Just a click away, living life for all of its adventure
January 6, 2007
Dick Springgate was saddened, but not surprised, when the news came last week that three climbers had been lost on Oregon’s Mt. Hood. He’s climbed Hood twice and knows what can happen. "I know right where they were," he said during a Park Record Profile interview last week. "In the winter the weather comes in fast up there and you can get lost in a heartbeat."
Springgate, an architectural photographer, has lived in the Park City area off and on with his wife, Connie, since 1983. He grew up in Seattle with big mountains in his backyard. In high school, he cut his climbing teeth on the Cascades. "I was just barely 20 years old the second time I climbed Hood," recalls Springgate. "After the descent, some buddies and I went back up to the 9,000 foot level in a snowcat and skied down the mountain. The snow was heavy and I fell and broke my leg. I was really concerned because I was scheduled to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska six weeks later." Undaunted, the headstrong Springgate made the McKinley climb. "I was sore but didn’t want to let my friends down," he claims.
Born in Lafayette, Indiana in 1939, Springgate moved with his parents and one older brother to Seattle while still an infant. He attended public high school in Seattle and went on to attend the University of Washington in the mid-1960s.
Springgate was 13 years old when his father gave him his first camera. "I remember it was a Konica 35 mm and I got obsessed with taking pictures," he says. Climbing and photography was a good match for him and he soon gained a reputation among his climbing pals as the team photographer. "I just had a passion for climbing and documenting it," says Springgate. "I learned pretty quick that light and composition were everything on the mountain. I’d turn around and look behind me as much as I looked forward. If I did it right, I could capture the feeling of really being there and that’s what I wanted to communicate." That camera was the first of many that have framed his professional life.
After graduating from college in 1966 with an unlikely bachelor’s degree in economics, Springgate joined the Navy and trained as a navigator. When the Vietnam War heated up in 1968, he was offered a choice of flying A-6 fighter-bombers over Vietnam or C-130 transports to Antarctica. The pragmatic Springgate chose Antarctica, but not only for the obvious reason. "Just like every climber at that time, we would all have given our right arm for a chance to climb in Antarctica," says Springgate. "There are some amazing mountains down there, and none of them had been climbed at that time. But nobody could get down there back then unless you were in the military or a scientist."
During two eight-month seasons at McMurdo Sound, with camera in hand, he summited Mt. Erubus, an active volcano, and several other peaks that had never been climbed.
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After his Navy stint, Springgate returned to Seattle where he began an architectural photography business. "I loved the dynamic relationships of light, space, form and volume," says Springgate. "It’s a more graphic type of photography that requires creative composition." This became his niche, and he’s specialized in architectural photography ever since. He photographs homes in the Park City area and in other resort communities throughout the country.
Seattle in the 1980s was a hub for an emerging cadre of racing sailors and the adventurous Springgate, hungry for a new challenge, jumped in with both feet. This began his now 25-year-long love affair with sailing and performance boats.
He bought his current boat, the Okanogan (which takes it’s name from a northwest Native American tribe), in 1985. The 42-foot boat was originally rigged for racing. Springgate re-fitted it for ocean cruising and, in 1989, sailed it down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal and into the western Caribbean.
Sailboats require constant attention and Springgate says he’s sometimes frustrated with the amount of work required to stay on the water. "Rarely, you have a perfect day or two of sailing when absolutely nothing goes wrong. It doesn’t happen often but it’s enough to make you think it might actually happen again."
The boat is currently moored in the Bay Islands of Roatan, just off the coast of Honduras. Springgate and his wife spend several weeks there each winter, scuba diving, sailing and socializing with other cruisers from around the world.
It’s ironic that Springgate’s pet peeve about the Park City area is development. "I depend on new construction for my work here, but I hate losing the wild feel the area had in the 1980s," he says. Still, he chooses to live in Park City for the good weather and for the diverse, year-round recreational opportunities the area provides.
Hobbled in recent years (not surprisingly) by worn-out hips, Springgate this month got the first of two titanium hip replacements at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City. The second hip is slated for installation in early January. With typical bravado, Springgate asserts he’ll be skiing Deer Valley before the season is over and "kicking butt" on his mountain bike this spring.
Springgate continues to work almost every day. "I’ve been an architectural photographer for about 37 years and I’ve had a lot of adventures along the way," he says. "People ask me if I think about retiring, but I love what I do and I think of it more as play than work. It’s allowed me to take my retirement ‘on the run’ for all these years and I like it that way. Mostly, I’ve lived life for the quality and the adventure of it."
Born: Lafayette, Indiana
One older brother, Bob, who lives in Phoenix and is also a professional photographer.
Favorite Foods: all Thai food; spicy Mexican dishes, homemade cranberry sauce.
Springgate is also a vitamin freak, if vitamins qualify as food.
Favorite activities: sailing, scuba diving, camping, mountain biking, skiing, travel to anywhere new.