Carderock Wall

Back in the late winter – early spring of 2008, I went out over multiple days to photograph a spot called Carderock Wall, located in the Carderock Recreation Area in Maryland, USA. It’s a 100-acre park, part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The area is well known as a destination for its outdoor activities of rock climbing, hiking and biking. It is bounded by the Potomac River on the south and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the north, and it is accessed from Clara Barton Parkway from the same exit as Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. (I have published a photobook about the C&O Canal and Potomac River, by the way.)

The area has a long history of climbing and is notable for being the closest significant climbing area to Washington, D.C. As such, it has some of the most climbed cliffs in the eastern United States. The particular spot where the cliffs are located is known as Carderock Wall, although it’s made up of a series of cliffs, not a single wall.

I’m not a rock climber, so all I can say is the rock formations are interesting and you can find more details about them here. Some of the cliffs are just a few degrees off vertical, while others are more sloped. Some have deep crevices and protuberances, while others are sheer. The neat part is there are hikable ravines between them, so you can quickly jog to the top to secure a climbing rope, then get back down to start climbing the wall, although most people were climbing with partners who “belayed the rope” — that is, had it secured around their own waist and were controlling it with their hands and body weight, in case the person climbing lost their footing and fell down. It’s a good place to practice your climbing before you tackle big cliffs like those you’ll find in some of the national parks. I also saw a few people engaged in bouldering, the practice of climbing without a rope and without a safety. I guess another name for them would be adrenaline junkies. You certainly will get a rush of that stuff going through your body when you’re high up on a cliff with no safety and your hands start to go soft.

The photographs were supposed to be published in a local magazine, but they ended up not using them. It was a learning experience for me: the magazine asked me to do this as “spec work”, meaning I would only get paid if they used the photos. Being a somewhat fresh-faced photographer with my first magazine “job” seemingly close at hand, I accepted. I drove out there three times, got people to sign release forms, spent hours and hours taking and editing the photos, only to have the magazine not use them. To be fair, when the magazine told me it wouldn’t use the photos, they actually didn’t use them, so they were still mine. They didn’t try to weasel the copyright out of me. And I liked the place anyway, so I would have gone out there to shoot some photographs — maybe not three times, but I’d have done it. Still, the experience taught me not to take on any more spec work.

Here we are, 11 years and change later, and I thought it a nice time to publish these images. I went through them again, edited them again, and they’re good to go, this time on my own website, which will turn 19 later this year.

Enjoy the photographs, there are 74 of them!