If you’re ever looking to find Gnarly athlete Savannah Cummins, you might need to change continents, apply for several tourist visas and take a few weeks off of work. Go ahead and knock on her door in Salt Lake City, Utah, but she’s likely not home. Instead, try southern Utah’s red-rocks playground of St. George, or head east toward Zion National Park. If she’s not there, check the African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea. Try Mexico, Northern India and then Nepal. If you still can’t find her, consider Antarctica.
Savannah, a photographer, filmmaker and rock climber, prefers to rarely be home. Thriving on a life full of adventure and exploring new places, her calendar reflects this mentality. For her, life’s highlights are when she’s out exploring an entirely new environment, even being somewhat uncomfortable, gathering lessons from each of these experiences. What Savannah wants most out of life is to learn and grow, never taking her time on this Earth for granted. She’s doing so by surrounding herself with good people, going on epic climbing expeditions and shooting incredible photographs.
Working with huge names in the outdoor industry, Savannah has made films and photos for Black Diamond, The North Face, Red Bull, Patagonia, La Sportiva and Google, to name a few. Her most grounding, “Is this even real life?” experience was in 2017 on an Antarctic expedition with Team North Face climbers Conrad Anker, Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Cedar Wright and Anna Pfaff.
A 16-year-old Savannah would have never imagined being stoked for a five-week expedition in Antarctica. In fact, she wasn’t sold on life outdoors in the slightest. Getting into a bit of trouble, Savannah’s parents sent her an outdoor-skills camp for at-risk teens. She loathed every second of it.
“Looking back, it was an amazing experience,” Savannah said of camp. “It was so life changing, but as a rebellious 16-year-old, I absolutely hated it. I did not like having to be around complete strangers and not being able to shower. I was literally trying to find ways to get kicked out.”
Savannah never found a way to get booted from camp, though. In hindsight that experience may have been the first in a long line of instances when she wished she was eating pizza after taking a hot shower, but was far from it. Instead, she found herself outside, bearing the elements but taking solace that any discomfort is only temporary. “Sometimes I just have to take a step back and realize where I am, and how lucky I am,” Savannah said. “The cold, the suffering, the hunger – whatever it is, it’s not gonna last forever.”
This reflection and appreciation comes into play often in Savannah’s life of expeditions. On a climbing trip in São Tomé and Príncipe, it rained for 17 days straight. Plans canceled and routes altered, while Savannah and two other climbers stayed on the jungle floor, sopping wet with no sunlight to dry them out. “Sometimes I’m on a trip and honestly, I don’t want to be there,” Savannah said. “But I know after the fact that I will be glad I was there and completed whatever it was because there is always that bit of character building.”
That summer camp she despised was also a character builder. By the time she graduated from high school, she realized being outdoors was far from the inconvenience she thought it was during camp. She started taking on outdoor seasonal work as an opportunity to combine life outside with income. Her love of rock climbing, found during one particular seasonal job, wove into this perfectly, until she sustained a serious shoulder injury that took her off the wall.
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Again, turning hardship into a source for gleaning knowledge and growth, the injury led Savannah to pick up a new hobby. With the intention of finding a distraction from shoulder surgery, she started taking photographs. “I sold my first photo for $30,” said Savannah. ”That was when I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can make money doing this?’”
From then on, the balancing act in Savannah’s life has been one of deciding if today is a climbing day or a photography day. With both requiring so much mentally and physically, it’s better to stick with one at a time.
Savannah’s adventures have led her to understand that life is imperfect and at times, painfully temporary. In March of 2020, right before the world fell into the fear and constraints of a pandemic, Savannah’s boyfriend died in a climbing accident in Mexico. The devastating loss of Nolan, the stress of a chaotic rescue mission and returning home to an unrecognizable world compounded into one of the hardest chapters in Savannah’s life.
In what absolutely warrants sinking into a deep, dark place, Savannah is still a smiling light. She’s still excited about life, still ready for new adventures opportunities to grow and still shooting incredible photographs.
The impermanence of life is something that drives Savannah to continue fueling her passion of exploring and learning. “Even if I’ve already explored an area, there’s always more to see,” she said. “Nothing is gonna go anywhere besides me, one day. Taking advantage of the time that we have here is really important to me, and that’s something I’ve learned coming back from these trips: The importance of getting to spend time with people I love in the places I love when I can.”
There’s no telling which country or continent Savannah will end up on next. With a passport always running out of empty pages, we can expect her to be off on endless expeditions in the future. Perhaps it’s easier to find her on Instagram than to find her in person. Unless, of course, you also thrive on a life of exploration. In that case, you may bump into Savannah on an arctic expedition or trekking in the jungle or longing for a hot shower and pizza on a portaledge.