End of July

End of July

The last two weeks have been tough; weather conditions have kept the mountains hidden in clouds. We’ve had snow but it’s just been pathetic wet snow that barely covers the ground, the air is also perpetually wet with the low-lying cloud. I’m told the temperatures are significantly warmer than previous years, at a risk of sounding pessimistic it seems that I’m always visiting places only to be told: “Ah, unfortunately, this year”. With no snow or ice on the ground, there’s no real foreground interest. The lakes in the park should be frozen but they’re too unsafe to walk on. I had hoped to be able to photograph Glacier Torre from the terminal wall of the glacier with Cerro Torre in the background but that’s impossible from the position I envisaged. This is of course hugely frustrating especially as we now moving into August, which is typically a warmer month. I didn’t come here expecting dozens of snow images but unless we get a severe cold spell it looks like I’ll have to be content with just one.

On the plus side, I’m lucky to meet Sebastian the local climber who joined me to climb onto Glacier Piedras Blanca. Sebastian’s a hard core Argentine, he’ll go out in any weather, even in the dark to go climbing and I’m sure together we’ll find a way to access some of my more adventurous locations. In fact, we’re meeting up tonight and will climb Cerro Madsen, the plan is to shoot the full moon as it sets over Fitz Roy at a quarter past six in the morning. If conditions permit we hope to inspect the possibility of descending Madsen and reaching Glacier Piedras Blancas.

Poor weather gives me plenty of time to reflect on the photographs I've shot here in Patagonia

Poor weather gives me plenty of time to reflect on the photographs I’ve shot here in Patagonia

Quick Update

I’ve been getting far too content to sit in my cabin working on Photoshop, the weather has been rough we’ve had lots of wet weather, wet slushy snow, high winds and thick cloud cover. It would be easy – and it has been – to stay inside working on image processing. In order to force myself to get out more, I’ve tried to tell myself that my cabin is just a place to recharge my batteries and I’ve pushed myself to camp more in the park. Unfortunately, my tunnel tent doesn’t perform well when snow sits on the top. I wake in the morning to find water dripping down from the fly sheet which doesn’t do a down sleeping bag any good. Anyway, the tent is a good refuge for emergencies, I have kept it pitched at Agostini campground at the foot of Laguna Torre whilst I’ve been scouting in that area. I feel this forces me to go out every day and check on it, today is an exception but we’re getting 50-knot winds so  I doubt many people are heading out that way. I’ve made sure to scout the area pretty well, the ice cave image below was taken on one such hike. My plan is to find either an ice cave or some excellent foreground ice detail with Cerro Torre in the background.

While out scouting

While out scouting

Screen grab of a lake circuit taken using my GPS tracking

Screen grab of a lake circuit taken using my GPS tracking

More scouting

I just returned from yet another scouting trip on the Torres glacier, this is the glacier that comes down from Cerro Torre and the Adela range. It’s been my hope that I could find an ice cave that would provide a view of Cerro Torre but I’ve not been able to find anything suitable. Accessing the glacier is quite a challenge, several years ago there used to be organized tours onto the ice but these were stopped. I’m not sure precisely why but the trail is now virtually non-existent. I must assume that the trail was too difficult to maintain. During my time on the ice today I could hear one rock fall after another. It was a warm day and so the sun’s heat quickly dislodges frozen rocks causing the slides. I chose to access the glacier via the north shore of Laguna Torre. Strictly speaking, this is forbidden but with rocks slides falling from the mountains bordering both the north and south shores there’s really no one best route.

I think it’s quite possible that over the years I’ve probably hiked to Laguna Torre somewhere in the region of 70 – 80 times. It’s one of the hardest mountains to photograph and I honestly don’t feel happy with a single shot I have ever taken. Today the light was stunning; I didn’t start hiking until noon, yet even midday light was still mind blowing. The mountain was swathed in clouds yet the entire mountain was visible, I remember thinking the light was creamy. That might sound like a bizarre notion but you have to forgive me, I can’t find the right words.

I’ve heard people say that highlights in nature sometimes have a certain glow. These days every landscape photographer adds Orton Glow to every damned picture they shoot. I’ve personally shied away from this, perhaps it’s because I never seem to apply it correctly. But I rarely add Glow because I rarely feel I see it naturally appearing in a scene. Today’s light on Cerro Torre was different, but here’s the crux, I didn’t actually photograph the mountain. Part of the reason for that was because I didn’t have a composition but I also realized that there’s no way I could portray that light correctly. I just don’t have the processing skills and truthfully I don’t think the trio combination of camera, lens, and computer could do it justice. So I preferred to keep it to myself as a treasured memory of one of the best of those 70 + hikes.

Despite being shot precisely at the same time as the earlier image this one doesn't have the same detail due to the lack of snow. The light was also clearly different.

Despite being shot precisely at the same time as the earlier image this one doesn’t have the same detail due to the lack of snow. The light was also clearly different.

Returning from the glacier was not quite as pleasant but I’ll get to that later. Once I reached the glacier it was time to fix on my crampons. On this trip, I had brought with me some other climbing gear including equipment to rappel and a selection of ice screws to fix safe rappel points. I decided to make a repeat visit to the ice cave I shot only recently. If you look closely at the two images you will see that the original image has a dusting of snow, which really makes the ridges in the ice, stand out, today’s image looks poor by comparison.

After a good three hours exploring the glacier, I decided it was time to hike back. Stupidly I ended up taking a higher route, which got me into a steep gully like a half pipe, after expending all that energy climbing I hated the idea of descending and because there was no way out from the steep edges I kept climbing. The gully was a natural shoot for any falling rocks, a rock could literally fall from the summit of Techado Negro and it wouldn’t stop it either hit me or landed in Laguna Torre. After a while, I realized it was just too steep. With a lot of effort, I managed to traverse the gully only to find another gully on the opposite side. Aaron Ralston sized boulders surrounded me. Aaron was the guy who cut his arm off with a penknife after getting trapped in a Utah slot canyon. Ever since reading that story – and actually once meeting him – I’ve had a healthy respect for the risks posed by loose boulders. These gullies were a mass of loose boulders ranging from fist sized to the size of a family car.

I took things very slowly and eventually made it out from there without slipping or causing a landslide.

Now that it’s getting warmer out in Patagonia and I’m forced to accept that we’re unlikely to get more snow I’m spending quite a lot of time on the Torre Glacier. It’s a complete nightmare to approach but once on the ice, there’s a lot to explore. My future goal is to reach the base camp of Cerro Torre and hopefully find and ice cave, which frames the mountain, I know there’s some great possibilities out there but it’s dangerous being on a glacier on your own particularly when there are hidden snow bridges. I took this shot of an ice chimney yesterday and I thought it contrasted nicely alongside a sandstone image I have from the Arizona desert. Unfortunately, I shot several series of images from the sandstone chimney and I only have a rough handheld set with me. Anyway, I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s taste it’s just something I’m playing with.

Just something I'm playing with

Just something I’m playing with

Rappelling beneath a glacier is not for the claustrophobic.

Rappelling beneath a glacier is not for the claustrophobic.

It gets deeper

It gets deeper

Heading to the ‘Big Smoke’

That may be an exaggeration but I’m heading out of town in a few days to get some prints made. Having never ever printed anything myself before this is going to be exciting. I’m using a really cheap, nasty printer to make some 60cm x 90cm poster type prints. I’m fully aware the quality will be questionable, to say the least. I chose these four which will find their way onto the walls of various hotels and restaurants in El Chalten. They have a black border which isn’t apparent until you click on the image.

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