Patagonia Blog

Your guides responsibilities…Los Glaciers National Park

Photographic guiding in Los Glaciers National Park 2017

In previous posts, I stipulated that workshops required a permit as well as a local guide. This would be the case if a group was being taught photography; essentially any teaching activity requires a permit, as long as you’re not teaching within the park you can guide a workshop providing you also have a local guide. Getting the park to define teaching isn’t easy, but in all honesty, I don’t think any workshops need to worry, as long as a workshop guide isn’t actually sitting clients down with pens, pencils, and notebooks there shouldn’t be a problem. Despite the insistence that no teaching takes place within the park there is, of course, no problem with teaching back in your hotel.

If a guide did intend teaching in the park there are a great many hoops. The guide would have to provide proof of insurance for each member of the party. This insurance would have to be one singular policy covering the group.
Proof of 3rd party insurance would also have to be provided for cover in case of accidental damage, an example being if a client caused a fire.
A permit to teach must be applied for at least 90 days in advance.

All workshops will be required to have a local guide; there are a number of companies in El Chalten. One of the better companies is Fitz Roy Expeditions:

www.fitzroyexpediciones.com.ar

It should be remembered that local guides are NOT PERMITTED to take clients off the trail.
I also spoke with Alejandro about the commercial use of images taken in the park. The Rangers have always insisted that photographic images taken within the park cannot be commercially used in any way. They’re now beginning to appreciate the difference between a big pro commercial photographer and a keen amateur potentially selling a few prints online.

Proposed park entrance fee *

Finally, the biggest change for visitors is a proposed introduction of a park entrance fee. This has been talked about for years, however, it’s now looking like it will be introduced, potentially as early as September of this year.
The park is looking for a non-governmental organization to take over collecting the fees. The fee is expected to be 150 pesos for a single day and 300 for a three-day period. At present, there’s no word of a longer permit.

Climbers are expected to be charged triple, with fees funding more rescue services. There is, however, no talk of rescue helicopters.
Finally, there’s no talk of creating a locking entrance gate, so photographers will have no problems accessing the park pre-sunrise providing they purchased their permits in advance.

* As of mid-2017 this the fee system has yet to be implemented.

 


Back in Europe

I missed this by only a week.

I missed this by only a week.

Well, I did my five-month stint and I’m now back in Europe. Sad to say but it wasn’t particularly productive, I left Chalten feeling demoralized and if I’m being totally honest I left feeling I wouldn’t go back.  The weather was too warm and too dry, there was less snow than last year and that’s saying something. Now back in Europe I check the weather and see it has snowed hard in the town! In fact, the weather reports suggest lots more snow is expected to fall.

 

 

I think I’m going to return to Chalten one more time, but I might take a couple of years out. In the mean time I’ll be doing a little work in Europe. I thought I’d add a few thoughts for anyone considering a photo trip to Chalten.

Do’s and Dont’s in Los Glaciers National Park

  • If booking onto a workshop make sure the guide is hiring a local guide, without one you will be asked to leave the park, Full details below.
  • Local guides are not allowed to take people off the trail.  The rules are bent slightly but you will not be allowed access to all areas.
  • Check the weather, then pay no attention to it. Seriously check the weather, but it’s frequently inaccurate. I’m fond of saying that the only way you will guarantee you won’t get a shot is if you don’t go to the mountains.
  • I use Wind Guru to get my weather reports, it’s wise to check the weather for the ice field as well as the town and even the weather to the east.
  • Google Earth is invaluable for all photographic planning, as are star finding apps like PhotoPills
  • Chip and Pin bank cards usually don’t work in Chalten, so take U.S dollars.
  • Bring some food from home, El Chalten has a miserable choice of food, trekking food is especially hard to come by.
  • Learn a little basic Spanish, locals tend to speak a bit of English, but as with any travel experience, it helps to make the effort.
  • Try to learn the names of other mountains, the climbing history is fascinating.
  • When leaving Chalten it’s possible to get the bus from the big hostel Rancho Grande, this saves you lugging all your kit to the bus station.
  • There is a gas station, it’s just south of the ranger station and looks like a shipping container.
  • You can buy most camp necessities in Chalten, gas is available for stoves such as JetBoil, also White Gas.
  • Wifi is improving, in the more expensive hotels, it actually works.
  • Never start a fire in the park and camp only in recognized camp sites.
  • Don’t go to remote areas of the park on your own, remember there is no helicopter rescue.
  • It’s fine to drink water from the streams, the one exception is the trek to Pliegue del Tumbado due to cattle.
  • Be respectful of other photographers, April is getting really busy, just because you’re on a paying workshop does not give you the right to tell me to move out of your way. (It happens!)
  • If you’re asked by a park official if you’re selling your photographs or if you’re a professional explain your situation. They will allow you some leeway, you’re not allowed to photograph commercially without a permit. This means you can’t take photographs that will end up in, for example, an advertising campaign.
  • Chalten is almost free of crime, none the less it pays to be careful. I’d be wary of leaving valuables unattended especially during festival times when visitors arrive from out of town.

I’m sure there’s a lot more I could add but If anyone has any questions feel free to message me: info@andrewwaddington.com

 

Save

Save


Preparing to leave Patagonia

Preparing to leave Patagonia

It’s been a while since my last post and I’d like to be able to submit some new and impressive images. Unfortunately this winter continues to disappoint, we had a cold spell, which did at least allow me to shoot some ice conditions, but we’re now experiencing warmer weather. This means there’s no ice, and with the exception of one morning we’ve had almost no snow the entire winter. I will be leaving Chalten on August 3rd and in all honesty I don’t know that I’ll be returning. Accessing the back of Fitz Roy has become a dream, which unfortunately looks to be a pipe dream. I ask my local friends to join me and they appear keen, but tie them down and they won’t commit. This is frustrating because it’s far too dangerous to go out on my own. It’s been suggested I head elsewhere, and I have been to Torres del Paine twice in the past 4 months. The last trip was unproductive; TdP is even warmer than Chalten. Clearly Patagonia has entered into a cycle of warm weather.

_ACW3443I went to Perito Moreno Glacier and took this image from the waters edge. It’s rather dangerous due to the ever advancing glacier which threatens to come toppling down on you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

_ACW3638I went to Torres del Paine, the first night was really still so I took a few shots from _ACW3746the typical touristy locations. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t particularly favorable in the following days.

 

 

 

_ACW3655And finally another from the campsite.

 

 

 

I returned to Chalten exhausted, but a light dusting of snow lay on the ground, so first thing in the morning I was out in the park. I made the decision to go 6km into the park rather than attempt new and potentially interesting shots from Laguna Torre. The reason I did this was because Laguna Torre is lower and the areas that interest me see more sunlight, therefore it was quite possible that the snow would have melted, or not existed at all.

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One from above Laguna Blanca. I shot this at about midnight, it was so windy my headlamp was literally blown off my head, it fell straight down the cliff never to be seen again!

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Yet again at the gorge

Yet again at the gorge

I’ve been told I spend too much time at the gorge, but I can’t help trying to get a sunrise shot. It’s a mere 10km (each way). I was out there this morning, it looked like it was going to be amazing and in some respects it was, but by sunrise, the clouds had completely shrouded Fitz Roy. I’m heading back out tomorrow, fingers crossed!

A super warm foreground with strong cyan in the sky make a weird image

As you can see the sky was on fire behind me

As you can see the sky was on fire behind me

 


Trip Report Cordon del bosque to Estancia La Suerte

Trip Report Cordon del bosque to Estancia La Suerte

 

Last year I did a lot of scouting within both the national park and the surrounding lands in the El Chalten area. Many of these exploits never made it onto my blog. If scouting images don’t prove worthwhile I tend to think a trip report would have little of interest. These past few days I’ve been out on a three-day trip, which I feel has good potential for photographing the park from a northeasterly position.

Shooting from the northeast could allow for some great shots both at sunrise and at sunset.

Here’s some pics, all taken with a cheapo camera.

_dsc2082/ _DSC2118_DSC2119_DSC2121_DSC2124_DSC2125_DSC2133_DSC2134_DSC2139_DSC2140_DSC2141_DSC2142_DSC2143_DSC2146East-sideWest-side


Climbing Paso Superior to the base of the Brecha de Italianos

Climbing Paso Superior to the base of the Brecha de Italianos

I just returned from a climb over Paso Superior and accessing the very base wall of Fitz Roy. A real climber would consider this a mere trek. During the summer when the route is still covered with snow left over from the winter it’s an easy climb because the snow tends to level things out. With a light dusting of snow in late fall, it was a challenge because the crevasses were wide open and light snow covered the rock hiding places to put your hands and feet.
Paso Superior is essentially the last gap before starting to climb Fitz Roy or Poincenot. Just before the pass, there’s a small sheltered area with a depression in the snow, which is base camp for anyone climbing Fitz Roy from the east. It’s easy to imagine what it would be like in the summer with numerous foreign climbers.

I agreed to go with my local friend Sebastian despite the weather forecasting snow. It was nice to venture somewhere new and it will remain a good memory; one, which I feel, will give more meaning to the photographs I’ve taken during my time in this area. I’m sure if given the chance earlier in my life I would have taken up alpine climbing. Generally, the term alpine climbing means to climb on mixed snow and rock while carrying all other equipment such as camping gear.
My climbing partner Sebastian works in Chalten as a heating engineer, he works a lot, and can’t get out as much as he would like, due to this he’s rather unfit. This is a shame because on a good day he’s a strong and competent climber.

If time allowed I would love to have made an attempt on the climb of the Brecha de Italianos (see pic), which would have given excellent views of the ice field and the Torre range to the west.

We climbed into the dark under headlamp until we’re able to camp at a place called Punta Velluda, or ‘Hairy Point’. I’m guessing the name was chosen due to the spiked rock pillars rather than the English term, which could give another meaning. Thankfully by morning, I was able to cajole my friend into continuing.

Here are some images shot with a basic point and shoot:

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_DSC1925_DSC1931_DSC1969_DSC1981_DSC1974 _DSC2000_DSC2035_DSC2046_DSC2025glaciar superior_DSC2057_DSC2063


Photographic guiding in Los Glaciers National Park 2017

Photographic guiding in Los Glaciers National Park 2017

A few weeks ago I posted a blog report stating that any photographic workshop here in Los Glaciers required a permit. I’ve discussed this in detail with the head park ranger Alejandro Caparros. In the last few days, Alejandro has discussed the regulations with the governors of Argentina’s national park system. Therefore what I write here is the most up to date information available and is written with Alejandro’s permission.

In my last post, I stipulated that workshops required a permit as well as a local guide. This would be the case if a group was being taught photography; essentially any teaching activity requires a permit, as long as you’re not teaching within the park you can do so freely providing you have a local guide. Getting the park to define teaching isn’t easy, but in all honesty, I don’t think any workshops need to worry, as long as a workshop guide isn’t actually sitting clients down with pens, pencils, and notebooks there shouldn’t be a problem. There is, of course, no problem with teaching back in your hotel.

If a guide did intend teaching in the park there are a great many hoops. The guide would have to provide proof of insurance for each member of the party. This insurance would have to be one singular policy covering the group.

Proof of 3rd party insurance would also have to be provided to cover in case of accidental damage, an example being if a client caused a fire.

A permit to teach must be applied for at least 90 days in advance.

All workshops will be required to have a local guide; there are a number of companies in El Chalten. One of the more popular is Fitz Roy Expeditions:

www.fitzroyexpediciones.com.ar

It should be remembered that local guides are NOT PERMITTED to take clients off the trail.

I also spoke with Alejandro about the commercial use of images taken in the park. The Rangers have always insisted that photographic images taken within the park cannot be commercially used in any way. They’re now beginning to appreciate the difference between a big pro commercial photographer and a keen amateur potentially selling a few prints online.

Park Entrance Fee

Finally, the biggest change for most visitors will be the introduction of a park entrance fee. This has been talked about for years, however, it’s now looking like it will be introduced, potentially as early as September of this year.

The park is looking for a non-governmental organization to take over collecting the fees. The fee is expected to be 150 pesos for a single day and 300 for a three-day period. At present, there’s no word of longer permit.

Climbers are expected to be charged triple, with fees funding more rescue services. There is, however, no talk of rescue helicopters.

There’s no talk of creating a locking entrance gate, so photographers will have no problems accessing the park before sunrise providing they purchased their permits in advance.


How much do we know about the places we go?

How much do we know about the places we go?

Long before someone conjured up the name 'workshop'

Long before someone conjured up the name ‘workshop’

Since all the workshops left the park we’ve had some rather unpleasant weather in El Chalten. This past week the clouds have been so low they’ve obscured even the peaks surrounding the town. On these occasions you don’t know whether the clouds are sitting low in the valley, it could very easily be the case that Fitz Roy is poking out with a sea of cloud beneath. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to head out and get up high. As such I’ve been out wandering around at dawn, unfortunately, there’s not been enough heat from the sun to burn down the cloud layer. You’d think I could shoot the forest and the fog may indeed create some interest, but it just doesn’t inspire me when there’s no interesting light.
I went out to the gorge one morning at 6.00am, I didn’t leave until the afternoon but nothing happened. It’s quite hard to stay enthusiastic when it’s like this; I just have to hold on till it clears.

With time on my hands, I’ve been thinking about how travel has changed in the twenty-first century. I add here an article taken from my local paper. Back in 1981, my father went out to the Everest region of Nepal on what was surely one of the earliest commercial photographic workshops. Nepal opened to foreigners in 1952 nearly 20 years before my father’s trip, however, Alfred Gregory’s 1981 photographic holiday was the very first tourist group to enter via the south by flying into Lukla.

Alf Gregory who organized the trip. He was the photographer on the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953

Alf Gregory who organized the trip. He was the photographer on the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953

I was barely ten years old, but I remember my father’s preparing for the trip. As a family, we would go hiking in the English Lake District at weekends and he’d wake earlier so he could walk to work.

My father was fascinated by stories of the early climbs in the Himalaya; prior to his trip, he’d read everything he could. Bookshelves were stocked with titles from climbers such as Eric Shipton, Chris Bonnington, Mallory and of course the 1953 Hillary, Tenzing ascent. A map was purchased showing the route the team would take, upon his return it was framed with the route carefully drawn out. It still hangs in my parent’s home today.
As a married man this was the only trip he took away from the family.

Now in this generation I see people wandering all over the globe, jumping on a plane

Incredibly this article made it into the national newspapers in the UK

Incredibly this article made it into the national newspapers in the UK

on a whim to photograph wherever they please. That’s all well and good, but I wonder how much people truly appreciate the places they visit. Frequently I meet people here in El Chalten with no idea of the names of the peaks they point their cameras at. I like to think I’ve absorbed as much as I can about the places I visit, particularly here in Los Glaciers National Park.

When my father returned from the Everest region he made a number of prints, many of which were hung in his camera shop. Some stayed at home, certainly, those early prints had an influence on me, 25 years later I went trekking in the same area.

This article was taken from the local newspaper. The month long trip cost £1225

This article was taken from the local newspaper. The month long trip cost £1225

Finally here’s a quick shot I took this morning, it’s not particularly well processed. I don’t have that much time to work on images so it’s just a quick shot.

For the first time in days the clouds open up a little

For the first time in days the clouds open up a little

And here’s a simple black and white, the peak in the back is Cerro Rosado.

_AAA1193-Edit


Glacier Grande

Adela Glacier

I just returned from a trip to photograph on and in front of Glacier Grande, this is the glacier visible from the east shoreline of Laguna Torre. Back in 2010, it was possible to take guided treks on the ice, since then glacial retreat has made access far more difficult. Accessing the ice requires scrambling down a steep bank of very loose rock which often breaks free sending anything from loose stones to car sized boulders hurtling down to the ice. It’s certainly no place to linger any longer than necessary. Despite its difficulties, it’s a seriously rewarding place to photograph. It’s essential to get permission from the Rangers before heading out. They used to give me a month long access permits; nowadays these are being restricted to weeklong stints. I never spend a week on the ice; it’s just nice not to have to keep bothering the Rangers.

Late April and so far all of May has been still, the strong winds for which Patagonia is so well known have been kept at bay. These unusually still conditions make for pleasant hiking, but at the back of your mind, you have to remember a glacier is a dangerous place of course just like any mountainous region weather conditions can change rapidly.

_AAA0403

This was a super quick shot I took whilst balanced on a very sharply angled crevasse ridge. Trying to stop my backpack from falling into the crevasse and using a tripod with ‘floppy leg syndrome’ was not easy.

 

 

 

_AAA0343

The Condor would have been flying over the glacier just six years ago!

 

 

 

 

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This one was criticized because the mountain looks slanted, it’s not, it’s just an illusion caused by the foreground ice. I’m definitely not going to rotate the image to make it look right, it either works or it doesn’t. As it probably doesn’t I’ll move on to other compositions and keep trying for a more interesting sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Guiding in Patagonia…. The Rules!

Guiding in Patagonia 2017 and the Rules of Commercial Photography

 

Photographers are routinely being stopped and questioned in Los Glaciers National Park (LGNP). The Rangers assume that anyone carrying a tripod is a professional. It’s against park rules to sell photographs without a permit, in this day and age a rule like this might seem impossible to enforce. I’m pretty sure whoever made this ruling is unable to distinguish the difference between someone selling images for a few dollars via a stock agency and someone photographing for a major advertising agency. This rule cannot realistically be enforced; certainly, the park would struggle to set their lawyers on one-time visitors who return to a foreign country.

Those intending to guide photographers next year are going to come under a lot more scrutiny by the Rangers. The rules In LGNP have not changed; they are just going to be more thoroughly enforced.

This year has been the first year that Rangers have placed themselves at the start of the main trails in Los Glaciers N.P. They also regularly patrol along the trails; clearly, a group of photographers with tripods are not hard to spot.

Anyone guiding a commercial workshop in Torres del Paine must employ a local guide, who’s job it will be to make sure nobody breaks park rules. Most importantly for photographers, this means – within reason – you will not be allowed to stray off the trail, this also applies to LGNP.

Los Glaciers National Park goes one step further, workshops must have a permit. This permit is available from Rosana Rivarola her email address is permisosyeventospnlg@apn.gov.ar

I’m told the application process takes at least three months.

For local guiding in LGNP, I recommend Fitz Roy Expeditions, I can’t personally recommend an outfit in Torres del Paine.

Fitz Roy Expeditions

Finally please don’t break the rules, the park is there for everyone to enjoy.

It’s no use telling the rangers you’re just a bunch of friends photographing together, they’re not stupid.

 

 


Losing friends

Joerg Bonner pulls a 12kg salmon from the river

Joerg Bonner pulls a 12kg salmon from the river

Losing Friends

Joerg Bonner has become a good friend over the last few weeks, we met all too briefly last year. His passion for Patagonia matches mine, he’s been out here several times, this last visit has been his longest; he’s been here since December. Today he leaves for Chile, but before he left we got to cook up a 12kg salmon he caught in the river north of Chalten. It was the first fish he ever caught and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

 

 

 

'Lenny' the cat

‘Lenny’ the cat

As well as Joerg all the workshops all seem to have left, I also lost my cat. I found this little cat about 6km down the trail to Laguna Torre. He’d have been attacked by a fox so I carried him home, he wasn’t a wild cat, I could tell he was house trained. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around long, I let him out for some fresh air and he never came home.

 

 

 

Piedras Blancas Glacier

Piedras Blancas Glacier

Here’s a location I went to visit recently, the glacier is called Piedras Blancas Glacier, it’s in the north end of the park and requires a steep scramble to access this area. I put this image online and its received good reviews so I think I’ll head back up here soon. There’s not much shelter, it’s a place to bivvy, but I think I can build a half decent stone shelter to protect from the wind. The plan is to shoot the Milky Way with a bit of moonlight, of course, I’m also open to shooting sunrise and sunset here. I’ll keep all options open.

 

 

 

 

And a few other images:

''The Fortress''

”The Fortress”

I’ve been visiting this area of the gorge a lot, every time I go here I work a bit more on my stone shelter. It’s an area that can receive a lot of wind, so the shelter can be very welcome. To be honest, though I’ve built it more as a way of keeping occupied and keeping warm while I wait for the light. I see this area is getting a lot more visitation. I’m beginning to find trash lying around by the stone circle. Please if you go out here keep it tidy.

 

 

The Gorge

The Gorge

It's about 9km to the gorge

It’s about 9km to the gorge

The gorge in late April

The gorge in late April


Irreparable Nikon D810 takes my second best photograph!

Broken Nikon takes one of my all time favorite images…

I got the following email from Nikon when I sent my D810 body in for repair. They told me they couldn’t fix my camera which has multiple issues after I took a fall. My camera hit rocks and was fully submerged in water.
It feels really good to know that despite its failures I got one of my all time favorite shots with the body.

 

 

 

(As a little follow up; my Nikon is still operating nearly two years later)

Dear Andrew,

I am emailing with regards to your Nikon D810 which is currently with us at the moment.
Upon inspection, we have found the unit to be beyond repair. The camera has received heavy impact to the top cover with the main body casting broken in two places, unfortunately, this part is not available as a spare part.
Please let us know if you would like us to estimate for a chargeable exchange, return your unit unrepaired or recycle the unit on site.
Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused. If you do have any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Kind Regards,

India Minns

Service Support Agent – Imaging

Nikon UK Limited

Nikon House, 380 Richmond Road, Kingston, Surrey, KT2 5PR


Patagonia… Is this the end for workshop groups in Los Glaciers N.P?

Patagonia 2016

2016 came around all too quickly and before I knew it I was on the plane returning to Patagonia. Thanks to a rather uneventful flight I arrived with minimum fuss and all my baggage intact, including the 20kg box of food (mostly coffee) that I brought with me.

As I’ve only just received a new computer I’ve had to wait over a month to be able to write this blog entry. When I arrived in early March the trekking season was beginning to wind down; as I write this now in mid-April the photographers are out in force. The hotels and restaurants will certainly welcome the new influx of photographers, however, the park rangers are far from pleased. I’ll return to this subject later, but first I want to mention one of the trips I did when I first arrived.

For my first day in Chalten I let myself get talked into hiking Cerro Madsen, this is the peak, which looks down on Laguna de los Tres from the north. I went up with an Austrian photographer named Joerg Bonner who’s been shooting in Chalten since Christmas. We’ve got a lot in common, Joerg is a nature photographer, by that I mean he’s got the desire to capture great images naturally. He’s not here in Chalten on a two week trip with a bucket list of comp stomps, he’s here shooting the mountains when they’re at their best and if the light isn’t good or the clouds don’t look good he’s not the kind of guy to delve into Photoshop to create something that wasn’t naturally there. I’ve got a lot of respect for people like Joerg and while I do respect other photographers and their choices, I have absolutely no desire to follow the computerized efforts of other less patient photographers. I appreciate some people enjoy creating images on a computer, but it does nothing whatsoever for me.

Within a day of the Cerro Madsen trip, I head off with my local climbing friends to attempt to summit Domo Blanco. Anyone who followed this blog in 2015 will remember me writing about the view from the summit. Domo Blanco rises to 2300m and whilst obviously dwarfed by Fitz Roy it does have arguably the best view of Fitz Roy from the west. As an added bonus you can gaze south towards the line of Torres peaks and to the north the great wall of Piergiorgio. We set off as a group of four, unfortunately, one member of our group took a fall on the approach and hurt his back. We were able to continue but this cost us over an hour delay, that hour and an unfavorable change in the weather cost us the summit. I will definitely return, reaching the summit of this peak and seeing the view from the top has become my last real challenge in Patagonia.

Early fall

Early fall

Los Glaciers National Park rules and regulations for commercial photography

I now want to write a little about the issues the park rangers are having with the influx of photographers in Los Glaciers National Park.

In the last few couple of years, the park rangers have started to notice large groups of photographers wandering around off trail. While hiking off trail is not against park rules it’s certainly not encouraged. In the past, nobody worried about the odd photographer, but now we’re seeing groups as large as 20.

The head park rangers are clamping down on this and I expect massive changes in 2017. Currently, the rules are that if you take pictures solely for yourself and have no plans to sell them then that’s ok. But if you’re on a commercial workshop you need a local guide then the guide must have a permit. I would hazard a guess and say that almost no workshop guide currently has the correct paperwork. In the last day or two, I’ve heard stories of rangers evicting photographers from the park, those returning are being told their cameras will be confiscated.

For this reason, I would strongly urge anyone on a workshop or anyone thinking of taking a 2017 workshop to insist you see a copy of the guides permit.

I should mention that in Torres del Paine rules seem to be far less strict.

Personally, I agree with the rules, there’s little more annoying than getting out into the park at 6.00am only to find dozens of photographers all clamoring for a shot. I don’t blame the photographers but I do blame the greedy workshop guides who in my opinion care nothing about pushing big groups into small areas that cannot sustain large numbers.


End of October

The end of October – a quick climb up Cerro Solo

You Tube video link (music removed)

Every month I head to the mountains to try to photograph the moon setting between Fitz Roy and Poincenot. I’ve been attempting to find the precise angle from a given position but each month clouds have thwarted my attempts. This month I was all set to head out when a friend came to ask if I wanted to climb Cerro Solo. I had to make a decision, more reconnaissance or go for a proper adventure. I decided to hell with the moon shot, even if the moon was setting in the perfect position other aspects of the image weren’t ideal. I opted for the climb instead.

Cerro Solo is the ski ramp shaped peak that lies immediately south of Fitz Roy. It looks quite impressive when viewed from the trail to Laguna Torre. I use Google Earth a lot to help plan my shoots and from that program,  it’s easy to see that Fitz Roy isn’t particularly photogenic when viewed from Cerro Solo.

In many ways, the same can be said for Cerro Torre. This being true it’s still nice to get the chance to climb with friends, visit new areas of the park and climb a peak which features in one of my photographs.

Towards the summit of Cerro Solo. Fitz Roy in the background

Towards the summit of Cerro Solo. Fitz Roy in the background

From the summit of Cerro Solo, not the greatest for photography but worth a look

From the summit of Cerro Solo, not the greatest for photography but worth a look

Ancient fossilised ammonite

Fossils in the area. Few visitors to El Chalten realize the area is rich with fossils. On a recent hike with a friend in town, we came across this ammonite.


Mid October

Mid October

As I write El Chalten, Argentina’s newest town is gearing up for its 30th-anniversary celebrations, up and down the high street businesses are reopening after the winter. It’s remarkable to look around; several newly constructed buildings have met the spring deadline, while many others are revived with a fresh coat of paint. Last night I was able to look down on the approach road and see a line of cars driving into town for the celebrations. I was looking down because I was high up on Aguja Guillaumet – one of the peaks in the Fitz Roy range. At a shade under 2600m it stands 800m short of Fitz Roy, but for someone like myself with very, very little technical climbing experience it was a huge challenge.

As always I’m still committed to photography. I’ve no plans to devote myself to climbing, however, I’m living in a mountain mecca so it would be crazy not to go climbing. I can always benefit from more experience in the mountains.

Climbing will, of course, allow me to reach new and incredible parts of the park, however, the disadvantage is that climbers on the whole look for clear weather windows whereas photographers generally prefer dramatic cloud filled skies.

When the latest clear weather window showed up in the forecast my friend Sebastian suggested several peaks before settling on Aguja Guillaumet. I was just along for the ride so I was happy to go anywhere. Gustavo would also join us; he’s another climber originally from Brazil but works in one of the towns climbing shops.

We left Piedra del Fraile at a respectful hour and made the climb to Piedras Negra. It was at this point that I discovered I’d somehow lost my sunglasses. With a cloudless sky, the sun’s glare on the snowfields was extremely strong, it was unpleasant but I wasn’t turning back. Once we reached the Guillaumet pass at 2000m we made our bivouac, 1500m below to the east I could see Piedras Blancas Glacier where I’d camped only last week. To the west, we could see Marconi Pass and the ice field.

At sunrise we melted snow for a quick breakfast and headed off in perfect climbing weather, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Sebastian had chosen a climbing route with mixed conditions; to begin we had to pass a bergschrund – basically an area of ice that has broken away from a cliff – then climb a short ice wall. Both Sebastian and Gustavo made attempts to pass this obstacle without success. This was the first pitch and it was taking up valuable time. Finally, they let the gringo have a try and somehow I managed to pass the first challenge. Later I wondered if they’d deliberately faltered at this obstacle so as to give me confidence for what was to come, but I’m no longer a ten year old so perhaps I really did do well. Once past that first wall, we had to climb a 200m couloir – a vee shaped crack. At about 45º it was steep to begin but it would only get steeper, near the top the angle was more like 70º with the crux being the last chockstone with a mix of vertical ice glazed rock.

Once past the couloir, we got a glimpse of the mountains to the west. I got my first look at Domo Blanco, perhaps more impressive was the view of the ice field, higher up the mountain you could look all the way across as far as the Pacific. We stopped for a quick bite to eat before removing our crampons and continuing upwards. The next pitches were northwest facing with very little snow or ice. It was here that my friends really showed their experience and confidence. The climbing wasn’t hard but even easy climbs can be daunting with the potential of a couple of thousand feet free fall!

We reached the summit at about 9.00pm just after the sun had set behind the Chilean mountains; the sky was completely devoid of clouds and the air perfectly still. To the south Aguja Mermoz rose between Fitz Roy, which still had some color from the setting sunlight. Sebastian thought the descent would take around three hours, it would actually take eight.

As all climbers know most accidents happen on the way down a mountain. For this reason, we had to refrain from congratulating ourselves and instead concentrate on the task of getting back safely. My biggest fear was that I would come down the wrong way. Some of the ascents required traversing cliffs and so the descent would need to be followed in reverse. One mistake and you might pendulum off your line whereby you’d then have to climb up the rope. Furthermore, there was the risk that when you pull a 120m loop of rope it might get stuck, this did actually happen but thankfully Gustavo offered to climb back up and retrieve it. There was absolutely no moonlight so whilst the rope was retrieved I gazed up at the Milky Way, which paralleled the mountain range. I was anxious to reach the couloir because I thought it would be a fast couple of rappels but I discounted the length of that section, which required four more rappels. Finally, at 5.00am we arrived at our camp 22 hours after setting off exhausted but safe. It’s at this point that Gustavo admitted he had work in 4 hours, he would actually arrive for work the following day, albeit 10 hours late!

I was asleep before I knew it, which was just as well because I know the events of the day would play over in my mind. Climbing is exhilarating but it’s also incredibly dangerous. I was constantly aware that if you drop any piece of equipment your life could be in serious danger. Even something as simple as the battery running out in your headlight could be life threatening. I remember thinking I probably voided my travel insurance! I tell myself now that I probably won’t do too much climbing, Sebastian has set his sights on the Supercanaleta route of Fitz Roy and thinks I’m capable of making the ascent, whilst I might have the strength I’m not sure I’m prepared for that level of risk.

Despite my reservations, I’m glad to have made that climb, in future when I look at my Fitz Roy images I will look at the lower Guillaumet and have all the memories. All too often I think people flit around the world photographing here there and everywhere without really taking in the travel experience. Landscape photography shouldn’t be about who has the biggest portfolio. I feel if you want to really appreciate your images you have to absorb yourself properly in your surroundings.

Video Link to You Tube for the climb

Guillaumet from Piedras Negra

Guillaumet from Piedras Negra

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Looking west

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Towards more challenges

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GPS track  from Google Earth

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Packing light – don’t think so!

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Couloir approach Guillaumet

30th anniversary celebrations in the town

30th-anniversary celebrations in the town

Teasing horses is a big pastime in Argentina

Teasing horses is a big pastime in Argentina


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


End of September

End of September

It’s now seven weeks since I took a photograph, Ansel Adams was once quoted to say one a month was a good crop; I’m clearly somewhat short. Despite the unfavourable conditions I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I still head out into the park when any weather window opens and I try not to get demoralised by the featureless white, or cloudless skies. I have just returned from Torres del Paine without capturing a single image but I had the pleasure of guiding a client and staying for five nights at the Exlora Hotel. Visiting Chile gave me the opportunity to buy some much needed new hiking boots. It would make a very uninteresting story to explain the hassles required to get new boots in Patagonia, suffice to say that if anyone ever plans to visit this area for any length of time be sure to bring whatever footwear you think you’ll need.

A great sunset in Chile, ironically the day I left Torres del Paine!

A great sunset in Chile, ironically the day I left Torres del Paine!

Cerro Madsen (again)

Returning from Chile I set out into the park full of enthusiasm, El Chalten really does feel like home and I was glad to be back. I set out to climb Cerro Madsen; a peak I haven’t climbed since last April. Before I write about the climb I should mention that I’ve become somewhat superstitious lately. Little things will play on my mind, for instance, a couple of weeks ago I took my Pacraft out for some practice but I snapped the paddle in two. Rather than dwell on the problem I’ve managed to convince myself that maybe this happened for a reason, maybe if I’d used the Pacraft as intended I might have drowned.  Maybe that’s a little melodramatic but after my experiences using the raft in the UK, I’m understandably nervous.  I tell myself that perhaps this is the best way to look at something like this, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it.

Back to my climb; well before setting out on some adventure I help myself to a candy, I delve into the box without looking and if I pull out a red candy I deem it to be lucky; this was a red candy day. I set off for Cerro Madsen at about 2.00pm with the intention of sleeping a couple of nights near the summit. About 3km into the hike I suddenly remembered I was missing one very important item, I’d forgotten to pack my sleeping bag, damned I thought and this was supposed to be a lucky day!

Once I retrieved the sleeping bag and got back on the trail it was mid afternoon before I arrived at Laguna de los Tres, the sun was setting behind Fitz Roy, it was a lovely evening completely still without a cloud in the sky. The lake was frozen and from the lake onwards I had a long slog in deep snow. My crampons were essential, the slope is somewhere in the region of 30-40º, when the snow is deep you have lots of confidence but often and with no warning, you can step on hard patches where it would be easy to slip. Maybe I was out of shape, maybe I’d put on a few pounds from the luxury dining in the 5-star hotel in Torres del Paine, anyway I found it a physically exhausting. I strongly dislike using trekking poles but in those conditions, they’d have been very useful to help keep balance. When you lose your balance in the snow you waste a lot of energy trying to stay upright. I felt like I was making two steps forwards and one back.

It was a relief to reach the summit, my first priority was to compose my shot for the morning. Back in April, I’d accidentally left my QTVR pano’ head up on the summit. As luck would have it I found it right where I left it, maybe it was my lucky day after all.  I would go on to spend two nights on the mountain but the sunrises were far from inspiring. I’ve found a good composition but it requires passing a terribly exposed area. I’ll be back up there the next chance I get.

The alpine glow was very weak

The alpine glow was very weak

Sunrise and not a cloud in the sky

Sunrise and not a cloud in the sky

Sunset from last April

Sunset from last April

From the summit of Cerro Madsen, I spent some time exploring the opportunity of reaching Glacier Piedras Blancas. Anyone reading this may remember that I made a climb up to the glacier from Laguna Blanca during the winter. I have an idea to photograph Fitz Roy from the glacier but finding an access point has proved tricky. The route up from the lake is too dangerous as it passes large overhanging seracs, I heard several avalanches coming from that area whilst on the summit of Madsen so I’m not going to risk attempting that again.  I’m now almost certain I can access the glacier, I think I can pull off an exceptional photograph from there but I’ll probably wait till November to try to shoot when the sun rises in a more favorable angle.

Domo Blanco  (one for the summer)

In the past weeks, I’ve been in contact with two of the world’s most famous climbers, Rolando Garibotti and Colin Hayley are both exceptional alpine mountaineers, they’ve given me advice and sent several photographs showing the ascent of Domo Blanco.

Part of the route up Domo Blanco

Part of the route up Domo Blanco

Rolando making easy work of the clamber up Domo Blanco

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The Fitz Roy Range from the summit of Domo Blanco, image by Rolando Garibotti

I’m led to believe that I should be able to climb this peak. I think it offers incredible views of Fitz Roy from the west. The view across to the south towards Cerro Torre is also exceptional.

Just a simple shot but when the moon set behind FR you could see the shadow on the clouds, it looked pretty cool.

Just a simple shot but when the moon set behind FR you could see the shadow in the clouds, it looked pretty cool.

These lenticulars looked impressive but unfortunately they disappeared to the east by sunset.

These lenticulars looked impressive but unfortunately, they disappeared to the east by sunset.

If you have to bivvy on a glacier then you may as well have a good view. This ice cave was cold but nicely sheltered.

If you have to bivvy on a glacier then you may as well have a good view. This ice cave was cold but nicely sheltered.


End of August

End of August

It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve been here in El Chalten for exactly six months. Initially, my plan was to stay ten months as this would span autumn winter and spring, however, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay for another autumn, the last one wasn’t that spectacular so if I stay till April 2016 I still have eight more months. My entire catalog of images so far amounts to no more than a half-dozen photographs. There are probably three reasons for that. One of the issues I have is that once I find a composition I cannot be content until I feel I captured a great shot. Consequently, I’ll spend a long time trying to shoot the same place time and time again.

Cascada Vienticinco de Mayo is one such example, I might have three acceptable images from there but I can’t come away from Patagonia with a handful of images from precisely the same location. So whilst I still keep going back to that cascade I’m well aware that I’ll need a rare killer shot to make me content. The weather has also played a strong role in my inability to capture new images.

As mentioned – maybe whinged is more appropriate – we’ve had very little snow. I’m told it’s the warmest and driest winter on record. My snowshoes were unused, only last week I decided to sell them. I had to take them to the city to post to a buyer and within a day of returning to El Chalten it started to snow, we had deep snow covering the mountains but the cloud cover was thick, even the low peaks were hidden. Maybe if I’d sold my camera as well as my snowshoes the conditions would be perfect.

Today as I write this it’s raining hard and the snow is fast disappearing. I must admit it’s a little demoralizing.

Moving into September I’ll be busy for maybe two weeks in Torres del Paine, a lot depends on the weather. I have a number of plans but if the conditions are as dismal as they are in El Chalten I’ll have to reconsider. October will gradually see an increase in tourism. As we move towards longer and hopefully warmer days it’s my intention to concentrate more on climbing; I don’t particularly feel the need to climb tough routes, which is just as well because I don’t have the experience. My goal is to reach the best viewpoint from where I can photograph. After my recent trip out to Piedra Negra, I can see several possibly vantage points to photograph from the west of Fitz Roy. I think doing a circuit of the mountain is quite within my grasp. The circuit of the Fitz Roy range requires crossing two glaciers and two passes each with long multi-pitch rappels. Also on the cards is a chance to access Circo de los Altares on the ice field to view the Torre Range from the west. Several other peaks and adventures are planned so I must keep upbeat.


Mid August

Electrico Valley

I’m definitely someone who appreciates a map, especially a topographical map, it’s very easy to view the contours on a map and get a mental image of the topography. My Los Glaciers map is one of my favorite maps, together with detailed contours the map is accurately shaded to give dimension. For instance, the vast Continental Ice Field lying to the west of the Fitz Roy range and is shaded blue whilst glaciers are shaded in white. Many parts of the park will forever be inaccessible to me, in some way I find that alluring, I know for a fact I’ll never stand on the summit of Mount Fitz Roy yet the map allows me to dream a little. For a long time, I’ve held off visiting one area of the park. The Rio Electrico Valley is the gateway to the ice field. A mere day hike up the valley and a climb up to Paso Marconi and you can be on the third biggest ice field in the world. I’ve held off visiting the valley for a number of reasons, one of which is the price. The landowners charge the equivalent of $40 U.S to go across their field. I’d begrudge paying $5 so there’s no way I’d pay eight times that. Fortunately, in winter there’s nobody there to take your money so my friend Sebastian suggested he take me to Piedra Negra which is the base camp for many climbs in the north of the park.

Wind and snow but a happy warm glow

Wind and snow but a happy warm glow

Sebastian tells me that the Electrico Valley is for sale, apparently for twenty million dollars. What might happen if a new owner decides to ban access to his land? This scenario really irritates me and I for one would pay no attention to any restrictions. Beautiful mountain countryside is there for everyone to enjoy and should not be the private reserve of the rich.

Our departure for the Electrico Valley was delayed a few days due to bad weather but when we finally had a weather window it was on a cold crisp and bitterly cold day. Initially, it was extremely windy with flurries of snow blowing from the north. From the valley floor, we began a steep climb and soon reached the snowline. Without heavy climbing gear we made good progress, however, as the incline became steeper I began to wish I’d brought an ice axe. The snow was soft enough to give some purchase underfoot without allowing you to sink so much as to make passage a slog. Several sections were a bit worrisome especially sections where the snow was really hard and steep. Without an ice axe, there’s no telling how far you’d slide before coming to a halt, and no knowing what would cause that halt. When we reached Piedra Negra the north side of Fitz Roy was hidden in the clouds, we sat for a while

The clouds part to reveal the north face of Fitz Roy

The clouds part to reveal the north face of Fitz Roy

sheltered by a huge boulder. Sebastian pointed out the names of many of the lesser peaks, several of which he’d climbed including Aguja Guillaumet,

This is the best map for Los Glaciers National Park

This is the best map for Los Glaciers National Park

which is prominent in typical views of Fitz Roy from the town. Thankfully just before we made our descent the clouds parted to give a remarkable view of Fitz Roy’s northern face.


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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Mid July

Mid July

I’m now almost five months into my Patagonia trip; daylight hours are beginning to get longer now that we’ve passed the shortest day. I’ve mixed feelings about this, the shortest days have only about eight hours of light which in many ways is great because it allows me to set off hiking from my cabin at 8.00am and reach the centre of the park for sunrise rather than making a 4.00am start as will be the case in the middle of December. On the plus side in a month or two I will have much longer daylight hours and will be tackling lengthy hikes.

I’ve plans also to climb several local peaks including Cerro Solo, Cerro Electrico and Cerro Techado Negro. There will also be trips to O’Higgins Glacier, Glacier Torre, the Viedma and Perito Moreno Glaciers. I’m also intending to trek to Circo de los Altares to photograph Cerro Torre from the ice field which lies hidden to the west of the Fitz Roy range.

The weather is proving to be quite miserable at the moment; we’re getting our first heavy winds in weeks. The ferocity of the wind is so strong that I’m sometimes left wondering if my cabin can withstand the gusts. The cabin was built in an area of relative shelter yet it is still hit with gusts of up to 40 – 50 knots. Snow comes and goes, this is in truth a blessing, I’ve yet to need my snow shoes and am able to hike into the park without difficulty. Winter conditions will last right through into September so I expect plenty of opportunity to photograph snow scenes.

The cloud clears to show Techado Negro. I'll try climbing this soon

The cloud clears to show Techado Negro. I’ll try climbing this soon

El Chalten, it's only small but it grows year by year

El Chalten, it’s only small but it grows year by year

What a welcome

What a welcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epic Reconnaissance

Glacier Blanca in the distance

Glacier Blanca in the distance

A few months ago I was introduced to Sebastian a local climber from El Chalten, I’ve been so busy in the past five months that I’ve only just managed to get out and climb with him. I’ve been cultivating an idea to shoot Fitz Roy from Glacier Blanca, accessing the glacier is extremely difficult. It’s bordered by steep mountains on all sides, except the east where the glacier drops into Laguna Blanca. We set off just before sunrise with a plan to access a possible rappel below the summit of Cerro Electrico, however, once we reached Laguna Blanca we discovered that the lake wasn’t entirely frozen. Sebastian assured me that he wouldn’t cross the ice for all the tea in China, so rather than circuit the lake we decided to make an attempt to climb the glacial wall from the south. It was my first serious ice climb, the first time I’ve ever used two ice axes, and the first time I’ve ever been roped up to another climber. If either of us took a fall the idea is that the other climber could hope to arrest the fall with their ice axe. In reality this wouldn’t have happened, the ice was too hard and the snow too soft.

We began climbing at around 13.00hrs; it would be some four hours before we’d turn round and make the descent. We kept aiming for a boulder or other such landmark, telling ourselves we’d turn back once that point was reached; yet we couldn’t stop ourselves from pushing on. It was windy and bitterly cold; with my harness dragging at my trousers windblown snow found its way into my clothing but it would take more than mere discomfort to slow me down. I thoroughly enjoyed the climb; I was out discovering new possibilities and challenging myself more than I had done so for weeks.

It was only as we reached the half waypoint and as we were really close to the threatening blue ice that I began to question how well I knew Sebastian. For all I knew he

Sebastian introduces me to another edible food source

Sebastian introduces me to another edible food source llao llao

Initial route plan

Initial route plan

Our actual route

Our actual route

Sebastian happy to let me lead

Sebastian happy to let me lead

Some of that blue ice will make a nice foreground

Some of that blue ice will make a nice foreground

could have been the towns crazy climber, the one guy that nobody else would climb with. I had no idea how old his rope was, come to think of it I had no idea how old my harness was. I actually found my harness lying in the forest in Glacier National Park in Montana. I started to wonder how long it had lain on the ground with the suns UV rays stressing the webbing. Could I trust my own equipment, let alone my ability?

As we made our way higher and higher we were forced closer and closer to the huge overhanging glacier. Huge chunks of ice balanced precariously above us. Years earlier I once stood before Nepals Khumbu Ice Fall and I got the same feeling of awe but this time I was in the thick of it.

This one gives some idea of the climb

This one gives some idea of the climb

Finally at about 17.00 hrs we were forced to turn back. Sebastian was feeling the strain, he’s the same age as I am but he’s not been getting out hiking as much as I have. I would love to have spent just another half an hour climbing as I was sure we were at a position where the glacier levelled off. I was even tempted to unclip from my harness and just climb for another ten minutes on my own, but I knew that we were in an area of hidden crevasses. Retreat was essential, not least because we only had barely an hour of light left in the day.

We made our descent trying to follow our footsteps, in places these had already been obliterated due to the heavy windblown snow. Two rappels were necessary, at one point Sebastian used an ice screw to force a narrow tunnel into a block of ice. Through this he threaded some parachute cord, using this as a rappel point before we dropped off a near vertical 100’ ice sheet. Sebastian asked if I knew how to rappel, I’ve rappelled twice, once as a boy scout and once on an indoor climbing wall about ten years ago, how hard can it be! Sebastian went first, I didn’t want to even look at the anchor point; we trusted our lives with little more than a bootlace.

The lights fades fast on the descent. Only another 7 hours to go

The lights fades fast on the descent. Only another 7 hours to go

When we reached the bottom Sebastian told me he was too exhausted to make it back to town. He suggested we make our way to El Pilar where he assured me we could access some abandoned house and sleep the night. I didn’t argue even though I knew I could make it back to town on my own, if I were to head off quickly on my own I’d likely make home in under 3 hours, even with snow on the trails.

It would have been incredibly foolish to split up and I never seriously considered it. I just went along with Sebastian’s plan. The decision began the start of a marathon 5-hour hike that would leave us 16 km from town rather than a 3-hour hike back to the comfort of our own homes.

By the time we reached Laguna Blanca it was dark, with a moonless night, it was also snowing hard and we were well off trail. I’d never been in this area of the park before and although I kept my thoughts private I really began to question the decision. As we left the lake we were forced to navigate our way through huge boulders, some the size of small houses. The boulders were extremely slippery covered as they were with snow and ice. I had offered to carry Sebastian’s heavier backpack whilst he took mine, I cringed each time he scraped my blue barrel along a rock. This was an easy place to take a fall and break an ankle or worse. I had brought my VHF radio with me but it was of very limited use, any emergency team would have to come out on foot, there’s no helicopter rescue so it paid to be extra cautious.

Sebastian looks exhausted but happy to find the glacier viewpoint

Sebastian looks exhausted but happy to find the glacier viewpoint

We finally made it to Laguna Blanca viewpoint yet we still had a lengthy hike to the abandoned sheds. It was wonderful to be on the trail, however, once we had sure footing we were both suddenly aware that we were utterly exhausted. We’d not had more than a five-minute break all day and had been on the move for 15 hours. Typically I won’t bother taking food with me into the park, this day had been an exception, I’d brought with me a Cliff Bar which had provided me a whopping 240 calories. I was planning on hiking the 16km back from El Pilar to town but when we arrived there just after midnight I realised it was too far. The snow was falling hard and there was almost certainly no traffic on the road.

Finding one of the empty old sheds we scrounged some soggy egg cartons, which we lay down on the concrete floor for insulation. The roof did a great job of keeping the snow out but there was no insulation whatsoever and neither of us had a sleeping bag. Sebastian somehow fell into a deep sleep leaving me to listen to the sound of his snoring; I stayed awake all night shivering on my egg carton bedding. Every so often I’d do a few dozen sit ups just to try to keep warm, there was little else I could do, I felt like a prisoner in a Siberian gulag.

During the night I constantly checked my watch as the hours dragged on, we’d agreed to leave at 8.00am so at around 7.30am I dragged Sebastian from his deep sleep. The guy told me he’d been dreaming, lucky him I thought as I pulled on damp boots. All night I’d listened to the sound of snow falling on the sheds tin roof, outside there was about 6 inches of fresh snow. Sixteen kilometres of dirt road was never going to be fun, we just had to put our heads down and get on with it. Thankfully after hiking for two hours a truck came by and picked us up, we were back in town within half an hour, both exhausted but happy and still exhilarated from our climb. I’ll definitely be making a return trip.

The actual GPS route on Google Earth. We were close to the top of the glacier but still a long way from the ideal shooting location

The actual GPS route on Google Earth. We were close to the top of the glacier but still a long way from the ideal shooting location

Our next approach from the summit of Cerro Madsen. If this fails we might drop down off Cerro Electrico to the north

Our next approach from the summit of Cerro Madsen. If this fails we might drop down off Cerro Electrico to the north

An approach from Cerro Electrico, my least favoured route but looks viable

An approach from Cerro Electrico, my least favoured route

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Torres del Paine

I just add this image as proof that I have been shooting in Torres del Paine. I’d gone to this location with a client, we’d been hoping for some dramatic wave action but by sunset the winds died off. With the preconceived idea of wave shots in tatters I decided to take my camera down to ground level. I shot this image as a nine image focus stack. The water was barely a metre long pool yet of course at ground level it looks far greater. I’ll be getting back to Torres del Paine very soon.


End of May

End of May

Over the last few weeks, it’s become the norm’ for me to head to a hotel to use the wifi. Other than buying groceries it’s become my only real interaction with the local community. I’d be hard pushed to really call it ‘interaction’ because I only buy coffee and only one cup. As I might have mentioned earlier El Chalten has become very quiet, so quiet you wonder if it’s worth any business staying open at all. So I was somewhat surprised to see a flow of people moving through the lobby. A few came over and sat at a table near where I was sat. I couldn’t help picking up on their chatter. As I listened it became apparent they were on a big tour of South America, or as the Aussies would say ‘their big O-E’ meaning Overseas Experience.

I honed in eager to hear what they thought of El Chalten but it became apparent they hadn’t been here long. In fact from the sounds of things, they weren’t anywhere long. I guess a single day spend in Buenos Aires is just enough time for the backpacker to utter that most dreadful of travelers phrases “I’ve done it”. I don’t know why it bothers me as much as it does but to utter, “I’ve done such and such a country” really does show narrow-mindedness.

Of course, few people are as fortunate as I am to be able to spend a year in one small area. This brings me to consider what it is I like about photography because I was once a backpacker or ‘Mochilero’ as the Spanish would say. Fortunately, I’ve never rushed about attempting to ‘do’ a country in a week, but I did move, moving was what I did before taking up photography. I enjoyed traveling for the sake of being on the road and seeing something new each day. I enjoyed the simplicity of carrying all my worldly goods on my back. Carrying a backpack skimmed down to the bare essentials, knowing I could drop it; even throw it without worrying that some fragile piece of camera gear would get damaged.

In my twenties, I began doing multi-month hiking and cycling trips. I thought this was great, what a way to see the world, and of course, it is, it’s a fantastic way to explore. But somewhere along the line, I realized that as much as I was exploring and seeing a lot I was rarely taking it in properly.

It wasn’t until I became interested in photography that I was actually aware of the cycles of the sun. I thought the sun came up in the east and set in the west, I had no idea why winter days were shorter than summer. So the camera really forced me to take in my surroundings, or as the saying goes to stop and smell the roses.

I was quite taken by the foreground patterns in the ice here. The shot doesn't do much for me but it was worth scouting.

I was quite taken by the foreground patterns in the ice here. The shot doesn’t do much for me but it was worth scouting.

Again another scouting image. The foreground waterfall is Chorillo del Salto

Again another scouting image. The foreground waterfall is Chorillo del Salto

I would have given a lot to have been shooting this sunrise from Cerro Madsen or Loma de las Pizarras. Maybe next time

I would have given a lot to have been shooting this sunrise from Cerro Madsen or Loma de las Pizarras. Maybe next time

First snows of May

We had snow here in El Chalten during the first week of April, there was even a light dusting in March but it took until May before we got any in the town. The day after the snow the skies remained thick with cloud but a quick check weather forecast check showed promising conditions the following day. I made sure I was up early and out ready to hike at least two hours before sunrise. My goal was to reach a lake I’d seen on Google Earth. We’ve had a lot of rain so there was a good chance the lake would have plenty of water. At street level, the snow was all melted away but it didn’t take long to reach the snow level. With the aid of my GPS, I found the lake quite easily, it took barely an hour to reach it, which gave me enough time to find a composition. The edge of the lake was littered with boulders and these were covered in a fine layer of ice making access to the lakeshore quite treacherous. I imagine rain would have frozen onto the rocks or quite possible high winds had blown the lakes waters, which later froze on the rocks.

I don’t have a lot of experience photographing ice formations so I was excited to capture patterns on the ice. The sunrise over Fitz Roy that morning was phenomenal and undoubtedly the best I’ve seen on this trip. Looking back at the ice photographs I don’t really think they work. I feel there’s too much emphasis on the ice, which actually looks a bit too much like ripples in the sand.I did a bit more exploration of the area; this small cave was close by.

Forget the processing this just a quick a quick scouting image

Forget the processing this is just a quick a quick scouting image

I’ll certainly return here, longer icicles might look really cool with the mountains in the background.We have little more than eight hours of daylight at this time of year so I didn’t have that long to consider shooting the sunset. The skies were very promising but Cerro Torre was definitely hidden in clouds. The best of the building lenticulars looked to be building in the north so a westerly facing shot of Fit Roy wasn’t going to work. I hiked out to the gorge, which is barely 4 miles from town, but it was so windy I could barely stay on my feet. In the end, I hiked back to town, the lenticulars had moved off to the east, which was extremely unlucky. With almost nothing exciting to use in an image, I decided to take a quick shot of the sign at the head of the town. I see tourists photographing this all the time and I never thought I’d be doing the same thing but with such awesome lenticulars, it was that or nothing.

From my front door I can see the clouds building.

From my front door I can see the clouds building.

The lenticular clouds were impressive but from this position I was really struggling to find a composition

The lenticular clouds were impressive but from this position I was really struggling to find a composition

Michael Korte and his unusual assignment

I got to meet professional photographer Michael Korte this evening, Michael is from Hamburg in Germany. He’s been a photographer all his working life and he was down here on an assignment to photograph images along a geographical line; part of which passed right over Mount Fitz Roy. Never one to photograph the mundane Michael was setting off to photograph the ice field behind Fitz Roy but we got together for a chat before he left. Once finished photographing here Michael has to rush off to the States, again photographing on his geographical line. He then pushes on to an island in the Pacific before finally making his way to New Zealand.

We couldn’t talk for long but we did have time to look online at some of our images. It was clear we both have a very different style. Michael had drunk just enough red wine to be loose-lipped so I think his assessment of my photography was a lot more honest than might have been otherwise. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I’m no longer my worst critic!

Here he is with what is probably the most impractical camera ever be carried in a backpack, the hugely expensive Swiss made Aipa medium format camera. Michael assures me the cameras grips are real rose wood. I guess that’s useful, you’ve got something to burn to keep you warm on the ice field.

Michael Korte with what is arguably the most impractical backpacking camera ever designed

Michael Korte with what is arguably the most impractical backpacking camera ever designed

Cascada Veinticinco de Mayo

I went out on a hike recently and for no apparent reason, my knees really started to hurt. There was no explanation, I hadn’t fallen, neither had I done anything physical for a while, we’d just had a run of bad weather which had kept me housebound. The pain was quite intense and I was understandably concerned. The following day I set off, hiking in the dark into the park, I took it a bit easier and hiked a little slower. The plan was to try a sunrise at one of the popular waterfalls. You could call it a comp stomp, the waterfall has been shot untold times before. We’re still in that transition between autumn and winter, there are no leaves on the trees and in truth the scenery isn’t that incredible. The trees have lost their leaves and the ground is only patchy with thin areas of snow. I think I was trying to convince myself that if I were to get amazing light it would still be a great shot. As night turned to twilight it became clear the mountains were covered in thick cloud. I decided to give my knees a rest and return to town. I was only about 5km into the park so it was a short hike, as I was making my return I noticed the clouds clearing over the mountains. Thankfully I have a very good knowledge of the park but I decided to try somewhere a little different, somewhere I’d never been before. Dropping down from the trail I found a new waterfall, one with possibilities far exceeding the location I was going to comp stomp. The light was good that morning, the peak of Poincenot broke through the clouds but Fitz Roy stayed hidden.

It was as I was hiking back that I wondered why I’d never seen a photograph of this scene before. I suppose I already knew the answer, we follow each other like sheep and are content to shoot the same locations in the hope that somehow we’ll get it a bit different, maybe even a bit better than the last guy. So I can be truly grateful to those who don’t have the time to scout or those who’re happy to comp stomp.

25th May Falls. Processing might not be to everyone’s taste. I’ll rework it when I can.

Quick update

I’ve only recently created an actual page on my website for my Patagonia images, up to now I’ve been using the blog or Facebook. The reasons are partially laziness, partially my questionable processing skills and partially because my website layout drives me nuts.  I only have a few images on the page, I will work some more as and when I have time.


Mid May

Mid May

For those who visited Patagonia in April and wished they’d stayed on into May let me assure you that you didn’t miss much, at least not in the El Chalten area. With the exception of one very good sunset – the tree and condor shot – the mountains have refused to show their face from behind the clouds. We’ve had lots of rain, and the cloud layer has been so low you could almost touch it from your hotel door. Most of the fall leaves were long gone by the end of April and only a few groves of beech had remaining color.

In many respects I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to relax after two months of continual hiking and photography. My hiking boots are already half worn out at the sole, hiking boots are very expensive here so any delay in replacement is welcomed.

The town of El Chalten has become something of a ghost town with many businesses closed for winter. The supermarkets and bakeries stay open so I won’t starve.

Thankfully I’ve been keeping busy, Mark Metternich stayed over after his workshop and has shown me a lot of processing techniques. There are some aspects of photo editing that can’t be taught; you learn them yourself as you develop your own style. But for nearly everything that can, Mark has developed a clear method developed into his workflow. I’m extremely grateful for his help and now feel far more confident in my abilities.

With Marks help I processed my latest image ‘Lenticulicious’ perhaps a silly name for a photograph but none the less the image topped the first page at 500px despite my absence from the site for nearly six months.

In precisely one month  I’ll be guiding Nagesh Mahadev USA Today’s Landscape Photographer of the year, he’ll join me with his friends to spend 14 days photographing here in Los Glaciers and also in Torres del Paine. Naturally I’m looking forward to the opportunity to guide them. The lakes will certainly have frozen by then, however it’s unlikely to be so cold that the rivers will freeze over.

In the mean time whilst waiting for those dramatic snow conditions I’m kept busy writing a magazine article about my Patagonian trip, I’ll give details about that soon.

" Lenticulicious "

” Lenticulicious “


Cerro Madsen

Cerro Madsen

Through recent email, I came to realize that my father is following my blog. With that in mind I have to wonder; when there are times of risk or danger do I tame down my blog entries for his sake or do I keep it true and miss nothing out. I decided on the latter. So dad, if you’re going to get worried you probably shouldn’t read this report.

Ok with that out the way I will continue.

I’ve always wanted to climb Cerro Madsen, with a few free days I decided to give it ago, the weather reports looked favorable so on the 29th I took off in the afternoon. I hiked fast and reached Laguna de los Tres in good time.

A quick shot of the lake on the way up

A quick shot of the lake on the way up

The lake is usually a morning shot, however, in the late afternoon, the waters looked emerald green. Cerro Madsen towers above the north shore of the lake. The route to the summit isn’t particularly technical, mainly lots of rock hopping. There were a few stretches of deep snow where I found myself ‘post-holing’ which is to say I’d sink to my thighs with every step.

There were a few stretches of steep, smooth, solid rock but otherwise, it wasn’t too challenging. I made it to the summit just as the sun was dropping to the right of Fitz Roy. There wasn’t time to set up a tripod so I took a few hand held shots.

The summit itself is quite exposed; I could see the light was already looking impressive. A huge lenticular cloud had built behind Fitz Roy, below it there was a definite clear gap, you tend to find when you have a clear gap at the horizon there’s room for the sun to light up the underside of the clouds. I felt sure I was going to get a great light show.

Laguna de los Tres from the summit of Cerro Madsen

Laguna de los Tres from the summit of Cerro Madsen. Note the second lake that isn’t visible from the shoreline

Choosing the best composition was difficult, amazingly there was very little breeze on the summit, however, every now and then a gust would blow through which would clearly upset any panoramic work. I decided on a composition that allowed some shelter from the northerly breeze. It was dangerously exposed to the south and the west but sheltered from the north. I considered climbing around a steep rock buttress, which might have afforded a slightly better view, but the risks tended to outweigh the benefits.

Setting up the tripod with a full QTVR panoramic head was no easy task. It would be all too easy to drop something. Thankfully I was able to fire off several bracketed panos. I was literally that close to Fitz Roy that I was able to shoot at a focal length of around 24mm. The light show was fantastic. I couldn’t help thinking how unlucky I’d been on my previous trips to Patagonia. Sometimes I’d go a month without even seeing the mountain, yet these past weeks have been nothing short of mind blowing.

A single image from the summit

A single image from the summit. I’m working on the panorama

Once the vivid sunset began to die away I crawled to my backpack, but not before leaving my tripod set up for what could be a great night or sunrise image. When I first made the summit I hadn’t had time to think of a place to shelter for the night. Looking around me I realized I didn’t want to drop much lower for fear of rocks landing on me in my sleep. There are no comfortable places to lie down on the summit of Cerro Madsen. The rocks are all jagged and sharp much like Mount Fitz Roy. In the rapidly failing light, I set about shifting the sharpest rocks to one side, wedging a few to stop me rolling down the slope. It seemed no sooner would I move one rock then I’d find an equally sharp one below. I carry a good durable Gore-Tex bivvy sack and an Exped down filled mat. The sleeping bag is a specialist down bag rated to -33C so I felt pretty confident I’d be warm. Of course, all it would take would be one sharp rock to pierce the mat and I’d be in real trouble.

Glacier Blanca far below. I've got plans to shoot from the glacier. Accessing it won't be easy.

Glacier Blanca far below. I’ve got plans to reach the glacier, it’ll be tough. That’s one for another day.

A bivvy bag is no bigger than those body bags you see on television. Once it’s zipped up there’s no air supply. That’s fine on dry evenings but it’s very unpleasant when it’s wet.

Around midnight the wind started to get up, it was very hard to tell just how strong it really was. The wind can very easily howl through craggy rocks giving the impression it’s windier than it really is. I decided to play on the safe side and climb back up and remove my tripod. I cautiously weighed down my bivvy with several heavy rocks so it wouldn’t blow away.

Climbing back up to the summit in the dark was a scary prospect. I had to traverse a ledge that lay at about 40º. If one were to slide off the ledge the fall would not be pleasant. It would be one of those falls that allowed you time to think of your mistake. In other words, you would fall considerably more than 100’, time enough to bitterly regret your actions. A lesser fall of 20’ might be even worse; you would very likely survive only to have to lie in agony dying with a broken leg and nobody to help. Surely a much ‘nicer’ fall would be around a hundred feet. If you’ve got to fall then I tend to think of this as being the ideal height.

Having safely retrieved the tripod I settled back in my bivvy bag. Despite the cold and the rocks below me, I was relatively comfortable. It wasn’t long though before the wind increased in volume and I heard the steady patter of snow falling on the Gore-Tex shell of the bivvy. Now I was forced to zip up the bag with only an inch gap in which to breathe. I suppose I had no sleep that first night, it’s too hard to sleep when you have to keep your head precisely in one place and quite annoying when flurries of snow blow inside your mouth.

By morning the conditions were no better, in some ways I was mildly relieved not to have to make the return climb to the summit. It was treacherous enough when dry, with the dampness of snow and the added high winds it would be far more dangerous.

I decided to wait, telling myself that perhaps by mid-morning the storm would blow itself out. There was nothing to gain by heading out in a storm so I just waited and waited. I could read my Kindle inside the bivvy but even holding it upright was tricky as there’s so little room. As the day wore on the conditions deteriorated, I had no water and very little food but I felt I could hang on for another night, maybe longer.

That second night was the worst, my breath made my sleeping bag damp which in turn began to freeze. If I opened the zipper huge flurries of snow would force their way in but if I kept it closed I would struggle to breathe with no fresh air.

I would shift around from time to time which allowed the snow collecting on my bivvy to settle below me. In time the snow built up underneath giving me some level of comfort.

On the morning of the 31st, I knew I had to brave the conditions and get down. I had a pounding headache, certainly not from the altitude as I was below 7000’ it was likely caused by lack of water. I ate a little snow but snow is so aerated that you’d have to eat a lot to get any kind of hydration, and of course, it cools your body down a lot.

I knew that in order to get up and on my way I’d have to be very quick and very careful. I couldn’t afford to let something blow away in the wind. I had no ice axe but I did have crampons. I considered long and hard about putting them on. I knew that once my hands were cold there was little hope of strapping on crampons. Yet the snow should be fairly soft and there would still be lots of exposed rock. I decided to go without crampons.

My boots were the first priority; they were buried in the snow. Once I had my boots on I dragged my sleeping bag from the bivvy and shoved it into my barrel along with my camera and spare lens. Everything was damp but there was nothing I could do. The bivvy and mat were hastily squashed into a large dry bag and tied to the pack, all in all, it was easier than I’d expected.

On my way up the mountain, I’d used my GPS to create a breadcrumb trail. Now for the return, all I had to do was follow it. Unfortunately, I don’t know quite why but I made an error. It was probably lack of sleep but I ended up descending the wrong side of the main ridge. I was sinking waist deep into deep powder snow. With no gaiters my shoes quickly filled with snow, maybe it was the adrenalin but I didn’t feel the cold, I only wanted to get down safely.

Having realized my error there was nothing I could do, I was committed, I’d dropped a couple of hundred feet down a 45º slope, returning would be immensely difficult. As is so often the case the slope gradually got steeper. At one point I was staring directly into a crevasse. Somehow I ended up face first in the snow, moving back to my feet was very tough, any small slide would very likely result in a fast and unstoppable fall. As I approached the crevasse I realized thankfully that there was a good snow bridge. I let myself slide over it barely glancing into the icy depths of the crevasse. The ground leveled off for a bit but it wasn’t long before I again found myself looking down a steep gully. The snow was my savior here, it was just the right consistency, and it gave me the confidence to attempt slopes that seemed quite impassable.

Laguna de los Tres on my return.

Laguna de los Tres on my return.

Gradually the waters of Laguna de los Tres became visible below me. I had to decide, should I continue heading down on my current course or traverse to the left. If I continued down I would get to the far west of the lake. This would require crossing the southern edge. It’s a route I knew was passable, I believe the climbers use that way. Instead, though I chose to traverse over to the left for no other reason than it looked quicker.

It was tough going, several times I got ‘cliffed out’ but somehow I made it to the bottom in one piece. I turned around to look where I’d just come and I really could scarcely believe I’d descended the way I had. All that remained was a 10km hike back to town.

The right way and the wrong way.

The right way and the wrong way.