Image 3 © 2014 . All rights reserved.

BRENT McGREGOR: Sisters, Oregon

I was never so happy as when I turned 18 and left my home in San Diego.  As a youngster growing up in the city I longed for adventures in remote areas of the US.  I hitch-hiked across the US, into Canada and Mexico, and ended up in a small logging camp in NW Washington.

Image 17 I spent 10 years traveling about the west living in Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Alaska. I lived simply without power or running water, in the back of my truck, in a wall tent and a tipi.

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Tipi Camp, Alaska -photo: Brent McGregor

In my early 20’s I canoed alone for a month along part of the Canadian coast and into Alaska.  During the year I was in Alaska I lived in a tipi with a girl friend and a camp full of 18 sled dogs.  We made all our clothes, hauled our firewood throughout the winter with the dogs, and aspired to go back 100 years in time to experience life under canvas.  In 1980 I built a log cabin in Wyoming.  I cut and hauled the logs from the forest, milled the floor, window and ceiling boards, and built all the interior furnishings including a spiral staircase.      (Note from Irene: I first met Brent when I took a woodworking class from him a few years ago in Sisters, Oregon- see links to his woodworking at the end of this post)

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Traversing a climbing route by Camp Hazard on Mt. Rainier- photo: Brent McGregor

Click to enlarge photos

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Illumination Rock and Saddle on Mt. Hood- photo: Brent McGregor

Image 33Crater Lake and Mt. Thielsen- photo: Brent McGregor

Curiosity has been the driving force in my life that has allowed me to explore and document the world around me. My desire to find beautiful glacial caves led me to 17 Oregon glaciers. I found nothing remarkable  until my cave partner Eddy Cartaya and I made a trip to the Sandy Glacier on Mt. Hood. We began what was to become known as the Sandy Glacier Cave Project, the goal being to explore, map, survey and photo document a series of  caves beneath the glacier. Presently we have  mapped over 7,000 feet of cave passage.

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 The Moulin drops 150 feet down to the bedrock floor-  photo: Brent McGregor 


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 Visit to the glacial caves in January. Nearly sealed shut. photo: Brent McGregor

This is currently the largest glacier cave system in the Continental U.S. We are documenting a dying glacier due to climate change, from the inside out. It is rare to be able to map and document what is happening to a glacier along the bed rock floor that lies 100′ to 150′ beneath the glacier’s surface.

What will make this study important to science is comparative data year after year until the caves are gone, which could be as soon as 10 years out.

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 In two and a half years of monitoring, the Moulin has morphed into a climbable ramp. photo: Brent McGregor


Image 21Sunset at the cave entrance- photo: Brent McGregor

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 The entrance turns red at sunset- photo: Brent McGregor


Snow Dragon Cave entrance- photo: Brent McGregor

What gives you courage to do the work you do which is often dangerous?  When a person acquires the skills to enter dangerous places, the odds of injury lessen.  Seldom is fear part of my passion, the driving force is to experience places no one has been, to see things that make me feel fully alive.  I am nearly always found with a camera strapped around my neck and a pack full of accessories.  Always looking for compositions.

We live in a society built on taking risks.  Every time we get in our cars and drive down a busy road we are accepting a fair level of risk.  In fact, I feel more vulnerable to injury when driving home from a hard physical adventure tired and worn out, than I do during the adventure.

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Winter visit with opening sealing shut- photo: Brent McGregor

What special tools do you use ?  The glacier caves demand we have mountaineering, caving, canyoneering, and diving gear. I doubt there has been such a group on the flanks of Mt. Hood before with team members wearing caving helmets, wet or dry suits, harnesses with pickets, ice screws, ascension systems, hundreds of feet of rope, pulleys, carabineers, anchor building materials, and survey tools such as a disto, inclinometer, and sketch books.

And then there’s the photo gear. This includes two DSLR’s with varied lenses, tripods, several lighting systems, batteries, compact flash cards, shutter release cables, Go Pros mounted on a helmet, chest mounted, as well as having one mounted on a long boom pole to dangle over the Moulin. The expeditions also had a fully staffed medical supply tent that equaled the supplies found in an ambulance.In addition we supplied food for a group kitchen, tents etc.

How do you balance your work with romantic relationships/family?    I am the lucky one.  My girlfriend, Kara Mickaelson, of nearly 30 years now loves many of the things I do, and visa versa.  She has participated in both glacier expeditions, (2012 & 2013), and has explored dozens and dozens of caves with me. We are working on a book about the caves of Oregon, including entire new cave systems.  Since we have no children, and our parents are no longer alive, we are free to pursue our passions, many centered around conservation and awareness of protecting our wildlife and resources When I need solitude to post process images on the computer, or fill the workshop with dust,  Kara finds plenty to do on her own.  Work and life are one and the same on many levels for us.

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Image 30The Three Sisters of central Oregon- photo: Brent McGregor

My cave documentation has been profiled in scientific journals.   Below are two newly discovered cave adapted invertebrates.

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Pseudoscorpion, cave dweller- photo :Brent McGregor


Image 20Cave adapted Harvestman spider – photo: Brent McGregor

 What would you tell the younger you, just starting out ? If I am hiking into new country I never like taking the same track back.  I don’t like following anyone’s footsteps, not even my own.  My most successful major decisions in life have centered around following my passions, no matter how different they are from mainstream.  My successes reflect my passions.  Study and learn all you can about what you want to do, accept the failures and enjoy  your achievements.

What are your vices?    I’ve always tried to stay healthy and it seems to be paying off at my age as I can still do the things I want.  I have never smoked or consumed alcohol or taken drugs and have always been engaged in some sort of project.  Friends say I reinvent myself every few years.  My strength is my weakness.  Tunnel vision allows me to learn one thing at a time well, but this isn’t always the most balanced way to live.  It’s just the way I’ve always been.  Staying engaged in life keeps us young.

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 Brent ascending a rope on Steins Pillar- photo: John Krog

What kind of pets do you have?    Currently we have a couple dozen well cared for chickens that provide a steady supply of organic eggs. As a young boy I kept frogs and fish, a few rattlesnakes and skunks, opossum, squirrel, whatever I could find living close by. In Alaska I had 18 sled dogs. In Oregon I have had dogs and cats, rabbits, pack goats, finches and a turkey.

 What is the last wild animal you saw?     I usually see several animals in a day’s time if I stay home.  Deer wander down the driveway once or twice a day.  Songbirds and woodpeckers frequent the feeders and heated water bowl. Cottontail and jackrabbits run around the property.  A few miles from home I recently saw a few dozen turkeys crossing the road in front of me.  I love seeing them as they haven’t always been too common around here.  Earlier this year I saw a young cougar walk across the road as I drove towards it.  It was the third one I have seen in the wild.  It’s hard to forget the excitement of seeing one of these rare and elusive animals.

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 Mountain goats in the Olympics- photo by Brent McGregor

Check out these links out for more information on the glacial caves:

Oregon Field Guide: Glacial Caves: Mt. Hood’s Secret World:

 Exploring Mt. Hood’s Glacier Caves by Amelia Templeton & Ed Jahn:

 Ted Youth Talk:  Eddy Cartaya:

Check out these links to see Brent’s woodwork:

Oregon Art Beat:

Brent’s woodworking website:

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  1. I totally love this statement ” Tunnel vision allows me to learn one thing at a time well, but this isn’t always the most balanced way to live. It’s just the way I’ve always been. Staying engaged in life keeps us young.”
    It defines so well what I feel about my own work although totally different.

  2. This is awesome Irene!
    Look forward to all your posts.

  3. Ellen

    O.K., I’m waiting for the knock on the door (Gandalf), which will transform my physiology into an adventurer’s! Then I will drop down into that sunset laden cave, trek on blue snow, peer at dark adapted creatures, and retire to my elvish bed.  
    Magnificent life and photos, Brent!   Many thanks to you and Irene! 

    Sent from my iPad

  4. Don

    Pretty amazing. I see this piece as a reminder that they way one lives one’s life can itself be an art form. Thanks for all these great posts, each is interesting and inspiring in its own way.

  5. What a great thing to see this alternate world, obviously well-loved by it’s discoverer! Truly fantastic photography — I hope Brent adopts a new dog that is chicken friendly, like my dear Isabella!

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