Behind the lens

Kellen Mohr: A Breath of Fresh Air



Where are you based?

Los Angeles.

How do you make a living?

I’m finishing up my senior year studying entrepreneurship at university here in Los Angeles, interning at Coldsmoke Apparel a hop/skip/jump away in Venice Beach, and shooting photos for Snow Peak and Topo Designs on the side!  Some cinematographer/film production friends and I are scheming up a concept for a potential company, so stay tuned for more info on that as we move forward with the concept!

What camera do you use?

I’ve used Fuji and Kodak disposables on and off for years, my Olympus XA rangefinder & MJU point and shoot are staples in the lineup, my mom’s old Minolta x700 has been coming back into play as of late, and I recently got into the medium format game with the purchase of a Fuji GW690II 6x9 rangefinder!  The images that medium format films are produce are mind-blowingly detailed (the 6x9 negative is 5.5 times the size of a 35mm negative), and the colors are off the charts.  I just put my first roll through it the other day and I’m absolutely hooked.  Keep your eyes peeled for more medium format goodness coming from my direction in the future.

How has travel made an impact on your life?

I’m lucky enough to have parents who really enjoy traveling the world, and the trips I was lucky enough to tag along on while I was growing up have shaped my outlook in ways that I can’t begin to explain.  I often think that if I was to go back to these incredible places in my current frame of mind I’d be stoked out of my mind at the raw beauty and immensity of my surroundings, but as a 10-year-old kid I had a much less enthusiastic appreciation for natural beauty.  Then again, maybe that was what shaped my current sense of awe/appreciation for the wildly vast places I find myself travelling to at this age.  Who knows?

What is your relationship to travel/adventure, and what does it mean to you?

Presently my relationship to travelling/the adventures that I have along the way with close friends and new friends alike revolves around my seemingly insatiable desire to experience new terrain and climates, new ways of looking at the world, and escape the routine of day-to-day life wherever I am. I called the very northwest tip of the United States home last summer, living and working in the town of Bellingham, WA.  Almost every day I had off work was spent exploring the North Cascades (an awe-inspiring section of the broader Cascade mountain range that stretches from British Columbia to Northern California), which is the most heavily glaciated area in the US outside of Alaska that seems to have an almost magnetic pull on me.  I grew up on the eastern side of the state in the city of Spokane, and exploring the woods, lakes, rivers, and mountains that surround the city were constant sources of entertainment for me as a kid.    

Down here in LA, my friends and I escape into the wilds of the Eastern Sierra to explore the unique climates that somehow manage to contain the highest summit in the contiguous United States, as well as barren desert and one of the largest volcanically active calderas on earth.  This past fall, a group of close friends and I hiked Mt. Whitney, the tallest summit in the lower 48 states at 14,508ft. – the transition between that elevation and Los Angeles, which basically sits at sea level, was an interesting experience for sure.  I think most of all, I am constantly pursuing new and different experiences, and travel is the most surefire way I’ve found so far that is guaranteed to play host to whatever types of new experiences you want to dive into!

We spent the day scrambling around the offshore rock formations that make this unmarked Big Sur beach famous, watching pods of dolphins frolic in the waves, swigging wine, feasting on fruit and cheese, and swimming in the Pacific.  As the sun dipped lower, I joined the hordes setting up to capture the day’s last rays piercing through an opening in the middle of a craggy offshore rock.  I noticed this lone figure watching the chaos from up high as photographers jostled each other, vying for the perfect tripod spot.  Laughing at the absurdity of the scene, I snapped this shot and rejoined my friends further down the beach for one of the best sunsets of my life.     

Early in January, I took a solo jaunt to the aptly named Mt. Baldy to clear my head.  Just shy of the summit, this group of crampon-wearing hikers passed headed in the opposite direction.  Clad in the latest 3-layer convertible pants and finest quality expedition down, they suspiciously eyed my well-worn trail runners as they passed me, hunkered down out of the wind to tape up a blister.  After I agonizingly contorted myself into my car and drove home after finishing the 11-mile loop, joints gasping and feet screaming, I began to research proper hiking boots as soon as I got into my apartment.

A friend and I had been eyeing this steep face, comprised of loose shale and thorny bushes, utterly devoid of any trail, for weeks.  We never had enough time to climb it after days spent skiing Mammoth, as the brilliantly illuminated ridge was quickly replaced by the creeping darkness of twilight.  One day, we stopped skiing early and raced up the face, trying to keep pace with the rapidly vanishing light.  We made the ridge, watched as the sun slipped behind the craggy mountains in the distance, and turned around to see lights slowly sparkle into existence as the town of Mammoth Lakes came alive in the twilight.    

On my first visit to Yosemite earlier this spring, our rag-tag band of wilderness weirdos set out on a mission to catch sunrise from the top of Half Dome.  Leaving camp at 1AM, we began the 8-mile hike to Half Dome in total darkness, drenched in the mist of massive waterfalls that lined the trail yet unable to pick them out of the inky blackness.  Immediately before ascending the cables, currently laying flat against the 50°granite slab due it being the off-season, we witnessed a mind-bending green comet with a glowing red tail streak across the sky.  As sunrise stole over the huge slab, we completed the extremely sketchy ascent, exchanged high fives, and dangled our feet over the edge of Half Dome as the day’s first rays illuminated the valley two thousand feet below.

We sketchily ascended the Half Dome cables, as early morning light stole across the face.  Pausing every twenty feet to alternate cables, my hands shook nervously as I unclipped from one and re-clipped myself to the other side.  We pulled ourselves up the heavy steel cables hand over hand, with a 2000’ fall to the valley floor just feet to our right.  Once on top, we saw this group crossing the expanse towards us.  They turned out to be fellow sunrise enthusiasts, who had ascended the cables the night before, in order to camp up on top of the dome in defiance of strict park service policy.

Running through the Sierra Nevada, U.S. Route 395 takes you through some of California’s most unique landscapes.  The juxtaposition of these unusually contoured granite formations in a desert abutting the mountain range home to Mt. Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous U.S. (and slightly right of center in this photo) is a stark contrast you are unlikely to find anywhere else.  Surveys indicate this valley is filled with about 10,000’ feet of sediment, making these alien looking features the tip of a very large formation.    

Another unique geological creation of the Sierras, this creek lies 2 hours to the north of the previous Martian landscape, just off the 395, fed by a combination of snowmelt and boiling water from geothermal springs a mile further upstream.  Rapid temperature changes in the pools, where water heated by magma far below discharges into the creek, have claimed over a dozen lives since the 1960s.  Further downstream, soaking after a long day skiing is much less life threatening.

Yosemite National Park is home to more gigantic waterfalls than anywhere else I’ve ever explored.  Nevada Fall, pictured, is a 595-foot behemoth that has a tauntingly inviting pool perched just above the misty falls.  The swift and unforgiving currents above have claimed many lives of visitors to Yosemite, some as recently as 2013.