In 1950, David Brower invited Philip Hyde to join the Sierra Club High Trip that David Brower led in the high country of Yosemite National Park. Cedric Wright was also on the trip as a veteran wilderness photographer to serve as high country photography mentor to the young Philip Hyde just out of photography school, who would also act as ‘official photographer.’
Even in 1950, Philip Hyde was no stranger to the Sierra Nevada High Country. He had been backpacking and exploring it since he was 16 turning 17 years old in 1938. Nor was he new to outdoor photography. During the years from 1946 through 1950 while he was enrolled in photography school at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute, Philip Hyde spent every summer in the mountains. The previous summer of 1949 Ansel Adams had helped Philip and Ardis Hyde land the caretaking job at the Sierra Club’s Parson’s Lodge in Tuolumne Meadows. The young couple, just married two years, lived in the rustic McCauley Homestead cabin all summer and scrambled all over the nearby peaks and domes. While Philip Hyde photographed, Ardis Hyde had plenty of peace and quiet to study for her teaching credential and identify birds and flowers. More about this special summer in a future blog post.
By the time Philip Hyde went on his first Sierra Club High Trip, he was seasoned by a summer in Tuolumne Meadows and 12 other summers in the High Sierra. However, as soon as he met Cedric Wright, he knew that this man had a depth of knowledge about wilderness travel and wilderness photography of which he had only dreamed. Here was the ideal teacher and companion.
Cedric Wright was a childhood friend of Ansel Adams. They met through piano playing. Both of them were in training to be concert pianists but ended up as landscape photographers. Ansel Adams wrote the forward to Cedric Wright’s book, Words of the Earth, one of the early volumes in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series:
His work reveals a strange and compelling beauty; it is not obscure, oblique, mechanical, or intellectual, but is the evidence of a great insight and intuitive power. It moves the spirit; then, because it is so simple and direct, it moves the mind and conscience… What is offered here is not merely a collection of nostalgic and beautiful pictures and poetic text, but a profound revelation of a most uncommon man, who, despite avalanches of problems and distractions, held fast to the essential dream. I regret there must be a date on this work, because in essence, it is timeless.
“That first 1950 High Trip in the capacity of ‘official photographer’ was a very important trip for me,” Philip Hyde said in 2004. “I look back now and still feel that the photographs I made on that trip are among some of my best. All I had to do was sleep, eat, make photographs and walk 10-12 miles from one camp to another, unless there was a layover.” The trip started in the northeast corner of Yosemite National Park and journeyed along the Sierra Crest to Tuolumne Meadows and beyond out of the national park and into the Minarets Wilderness Area that is now the Ansel Adams Wilderness. In those days the backcountry was little traveled. Philip Hyde shared more about Cedric Wright:
One of the things I remember about Cedric is that he had certain little systems because he had been on so many High Trips, maybe 20 or more. He had special ways of pitching a tarp. Sometimes he would give lessons to other people who didn’t know how. He also had a little practice of making it to the first camp early. When the first group of hikers would arrive, he would have hot tea waiting for them. Another time he had a number 10 can full of hot water and he would bathe people’s tired feet in hot water. One time we found a note from Cedric, ‘Be sure to go out and look at this view,’ and he wrote directions. Cedric took me under his wing and taught me all his intricate details. Some were a bit overboard, like shaving off the handle of his toothbrush to save weight. He was kind of a nut about saving weight, even though he did not carry much. His outfit was a little square box about 6″ X 6″ X 15 inches that contained his extra lenses and extra film. He was shooting black and white film pack. I didn’t get into film pack on that trip. I was still using 5 X 7 cut film, a single sheet film you load into a holder in a changing bag. The holder takes two sheets on each side, for a total of four. I think I carried 18 holders and several lenses on metal plates that I could interchange. I carried a 5 X 7 camera with a 5 X7 back on a big wooden Reese tripod that I still have. I thought I was going pretty light, but my outfit was a lot heavier than Cedric’s.
More about the Summer 1950 Sierra Club High Trip in a future blog post…