Keep on Suffering, a Photographers Curse.

A weather window and a few days spare in the mountains of Grindelwald.
I was there to visit a friend and do some last minute training before heading on a ski expedition to Kyrgyzstan.

We were on our way up the Jungfraujochbahn which, being Europes highest train station, weaves it’s way through the Eiger to deliver you between the Mönch and Jungfrau. Our eyes were firmly set on climbing the Jungfrau, which neither of us had done before.

We took a simple route up which lead us to a successful ascent of the Jungfrau (4158m) and fantastic views all around. Making our descent, the effects of the altitude began growing on us both. Feeling rough we plodded our way back as the weather closed in. It began sleeting and the visibility dropped to an almost concerning level as we navigated the glacier back to the Jungfraujoch train station. From there I wished my friend goodbye as my time up here was not done…as tempted as I was to go down for a beer!

I made my way to the Mönchjochhütte eager for some shelter and much needed rest as I had big plans for the next day.

                

BIG INTENTIONS.

Getting rid of my damp equipment, I restored my energy with warm food and watched as the weather deteriorated into a snow storm. I had planned to start by ascending the Mönch, traverse across to the Eiger and back to Grindelwald – what was most likely to be a 12hr day!

The next morning I woke to what appeared settled conditions. There was a thick fog but overall the conditions were good and I was making fast progress. I was quite optimistic for the day to come. Approaching the summit a gust of wind almost knocked me over, a swift reminder to be alert on the final ridge which is no wider than half a metre. It was 3:30am and I could now begin tackling the East face of the Mönch. It had been laden with fresh snow overnight making me aware of the avalanche danger this steep slope now possessed.  However, I knew to gain an understanding I must at least step onto the face. It felt fine.

Completely engulfed by the ever increasing wind, I cautiously climbed down closer and closer to the Serac that I knew was lurking below.

Every step I took lifted fresh snow into the air before being picked up by the wind; my head torch would reach no further than a few metres. With little visibility my only gauge of distance was the snow rolling down beneath my feet into the darkness. That’s when I began to notice. Rolling no more than a few metres the snow began to drop suddenly into blackness. I had reached the Serac and was alarmingly close. I knew of a possible passage whereby no rappelling would be required but would now have to traverse across towards the North face.

Alone in the fog. Carefully ascending the Mönch (4107m) ridge-line.

MENTAL GAMES.

A black line beneath me, fresh snow above me and alone in a what felt like an approaching storm. I kept traversing but that black line below me kept rising, how far down had I climbed into this!? My movements were slow and I could feel the effects of being exposed to the elements for so long. I could barely feel my fingers and toes and became worried about the possibility of frostbite. Weighing up my options I decided I’d had enough and was out of there.

Climbing with pace my thighs were burning as I returned on my track up. Summiting (again), I was greeted with the slightest bit of moonlight before being knocked over by the wind. No longer clinging to that steep face I took this opportunity to get some blood back into my fingers. I screamed with pain as I gained a little more feeling. I would not feel my toes for a few more hours. Waisting no time I began carefully picking my way down the narrow ridge in the direction of shelter. But the day was not over.

A PHOTOGRAPHERS CURSE.

I was suffering but had to be patient as I down climbed through snow, ice and verglassed rock. I could feel it getting lighter as the sky began to clear. With myself in the middle, the wind whisked the cloud up, over, and beyond the ridge. The sun began to rise, presenting a picturesque mountain landscape of spectacular scenery and colours. A photographers dream, but also curse.

             

I was freezing. My rucksack, my hands and the brim of my hood were covered in ice. It was approximately 6:30am and I had been on the go for almost 4 hours. As a human I wanted nothing more than shelter and warmth. As a photographer I simply could not let this opportunity pass.

I took out my camera and kept on suffering!

Precariously positioning my camera I attempted to capture the beautiful moment that was taking place. Experimenting with different settings and angles I spent the next 45 minutes running up and down that ridge! This was not lunacy but a photographers curse.

INSULT TO INJURY.

Returning safely I eventually boarded a train back down through the mountain. Coming out of the Eiger I looked back up and had to laugh to myself. The weather had cleared into a perfect blue-sky day. Typical! Feeling a little defeated I fell asleep on the train, exhausted from the the last two days of adventuring in the mountains.

The photos I produced that day became some of my most popular to date. I wrote this blog to reveal the joy and suffering (the photographers curse) behind these photos. This story could not be simply summed up in an Instagram caption or Hashtag.

 

More importantly, a massive thanks to Jöttnar, Julbo Eyewear and f-Stop Gear for producing products that happily suffer along with me.

Comments: 2

  • Clive Phillips October 21, 2018 8:39 pm

    You tell those hours so well John and lived to snap another day. Lovve your photos. Clive

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