PDG stands for Patrouille des Glacier, probably the hardest mountain race around….no I didn’t participate, I was just taking photos of the race.
What’s so special then… simply do 3000 – 4000 meters in climbing up with camera gear to shoot what you have in mind or client needs then it get’s special, even for the photographer.
Shooting at the Olympic games is a very special occasion and it’s always unforgettable. Shooting the PDG is somehow very similar. This year is the 4th time I had got the job as official photographer of the PDG.
It’s a job that starts months before, back from the Sydney Hobart race I had 4 months to get ready and prepare my body and gear for this project. This year I got the help of Fabian from the Swiss Olympic Medical Center at the Schulthess Clink here in Zurich. The training was hard but the difference to the last edition was the constancy, keep training every day at least 1h or 2h at a not too high heart rate, during that time I not only got fit but also lost almost 7 Kg….less to carry up.
How to handle the gear in high altitude isn’t anymore a problem, had plenty of storms in the last 3 editions to learn that, however, there are 2 points which are crucial:
– Think well what you really need, carry as less as you can. It takes me weeks to think about the images I have in mind to finally reduce the camera gear weight to the limit.
– Keep the cameras in the cold. Leave the cameras outside when you go back in to the tent to sleep or to relax, the humidity isn’t any good for them. You can even dig your bag under the snow and mark it with an avalanche sonde to find it again the next morning when you come out of the tent.
About lenses, it may sound weird and I get criticized from time to time but my favourite lens is the Nikon 28 – 300 mm. I know it’s not a prime lense but it’s light and very versatile with the zoom range up to 300mm.
I was thinking for long about my backpack. There are all this new backpacks appearing in the market made for outdoor photographers but after looking at a few of them I decided to go with my Mammut 35 litter. He is not the lightest but gets everything properly stored and still feels comfortable on my back with all the weight. Not to forget that we carry a full high mountain safety equipment all the time. Shovel, sonde, safety cover, first-aid kit, ice axe, ice screws etc., all what you normally carry climbing, hiking in high altitude.
A big help are this neoprene covers, they protect the camera and lenses from shocks, and they are light….very important.
Another think to consider is the chopper, beside walking a lot we also fly a lot, just short flights lasting a few minutes , getting in and out of the chopper is key, and nothing has to be attached outside of the back to prevent get hocked on somewhere. The loadmasters would not like it at all.
This year thanks to Dynafit I also changed my ski and ski boots… love the new TLT6 from Dynafit, flexible when needed for long walking and hard the way I like it on the way down. The skis are the Dynafit Broadpeak length 174cm, very light but they are great in the powder but also on the ice.
The first few days were the hardest, just to start we begun with a 1’000m climb over a glacier, thank’s to the hard training I had no problem, the backpack felt well with my limited gear selection. But I had a big lesson. My water bottle was on the left side, so does the ice ax and the tripod…after 1h walking, climbing my left shoulder felt in serious pain, a bit of changes and then it was ok.
After a few days my body got used to the high altitude and I felt good, could keep up the speed with all the mountain specialists of the Swiss Army, but I got my big lesson about speed when I was around with the 3 Pro’s from Dynafit.
We planned a shooting before the race in high altitude, the first night on the Schönbiel hut and then up to Tete Blanche…..I was giving everything on the way up but for them It was still a easy walk…(during the race they got second…..why should they feel challenged by a photographer)
Unfortunately the next day it was snowing hard, very little visibility and avalanches kept coming down every 10 minutes around us so we had to go down without doing the expected photos. It was a hard decision but safety is more important.
Beside shooting in the mountains we started 2 years ago with a series of portraits, this year we completed the series with the mountain guides and on top we also did a series with the pilots from the Swiss Air Force. Working so close with so many strong personalities is an incredible experience. Click here to see the complete gallery of portraits.
The first race was in low altitude we planned to shoot the part from Zermatt to Schönbiel…the hardest part was walking up to the Staffel checkpoint with the ski boots, but my Dynafit TLT6 were simply great. No blisters at all…Thank you Dynafit. In the forest after Staffel I had my lucky moment check out the photo:
Early morning I finally got my photo – flight over the race. Amazing photos.
The second race was again a weather challenge, clouds covered the mountains and we supposed to fly up to Tete Blanche but at 18.30 the pilots gave up and a few hours later the race started. Too late to start to walk up… Again I had to make changes due to the weather…Stay flexible and make the best out of it…..
Around midnight the sky cleared up and early morning I got a great photo of the Mont Collon.
With the sun rising I got lucky…. received and SMS saying “go to the heliport asap” and 1 h later I was on Rosablanche shooting the teams climbing up.
The way home was with the ski…up and down to Verbier….not bad at all.
Hope you enjoy this short/long story. Now I’m off for another jogging session, want to keep my body fit as long as I can.