Photojournalism War Stories
Dirck Halstead 


JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING   September 1,1996

Well, the big story this week has been the near death experience of the tight pool on Monday when they were forced to take a hastily decided upon 8.7 mile hike down a mountain with President Clinton and his family

Originally, the Clintons were going to take a 2 mile walk down a mountain road in Yellowstone, but after motorcading to the 12,500 foot summit of Mt. Webster, and having a lunch of sandwiches and soda pop,our White House Press Office escort informed the tight pool (consisting of the four wire photographers, one mag photographer(me), a wire reporter, radio reporter, newspaper writer, and tv crew that the President, Hillary and Chelsea had elected to take a long, rough, trail down the mountain. Because nobody had anticipated this, most people in the pool, me included, did not have hiking boots (I was wearing my running shoes), and of course we were all carrying in the vacinity of 30 pounds of gear. The worst thing was that we had no water for this trek, with temperatures in the high 80s, and VERY dry.

As our escort kept telling everybody we had to go NOW, to stay in front of the Presidential party, the ranger who was to accompany us looked on in horror. He tried to warn us, by saying . . "this is going to be a very arduous hike . . its nearly nine miles, and will take over four hours . . . don't take it lightly", but by that time the escortwas sprinting up the trail, yelling "let's go POOL !"

The first 2 miles was virtually non-stop down a 30 degree slope, that was nothing but loose rock and shale . . . people were slipping and sliding, down that, then came the first of the uphills (after two miles of sliding down, for the first few hundred yards my body appreciated being able to go up) but within minutes people began to go down . . . . the first was an AP photographer who had an asthma attack, then the White House Doctor, who had been carrying her 30 pound sack fell out. to stay with him.

All this time , the escort kept urging people to hurry .. . so we were turning a hike into a forced march. After the first hour, the lack of water took its toll. . . everybody's lips turned white..I couldn't even open my mouth. . . no saliva.

The escort went back to help the AP photographer, leaving us to our own devices for a while, and we came to a beautiful meadow . . picture postcard perfect, where we decided we would set for a photo.

We waited for twenty minutes for the Clintons to catch up, but at the last minute, the escort came sprinting out of the forest, and started yelling "NO PICTURES . . . MOVE OUT !"

At this point, TV cameraman Hank Brown lost it, and pointed out with some passion that we had been force marched four miles for nothing, and we should at least get something out of it. The escort then lost it, and ordered Hank out of the pool. Hank couldn't believe it. "You want me to LEAVE THE POOL . . OUT HERE, IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH NOTHING BUT GRIZZLY BEARS? YOU'RE CRAZY, MAN !!!!"

So we picked up and moved out double time through another mile or so of meadow land, which was a lot harder then it sounds, because it was a very narrow, rutted trail, so you had to keep one foot directly in front of the other, but with no ankle support, every foot got more and more painful. The fact that we had stood around for those twenty minutes now began to cause muscle problems, and with our white lips we began to look like the lost patrol.

At the five mile point, the escort told us we would have to let the Presidential party go by. By now,a tv soundman was suffering from heat exhaustion (he had started out the hike by telling us proudly that every year he had gone to outward bound so this would be a snap!)

The Clintons walked by, looking like they were on a stroll through Central Park. The President asked us "how you'all doin ?" I told him we really needed water, that most of us were getting seriously dehydrated, and he threw me his water bottle, that we immediately gulped down.

Mrs. Clinton turned to Ralph Alsweig, the White House photographer, and worried that the photographers, who she liked, didn't look good, and wondered if we were going to be all right.

We all then fell in behind the Presidential party, with Presidential aide Andrew Friendly bringing up the rear of the stragglers, which by that time included Bruce Lindsay, whose knee had gone out.

The next three and a half miles were just a matter of survival, one aching foot in front of the other, lips and throats parched . . . we just gritted our teeth and kept going. The last half mile was "heartbreak hill", which was another 30 degree up slope, which took whatever reserves we had left.

We all stumbled out of the forest, and had our picture taken with the Clintons, which wlll be a real momento. We were joined at that point by the AP photographer who had been brought out by horseback. Ralph felt so bad for him, he set up a special picture for him of the President and Hillary.

The good news is that following all this, on the way back to the helicopters, the President walked out into a meadow with Hillary and Chelsea and looked at three elk, which made a really nice picture.

It's now the third morning after the death march, and I am finally begining to walk normally.

So that's my tale

Hope you enjoy it.....who said news photogs were wimps !