How injury prompted one climber to change her path

“Spending time in a natural environment is where I’m most inspired,” Savannah Cummins tells GrindTV over the phone from her home, a 2014 Sprinter van parked on a dirt road in St. George, Utah. The 24-year-old recently signed on with The North Face as an athlete and photographer to capture authentic instances of adventure in the mountains—a perfectly natural fit.

A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Cummins grew up playing soccer and doing gymnastics. She discovered rock climbing at 20 and ice climbing at 21.

Bree Buckley hiking up Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park. Photo courtesy of Savannah Cummins

Bree Buckley hiking up Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Photo: Courtesy of Savannah Cummins

At 22, she tore her shoulder while attending a CrossFit class with her father. The injury forced her to stop climbing and prompted her to begin experimenting with a DSLR that she’d had sitting around since she was 19. The camera allowed her to continue to get out to climbing areas with her friends even though she couldn’t get on the rock.

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It took nearly a year for her shoulder to heal, which gave her plenty of time to focus on photography. Soon she was obsessed and upgraded her equipment. Just as her left shoulder was starting to feel 100 percent, she injured the right and was set back another three months.

This time, she headed to Jackson, Wyoming, for several months and did long, moderate climbs that didn’t stress her newest injury. “I got good at lugging the camera around,” she laughs.

It was around this time that she began picking up commercial photography clients, including Darn Tough Vermont, a family-run sock company serving the outdoor market for nearly 40 years.

It's desert season and I am psyched for some good temps and trying hard!! @prana 📷:// @ryantuttlephoto

A photo posted by savannah cummins (@sav.cummins) on

During that summer in Jackson, Cummins caught a quick flight to San Francisco and met up with one of her photography mentors, Drew Smith, who had a few days off from Yosemite Search and Rescue. The pair cruised down the California coast with no agenda other than to take photos. It was during this trip that Cummins captured one of her favorite lifestyle shots.

Drew Smith at Big Sur, California. Photo courtesy Savannah Cummins

Drew Smith at Big Sur, California. Photo: Courtesy of Savannah Cummins

“We wanted to shoot some random people surfing,” she explains, “but there weren’t any waves. So we just waited in hopes of surfers showing up, and drank coffee.”

What she captured was an organic scene: her good friend, some waves and bits of the interior of her friend’s van/home.

A few months later, she headed east to Indian Creek, Utah, home to a gaggle of seasonal dirtbag climbers who drink beer, play music and sit by the fire when they aren’t climbing. Indian Creek, known for its sandstone splitters, wide-open desert and solitude, is where Cummins captured another one of her favorite images.

Rian Downs and Scrappy the dog in Indian Creek, Utah. Photo courtesy Savannah Cummins

Rian Downs and Scrappy in Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Courtesy of Savannah Cummins

“The [shot above] is of my best friend from high school, Rian Downs, and my other friend Kelly’s dog, Scrappy. I saw the sun setting, Rian was sitting on the rock and Scrappy was with her,” Cummins remembers. “It was the perfect moment. I hadn’t taken many other photos that day.”

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Patagonia later purchased both the Big Sur and Indian Creek photos for their social media pages.

A six person paddle board, a tent, some beer and a beautiful sunset on Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park. Photo courtesy of Savannah Cummins

A six-person paddleboard, a tent, some beer and a beautiful sunset on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Photo: Courtesy of Savannah Cummins

For the next year, Cummins followed the seasons in Jackson, St. George and Salt Lake City, capturing lifestyle and action shots and often sleeping in the back of her vehicle. These areas offered her the perfect mix of ice and rock, “good weather, good people and beautiful locations.”

The following year, she extended her climbing and photography circuit to include Red Rocks National Recreation Area, Nevada, for rock climbing and Ouray, Colorado, for ice.

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In January 2016, prAna hired Cummins as an ambassador. A year later, she was approached by The North Face to photograph for them.

What’s next?

“Finishing up a bunch of editing from 2016 so I can take some time to focus on climbing and getting stronger for my upcoming projects with The North Face,” she says.

See more of Savannah Cummins’s photography at savannahcummins.com and follow her on Instagram.