Explorer Spotlight: Michael Graw

Name: Michael Graw | Age: 24 | Location: Corvallis, OR.

What’s your day job?
I'm a scientist in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science at Oregon State University studying how microbes in the ocean floor are reacting to climate change. Most days, though, I feel like I have a split personality since I spend every spare moment working as a professional photographer capturing landscapes and outdoor adventure around the Pacific Northwest - check out my work at @wanderingsolephotography!

What are your favorite things to do outside?
I love to explore new places, and for me that means covering lots of ground. Backpacking, snowshoeing, and sea kayaking are my favorite ways to explore, but I also sign up for a marathon and some triathlons each year so that most days I have some combination of running, biking, and swimming prescribed as well. I also grew up skiing, so come winter I can be easily convinced to drop everything else for a powder day.

What first drew you to the outdoors?
About 10 years ago, I went to Colorado for a ski trip and immediately knew I wanted to be somewhere where you're surrounded by mountains. Growing up in New Jersey - where the "mountains" are what most people would consider hills and few people think about hiking - I was always the black sheep among my friends and family for trying to spend more time outside. But every trip when I was starting out made me want to keep exploring (and they still do).

What’s your favorite hometown adventure? ...and, almost as important, where’s your favorite spot to get a beer after?
My favorite adventure is to bike up to the top of Mary's Peak, the tallest in the Oregon Coast Range. The ride is only about 50 miles, but it involves a 4,000 foot gain over about 15 miles and you never know what the weather at the top will be like (I've been freezing up there when it's 90 in the valley!) I like to celebrate the ride at Sky High Brewery in downtown Corvallis - they've got great beer and a rooftop bar with front-row seats to the sunset over the Coast Range.

What’s your essential gear that never gets left at home?
My camera and a headlamp - I've lost count of the times I've gotten distracted by an unexpectedly great view or become determined to find the perfect spot for a shot and ended up hiking out in the dark.

What’s your favorite trail snack?
Chocolate covered espresso beans. MORE ENERGY!!!

Any go-to soundtracks when you’re hitting the road?
I'm a huge fan of The Head and the Heart, especially when I'm heading into the mountains. Folk-rock always makes me want to travel and search out solitude.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened while you were adventuring? And/ or funniest?
During a visit to Yellowstone National Park, I wandered off-trail to get a better shot of a black bear grazing on the other side of the Yellowstone River. My girlfriend at the time kept warning me to stay close to the trail, but the spot I wanted to be at was just a few feet further away...until I sunk in up to my hip and the mud covering my leg was a lot warmer than I expected! As I was pulling myself out, an old man on the trail behind us called out - "Should've listened to the woman!"

Who’s your number one adventure partner-in-crime? Who inspires you?
My go-to adventure buddy for the past two years has been my friend Rachel. She's up in Seattle and works during the week, so we'll get together anytime a three-day weekend pops up. The bonus is that I have a great excuse to backpack the Washington Cascades and the Olympics. As for inspiration, I always look towards fellow photographers like Scott Kranz and Jay Goodrich who left "safe" careers to pursue the adventure photography lifestyle.

What are your top destinations for adventure travel?
My absolute top trip is the Pacific Northwest Trail. Cross the Rockies, the North Cascades, and the Olympics all in one epic backpack? You had me at one range! I'm hoping to make this dream come true in summer 2018.

What’s on the top of your must-do adventure list right now?
The Enchantments up in Washington are at the top of my list for the summer - the images that come out of that relatively small chunk of wilderness are incredible!

Show us your most memorable photo, and tell us about it!
This shot came from a full-moon night at Diamond View Lake, in the Diamond Peak Wilderness (Oregon), last fall. Setting up the tent directly in front of Diamond Peak was a rare opportunity, since the lake is normally a few feet higher - just another example of how dry last winter was! The temps dropped into the low teens that night, but my partner and I stayed warm by continuously setting up and taking down the tent to try to get a bunch of different scenes with the moon lighting up the mountain.

And last but not least…What’s your personal motto?
"I hear there's free coffee at the summit!" As you might imagine, this was first uttered halfway up a peak along the Columbia River Gorge after starting at 3 am to be at the top for sunrise.