Armoured in scuba gear, battling below-freezing 45mph gusts and jammed between sliding ice sheets weighing in the tons, photographer Chris Gug had a moment of reckoning while submerged in Montana’s frigid Grinnell Glacier Lake.
Glacier – est 1910
Chris Gug, artist-in-residence
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“If one of these chunks breaks off and moves right towards me… I’m dead,” he recounted. “I have to be ready to jump up on top if the chunk of ice moves towards me, rather than getting trapped underneath.”
Gug, an underwater photographer more used to balmy locales such as the Caribbean and Papua New Guinea, became Glacier National Park’s official artist-in-residence in October 2015 (the park itself was established a mere six years before the National Park Service in 1916). Leaving his Ft Lauderdale, Florida, home and commercial gallery behind for one month – and bringing partner and assistant Suzanne with him – he soon discovered the challenge of capturing Glacier’s hidden depths. “Sometimes it’s a simple five-minute drive right to a river, but more often than not, it’s a wonderfully gruelling, 20-mile round-trip hike carrying 100-plus pounds of camera and diving gear through the most amazing landscapes on Earth,” Gug said.
View image of Graffiti, shot in Middle Fork Flathead River (Credit: Credit: Chris Gug)
Gug’s main focus is photographing split-shots – also known as “over-unders” – in Glacier National Park’s numerous lakes and rivers. “I need that below-water subject and the above-water subject to show how the two worlds meet,” Gug explained. “In Iceberg Lake, that happened to be the beautiful patches of plants that would grow in the waters. In Kintla Lake, that happened to be an old tree stump protruding out the water’s surface with the mountains behind. In Hidden Lake, there was a large piece of driftwood that had sunk inside. Lake McDonald provided ample opportunity with beautiful, multi-hued rocks below, and the mountainscapes and the sunrise or sunset [above].”
Lake McDonald, the Glacier’s preeminent lake, also harbours one of the park’s most intriguing secrets. Gug dove deep to find late-19th-century relics of Apgar Village – an engine block, a Gold Rush-era boot, a pair of spectacles and some tools – as well as a beguiling cluster of plants immersed 80ft below the surface.
“There was a landslide sometime in the early 1900s that brought a bunch of full-grown trees down into Lake McDonald,” Gug said. “The rocks that were tied up to the trees’ roots caused the bottom of the trees to sink and the top to float, so you’ve got an underwater forest that’s standing upright due to that landslide. To be swimming among all these massive, upright trees was really kind of alien.”
View image of Garden of History, shot in Lake McDonald (Credit: Credit: Chris Gug)
After withstanding a month of altitude challenges, wet and frozen limbs, blizzard weather, intense hikes, grizzly bear scares and the aforementioned icy dilemma, Gug said he has no regrets taking on this unprecedented underwater challenge. “Every once in a while, you have to turn off that stupid phone and internet, and do some things that are good for your soul,” Gug said. “Tuning out put me back in touch with the primitive wildlife that I crave.”
View image of Gug battled below-freezing 45mph gusts to capture Glacier (Credit: Credit: Chris Gug)
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