If you’re ever climbing Mt. Shishapangma in Tibet and happen to stumble upon an SD card, let Gabe Rogel know. He’d like his pictures back.
The year was 2005, and Rogel was on assignment with Skiing Magazine and the outdoor gear company, Marmot. The task? To photograph skiers Mark Newcomb and Kent McBride as they completed the first ski descent of the Untch Couloir on the 26,335-foot tall mountain. The trek to the top was arduous, Rogel recounts.
“We did it without oxygen, and due to the altitude sickness, I threw up close to the summit,” he says. “It was pretty hard to just even move — basically you take one step and then you take three breaths or more before the next step.”
After summiting, Rogel and two other climbers began their descent. About halfway down the couloir — the narrow snow passage on which they were skiing — Rogel needed to switch SD cards. The one he’d been shooting with for the past two days — with pictures of their ascent and summit — was full. Exhausted and unsteady from lack of oxygen, disaster struck. Rogel dropped the card.
“I watched the card tumble down the couloir like ten feet or so, and it quickly started to get covered with spindrift,” Rogel recalls.
At the same moment, Rogel was called to help one of his fellow teammates who was struggling. He made the split-second decision to go and help his buddy, leaving the “money shots” — as Rogel describes them — to be enveloped by the mountain, frozen in place…
Twenty Years of Capturing Adventures
Gabe Rogel is originally from Spokane and has always had interest in art and the outdoors. From a young age, he was involved in art classes in school and went on outdoorsy trips with his family. After getting into climbing in high school, Rogel took a solo trip to the Himalayas when he was 19. To document the trip, he bought his first camera.
“It’s pretty easy to come back from that part of the world and have decent photos,” Rogel says.
After receiving positive feedback from his friends and family, he decided to pursue photography. Rogel studied photography at Colorado Mountain College, bringing his camera on skiing and climbing excursions. Over the summers, he started guiding trips with the American Alpine Institute in Bellingham — taking pictures on trips, of course.
Rogel started selling his pictures to outdoor mail-order catalogues, but his big break came when he sold a picture to Patagonia.
“It was the moment where everything clicked. I was like ‘Oh my god, I might be able to make a living doing this,'” he says.
Thousands of hours of networking, building relationships, and taking pictures later, Rogel has built an impressive resume of clients and shoot locations. He’s worked for Marmot, REI, Eddie Bauer, and The North Face — among dozens of other clients — and has traveled all over the world. Tibet, Ethiopia, Antarctica, and Norway are just a few of the places he’s photographed during his 20-year career.
In his travels, the sights aren’t always the biggest draw.
“Places with a stronger cultural aspect really stand out more than a lot of locations,” Rogel says. “There’s so much more depth to a trip or a place when you connect with the people. The mountains are almost secondary.”
From Photographer to Entrepreneur
Rogel is currently in the process of creating a new rock climbing gym in Bellingham called Chalkboard Climbing. Though the gym is still a couple years away from opening, the behind-the-scenes work Rogel is doing — designing, marketing, financing, et cetera — feels like a full time job.
“I’m looking at Chalkboard as this full transition to a new career,” he says. “I’m very ready for this transition and very excited about it and couldn’t be more passionate about this switching of gears. I couldn’t be more excited about this gym and providing this incredible facility for our community.”
While Rogel is transitioning into a new chapter of his life, he doesn’t expect he’ll lose the adventure photographer part of his identity. It’s simply evolving.
“Adventure sport photography has been my identity for my whole adult life. It’s formed my whole lifestyle and passions and what I like doing with my son,” he shares. “I feel like I’ll always be an adventure photographer. I’m not going to sell my camera.”
To see more of Rogel’s photography, visit rogelmedia.com