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'Extreme ironing' adds challenging wrinkle to a simple hike

The shot that started it all for me. Paul Zizka irons in -25 degrees Celsius in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Friend Matt Hosford assisted behind with steel wool on a string to create the amazing fire effect. (Photo & Caption: Jack Nichols)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - You'll be hard-pressed to find something more unique to photographing a hike in the mountains than when your subject is a fan of "extreme ironing."

Yes, you read that right: Ironing board. Iron. Shirt. Wilderness.

"Extreme ironing is a fabulous extreme sport that combines various extreme situations and locales with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt," said extreme ironer Jack Nichols of Bothell, Washington. "A couple of Brits made it up a number of years back. People have performed extreme ironing stunts all over the world and in all kinds of sports (e.g. rock climbing, surfing, and so forth) but my particular focus is on ironing in the wilderness, often at night and in remote and extreme locations."

Just glance at the Extreme Ironing Facebook page, and you'll see an impressive catalog of where such events have taken place.

So, how exactly does one get involved with such a niche sport?

"The blame for this lays squarely on my friend and fellow photographer Paul Zizka. We were in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in far northern Canada in the dead of winter photographing the northern lights as part of one of Paul’s workshops, and somehow we got the idea to do an ironing shot," Nichols said. "We were immediately faced with the problem of getting the ironing board out of the hotel through the lobby, which Paul solved by wrapping a coat around the board, and his arm around the coat, as if he were walking his 'date' to dinner.

"So, I stole the ironing board from the hotel, drug it out onto a frozen lake in -25 degrees Celsius weather, and commenced shooting! Since then I’ve shot extreme ironing in some pretty interesting places!"

And now, he's also a national record holder.

"I am currently the North American record holder for lowest elevation extreme ironing, set this year while ironing at 3 a.m. in Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park," he said. "I procured a very short ironing board, too, so unless someone comes along with an even shorter board, my record will probably stand. This may also be a world record, as I’m unaware of anyone ironing at the Dead Sea or anywhere else lower than Death Valley."

Of course, when you're out ironing in the wild, it surely has to get a few strange looks?

"Whenever you combine light household appliances and the great outdoors, something humorous always happens," Nichols said. He recalled a shoot in Banff, Alberta called the Green Patch that overlooks the town and Mt. Rundle. He had his friend/model Aaron borrow a beautiful, flowing dress from another model friend of his and had him pose for the ironing.

"It’s fully visible from the road so we had lots of people coming by to gawk at a man in a dress with an ironing board under some studio lights," Nichols said. "Eventually, some Parks Canada staff showed up - we thought we were in trouble, but it turned out to be the Parks Canada Instagram crew and they thought it was hilarious! About five minutes later, a bachelorette party showed up and the bride-to-be immediately took to Aaron, who by now was wearing the dress like a cape and holding a rose we found next to his ironing board."

And imagine the strange looks as thousands gazed upon the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 in Madras, Oregon, only to see 91-year-old Gloria Comingore ironing away for Nichols' photo op. "I, of course, had to explain to her what extreme ironing was, and showed her a bunch of my pictures," Nichols said. "She has always been an adventurous lady so she saw that and said she was up for anything - so we were on!"

So you can imagine, these extreme photo shoots actually take quite a bit of planning. Because ironing wasn't exactly meant for the great outdoors.

"Although it looks simple, a lot of effort sometimes is required to get one of these shoots to happen, especially when traveling," Nichols said.

And no, he doesn't plug the irons into any magical outlet; the ironing is just for show.

But despite the challenges, Nichols says he relishes the challenge and is hooked!

"I like the challenge and the creativity of it. It’s fun to come up with fun and funny possibilities and then go out and make them happen," he said. "I like the idea of taking a landscape that might have been shot 1,000 times before and making it unique with some ironing. Plus, it always makes people smile!"

So, what's next?

"More ironing, of course!" he said. "I’ve got a couple of new locations in mind that I hope to execute on soon, and maybe even expand to some other household chores ... such as extreme vacuuming!"

Or maybe if he gets a musical itch, he can dabble in extreme cello.

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