Photoblog: Mountains in black & white

There’s a staggering contrast in mountain landscapes, where dramatic shifts between different faces of the same vista can turn the world on its head.

In the tropical mountains of the Andes, the grassy pampas of the valleys can be pleasant, warm, sun-trapped rest-places in the humidity of the day. As night falls temperatures plummet to freeze each blade of grass like the harshest depths of winter.

Up high on the glacial peaks, the tropical sun has enough time to soften the ice and snow before freezing again in the darkness, creating spectacular fluting and brilliant white formations.

In the Himalayas, peaks rise so high they appear like clouds, and the sun can take half the day to be high enough to cast its rays into the deep valley floors.

My first and favourite mountain will always be Blencathra in England’s Lake District. I first hiked it as a child and have returned many times since. Its fells sit together like a plump, benevolent king, looking south over his lands from a throne in the north. It’s a welcoming sight, a homely one.

The neighbouring mountain Skiddaw, however, has always had the opposite effect on me. As a child the sight of it made me feel uneasy and a little afraid. Its dark peak has an unwelcoming air, while the surrounding fells spread wide around it, the scorched heather creating a forbidden land in the mind.

As irrational as this may be, my gut sense has always been one of apprehension. To this day I’ve not set foot on it.

Mountains can have an odd effect on the mind. I’ve been dumbstruck by the vastness of them, unable to articulate, or even begin to compute what my eyes are showing me. I’ve also found myself  buzzing with excitement at the sight of something so huge and wondrous that I become a kind of mountain-giddy – overwhelmed with emotion to an almost narcotic effect.

I’m left with either nothing or everything. Speechless and numbed, or giggling, shaking, even crying  all at once.

As a photographer I see a beauty and harshness to mountains and their landscapes of all shapes and sizes. The differing textures of ice, rock, scree or heather. The dark voids lacerated by brilliant beams of light. Cloud formations halted by the jagged edges of an ice-capped peak. The absolute wonder of something so huge, so marvelous, the mind can barely comprehend it.

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Beinn Dearg Mhor, Skye
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Cairn overlooking the Glen Sligachan, Skye
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Light and shadow – Quiraing, Skye
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Cortina d’Ampezzo, Dolomites, Italy.
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Path leading to the ridge of Pomagagnon – Dolomites, Italy
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The peak of Tullparaju fends off cloud formations high in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru
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A scree covered mountainside high in the Peruvian Andes
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Mountains in the clouds – Annapurna, Nepal
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The first rays of daylight burst across the ‘sanctuary’ of Annapurna base camp over the shoulder of Machapuchare, Nepal
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Looking across the top of Blencathra towards the crags of Gategil Fell – Lake District

 

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Photo Blog: Cordillera Huayhuash, Peruvian Andes

The Cordillera Huayhuash, a 30km long mountain range in Peru’s high Andean region of Ancash. The rugged landscape and it’s wild and unpredictable weather conditions is crowned by the high snow covered peaks of Yerupaja, Siula Grande, Jirishanca Yerupaja Chico and Rasac, all of which reach skywards at altitudes of over 6,000m, making it the second highest mountain range in the tropics.

Each year trekkers come in groups, or alone to complete the unforgiving 160km circuit of the range, where altitudes rarely dip below 4,000m. The tough but rewarding trek follows trails and small segments of old Inca road over high pass after high pass, through an Andean wilderness where condors soar high along the ridges and peaks in search of carrion, and wild horses graze in small herds.

Unlike the its much larger sibling to the north, the Cordillera Blanca, the Huayhuash range is not a national park. Small farming communities live among the many grass covered valleys, tending to livestock put out to pasture during the drier seasons and providing occasional supplies and refreshments to the trekkers and climbers that pass through the land.

A wide valley on the western edge of the Cordillera Huayhuash
A wide valley on the western edge of the Cordillera Huayhuash.
Donkeys make their way up a high pass
Donkeys make their way up a high pass.
Crisaldo takes a siesta next to his horse. When I spoke to him he seemed sad. It turned out that a few weeks before several of his friends had died in an avalanche while fixing ropes for their clients on Alpamayo. Crisaldo was part of the team sent to recover their bodies.
Crisaldo takes a siesta next to his horse. When I spoke to him he seemed sad. It turned out that a few weeks before several of his friends had died in an avalanche while fixing ropes for their clients on Alpamayo. Crisaldo was part of the team sent to recover the bodies. The job of horseman for a small group of trekkers was a break for him.
A train of donkeys makes it's way across a high valley
A train of donkeys makes it’s way across a high valley.
Wild horses roam the valleys of the Cordillera Huayhuash.
An early morning view of Yerupaja, at 6,635m it's the highest mountain in the range.
An early morning view of Yerupaja, at 6,635m it’s the highest mountain in the range.
Laguna Carhuacocha
Laguna Carhuacocha.
Yerupaja Chico enshrouded by clouds
Yerupaja Chico enshrouded by clouds.
Francisco, 13 years old. Each day he hikes from his home in the valley up to Siula Punta, one of the highest and most gruelling passes on the circuit, where he sells bottles of Coca-Cola to the trekkers he meets.
Francisco, 13 years old. Each day he hikes from his home in the valley up to Siula Punta, one of the highest and most gruelling passes on the circuit, where he sells bottles of Coca-Cola to the trekkers he meets.
The valley below Siula Punta
The valley below Siula Punta.
The northern edge of the range
The northern edge of the range.
A shepherd tending his flock
A shepherd tending his flock.
Laguna Siula
Laguna Siula.
A pair of wild horses graze above the frozen ground one morning
A pair of wild horses graze on frozen ground in the early morning.
Quebrada Atuscancha on the eastern edge of the range
Quebrada Atuscancha on the eastern edge of the range.
Jagged peaks on the western ridges of the range
Jagged peaks on the western ridges.
“Trekking alone with no donkeys, gringo?” asked the old lady carrying firewood, “you’re loco!”
David appeared from nowhere to guide me through a field full of rather aggressive looking cattle.
David appeared from nowhere to guide me through a field full of rather aggressive looking cattle. “What are you doing out here?” I asked him, “Riding my horse, watching the cows,” he replied.
The old lady at Laguna Juraucocha. She hobbled around the camping ground selling beer and soft drinks to climbers and trekkers while begging for medicine for her bad hip.
The old lady at Laguna Juraucocha. She hobbled around the camping ground selling beer and soft drinks to climbers and trekkers while begging for medicine for her bad hip.
Jirishanca
Jirishanca.

Peru Video

Last June I went to Peru. Looking to fulfill a lifelong ambition of seeing condors, I set off on two hiking expeditions into the Cordillera Huayhuash, and the Cordillera Blanca. I took some photographs, wrote some stories, and now I’ve made a film. My good friend Mick Harrison and his National Screen Service music project provided the stunning soundtrack, so do it some justice, play on good speakers, or headphones, and turn it up loud. Thank you.

http://vimeo.com/89486287