Behind the lens: Alpine dreams
As photographers, we all have shots we dream of capturing. For me, it’s images of alpine regions that occupy my thoughts. As a result, for the last few years I’ve been working on a project, Deep Mountain, which blends landscape photography with my mountaineering interests.
After several reschedules over the past three years, in September 2022 I was finally able to leave my home in Sydney and head to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the South Island of New Zealand to continue what I’d started years earlier.
Along with my guide Roy and climbing partner Sandra, we arrived at Plateau Hut by helicopter. For many years, Plateau Hut has served as a base for climbers attempting the Mount Cook summit – the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3724 meters above sea level. The hut is the starting point for the classical Linda Glacier route to the summit.
My plan on this trip was to shoot alpine landscape photographs, while attempting short climbs to nearby peaks including Glacier Dome Peak, Anzac Peak and Mount Dixon. But in the back of my mind, I still had vague hopes of capturing my dream shot - climbers attempting the summit.
Unfortunately, the main climbing season is from November to January. But it’s especially busy and crowded then, and hard to get tranquil and ‘clean’ images of the snow.
I knew that my best chances of photographing would be during the winter season from June to September, however few climbers attempt the climb in winter because the summit of Mount Cook can be so dangerous.
Surprisingly, on the second day into our trip, three men arrived at Plateau Hut. As luck would have it, they planned to climb Mount Cook through the Linda Glacier route. I knew this was my chance.
The three mountaineers set off at 1am on 16 September. From the hut, I could see three tiny headlights moving up the glacier in the darkness towards the giant wall of the Linda Glacier.
At 3:50am, we sprang into action, and started climbing in the opposite direction of the climbers’ route. About 40 minutes later, we reached a vantage point about 100 meters above Plateau Hut, from where I could shoot photographs of the mountain unobstructed.
Avalanches were a real possibility. Roy and Sandra setup two pickets on the icy ground which provided double anchors for the rope tied to my harness. With these in place, I could move freely around the icy and exposed area and would be protected if an avalanche struck.
Just before twilight, I captured this image of the three climbers in action. The setting moonlight cast shadows on the Grand Plateau Glacier from the right, while Plateau Hut decorates the centre of the scene. Against the giant Mount Cook lay the Linda Glacier, where three climbers – presented by their tiny headlight dots, slowly ascend towards the summit. A dream come true.