Well, the year of 2014 has indeed been the rainiest in the Alps (in recorded history, according to recent news articles) – but on one of the few sunny days, I was lucky enough to have scheduled a full day’s photo shoot in the great alpine outdoors. I was hired by Alison Culshaw’s company – Gold Expeditions which works with Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates wanting to achieve their Gold level, to do some documentary expedition photography of their trek in the Alps.
They had chosen to complete most of the Tour du Mont Blanc walking tour. To achieve the award, they are required to camp during the tour, rather than using the refuges. They were responsible for plotting their own course through the week, and could not have outside assistance when hiking the route. They were monitored by their assessors at several points along their route and had check ins each evening.
Click on the arrows of any photo to see the rest of the set here, or click on the photo itself to head over to my Flickr page.
I met the students while they were planning their routes a week earlier to do introductions and make sure everyone was OK with being photographed. Later in the week, I then caught up with them on their trek just as they crossed into the Italian Alps – as this was the best weather day, and which turned out to be the last day of their trek around Mont Blanc. The morning started out a bit cloudy on the hike down from the refuge, but soon cleared up as they ascended into the Courmayeur ski area (a beautiful rolling alpage in summer time) and to the Maison Veille refuge for lunch in the grass.
To reach them from Chamonix was very easy – I got up early and headed through the Tunnel du Mont Blanc, dropping off my car at the Dolonnes sports centre car park in Courmayeur, and met up with Alison. We drove up the road leading to Val Vény, just to the barrier at Lac Combal (Lago di Combal) where cars are not allowed any further, and she dropped me off, and then went off to assess a different group of students.
I am familiar with these trails and do a lot of hiking and trail running myself, so I was able to power hike the hills and run the flat bits (OK, more like jogged, as I had my camera gear on my back) to reach the Elisabetta hut a short while later, where I met up with a groups of students as they were packing up to head out for their hike from the Elisabetta hut to Courmayeur via the Tour du Mont Blanc walking route.
The views were stunning – and we got some great group photos with a fun bunch of students from The Albyn School in Aberdeen Scotland. I shot mostly documentary style photos of their day, along with a few fun shots of them leaping about with Mont Blanc in the background (one of which has been used on the Gold Expedition Facebook page as their header) – celebrating their last day of the expedition and completion of the hard work and dedication necessary to achieve the Gold level award.
To place the photos on a map, in case you are interested in doing the Tour du Mont Blanc yourself – the section of the hike where I intersected them to photograph the student’s expedition went from the Refugio Elisabetta (located just below the Col de la Seigne, which marks the French/Italian border) and along the valley floor past views of several glaciers in the Mont Blanc massif and the flat Lac Combal. Where the valley 4×4 road becomes tarmac, the walking trail then heads up a single track path using a short but steep climb and traverses above the Val Vény at around 2100m of altitude and then reaches the Maison Veille refuge in the heart of the Courmayeur ski area (alpine pastures in summer). The refuge serves up a great lunch in both summer and winter.
This whole climb and the traverse is set against a beautiful backdrop of the Italian side of the Mont Blanc range, the Miage glacier and Col de Miage – and several herds of dairy cows. Once in the ski area, they did allow themselves the luxury of taking the large cable car lift back down into Courmayeur town centre, where a final course debrief and a pizza dinner awaited all the award candidates.
Assignments like this for a day of photography are exactly why I love my job !