the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

August 29, 2011

Of sleepless nights and men in tights: the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc revisited

Filed under: outdoors, photography — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 2:28 pm

It’s that time of year again, when my sleep patterns are sacrificed for the sake of photographing men in tights. Perhaps the world’s toughest running race, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (170Km, 9500m of ascent), happened this last week and principle sponsors, The North Face, assigned me to capture their athletes doing what they do best: running in remote corners of the Mont Blanc massif at unearthly times of the night and day.

I may be a morning person, but pre-dawn starts are never high on my “to-do” list. So after 4 hours of sleep I dragged my weary self out of the relative warmth of my van to leg it up to a location I had in mind that, if all went well and the athletes hadn’t been unduly slowed by the previous night’s snowfall that now sat several inches deep on the pass, would mean capturing their somewheat insane exploits just at first light.

And so racing the racers began. That’s the art of shooting the UTMB (or indeed shooting the Mountain Mayhem event in June): to get and stay ahead of the runners at each stage of the race, and get to the right spots at the right light. Read between the lines this means running up mountains, shooting the runners and then running down again, all with about 40 lbs of photo gear on your back. I’m not much of a runner you understand.

Jobs like this are schizophrenic. lots of planning and re-planning as schedules and even the route change make it a pain and a stress, but once on location and it all comes together, there’s often nowhere I’d rather be. After all, when otherwise would you have the excuse to see the sunrise in one of the most beautiful valleys in Europe, miles from home, and all before you’ve even had chance to put the kettle on for a morning brew? Sometimes this really is the best job in the world. Now where’s that alarm clock?

After a night of snow at 2500 m, you'd think TNF's Tsuyoshi Kaburaki but would take a moment to stop and warm up in the sunrise, but no, not this morning. Places to be. Time: 07:02. Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8G.

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