October first week

October first week

Those who have been following this blog regularly will know that I’ve been trying to access the jumbled ice above Laguna Blanca. Back in July I went with my local climbing friend Sebastian and climbed the hanging glacier from the lake. That point of access was too dangerous, but after making further reconnaissance near the summit of Cerro Madsen I discovered a safer route. From just below the summit of Madsen the slope drops off from the north towards the glacier. Just last week I managed to descend far enough to tell that it was the most viable route. I knew I had to give it a try; it was top on my priority list. I had devised a plan to shoot jagged blue ice in the foreground with Fitz Roy and Poincenot in the background. The shot would be unique, no climbers go onto that glacier and certainly, I’ve never heard of a photographer making that kind of effort.

Before I write about the descent I wanted to expound some of my current thoughts about photography. Only last night I was watching the BBC world service news report. A lady was being interviewed about her work with Playdo – the colorful dough like substance made for young children to play with. The lady on television was recreating famous photographs in Playdo. When the interviewer mentioned the word ‘art’ the lady said ‘I wouldn’t call this art, I’m only copying in Playdo’.

That comment made me think of photography today, how many people seriously think of themselves as fine art photographers, yet all they manage to do is copy a scene that’s been shot a million times before. Maybe if they’re lucky they’ll get a great sky but no matter what they’re just making a copy.

Surely it’s more satisfying to capture an image that’s never been shot before or capture one that has but in a new and significantly better way.

This sort of thinking is just one of the reasons that led me to remove my images from Flickr and 500px. I want a fresh slate; I want to have a collection of unique images rather than a collection of copy shots. Someone once said to me that it doesn’t matter if an image has been shot a million times. They pointed out that with a population of billions some images would always be new to someone. Maybe that’s true but I’ll leave it to others to do that kind of copy photography. I’ve little interest in copy work and much less would I consider it fine art. Marc Adamus once said the worst thing anyone could do was to find someone else’s photograph and go out and copy it for themselves. Sadly it would appear far too few photographers heed his advice.

Ok returning to my new adventure. I had in mind an idea to shoot Fitz Roy and Poincenot with jagged blue ice in the foreground. I thought the jagged shapes of ice would compliment the shape of the mountains and the deep blue ice would compliment sunrise on the east faces of the peaks. Piedras Blancas Glacier is protected on all sides with the only viable weak point being the descent down from Cerro Madsen. Because none of my friends were interested in doing this trip I had to go alone, I also had to be prepared to stay as long as possible on the ice. Fitz Roy is notoriously difficult to photograph and can be hidden in clouds for days on end.

When I went up Madsen last week I really struggled in the deep snow. I think I had lost some fitness as a result of inactivity and fine dining whilst staying in the Explora Hotel in Torres del Paine. Thankfully when I set out on the 1st of October I felt much fitter, I reached Laguna de los Tres easily, outpacing tourists on the path; even those with just lightweight daypacks. Before the lake, I branched off to the north and began the slog up Cerro Madsen. My footprints from the previous week had completely disappeared; there was no evidence that anyone had set foot on the mountain. With crampons biting firmly into the snow I felt confidence in my step and soon made the ridgeline below the summit. The north side of the mountain dropped steeply below me, much of the descent is made up of very loose and very sharp rock. I purposely wore my old hiking boots; this kind of terrain can put significant wear on your soles. As I made my way down the mountain I built small rock cairns every so often, I figured if I got into difficulties this would indicate my route to any rescuers. Every so often I’d have to down climb steep snow chutes, without crampons this would be impossible. The steep snow chutes made for an easy descent but it was not without risk. It’s all too easy to let yourself get lulled into a sense of security, in reality, a slip would result in a rapid, and likely unstoppable fall, only halted by an unpleasant meeting with a nasty great boulder.

Once or twice I came to problem areas of iced rock, the ice was so hard and the level so steep that my crampons struggled to grip. I made two slides and bloodied my hand in a fall but I eventually made it to the bottom.

I reached the glacier with plenty of time to scout and find both a composition and a suitable place to lay my bivvy. Unfortunately, the glacier was covered in crevasses, some open whilst others lay hidden beneath a cover of snow. Crossing the glacier was exceptionally risky, I was all too well aware that the risk of solo travel on the glacier was not really worth the rewards of a photograph. After spending a couple of hours I decided it wasn’t going to happen. There’s a shot there on that ice but I couldn’t find it. Not safely anyway.

As the sun set behind the mountains the temperature suddenly became very cold, I wanted to get in my bivvy as soon as I could. Ideally, I’d have camped off the ice but had I camped at the edge of the glacier I’d have stood the risk of a rock fall or avalanche. The only safe option was to camp on hard ice on the glacier. Finding a sheltered spot I settled down for the night, it was a clear night with the moon not set to rise until past midnight. As twilight turned to dark I watched the Milky Way stretching across the sky over Fitz Roy, it was a stunning and memorable sight. During the night I was woken on a few occasions by the sound of icefalls and grinding sounds coming from the ice below me, despite those interruptions I slept remarkably well.

The weather forecast had predicted 70% high cloud for the morning of the 2nd October, that forecast was very accurate. The sky was indeed 70% cloud covered; the 30% that wasn’t cloud covered was the section of sky behind Fitz Roy. Literally, the only wedge of the cloudless sky was directly in the position I was facing my camera. The 300 or so degrees out of the composition was full of color!

Without a great composition, I wasn’t too worried. After struggling to pull on my frozen boots I fired off a few sample documentary shots as the sun hit the summit of Fitz Roy. It was a worthwhile trip and I’m certain there’s a killer shot out there waiting for someone to capture.

Dropping down from Cerro Madsen

Dropping down from Cerro Madsen

A Google Earth screen grab showing my GPS track

A Google Earth screen grab showing my GPS track

Another Google Earth image, you can see where I explored the fingers of the glacier.

Another Google Earth image, you can see where I explored the fingers of the glacier.

One from July showing the climb up from the lake

One from July showing the climb up from the lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prints for the Hotels

I wanted to have some prints made for the local hotels in town. I knew the quality wasn’t going to be spectacular, I was hoping for some basic poster type images that would look ok from a distance. After spending $200 this is the rubbish that I got back.

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Nice printing!!!

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Complete mess

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