living Planet, Crown/Random House, 1999
  • North America the Beautiful, AAA/Edizone Whitestar, 2001
  • Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Norton, 2001
  • California the Beautiful, Via Books, 2002

Galen served on the board of a number of non-profit organizations, including but not limited to: (The asterisk denotes his most recent board memberships)

  • American Alpine Club
  • American Himalayan Foundation
  • American Land Conservancy *
  • Californians for Western Wilderness* (advisory)
  • California Wilderness Coalition* (advisory)
  • Committee of 100 for Tibet *
  • Denali Foundation
  • Four Corners School of Outdoor Education
  • International Campaign for Tibet
  • Restore Hetch Hetchy*
  • Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation
  • Tuolumne River Preservation Trust
  • Wildlife Associates * San Francisco, CA
  • World Wildlife Fund* (National Council)
  • Yosemite Fund *
  • Yosemite National Institutes *

Galen Rowell’s Artist Statement

“My interest in photography did not begin with a burning desire to see the world through a camera. It evolved through an intense devotion to wilderness that eventually shaped all parts of my life and brought them together. I began to express this devotion in a physical way through climbing and hiking, and in words through lectures and articles.

“Photography was a means of visual expression to communicate what I had seen to people who weren't there. At first I was disturbed that 99 percent of my images didn't look as good as what I had seen. The other one percent, however, contained some element-a beam of light, a texture, a reflection-that looked more powerful on film than to my eye. Without this I never would have been drawn toward photography as a career. I became fascinated with trying to consistently combine photographic vision and a visualization in my mind's eye to make images that exceeded the normal perception before my eyes.

“The publication of Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape in 1986 put my philosophy on the line with the story behind my work. Before Mountain Light the many magazines I had worked for never let me say what really motivated my work, and how different my style of participatory photography is compared to that of an observer with a camera who is not part of the events being photographed. It is the difference between a landscape viewed as scenery from a highway turnout and a portrait of the earth as a living, breathing being that will never look the same twice.

“Although I plan to continue traveling to and photographing exotic places indefinitely, I have a confession to make. I've known all along that more of what I am seeking in the wilds is right here in my home state of California than anywhere else on earth. But there's a Catch 22. I couldn't say it with authority until I had all those journeys to Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, China, South America, Antarctica, and Alaska behind me.”