Ansel Adams, Banner Peak – Thousand Island Lake, 1927

Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Banner Peak – Thousand Island Lake, from Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, 1927, gelatin silver print. Middlebury College Museum of Art. Purchase with funds provided by the Christian A. Johnson Memorial Art Acquisition Fund and the Walter Cerf Art Fund, 2016.001.12. Reproduced with permission from The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All rights reserved.


It is especially fitting that Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake are today located in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, an area of more than 230,000 acres in the Sierra and Inyo National Forests. Established as Minarets Wilderness in 1964 as part of the Wilderness Act, the area was renamed in honor of the photographer after his death in 1984.

Thousand Island Lake is one of the largest backcountry lakes in the Sierra Nevada, while Banner Peak is the second highest peak in the Ritter Range. Adams’ photograph shows the dark volcanic rock mountain dotted with glaciers typical of the area. The peak was named in 1883 by a topographer for the US Geological Survey who observed a banner cloud forming over the summit.

This photograph was taken in 1923, when Adams hiked to Thousand Island Lake, and later printed as part of his Parmelian Prints portfolio. He photographed a glowing evening cloud rising over the mountain. In his autobiography, Adams later recalled the excitement of the scene: “It seemed that everything fell into place in the most agreeable way: rock, cloud, mountain, and exposure. I am sure things were going on in my mind: associations, memories, relative structuring the experiences and ideas, and the flowering of intuition. This picture still has a certain unity and magic that very few others suggested in those early years.”1

Adams’ son Michael revisited the site of Adams’ photograph in 2011. “When my father made that picture,” said Michael, “he was traveling with his friend Harold Saville. They had a burro to carry their equipment. Ansel took pictures, and Harold held the donkey. When the Banner Peak photo became famous, Harold loved telling everybody, ‘I held Ansel’s ass while he made that picture!’ Harold loved that story. And now I can say I’ve seen the place where Harold held Ansel’s ass!”2