South Early Winter Spire, WA - SW Buttress

Male Models

June 8 - 9, 2004

Dave Svilar, Matt Alford, Cliff Leight - HOME

I picked my nose.  Matt belched.  I passed gas.  Matt popped a zit.  I worked on my comb-over.  "You look fabulous this morning Davey," Matt informed me exhaling a concoction that was one part breathe and two parts rum.   We were ready for the shoot.  As the sun peeked over the horizon on the ridge below South Early Winter Spire two male models, Matt and Dave emerged from the tent ready for Cliff's photo assignment from Backpacker Magazine.



TABLE OF CONTENTS  It's an alien, it's a stick figure.... no, it's Dave the male model.  Backpacker Magazine


REDHEAD STRAIGHT AHEAD  Our largest photo features the Redhead in a tense, purposeful pose.  Backpacker Magazine


CUT  These photos were deserving, but did not make the magazine.  They say truly great male models can produce unlimited material worthy of publication.  Cliff Leight


EXTREME MODELING  We did our own stunts.  Cliff Leight

"Cliff needs models for a photo shoot.  Male models.  He wants us."  Matt's voice quivered in a failed attempt to hide the elation he felt.  Our time had come.  Many years of blue collar work, and hundreds of hours in the weight room had finally paid off for Matt.  While meticulously chiseling his pectorals and suffering through an unfathomable number of tofu dinners Matt had persistently worked towards his goal of becoming a male model.  My past was different, but equally futile.  With the onset of puberty my acne had postponed any chances I entertained of teenage modeling, so I waited patiently for my 20's.  Sadly, the prime of my life in which I had waited so patiently never came.  Just as my acne faded away my hairline began to recede vanquishing my dream of male modeling.  Now, many years after my dreams appeared dead I was to get my shot.

Cautiously I questioned Matt, "Are you sure?  I'm bald and you're a redhead."  Matt assured me that Cliff had called everyone in his black book to no avail and, after much soul searching, decided to put his photography career on the line by using two highly unqualified models.  His assignment was to shoot models wearing a clothing layering system that Backpacker would promote as "unique to the Cascade Mountains."

I had never spent time in the mountains with Cliff, but from Matt's accounts he was like a big kid.  Growing up in Snohomish Cliff suffered through science class with Mr Svilar in the early 1970's.  Refusing to be tied down, Cliff has gone on to a become a dedicated bachelor, never staying in one place very long, always ready to change plans at the drop of a hat for the next adventure.  A true role model.  Besides embodying the qualities of a "free spirit" Cliff happens to be a joy to spend time with because of his laid-back nature and gracious spirit. 

Working on 'Cliff-time' we felt no need to hurry even though we had a late start.  Not long after gawking at some of Sedro Wooley's finest single mothers we stopped in Marblemount for gut-plugging, grease burgers.  Later, on the short, but snowy approach to the S. Early Winter Spires ridge we stopped on a rock for some photos.  At the trailhead Cliff had divvied out colorful combinations of clothes sent to him by Backpacker, which Matt and I were now wearing.  Standing on the rock I was to show my layering system while strapping on my backpack.  "Sweet," I thought to myself as I repetitively saddled and unsaddled my pack, "action shots of me putting on a backpack."

MODELING 101  I've coined this look "Alpine Steel."  Backpacker Magazine


An open jacket does more justice to my musculature.  Cliff Leight


"BE SMART, BE THRIFTY" A more accurate caption for the Redhead would have been "Be dumb, be cheap." Backpacker

After establishing camp on the ridge we mustered enough energy to scramble up nearby Wamihaspi Peak for a magnificent sunset.  Back at camp we spent what would have been a memorable evening if not for the mind-numbing effects of a bottle of 151.  We sat around a campfire and watched a distant thunderstorm over Dome Peak.  Matt cooked, I shared my mom's cookies, and Cliff spun yarns of a life free of obligations and full of climbing.

After our brief primping session the following morning we began the shoot.  Photographers accomplish most of their work in the early light of the morning and evenings called the "magic hour."  Cliff, an acclaimed outdoor photographer seemed serious about his work until we realized one of the resident goats was licking our urine off the rocks.  Easily distracted, Matt and Cliff began speaking to the goat in a way that Matt's mom would not find humorous.

Our runway was the ridge between S Early Winter Spire and Wamihaspi Peak.  We took our new gig seriously.  Too seriously.  Matt, who had just finished making passes at a mountain goat was now wearing an expression of tense determination.  "Ease up Matt.  Enjoy yourself," Cliff encouraged.  Toting his Nikon F100 equipped with expensive Nikkor glass Cliff would set up ahead of us and snap pictures in rapid-fire succession as we passed.  "Work it boys.  Feel your layering system.  Own the layering system.  Be the layering system."

As a fairly recent addition to the world of male models I was unaware of the underlying competition between models.  Matt and I function well as a team.  When climbing, he falls and I catch him.  Just as in climbing, we were to work as a team on this modeling assignment.  However, the glory and fame that accompanies a model who lands "the big shot" is always in the back of the male model's mind.  As I worked on an array of poses, walks, and looks I tried to emulate some of my favorite male models.  Matt might be the better climber between the two of us, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I just might be the better male model. 

For some reason Cliff thought it would be a good idea to get shots of us climbing the first pitch of S Early Winter's easy route even though he was on assignment from Backpacker Magazine.  This concluded our morning session.

CAMP Cliff and Matt dry their boots before setting up the tent on the S Early - Wamihaspi col.


SUNSET  Looking west and north from near the summit of Wamihaspi.


TEETH  Matt never let the lack of a toothbrush get in the way of his modeling career.  Photos on the first pitch of S Early's standard route.  Cliff Leight



South Early Winter Spire - SW Buttress

After a full morning of modeling the plan was to climb the Southwest Buttress on South Early Winter Spire.  Quite a mouthful of words to describe one short climb.  In any case, Cliff had done the route in a previous year and guaranteed that I would make it back home to call in for my summer distance-learning course.  I doubted his judgment of time, but eventually acquiesced.  Although rated at 5.8 the route is mostly 4th and low 5th class scrambling. 

Reading the guidebook after the climb I was surprised to learn that I had led the crux - an awkward off-width requiring a #4 camalot.  It did not strike me as 5.8 moves, but then again off-width cracks play to my climbing strengths.  Actually, I have no climbing strengths which is exactly why I enjoy moderate off-widths.  Unlike other types of climbing where balance, agility, and technique are required off-width climbing allows the use of knees, elbows and even the occasional head-jam.  I still don't understand why using the knees is not kosher in other types of rock climbing. 

The only other memorable pitch was the "bear hug."  Twin cracks that are ascended by... bear hugging.  Cliff led and then threw the rope back down to Matt in order to get photos of Matt leading the pitch.  Two more scrambling pitches put us on the top.  After downclimbing the standard route we quickly packed and skated down the snow to Cliff's Toyota.  Once again we set our clocks for Cliff-time.  Seemingly oblivious to my needs to return home he appeared satisfied to sit on the tailgate and drink Coronas the rest of the afternoon.  After having one myself I threatened to throw a tantrum if Cliff didn't take me home.  Cliff followed my demands.  Such is the life of a male model. 

Matt gets ready to grovel his way through the off-width.  Cliff Leight


BEAR HUG  Alford ascends the best pitch on the Southwest Buttress.  Cliff Leight



LAST PITCH  Dave approaching the summit.  Cliff


CHANGE MY LATITUDE  This male model doesn't count his carbs.  Cliff Leight

* interested modeling agencies should be advised to direct requests for David Svilar and Matthew Alford through the staff at

-written August 2004

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