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Friday
Jul272012

The French Alps

A final post from France by Joshua Holko:

"One of the real highlights of my trip through France was the opportunity to visit the alpine town of Chamonix. Widely regarded as the mountaineering Mecca of France, Chamonix is a magnet and playground for mountaineers and alpinists from around the world. With its high altitude mountains, precipitous and jagged peaks, and high quality granite spires it is easy to see why.

The town itself is filled with all manner of outdoor clothing, mountaineering and adventure shops. The only other place I can recall seeing such a collection of stores and brands in such a small a geographical area was in Ushuaia at the bottom of South America from where the majority of Antarctica expeditions depart. In short, if you can’t find it in Chamonix you probably don’t need it (although the prices might leave you reeling).

With a day free in Chamonix before heading for Venice, I jumped at the opportunity to take the two cable cars up to the Aiguille Du Midi at just over 12,600 feet for some mountaineering photography.

With no real mountains to speak of in Australia, I am not used to high altitude climbing and suffered from constant lack of breath, light-headedness and a severe headache after twelve hours at nearly 4000 metres. Whilst my Austrian companion seemed unaffected by the altitude I was forced to stop every few minutes to try and catch my breath as we made our way up the ridgeline. It was worth the pain, however, as the opportunity to photograph climbers returning from Mont Blanc along a very exposed ridge provided breathtaking views and photographic possibilities. We were taking a little bit of a chance with this climb as it was very windy and the pressure was dropping, with the possibility of a forecast storm. Spindrift was whipping off the peaks and, with eleven people loosing their lives on Mont Blanc in the last few weeks, I was less than thrilled at the thought of getting caught in an exposed position.  I was, however, very keen to get some photographs, because the wind was whipping clouds and fog across the mountain at a rapid rate which was creating a lovely play of light. In the end, I climbed only a relatively short distance up the ridge as the conditions were just too dangerous for my experience at that altitude.

This was the first opportunity I had to use the Canon 1DX at high altitude in cold weather and it did not disappoint. At -15 degrees Celsius the Canon 1DX performed flawlessly and I was able to squeeze out nearly 600 frames without any effort, finding no need to warm the battery or swap it for another from a warm pocket. This is remarkable performance in such a hostile environment and is consistent with my experience with the 1DS MK3 and 1D MKIV cameras in Antarctica.

I hope to return to Chamonix in the future and spend more time in the stunningly beautiful French Alps. Along with the Andes mountain range in South America, they rate as some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains I have seen.

For now, I have arrived in Iceland and am looking forward to heading out into the wilds tomorrow morning."

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