Words and images by Uisdean Hawthorn
Photographing the Peuterey Integrale
Behind the Alpinist's Lens
Uisdean Hawthorn here taking you through some images from climbing the Peuterey Integrale with Tom Livingstone and Robert Grasegger last summer. I was to document the ascent for mountain equipments 2020 summer advertising, it was a demanding task shooting professionally whilst climbing one of the longest routes in the Alps. It was ultimately a great experience in the mountains and a simple way to get unique images of real alpine climbing that would still meet the high standards required for the brand’s marketing campaign.
A few hours into the climbing on day one, I untied from the rope and started soloing, pressing my rock shoes onto the granite grasping the big flakes as I pulled myself up a steep section onto a mini ridge of granite above. As Tom started leading I placed a cam and clipped myself into it. It was supposed to be golden hour but the high layer of cloud had turned it into grey hour. Tom climbed up and I tried to make the best of the soft light. It’s not the most striking image in the world but the soft light shows the products and climbers face well. Working in this style you have to just make the best of it to get in position make it work and move on. You can’t wait for the light to get better or come back tomorrow. I waited for tom to lead past me and when Robert seconded past clipped back into the rope. Shooting like this is slightly unorthodox but provides lots of opportunities without taking up to much time.
Somewhere near the top of the Noir de Peuterey, some mist rolled in around us. Normally this would be a bad thing but it was the middle of the day so the light was pretty harsh and therefore poor for photographs. I was pretty to relieved as it gave us some more dramatic conditions and a chance to shoot some images of the squall jackets. I had been beginning to worry if we were ever going to need to put them on. I like sections on long routes after the harder slower sections it always feels great when you get to put the head down and move quickly. I like this image because it represents that feeling to me.
We have all been here, hanging at the belay, getting ropes in the face, and trying not to stand on one another. This was abseiling down the north side of the Noir de Peuterey towards the end of the first day of climbing. I pulled myself as far out of the way as possible and kept shooting as Tom and Robert cursed in English and German and the tangled ropes. I love this image as it is real and captures that moment everyone can relate to.
The best alpine breakfast is Chocolate Waffles! We had slept in, we assumed we would be woken up by the two french men also sharing the tiny bivouac with us, but no. We had all just rolled over and gone back to sleep when their alarm had gone off. We were now running one hour later than we had hoped, which was bad as we needed to make it to the top of the Grand Pilier d'Angle before the sun hit the slopes leading to it and started melting in the record-breaking heatwave.
I was taking this shot whilst stuffing a waffle into my mouth and telling Tom and Robert not to move too much as they tried to be quick to make up lost time. Its almost a great image, nice depth, good light, the tiny bivi hut, and the tired looks on there faces. It all sums up early mornings in the mountains perfectly the only problem is they have the same colored jacket on and in the rush no one noticed. A reminder there is a reason people do photoshoots on shorter easier objectives with more time or just get up when they are meant to.
Tom leading over a steep step near the summit of Mont Blanc, normally you can just easily scramble around this step but due to quite a lot of rockfall coming down the melting slopes on either side we opted for this harder but safer option.
It was 11 am and the slopes at 4600m were melting fast. Above a few hundred meters of snow arete lead to the summit of Mont Blanc de Courmayeur. There was constant rockfall down either side of the snow arete, occasionally a rock would bounce over the arete we needed to ascend. Tom had been leading for a long time up to this point and offered if anyone else wanted to lead, Robert looked tired but I was feeling relatively fresh.
I put my camera in my pack for the first time all route, now was not the time to play photoshoot. I grabbed the rack and ran up the arete as fast as I could placing one ice screw every 60m. Thankfully no rocks came over the arete during the short time we were on it. Soon we were all happily walking across to the higher summit of Mont Blanc, camera back out photoshoot resumed.
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