Try to guess what the worst sentence is to be spoken in front of a photographer, whether professional or amateur while he is proudly showing you one of his photos. Your thoughts float, getting lost among the many shades and perfection of the details, but behold, almost unconsciously the words coming out of your mouth have the sound of a heresy: “… wow! your camera takes really nice photos!
Boom …. a curtain comes down around you and will reign in silence!
Here’s how what was intended to be a compliment, formulated in the wrong way imparts utter contempt towards your photographic work. I want to illustrate these claims through the words and images of a recent hike in the Marmarole, mountain range, one of the most wild of the Dolomites, underlining the fact that a picture is never a simple “click” but rather a set of study, planning, effort , awareness of its own means, passion, and love for what one does in addition to the subjects photographed.
I planned for a long time together with Michele, a good friend of Auronzo di Cadore, a photographic excursion in the mountains. Finally, last September provided the propitious occasion for a two-day high-altitude. I relied completely on him regarding mode and destination. First is the company that matters, then the goal, as there can be straining hard to find an ugly mountain, so the destination was quite irrelevant and in any case I was sure that I would discover a new place resulting in some good photos to take home.
We decided to go to the shelter Tiziano (m. 2246) and at the bivouac f.lli Toso placed next to the old structure built in 1899 that in the initial project would be a managed hut. Both are located on the Col Vallonga in northern Marmarole sector and would be our base camp. Nicola was also with us. The team started from the Alpine House “D. Savio” in Ansiei Valley (m. 1045), above us the first 1.200 meters of climb … and what climb it was!
The trail does not know half-measures, we climbed alternating stretches in the woods at most scenic moments but the slope is always surprisingly high, and also in some places the road is very wet and slippery.
Only in the upper part did we find a little respite. The climb is slightly sweeter and it starts to realize that the objective is near. Between a chat and a laugh nonetheless we arrived at the bivouac in good time. The view from up there is amazing, we had before us the immense corollary of the peaks of the Sesto Dolomites, from the Three Peaks of Lavaredo to Paterno, from Cadini di Misurina to the Croda dei Toni, all there together, it was enough to point the telephoto lens to isolate them one by one in single spectacular images.
Sure that the climb had not given much breath and then before thinking about the pictures was necessary to take a bit of forces, organize ourselves for the night before dark, and have a bit to eat.
Meanwhile we also had to decide where to take pictures at sunset and where to go the next day at dawn. The choice was huge and looking around there was a peak in particular that caught our attention: Croda Alta di Somprade (m. 2646), a sort of symbol of the mountain for the inhabitants of Valle d’Ansiei, the balcony par excellence, destination for few hikers and undisputed territory of chamois and ibex.
While we were dreaming in front of a sandwich and a well-deserved beer we heard some voices, they were certainly not wild animals. In fact two hikers were coming to Tiziano bivouac from the opposite side to ours. Once arrived at the bivouac Michele e Nicola recognized them and exchanged a few words taking advantage to ask questions about the way to go on the Croda of Somprade. From the hill where we were the top really seemed close at hand, before us the immense plateau where once there was a glacier of Froppa. Today there isn’t trace of ice, but the rocks, polished and worked from his retreat progressive, have left an incredible amphitheater dotted with depressions, potholes and cracks.
2 hours from the bivouac, it seemed impossible!
After four calculations considering the recommendations given to us, we decided to stay in the area for sunset staking everything on the sunrise. We set the alarm clock at 3 am to be ready to leave a quarter of an hour later.
And if we had not already been there? What time we had to leave to be on the summit at dawn? Surely not normal times for humans … even three o’clock in the night isn’t normal, but at this point acceptable. The sunset was not generous with light, but we waited for the darkness before we stopped taking pictures and then we lit a fire in the vicinity of the camp. Did not miss the sausage cooked over the embers to round off, these things will become part of memories to take home after a hike in the mountains. Each one of us slipped our two pieces of sausage on a stick of fresh cut pine wood. Heat favors the release of the resin which, by mixing with meat gives it a special taste, and I guarantee you it was the most delicious sausage I’ve ever eaten.
The sleep was reconciled from the excellent dinner and the alarm came in short, just at the climax of the dream. We slid lazily out of the sleeping bags and we opened the iron creaking door of the bivouac, there was a lot of moisture in the air and in the valley a beautiful sea of clouds, the moon was big in the sky and illuminated the wet plaques on the plateau in front of us making them sparkle. One does not hear anything, the most absolute silence. Just enough time to settle down and away, step by step in the light of headlamps.
The evening before Michele had made a short recognition until the junction for the Jau de la Tana fork, so the first part was very simple. Then instead we began to follow by searching in the dark the stone men, but in the absence of them also the instinct. At times we stopped hesitant…here or there? We turn our heads 180 degrees, so that the headlamp illuminate all that was ahead of us, here is a little man, here is a new step along our way. Who first saw him was winning, one for all and all for one until the scree at the base of Croda Alta was at sight.
A little higher up the great stone that we had to get around to attack the real ascent. We were walking for an hour and a half and the clock never stops, the dawn does not expect us, so we had to hurry up because got this far it would be a shame to miss the appointment with the light.
Over the scree a small rock wall required a short climbing, we won easily and then favoring the steep slope we pointed to a fork that was to be the key point to go over the crest and take us on Croda Alta di Somprade. While getting on the roll of some stones startled us, particularly when with our headlamps we lit two eyes just ahead of us glowed in the dark of night, the silhouette of a lone ibex took shape in the dark, but we went right next to him without problems. Ibexes are beautiful and gentle animals, they do not want to be got too close but remaining at a safe distance, they let themselves be observed without any shyness. We hailed it, hoping to find him with the light of day.
We continued to climb with great difficulty, the wet grass by the frost was very dangerous and required attention, it would not be appropriate to slide downstream.
Nicola came to the ridge first, then Michele and me. My heart was pounding for the effort, but now was beating even stronger for the show that we had before our eyes. The clouds covered the entire valley below us in a soft cotton sheet, while on the horizon went up the warm colors of the first light. Idyllic situation, we were reliving the same scene of the “Walker above the sea of clouds” by Caspar Friedrich, everything was incredibly exciting.
The only bad news was that the Croda Alta Somprade was not really close, darkness had betrayed us and we had wrong the fork, too late to recover. We decided to stop there to wait for dawn, on the Camosci Peak (m. 2673), just to the side of our initial objective.
The morning chill was pungent, the first frozen hands, the sharp air on the cheeks, and then the light!
A warm and strong light, spectacular to illuminate all around the highest peaks, and then gradually fall on lower heights and finally in the valleys.
Moments of intense excitement where the only thought was to take as many pictures as possible looking compositions, framing, creativity …. all without mistakes; I would not have had the chance to come back here tomorrow, I would not even have had in the immediate future, so maximum concentration.
The spectacle lasted for about half an hour, then the light became so-called “normal” announcing a beautiful sunny day. We gave ourselves a few more moments to look one last time what we had in front: the immensity that was around us, little men on the summit of a great mountain.
We began the descent trying to correct the mistake committed uphill, in fact the right fork was the one side, never mind, reason more to return here in future.
Once at the green grass below here is our friend ibex, strangely lonely. We tried to follow him along a rocky ledge until there was possible, then he, the undisputed king of these rocks made us understand that he knew more than us, a real mountain tightrope walker who convinced us with a few precise jumps to retrace our steps, I could still shoot a beautiful close portrait, a second of thrill when its whistle startled me, it was his warning, he was annoyed.
We lost the subject then continued the descent back, but big surprise, on the rocks below us we started to count: ten! They are more! Twenty! Thirty, thirty-five, forty, there are forty ibex, male, female and young, in small groups grazing on the last grass before the harsh winter. What a spectacle of nature. We managed to approach them as well as enough to take telephoto and even some shots in wide angle. The animals stood motionless watching us curious enough, perhaps their most of us. Only when they decided that we were going through the security line, they marked a departure of just whistling to alert others. Needless to say, I amused myself by taking a lot of pictures of these beautiful exemplary creatures and did not even realize that three hours had flown by in an instant. We had better start because the descent was far from simple.
Despite the delay, there were still resting occasions during the crossing of the valley that once was the glacier, even here would be nothing to lose hours observing the rocks worked by time and the elements, a unique amphitheater, a testimony of how the world has changed over the years and continues to do so with the passage of time.
A short break to Titian, and after arranging everything as we had found it, picked up the last things left there in the morning, we walked to the long descent. When this steep descent becomes as difficult as the ascent, the knees are severely tested and the weight of the backpack on the back increases the hardships, fortunately the loveliest view always provides comfort. At times we stopped to look at the top where we were only a few hours before, amazing view from the bottom, we were up there!
Once in the valley a good beer was the desire shared by all, and so it was that we closed the tour with a flourish.
Two days at high altitude; height difference: 1,600 meters positive without counting the ups and downs;
15 hours awake on the second day; effort: lots;
gratitude to nature for giving us a beautiful sunrise: a great deal.
But as I frequently say, the photos are must often gained through hard work and sacrifice, and I hope that no one ever tells me that my camera takes really nice photos. I could not answer for my actions!
I’m joking of course, I’m never so angry, but I hope that this story and others in my blog will help the reader to be a bit more realistic in judgments when looking at a picture.
There are two categories of images: some hard earned, other simply created in front of the monitor of a computer completely distorting the scene. The rapid diffusion of the reflex instrument, the fashion of social and sharing at all costs has created little monsters: more and more often that some fake photographers realize very poor picture on field, and then once at home with some clever shots of mouse they transform these pictures, turning them into scenes that nothing would have to envy to the apocalypse or to the days after the big bang.
We can still call it photography? But maybe that’s another story ….