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Galen Rowell

(1940 - 2002)

By David Fleet

Galen Rowell is a celebrated landscape photographer, who produced a truly inspiring body of work. He is also highly regarded as an author and mountaineer.

Born in Oakland, California, in 1940, Rowell had a passion for climbing even as a young boy. From age 10 he would spend his time scaling rock faces and scrambling over mountains. The stunning locations in his home state gave him plenty of opportunities for this, and for developing a love of the natural world.

He went on to enrol at the University of California, and spent two years engaged in studying physics. But at that point he decided to drop out - restless to spend more time climbing and enjoying the outdoors.

He dabbled in photography, with increasing enthusiasm, and began laying the foundations for a photographic career. He explored the art of landscape photography, portrait photography and still life, all through his own experimentation. Now considered one of the greatest American photographers, Rowell never actually received any formal training.

In order to support his adventurous lifestyle, he set up a small motor business. But he was never emotionally invested this, and his heart was always in the great outdoors.

By 1972 Rowell had become a highly accomplished photographer, and he sold his business to pursue a full time career in photography. In under a year he had completed a cover story for National Geographic Magazine: a photographic journey through the Yosemite National Park in California.

Four Seasons
Four Seasons
G. Rowell
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He himself never appeared in any of these images, but they captured the landscape through his eyes and told his story. So Rowell considered himself a crucial part of the images, insofar as they depicted his own experiences.

Galen Rowell was strongly influenced by another famous photographer of the Yosemite Valley, Ansel Adams. So it was appropriate when, in 1984, Rowell won the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography.

As the name of this award indicates, much of Rowell's work reflects a preoccupation with issues relating to conservation, ecological awareness, environmental preservation, and humanitarian causes.

Throughout his prolific career, Galen Rowell published a total of eighteen books on mountaineering and photography!

Amongst the most well known are In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods and Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape. Both of these books were best sellers. Indeed, Mountain Light is up there with the most widely read photography guides ever produced!

Rowell's conservationist and humanitarian concerns are evidenced by by his close invlovement with various organizations, including the Committe of 100 for Tibet and the World Wildlife Fund.

It has to be noted that Rowell was not only a magnificent landscape photographer, but also a pioneering climber. His most significant achievements in the field of mountaineering include: the first single day ascent of Denali in Alaska, the first single day ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the the first ever ascent of Great Trango Tower in the Pakistani Himalayas.

His passion for climbing drove him to chase many of the highest peaks around the world, and he travelled extensively in search of new challenges. His mountaineering successes were celebrated in 1977 when he was awarded the Sierra Club's Francis P. Farquhar Mountaineering Award.

In his personal life, Galen Rowell enjoyed a long marriage with Barbara Cushman, with whom he lived in California and had two children.

In 2002, both Rowell and his wife were both tragically killed in an air crash between Alaska and California. He was only 62 years old at the time of his death.

In 2009, Galen Rowell was posthumously inducted into the International League of Conservation Photographers, in an effort to recognize the great and intangible value of his body of work.

His long career was multi-dimensional, though landscape photography lay at the centre. Through his camera, Rowell was able to connect his passions for writing and mountaineering through a powerful visual narrative that articulated his connection to great mountain landscapes.

Today, Galen Rowell is remembered as one of the greatest American photographers because of his ability to truly capture the wonder of epic scenery from around the world.


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