Images and words: Dan Matthewman
In April we ran a competition to win a place on the Arc'teryx Alpine Academy in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Winner, Dan Matthewman was kind enough to take some photos of his experience and let us know how it all went...
"My trip began with a flight to Geneva, followed by a minibus with other alpinists, runners and cyclists arriving in the centre of Chamonix, late Thursday night. The next morning, after hurriedly repacking my bags, I walked into town to register at the main Arc'teryx stand in the plaza.
The sun was burning off the mist, allowing the snowy tops of Mont Blanc and Dome Du Gouter shine through patches of cloud; I could tell it was going to be a hot day.
"it was very different from my day-job as a town planner!"
I collected my free goodie bag from the Arc'teryx store (a handful of stickers, a water reservoir and a branded beanie) before getting ready for my 'clinic'. The general format is that each clinic is led by Artc'eryx pros, with support from qualified mountain guides. First up was the overnight photography clinic. All the clinics have a good reputation and sell out within a couple of hours of being announced, so I had a feeling it was going to be something special...
You know those photos you see in magazines of ultra-athletic pros adorned in the latest gear in the most dramatic of mountain scenery? Well, I would be one of a dozen photographers shooting these athletes for the next 24 hours;it was very different from my day-job as a town planner!
We made our way up the téléphérique to the 2200m stop on the Plan Des Aiguilles, halfway up the Aiguilles Du Midi… unfortunately this is where the cloud had decided to settle for the day. After dropping off our overnight gear at the refuge, we were ready for the workshop to start.
Arc'teryx senior photographer Angela Percival doing her thing
We had a meet and greet then set off to direct and shoot a couple of pro fell runners. Professional photographers @angepercival and @liamlonsdale helped us instruct the runners to strike poses and travel across ridge lines, giving us the best opportunity to capture the shots we wanted. She did a great job of catering for every ability level, teaching everyone something new.
The group receiving tuition from Ange
Fell runner Flo takes a direct line up the ridge overlooking the Aiguilles Rouge
After the first shoot, we retired back to the refuge for an evening of stories and laughter over dinner. Soup, red wine and pork casserole; the French certainly know how to do mountain huts. A short slideshow of some of Liam’s back catalogue and we went to bed, alarms set for 4am.
We woke to dense rain and mist - the weather was rubbish! We set out despite this, chatting about gear and how to keep your kit / yourself in working order in challenging conditions.
"Soup, red wine and pork casserole;
the French certainly know how to do mountain huts"
After breakfast, we decided to take a chance and head up to 3,800m on the Aiguille du Midi lift. We'd all brought the full complement of axes, crampons and harnesses - it would have been a shame not to at least give it a try and by goodness was it worth it. Above a full cloud inversion in the valley, the sunshine was beaming down and casting light on the surrounding summits - 10cm of fresh snow overnight hid all the imperfections and the mountain was buzzing.
We were met by two athletes who were to be our models for the alpine photography element of the shoot. First from the platforms at the Midi they clambered out on the top of the infamous Cosmiques Arete as the tourists thronged around whooping and clapping, we got front row positions to capture the best of the action.
A member of the clinic crouches to get the shot
Models / athletes Jon and Tim breaking trail up the side of the Aiguille Du Midi
After leaving the platforms we donned our mountaineering gear and made our way down the infamous Midi Arete. For those unacquainted with the exposure or wearing crampons for the first time it proved quite daunting, but the guides helped everyone to travel at their own pace and without any pressure amongst the hustle and bustle.
Angela and Liam followed by our guides leading the group down the Midi Arete
In her friendly and engaging style, Ange rounded up Arc’teryx ski athletes as they prepared to make their way back up the mountain and we spent some time photographing them in high spirits before we turned around to go back into Chamonix for the academy dinner.
Arc’ teryx athletes taking selfies under the observatory
The beer was flowing throughout the evening along with conversation about people’s experiences on the different clinics. All reports were overwhelmingly positive.
Movie night began and a very powerful short film featuring Paul Pritchard’s return to the Totem Pole after it nearly took his life (leaving him with life changing injuries) saw the crowd’s eyes well up. Needless to say, perhaps the drinking and late night weren’t the best preparation for my ski alpinism clinic the next day.
In all it was a great experience and I would like to thank Ellis Brigham and Arc’teryx for my prize!
All images: www.danmatthewman.com