Thursday, 21 September 2017

ALPINE SEASON 2017 - A PHOTOGRAPHY PERSPECTIVE

Zinal Rothorn piercing the sky
Another wonderful summer season working in The Alps has come to an end. This year the season included a few more Walkers' Haute Route treks, Mont Blanc Treks and a Tour of the Matterhorn. My previous posts gave details of the treks themselves and were accompanied by mobile phone photographs. So this blog post is all about the photography. It contains the really special moments caught on a Mirrorless camera ( Lumix GM1) between mid June and mid September 2017. Hope you enjoy the highlights!

Les Dru after a fresh dusting of snow
Recent seasons have seen large areas of winter snow lingering high up on many of the major trekking routes in the Alps. However, the previous winter had been a poor season snow-wise which, coupled with an unusually warm Spring, meant there was hardly any snow patches on the TMB cols. As always, there can be snowfall at any time during the summer months, but it doesn't usually linger for long. I was lucky enough to capture the summer snow after one of these periods. The Dru looked particularly fine on this day in mid June.

Val d' Herens & Pigne d' Arolla
 A crystal clear morning on the trail up to the Col de Torrent. Some stunning views of the Dent Blanche, Pigne d'Arolla and Mont Blanc de Cheillon. Never fails to impress from this easy, zig-zag path through meadows.

The Trient Glacier from Tseppes Alp
Throughout the Tour of Mont Blanc, there are some 'variations' on the standard route. Many groups prefer the standard, easier routes, but even the smallest of adaptations can lead to a far better scenic perspective. One of these is the beautiful trail that heads up to the Col de Balme from Trient via the remote and peaceful Tseppes Alp. Here you get an amazing view of the Trient Valley and the Trient Glacier.

Cloudscapes over Dent Blanche
The temperatures were up into the 30s C in many Alpine valleys between end of June and beginning of July. When we get these kind of temperatures, it usually means a hot Southerly wind coming from the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, this can result in poor air quality in terms of photography. Cold air mixing with warm air can bring bad weather, but on this particular day on the Haute Route we had fabulous cloud formations before the weather front arrived.
Male Ibex
One of the joys of walking in The Alps are the wildlife. High up in the mountains, the animals are the ones who are best adapted to the wide range of terrain and weather, not us humans. Watching the ibex wander around steep hillsides is a fantastic experience. To get close up to an individual and to spend over twenty minutes taking photos is a real privilege. And if you get the right light and pose, then it comes close to being a perfect moment.

Temperature Inversion on Lac Dix

Another one of those cloud phenomenon in the mountains are Temperature Inversions. Cold air sinking the night before with the warmer air being pushed above leaving some dramatic cloud formations like on this early morning in August above Lac Dix

The Weisshorn North Ridge
The usual weather pattern on a typical Alpine day is clear mornings with cloud gradually increasing by afternoon. To get a clear afternoon is not usual  in the Alps, the heat of the day causing cloud to form on high ground. This day over the Meidpass was stunning. We arrived about 4pm with the North ridge of the Weisshorn still clear of cloud and beautiful views all the way down into the Turtmantal.

King of the Alps
If you enjoy the wealth of flora that is abundant throughout the Alpine regions then the end of June into July is probably the finest period. My favourite flower is the small, rare and beautiful King of The Alps. In flower for only a few weeks of the year and growing high up on cold windswept ground. A delightful flower to discover on your trek.

Mont Collon above Arolla
Meadows, forest, high glaciated peaks and wild flowers, the descent trail into Arolla has it all. An absolute delight, even at the end of a long day. The afternoon light is in the perfect position to show off the mountains in all their glory.

Aiguille Charmoz and Aiguille Chamonix
The sunsets can be enjoyed from the comfort of your hotel balcony. I was blessed this summer with spectacular light on many occasions. The granite towers and pinnacles around Chamonix offer some beautiful colours at the end of the day.

Adult Marmot
Young Marmot
The sound of the Alps and constant companions along the trails. The marmot. Who doesn't love a marmot? These wonderful characters are an absolute joy to behold.

Atmospheric cloud as the Matterhorn clears
That most iconic of mountains, The Matterhorn. It cannot be confused with any other mountain across the globe. Unfortunately, on the Tour of the Matterhorn this year we never saw it once in the three days that we were in Cervinia and Zermatt due to low cloud and poor weather. On the final Haute Route this season it looked like it was going to be the same. All the way along the Europaweg we were stuck in thick clag, not unlike Scotland. Then, just before we descended into the forest the cloud suddenly broke and we were treated to an unveiling of this stunning mountain.

Mont Blanc de Cheillon
Clouds and mountains really do spice up the atmosphere, another one here. Mont Blanc de Cheillon is passed by on the Haute Route. A fabulous looking mountain with no roads in sight or within many miles.
Sunset from the Cabane Montfort
The Cabane du Montfort refuge is perched up at over 2400m and has wonderful views out to the Mont Blanc range, an unusual view and some distance away. From the patio and beer garden you are treated to some wonderful sunsets.

The Grand and Petit Combin
The Walkers Haute Route has a section of trail known as the Sentier de Chamois. You get fantastic views of The Grand Combin all the way from Cabane Montfort to Col Termin, and beyond! Get an early start from the Montfort and you get beautiful morning light onto this isolated '4000 er'.

Female Chamois and her young
It's not called the Sentier de Chamois for nothing. Chamois live high up and prefer rocky ground mixed with good vegetation. More elusive than the ibex. Lovely to see the adults with their young.

The Treient Glacier
The Fenetre Arppette route on the TMB is one of the toughest days on the entire trek. It offers the walker a glimpse into the world of high mountains and glaciers. The Trient Glacier is quite close to the trail but like all glaciers around the world it is retreating at an alarming rate. To get good light for photography means an early start. On this particular day we had no cloud, excellent air clarity and timed nicely, it's also a great spot for ibex on the rocks to the left.


Val d'Annivers & Dent Blanche
Day after day on the TMB and Haute Route you leave and finish in different valleys. One of the most spectacular of these is the Val d' Annivers on the Walkers Haute Route. Within an hour or two of leaving Zinal you get one of the most beautiful scenes of high mountain and valley. You need to keep looking back as you walk though!


Mont Blanc & Val Veny
For me the finest views of Mont Blanc are on the Italian side of the TMB. From high above Val Veny you get an amazing scale of the mountain . Rivers, forest, meadows, steep rock and glaciers in one glorious view.
Temperature inversion above Prarayer
On the Tour of the Matterhorn the section of trail between the Col Collon and Cervinia is the reostest and wildest section on the tour. The wee farm/refuge at Prarayer is the only valley accommodation in the area. At 2000m it is high up. On this morning we had left the refuge in thick, cold cloud. Within an hour we had walked up into warm blue skies looking down on the top of the clouds.

Mont Blanc above Chamonix
It doesn't take much effort to get above the town of Chamonix and get some spectacular views of Mont Blanc.

Nutcracker ( Nucifraga caryocatactes)
Another constant companion throughout the forests in the Alps is the symbiotic bird, The Nutcracker. The bird coexists with a certain tree, The Arolla Pine . You'll always see them fluttering about the trees and their call is unmistakable. Another give away is half nibbled and chewed pine cones scattered over the trails.

Sunrise on the Matterhorn
Finally The Matterhorn. Probably the most iconic, instantly recognisable mountain in the world. Captivating at every viewpoint and at any time of day. Particularly beautiful on a sunrise with fresh snow on it's faces.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

NAVIGATION & MOUNTAIN SKILLS DAY

Danni enjoying the Fiacaill Ridge
I'm liking this!
Tranquil in Coire an t-Sneachda
Fiacaill a' Choire Sneachda
More scrambling, Coire an Lochain now
Navigation, Cairngorm plateau
Fabulous day to be on the hills
A great place for fun

Coire an t-Sneachda
Danni has just got into hillwalking and 'bagging' Munros quite recently. She's walked up some of the easier to navigate hills but wants the confidence and skills to get into more remote and challenging terrain. She initially wanted a day purely of navigation with me. After a few minutes of discussion we turned the day into a mountain skills, navigation and scrambling course. The beauty of joining on one of my courses, flexibility and what the individual wants to get out of it. It's never just a standard 'Navigation Course'.
What a stonker of a day it was. Wall to wall sun, not a breath of wind and warm temperatures. We walked into Coire an t-Sneachda and made our way up to the notch on the Fiacaill a' Coire an t-Sneachda. The terrain up in the coire is pathless, a new experience for Danni. Also a new experience was scrambling along the ridge. She took to it quickly and was soon grinning all the way along. We did some navigation on the plateau before sadly heading back to civilisation.
Brilliant day out with some great banter, don't think I have had anyone chat so much throughout the day! Good craic and laughs along the way, except the 'scary biscuits' bits along the ridge :)
It's good to be home!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

HAUTE ROUTE, DAY 10. THE END

The Matterhorn revealed 
Robert Phsyced for the Europaweg Bridge 
On the Europaweg 
Tunnels & Ledges
That mountain again
Windy along the bridge 
The evening view from my balcony
The final day of this Walkers Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.  The views all along the Europaweg are absolutely stunning, on a clear day. Unfortunately the weather is still unsettled.  It dawned dry with some blue skies around the Mattertal but the cloud descended to below the tree line by 1pm. Still, the walk from Randa and along the new bridge is so much fun. It was a tad windy this time which was interesting how Europe’s longest footbridge behaved in a 30mph crosswind!  Robert and I survived the 500m crossing.  We had some light rain in the afternoon,  so we had a cheeky beer at the Europaweg Hut to get out of the wet weather.  The forecast was for things to clear up by 5pm. 4.30pm and we were still walking in the clag. 4.50pm at Tufteren and suddenly the clouds started breaking up. The Matterhorn was revealed!  It does exist said Robert! The descent into Zermatt just got better and better has the clouds all melted away.  Journey's end and a beautiful clear evening.
A fantastic summer 2017 guiding comes to an end. Can't wait for summer 2018!
This 10 day walking holiday I was guiding for Mont Blanc Treks.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

HAUTE ROUTE, DAY 9. COLD

Nearing Augstboard Pass 
Cold on top
There's many 4000m peaks from here, not today 
Jungen 
Icy trails this morning 
Augstboard Pass 
Weisshorn and Brunegghorn from Grachan
It was another cold evening and morning.  Clear skies were short lived as high cloud rolled in by 10am. Another chilly NE wind and even some patches of ice on wet areas of the trail over the Augstboard Pass.  No hanging about today. We were all soon over the Col and down into the Mattertal.  Not much in the way of views high above the valley. Usually have some stunning views, not today.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

HAUTE ROUTE, DAY 8. ZINAL - GRUBEN

The Meidpass
Cold on top
Lakes & Mountains 
Cloud clearing slowly 
Meidpass from the Turtmantal side
Fab views to the East
Nice ridges
There was another sprinkling of overnight snow above 2500m. It's been unusualy cool for a long period of time, well for the Alps that is. Cloud was quite stubborn to clear but it did lift by mid afternoon. The walk from Zinal to Gruben has two options. The Forcletta or the slightly longer but by far more scenic route via the Meidpass.  We took the later route. A bonus for the Meidpass option is a lunchtime break at the famous Weisshorn Hotel. The traverse path from Zinal to the Weisshorn Hotel is one of the most spectacular balcony trails in the Alps. The views are all behind you so you need to keep looking back! Sadly it was cloudy this morning so all the big 4000m peaks were covered in clag. We hot lucky on the Meidpass as the clouds broke and we had excellent views of the Weisshorn and Bishorn.