A decade ago, despite having no experience in either photography or mountaineering, Josh Endres walked into the mountains of California's High Sierra region to document what he saw. What he did have, however, was a strong belief that art can change the world, so Endres embarked on a journey to capture the natural beauty within the landscapes in his own backyard.
Adventure skills were required. "The best views are often earned," Endres says, and earn he did as he trekked all over the 400 mile long mountain range. Such an extensive journey guaranteed highs and lows, and Endres documented those along the way. The result of that is It Was Good, a new hardcover book that combines storytelling with photography and explains how, according to Endres, the art found in nature can breathe meaning into life.
Endres was first drawn to the Sierra as a kid, and was intrigued by a "place that seemed to balance danger and beauty all at once." One of his first memories of the mountains was visiting Lone Pine Lake on the main trail to Mt. Whitney when he was 13 years old. Even as a local, he was struck by the granite and vegetation reflected in the still waters.
As Endres grew older, he began to play classical guitar and his love for the mountains took a backseat as he devoted his attention to music. When a group from his church took a fishing and camping trip, his desire to explore the mountains rekindled. On that outing he hiked to South Lake and the trailhead to Bishop Pass. "Seeing the snow covered granite peaks interwoven with lines of forest running through sections all reflected in the waters brought me back to that same feeling of seeing Lone Pine lake for the first time," he says.
"I want people to have a hope in their life that goes beyond the headlines and noise of the world"
Fast forward to 2017, when Endres decided to begin compiling his first adventures in the High Sierra into a book, starting, fittingly, with Bishop Pass. He didn't prepare with a traditional training routine before embarking on his first big, 120-mile mountaineering goal; he did some hiking around the San Bernardino mountains, but the majority of his conditioning stemmed from wearing a backpack filled with gear everywhere he went. Commuting to work, standing at his desk, walking to lunch—Endres always had a backpack stuffed with gear and cameras slinged across his shoulders.
Endres talks a lot about the trials and tribulations of that first trip. He describes feeling like he was going to die regularly, and how that played on his overall mental state. But when asked if during the 120 miles to the pass he ever thought about calling it quits, that maybe the suffering wasn't worth it, Endres explains that he never thought about quitting as a possibility.
Endres views himself as a spiritual person and always thought of the mountains as being sacred. "Things are constantly changing, but the beauty remains. I see God manifested in the beauty of the mountains. And ultimately that gives me hope that there’s a purpose or meaning behind life."
With It Was Good, he wants to bring that beauty to everyone, especially those without the means to visit for themselves—and his belief is that it can provide motivation to get through hard stretches of life. "I want people to have a hope in their life that goes beyond the headlines and noise of the world," says Endres.
Endres's decade-long adventure in the High Sierra didn’t start out with the book in mind though. It Was Good began to come together after Endres shot the Palisade traverse under moonlight from the summit of Mount Agassiz. He didn't like the idea that all of these photos would just be condensed to an Instagram post or tucked away on a blog. “I wanted to tell full stories and show big images,” he says. He also thought that by presenting the photos in a book, readers could get away from their screens and have something closer to a wilderness experience.
It Was Good ultimately took Endres 10 years to complete, but it was the last two years of work where he saw everything come together. While compiling images and stories he began to see, as a photographer, that while focusing on natural beauty, he missed some of the mundane. In the final stages of the book, he became more intentional about incorporating people in his photography as well.
Endres is currently working on another book in a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada called the Palisades, an alpine mountain range in northern California, as well as a project involving his hometown mountains, the San Bernardino range. He hopes that the locals will benefit from recognizing and knowing "the awesomeness" that exists around them. At the end of the day, Endres hopes to give back to others what these mountains gave to him. Simple as that.
It Was Good is available now in classic hardcover and limited collector's editions, for $69 and $150, respectively.