Editor’s note: Kamil Tamiola and Lumi Toma are visual storytellers and adventure photographers for Alpine Photography Labs.
Together they travel to some of the most breathtaking and challenging places – most at high altitudes – to shoot stills and video for the outdoor industry.
A favorite spot of theirs is the ever-changing Aosta Valley. Lumi shares a recent adventure this summer that turned into an unexpected experience. Check it out and please visit their web site, Facebook page, blog and Lumi’s Instagram. Enjoy!
What kind of projects were you shooting in Courmayeur and what conditions were you expecting when you got there?
Together with my partner Kamil, we were shooting assets for promotion of the Aosta region, notably the part of Courmayeur. Typical summer weather in the Aosta Valley is sunny and dry. However, this summer was an exception, and we had the wettest weather in the past 120 years. If rain in the Valley can spoil your afternoon at the swimming pool, higher up in the mountains, a dramatic change in the weather can put your life in danger. If you plan one or more days up, you need a reliable weather forecast. But even so, mountains are unpredictable: what can start as a sunny, beautiful day can very fast turn into a raging storm.
We have been planning our photo shoot for some time. Together with our mountain guide, Marco Tamponi, we were monitoring the weather hoping for a window that would provide us with sufficient time for climbing and photographing. We chose the best day that we could get in a long period of time. We were expecting relatively good weather, with broken clouds above 3500 meters.
We started our journey early in the morning, taking the first cable car to Torino at 6:30 am. Our spirits were up, and the day was looking glorious with the sun shining through the clouds. Manny groups of roped climbers were slowly traversing the glacier, with the mountain guides in front, carefully checking for crevasses and snow bridges. By the time we have arrived to the foothill of Aiguille d’Entrèves, the clouds were getting denser and lower, swallowing people into a white sea.
The visibility decreased dramatically in no time. We started the climb with the hope that the wind will take the clouds away, giving us another clear window. However, the effect of the wind was quite opposite, decreasing the temperatures and reducing the visibility even further.
We decided that the safest option was to go back. At that point we’ve done already almost half of the climb, and we were eager to finish it, but under the current weather development, the safest way was to climb down and retreat as fast as possible to safety before the weather will get even worse. Climbing down that sharp rocky spire with almost no visibility was more adventurous than we expected. Everything went well, including a vast number of interesting photographs acquired during this truly adventurous excursion.
Describe this area of Mont Blanc? What would attract photographers to this place?
Aiguille d’Entrèves it is relatively easy accessible from the Italian side of the Mont Blanc via refuge Torino-Punta Helbronner usually reachable with the cable car from Palud, next to Entreves. Although the climb can offer different mountaineering routes, the main attraction, I believe, are the views. The place it is a rich paradise for photographers. I especially like it when there are broken clouds, when the alternation of light and shadows, in a perpetual movement, makes everything much more interesting and dramatic. Due to the easy access, you will always have climbers traversing the glaciers, so even if you go there for landscape photography, you can get interesting compositions that include mountaineers in action. ‘Small people, big mountains.’
How did you prepare for the technical climb at Aiguille d’Entreves?
Aiguille d’Entrèves is a granite spire of the Mont Blanc Massif just along the Franco/Italian border. Its name, meaning “between the streams”, derives from a tiny village above Courmayeur, in Aosta Valley. The route is generally all rock, not technically difficult, but it is exposed. A good level of fitness it is a must and climbers must have a head for heights. So if you are well acclimatized to be around 3600 meters above the sea level, and you are not afraid of heights and stepping on an exposed terrain, all should be okay. I like being active as much as possible, so I do some running, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, and if the weather is bad, yoga and Pilates. Just to be clear, I don’t overdo any of these sports. I had back and neck injuries in the past, which let me with chronic pain, so I am trying to find the balance between staying fit, managing the pain and avoiding getting hurt.
Which Lowepro bag did you take and how did it work for you?
When it comes to an assignment that implies glacier traverse and climbing, having a lightweight, technical backpack with an easy access to the photo equipment it is of crucial importance, not just for your comfort but more importantly, for your own safety and the one of your rope partners. I have already tried different options, some of them being too heavy and non-ergonomic for an alpine environment. Some time ago I have discovered the Photo Sport Pro 30L backpack. Although it is the biggest form this series, with a capacity of 30 L, the weight is acceptable. It fits well to my back, allowing me to move freely, and I can tighten it on my waist without hurting my hips from the harness. It has a side pocket for the DSLR with the lens and possibility to store extra food, jackets, water and other items inside the inner pocket. Very important for an alpine terrain, it has external attachments for an ice axe and trekking poles. It’s definitely the best photo backpack for the alpine environment that I have used so far.
Tell us about the next adventure on your schedule?
The Aosta Valley is an endless source of natural beauty, traditions and adventures. Although we had a relatively wet summer so far, this made it even more beautiful, maintaining the green of the hills, feeding the countless waterfalls and getting fresh snow up in the mountains. My desire is to discover and photograph as much as possible of this gorgeous valley, immortalizing not only the lively colors of the summer flowers but also the changing palette of autumn.