12 in 12

Ahead of my now-annual review of the year, I asked myself why I’m writing it. Is it pure self-indulgence??? Well, partly yes, but it also helps prepare me for the coming year. Selling photographs is a constant battle, with more photographers creating more images than ever before. Just last week a well-known, global outdoor company told me they couldn’t pay more than £40 to use an image on their website because they get most of their photos from amateurs for free!

I don’t need that kind of negative thought lingering over the festive period, so I’m reflecting on how lucky I’ve been in the last 12 months, to do what I love.

It’s difficult to get any business done over Christmas, so this acts as something much more important – a reminder of the passion that started all this. I hope you can see some of it in this blog; 12 months in 12 images.

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This might be a strange choice for January, given that I had a press pass to shoot the Freeride World Tour, the first of several shoots for Whitedot Skis, and the first of my collaborations with Geoff Harper and his fatbike and with Charley and Sophie Radcliffe, Sidetracked and Salomon. An incredible start to the year, and exactly why I’d decided to spend the winter in Chamonix, but this shot sums up how I was feeling as 2015 ticked over – like I was in a world of epic opportunity.

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February’s shot is more predictable, and if you follow my blog or social media you’ll definitely have seen this before. I means a lot to me personally as it reminds me of a superb day more or less managing to keep up with pro skiers on the Vallee Blanche – Ben Briggs, Tom Coney and John Luckhurst repping Whitedot. But it was also a successful image with several commercial and editorial outlets including a double-page spread in BMC’s Summit magazine.

I’d worked with the British Ski Academy and Off Piste Performance in February, as well as heli-skiing for the first time and meeting and interviewing one of my heroes, Xavier de le Rue. But still this shot of Ben stands out.

March was equally busy, but one shoot stands out again; ski touring with Charley and Sophie Radcliffe.

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We’d worked together on a few collaborations with Sidetracked and Salomon, and it was great to get to know these guys as runners and climbers. But it was ski touring that showcased their attitude to life – they’d never done it before, but still gave it their all!

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Another thing you’re probably sick of hearing about; Geoff Harper’s attempt to fatbike the Tour du Mont Blanc. You can read the story here and here, but suffice to say this shot, from April, is from our final day working together and was the culmination of a really unique project that gained lots of attention for Geoff and his sponsors, and gave the two of us a great friendship. It also secured my second double-page spread in MBR magazine!

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By May I’d relocated to the Peak District, but didn’t get much chance to settle in before heading off to Alaska for the start of a great working relationship with Double A Media (Active Traveller, and Snow magazines). I’m not sure I’ll ever try stand-up paddle boarding again – how could it compare to my first time, floating with icebergs? – but I’ll never forget this unique experience, and the dozens of others from ‘The Last Frontier’. This trip also provided the basis for the first of many articles for Gore Tex ‘Experience More’ which you can read here.

Between Alaska and a June trip to Austria I managed to squeeze in a quick return to the Lake District to shoot Kona’s Dan Farley in a secret Cumbrian spot. He spent so long in the air that the slow-shutter pan-shot was a breeze!

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In July Active Traveller sent me packing again for a mountain biking trip to Utah. Park City’s trail centres were the best I’ve ever ridden, but the southern landscape is what makes Utah. I had a hard time selecting just one, and although it’s not an action shot, it does represent the inordinate amount of time I spent staring into the vastness of the desert…

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By August I’d managed to devote some time to my architectural passion, and make a start as a Peak District hotel photographer at the impossibly perfect Old Shoulder of Mutton in Winster. It’s obvious why they’re in the Michelin Guide!

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And after a brief mountain hit in Andorra (another piece coming soon to Active Traveller) I got more of the same in September. Being asked to photograph Morland House in the Eden Valley was a treat; it’s dripping in grandeur and history, and somehow manages to stay homely. Except when you’re alone in the dark and everything creaks….

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The rest of the year was dominated by a large project for the Peak District National Park Authority, and was a really interesting challenge. I’d pitched an idea of how to promote the Pedal Peak initiative through imagery, and it stretched my ideas of cycling photography in lots of creative ways. The October shot below, is of a mountain bike route and was well within my comfort zone:

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…But Pedal Peak is aimed at promoting cycling for all; calling myself an adventure photographer wasn’t going to cut it, and I found I had to look at biking without the mountain, in a different way. Even something as sedate as cycling to afternoon tea had to be covered, this time in Buxton in November:

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By December I was concerned about a lack of colour and life in the landscape, but a gentle ride along the canal at Cheddleton revealed soft autumnal tones were still lingering and was a relaxing way to begin the wind-down before Christmas!

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So many people have contributed to an incredible year – some mentioned above – but I’d particularly like to thank all my clients. Those who still place a value on photography and writing and consequently inspire professionalism and creativity; I’ve got plenty of those ready for 2016!

 

What’s So Good About Chamonix? Part 2

If you haven’t read the first installment of this ‘season highlights’ blog, you can find it here. I did some really thorough moaning in it, so it’s a good read if you like that sort of thing. There was a whiff of positivity too, and some pretty pictures. Even for a grump like me, it’s difficult not to love Chamonix – for all the frustration, bureaucracy and the rest, as soon as you get on the mountain there is nowhere like it. And all that opportunity and variety I mentioned last time, that’s down to the incredible people that live there. Here are some of them.

But first a brief moan; the parks in Chamonix are awful so I didn’t get to shoot as much freestyle as I’d hoped to. Then again, why go to Chamonix for man-made obstacles when the natural terrain is the best in the world? Case in point:

Kenny Jenkins following his in-built kicker radar

Kenny Jenkins following his in-built kicker radar

It wasn’t until halfway through the season that I got the chance to really start exploring what Chamonix has to offer the off piste skier. The Vallee Blanche – and Gros Rognon variant – may not be off the beaten track, but when your first experience of it is with three sponsored skiers, it’s a different proposition!

Ben Briggs launching off the Midi Arete

Ben Briggs launching off the Midi Arete

Whitedot Skis sent me off with Ben Briggs, Tom Coney and John Luckhurst, and we found a crazy amount of untouched powder for such a world renowned route, and though the snow was wind affected these guys made light work of it.

Tom Coney dodging crevasses

Tom Coney dodging crevasses

I thought Sophie and Charley Radcliffe would be at the other end of the skiing spectrum when we hooked up again for the second of Sidetracked’s Challenge Series. It was their first ‘proper’ ski tour and they’d barely skied any off piste.

They killed it. Here’s a quote from Sophie; “Some day I won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day.” I genuinely believe this attitude it what makes these guys excel in the mountains and in life. There’s even a danger their positivity might reduce some of my moaning.

You can read the Sidetracked piece here (with lots more photos of course).

Does this look like a woman who has barely skied off piste?

Does this look like a woman who has barely skied off piste?

And here’s another shot of Geoff on his 9:Zero:7 fatbike. I’ll say no more as I’m writing articles on this as we speak. Metaphorically.

Fully loaded. Geoff and the trees.

Fully loaded (Geoff and the trees).

This one I’ll explain – it wasn’t part of the Tour du Mont Blanc route, but it’s a location I’ve seen photographed with ice climbers, and I wanted to give it a try. Tricky to get to with a bike, and once again eyebrows were raised and the Compagnie du Mont Blanc gave us a big helping hand by allowing Geoff and his bike to use their facilities. But what a place to ride a bike!

Geoff Harper emerges from the bowels of a glacier.

Geoff Harper emerges from the bowels of a glacier.

Is there anything cooler than abseiling with skis on your back? If there is I don’t know about it. For Ben Briggs it’s an almost daily routine, but then he skis routes that most people couldn’t climb! Final shoot for Whitedot Skis led us to Cosmiques Couloir and stupidly good snow.

Ben Briggs rappelling into Cosmiques Couloir

Ben Briggs rappelling into Cosmiques Couloir

Here’s another shot of Geoff Harper that I can’t say too much about….

Winter bivvy on the Tour Du Mont Blanc

Winter bivvy on the Tour Du Mont Blanc

My final shoot of the season was another Wildey/Radcliffe/Sidetracked/Salomon collaboration. I hadn’t managed as much climbing/mountaineering as I’d expected from the season, but this particular day out completed what I’m pretentiously calling the Cosmiques Trinity. In December I’d climbed (most of) the Cosmiques icefall before retreating for various reasons – one being a huge chunk of ice smashing my face in… I’d also skied the Cosmiques Couloir, so the Cosmiques Arete seemed a nice conclusion to a fantastic season.

Sophie Radcliffe on the magical Cosmiques Arete

Sophie Radcliffe on the magical Cosmiques Arete

It has been my absolute honour and pleasure to work with these inspiring athletes for a whole season. Looking back through a seasons’ work – and it was a challenge to whittle down thousands of shots to this small selection! – I think it’s obvious that calling Chamonix a ski resort does it a huge disservice. When I was a child we had things called adventure playgrounds. This is the grown-ups’ version.

Sophie Radcliffe on top of the world

Sophie Radcliffe on top of the world

What’s So Good About Chamonix?

Chamonix is infuriating. The roads are pitted with potholes, but are unavoidable as the ski ‘resorts’ are so far apart and the bus service is ridiculous. The ski lifts are outdated and the pistes poorly maintained compared with the best in Europe. The mountain restaurants serve awful food at obscene prices and service to match, whereas a trip through the tunnel to Italy offers superb pasta for a bargain price. The infrastructure just cannot cope with the masses of visitors. So why do those visitors bother?

Because Chamonix is awesome!

I’d hesitate to call it a ski resort as there is barely enough to keep the average blue/red piste basher occupied for a week’s work-dodging, even if you include all five far-flung areas. But for mountaineers – with or without skis – it is a paradise. At least once you get above the smog-line.

I’ve been back in the UK for 2 weeks now and all these gripes are utterly meaningless when I think of the mountain adventures I could never have had elsewhere. I miss it, so here’s my highlights from the 2014-2015 season.

Argentiere Glacier

Argentiere Glacier

The early season was tough with a frustrating lack of snow – the clouds may not have been heavy with precipitation but they were, on occasion, pretty spectacular.

Geoff Harper's Fatbike Tour du Mont Blanc

Geoff Harper’s Fatbike Tour du Mont Blanc

The lack of snow was a blessing in disguise at it forced me to expand my horizons beyond skiing and climbing. And no ski resort can offer variety like Chamonix. Meeting Geoff Harper was the start of something special as I followed him through the season and through his training to become the first person to complete a winter Tour du Mont Blanc on a fatbike. The full story is coming soon….! I also hooked up with Sophie and Charley Radcliffe in a project for Sidetracked and Salomon to document their pursuit of new adventures. Alpine running in winter was another eye opener.

Sophie and Charley Radcliffe - "I run to live"

Sophie and Charley Radcliffe – “I run to live”

There was just about enough snow when the Freeride World Tour rolled into town. It was great fun to shoot the event, but the real bonus of the press pass was the opportunity to take the bubble through the clouds before dawn. In Chamonix it often seems like the stars are in disarray, but when they align, they do so with precision!

Pre-dawn cloud inversion in advance of the Chamonix leg of the Freeride World Tour

Pre-dawn cloud inversion in advance of the Chamonix leg of the Freeride World Tour

Le Tour plastered in snow, with Steve Walton and Whitedot Skis

Le Tour plastered in snow, with Steve Walton and Whitedot Skis

Only a few days later the snow hit and the sun shone. I had my first chance to shoot for Whitedot Skis with Steve Walton (above), and a couple of days later with James Thacker on a shoot for Chamonix based Off Piste Performance. This is when Chamonix came into it’s own; steep and deep, and despite everything I said above, nowhere is quite like it for fast hard freeriding.

Moodier skies and watery sunlight for a shoot with James Thacker of Off Piste Performance

Moodier skies and watery sunlight for a shoot with James Thacker of Off Piste Performance

In a complete change of pace and style I was engaged by the British Ski Academy to create some promo shots for their website. Having never photographed ski racing the challenge was one I relished – ski photography is so reliant on body shape and compared to unpredictable freeriders these kids had discipline in spades! (Sorry freeriders, let’s blame the different terrain…!!!)

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Discipline and angles; race training with the British Ski Academy.

Another great thing about Chamonix is that Italy is so close. And they have heliskiing! My first trip over (or, more accurately, under) the hill to ski in La Thuile was memorable – a lifelong dream realised and another chance to ski with the guys from Off Piste Performance. Had to get the classic heli shot.

What every skier dreams of....? The only way to ski La Thuile.

What every skier dreams of….? The only way to ski La Thuile.

Stripping a season’s worth of images down to a blog post has been difficult. Too difficult, it turns out, so there will be a “Part 2”! Keep your eyes peeled for the second installment later this week, but for now I’ll leave you with two shots from a very special day. The Compagnie du Mont Blanc graciously allowed Geoff and his bike to access the lifts. It gave Geoff some altitude training and me some awesome photo opportunities at the top of Brevent. It also gave the other lift users plenty to talk about… Maybe it’s sights like these that keep people coming back to this unique playground.

Fatbikes allow you to ride terrain you otherwise couldn't; but not everything!

Fatbikes allow you to ride terrain you otherwise couldn’t; but not everything!

Alpinism on wheels

Alpinism on wheels

Gratuitous Underpants Blog

A while ago I reviewed the Icebreaker Anatomica Boxers for The Epicentre; this is a re-blog of the original post here.

I’m not wearing any pants. At least that’s what it feels like.

I’ve often wondered, as I’m sure many of you have, what makes a pair of boxer shorts worth £30 or more. So I pulled on a pair of Icebreaker Anatomica Boxers to give them a test.

IMG_0331I’m a huge fan of Icebreaker base layers for winter and summer, but my favourite piece is my Tech T Lite – if I’m travelling it’s the first thing I pack as it’s so light and small, it wicks and dries quick, and doesn’t stink. You’ve heard that sales pitch before, but this is the real reason I love it; wearing it is as close to being naked as you can get without attracting attention! It’s that comfy.

Now, imagine that around your nether regions!

There’s a reason people gush about gear that you can forget about. Being unencumbered on the hill is liberating, you feel light and free with nothing to distract you from that primal enjoyment of being in nature. But if you don’t want to go entirely naturist then you need a second skin, and these shorts fill that gap. So to speak.

My test for these pants was a short walk-in and an easy climb on Middlefell Buttress in Langdale. Far from a stern test, you’re probably thinking. But there was another factor involved, a rare and challenging phenomenon for anyone in the Lake District, and something for which none of us is ever prepared. The sun. We’d barely reached the Old Dungeon Ghyll before I realised this was going to be a sweaty day, it was over 20 degrees and there was even mention of what people in other counties call “suncream”.

Clearly I don’t own shorts since I moved to Cumbria, so I was wearing black softshell trousers. Add a harness and a full rack, plus the fear that came from setting off on the wrong route and having to back off, then the worry of choosing appropriate photos for a blog about knickers, and the humidity in my groinal region was close to 100%.

This combination would usually cause at the very best, some chafing, and at worst your gentleman’s area could feel tighter than a trussed-up turkey at gas mark 5. Well I was comfortable all day. There really isn’t any higher praise given the conditions.

On the descent I had a feel of the material (just along the waistband you understand, not a full-on delve) and it was damp – naturally. But that’s the point; I had to check manually because there’d been none of the usually clinginess or rubbing.

So are they worth £30 or £40? That’s a personal decision, but if you like to be focussed, relaxed, uninterrupted by hitching up your pants or making, how can I put it, masculine rearrangements, then I would say one pair of these could change your life! We have really high expectations of our outdoor gear, and we insist on technical perfection. It’s all for nothing if your undercrackers let you down.

NB. I wasn’t brave enough to put the ‘no-stink’ claim to the test – best leaving that for the t-shirts I’d say….

Thanks to Bradshaw Taylor for supplying the pants for testing.

Fatbike Mont Blanc

Fatbikes are misunderstood, but Geoff Harper gets it. He’s planning to cycle the Tour du Mont Blanc, in winter, on his 9:Zero:7 Whiteout Carbon.

Geoff Harper and his Whiteout Carbon

Geoff Harper and his Whiteout Carbon

It’s never been done before, and I’m seriously excited to be partnering with Geoff to provide what promises to be some stunning imagery and the story of this unique challenge. Fatbikes have their naysayers, primarily because people insist on riding them to work so they look cool (or foolish dependent on your perspective). But this challenge is what they’re built for. Despite having no suspension, they’re mountain bikes. For mountains. And we hope this project will put the whole fatbike phenomenon in the right context; extending what is possible on a bike when the mountains are cold.

Training on Petit Balcon Sud

Training on Petit Balcon Sud

There are many variations of the TdMB, but all take in 3 countries, around 170km, and 10km of ascent/descent. Anyone who’s tried to ride a bike on snow will have some idea what winter conditions will add to this undertaking.

For the time being, Geoff is training and I’m shooting as much of it as I can – keep up with his progress via his blog at http://907montblanc.com/ and check out his phenomenally lightweight bike at http://907bikes.com/. And get ready for alpinism on wheels.

Descending to Chamonix

Descending to Chamonix

‘Tis The Season to be Nostalgic – 12 Months in 12 Images

I’ve never done this end of year summation before, but the last 12 months have been extraordinary. And apart from that I got bored over Christmas – nobody wants to work from mid-December onwards…. Guess they don’t love their job like I do….

I’ve chosen my favourite shot from each month; not necessarily the ‘best’ shot, or the most successful, but I’ll try to give my reasons as we go….

Dinner in the souk

Dinner in the souk

January started the year on various highs – skiing in Tignes was trumped by a jaunt up North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal, with Exped Adventure. You can see the resulting film of the trip on my website here but of the stills, this one brings back the sensory immersion of the first night and is a fitting vignette of how manic the next 12 months would be.

For February I’ve chosen a shot from a ski trip to Cairngorm. I learned to ski there 27 years ago and it was as much of an “experience” upon my return.

Scottish Skiing

Scottish Skiing

James McHaffie preparing to make history

James McHaffie preparing to make history

I’ve cheated here. I must have been asleep through April, so I’ve included two shots from March instead. The first was from a really nice day out with James Mchaffie when he was training for his epic Lakeland challenge later in the year. Considering the magnitude of what he was attempting I was surprised to have the pleasure of a laid back day, just him and me, enjoying a mild spring day in Cumbria. And equally happy to sell a few shots to his sponsors, Rab.

The second of my March shots is from the Whinlatter Challenge event which I shot for Madison. 10 days before I went out with Caff, and very different conditions, with plenty of snow high up making for a stunning back drop to a cracking event.

The Lake District; real mountains

The Lake District; real mountains

In May I was working with BBC Scotland to cover the Tweedlove event, but it wasn’t my highlight. Yorkshire always wins. I got to go home to Yorkshire and shoot the Steel City Downhill event, but I wasn’t home for long….

My beloved Yorkshire, briefly

My beloved Yorkshire, briefly

June, July, August. I’ve had a difficult time trying to choose the moments that mattered out of so many. Alice and I spent the summer travelling Europe, living out of a van. It seems to be a rite of passage for this line of work! But there’s a reason why – the experience threw up endless opportunities for stunning shots (I almost wish I’d created a year in travel photos to go along with this action-based selection). I settled on this camping shot for June. High above Chamonix at the Col De Brevent, Mont Blanc was majestic under the stars, but the sunrise topped it all. I could have chosen Basque Coast mountain biking or horse riding in Les Gers but the freedom, adventure and beauty in this shot sums up the whole of June for me.

Wild camp on Col de Brevent

Wild camp on Col de Brevent

July is going to be Chamonix-based too. Despite a month that included shooting Crankworx and interviewing Gee Atherton for Adventure.com, photographing climbing world cup events, and the best festival in Europe (Vanka Regule, Croatia, if you’re wondering), I still find skiing in summer a novelty! And getting to meet Alison Culshaw of Off Piste Performance whilst shooting for Jottnar was a great bonus too!

Summer ski touring on the Mont Blanc massif

Summer ski touring on the Mont Blanc massif

In August we returned to our second-home, the Dolomites. This shot was on a hike I’ve done many times, but illustrates why I love these mountains – everything is always different. Sas Ciampac, Alta Badia.

Looking towards the Sella Massif from Sas Ciampac

Looking towards the Sella Massif from Sas Ciampac

September offered the brief respite of a lazy Autumn in the Lake District and an endless stream of visitors. Langdale Boulders kept them entertained.

Langdale Boulders in Autumn

Langdale Boulders in Autumn

Back in Yorkshire - riding around Twistleton Scar

Back in Yorkshire – riding around Twistleton Scar

The rest of Autumn, again, revolved around getting muddy on bikes. In October the guys from Escape Bikes showed me around their backyard, under Ingleborough, for a magazine article (yet to be published…) And November took me from Yorkshire to Portugal to shoot with Jim Carroll for another article. The shot below was licensed by Enve Composites, who sponsor Jim with their wheels. I chose it because I’ve worked hard on my MTB work all year, and was happy to nail the ‘moment’. I could have posted dozens of beautiful scenic shots from the Algarve, but this is the money shot!

Jim Carroll getting low

Jim Carroll getting low

And now it’s winter again, so naturally I’m on a snowy mountain. December’s photograph was taken yesterday. I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer, but this is home for the forseeable future. I hope this shot illustrates why!

My new backyard

My new backyard

The Big Decisions, reprise

Today is the last of my day job – as of tomorrow I’m a full time photographer. I recently wrote a blog for Jottnar on the risks involved and the process of making the decision to throw caution to the wind – you can read that original piece here

I’m a great believer in following your passions, and ‘throwing all my eggs into one roofbox’ to go and live on the road is my embodiment of that. So it’s with an unbelievable serendipity that I took a phone call from BBC Scotland this week asking me to work with them at the Tweedlove mountain bike festival in Peebles.

What more perfect justification of my recklessness to quit my job one day, and be working with the BBC the next?

In the next few days I’ll be moving into a van, and heading… well, just heading! Needless to say blogs and photographs will follow keenly through the summer, but I just wanted to mark this day of transition with a big thanks to BBC Scotland, for the timing of this opportunity!

And if this is not portentous enough in itself, you won’t believe the name of the TV show I’ll be appearing on. “On The Road 2014”.

You couldn’t make it up.

[On The Road 2014 will air on BBC Scotland on 2nd June]Image