TOM KAHLER: CHASING THE ALPINE SUN

During a smash-and-grab trip to the Alps, Brand Ambassador Tom Kahler reflects that Fastpacking is as much a state of mind as a means of moving through the mountains.
Future Lite hoodie at the Lac de Cheserys | MontaneFellow Brand Ambassador Elliot Simpson in his Future Lite Hoodie.

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I always find packing very difficult.  In many ways, the success of an outing in the mountains can be decided at home by what I put in my bag.  The problem is that photography equipment is heavy and bulky, and doesn’t leave much space for anything else.  Without due care my pack can become overloaded, making it difficult to cover the distances I require to get my shots.

However, using a fastpacking approach has significantly improved my experience of – and movement in – the outdoors.  Favouring versatile, lightweight and packable kit allows me to move fast and (relatively) light when time is short and the distance long.  Couple this with a general acceptance that travelling between spots will be fast and hard makes for a visceral and dense way to see AND record these incredible environments.  This was very much the case when we arrived in Chamonix after an 850-mile drive over 2 long days of driving in Elliot’s old VW t3 camper.

ibex spotting | montaneSharing a moment, one mountain beast to another! The Yupik 50L was a great pack for this excursion.

Rushing to grab some food and meet up with our friend Morgan, we started the hike to Lac de Cheserys at a strong pace.  Its not a long one – maybe 2.5 hours – but we were keen to make it up there for sunset. Consisting of lots of ladders this isn’t for those scared of heights.  We navigated these with ease carrying our packs but pushed ourselves hard to make good time nonetheless. Morgan kept the hike interesting with his local knowledge of Chamonix valley and the occasional Ibex spotting. Finally, we reached the summit and found a not so nice cloudy view of the lake as we set up camp and cooked some dinner. Cosied up in my Alpinist sleeping bag sleep came quickly. The next morning the weather had cleared, and we were treated to an amazing view over Chamonix valley as the sun began to rise over the tips of Mont Blanc.

Sunrise during an alpine fastpacking expeditionWe got some magical shots.  My favourite morning of 2018 by far.

What followed was 30 solid hours on the mountain; 5:00 am starts, late nights, wide temperature changes as we gained and lost altitude, and always pushing ourselves to move quickly.  The longer we spent moving the less time we had behind the lens, so the intensity was high throughout.  We traversed to Mer de Glace, dropping down to the glacier to check out the popular ice caves.  We weren’t particularly stoked on this location due to the masses of people but found it amazing and disturbing looking at the markers showing the height of the glacier in previous years. Hiking back up to Signal Forbes where we would camp the night, slowly the area became less busy as people descended back down the mountain, and we set up camp for the night.

fastpacking shell the fleet jacket Elliot Simpson wearing his Fleet Jacket – an ideal Fastpacking waterproof shell.

Disappointed by the lack of sunset and the increasing amount of cloud we began to worry about the storm that was about to hit. Our tent was pitched in a relatively exposed location which brought us some concern. as this got worse and the lighting got closer and closer we decided it would be wise to pack a light bag and have a quick jog back down to some slightly lower altitude. We waited the storm out in a less exposed area, and around 11:00pm the weather mercifully cleared up. With the lightning seeming to be very distant we hiked back up to the tent. Very wet, tired and cold we attempted some night shots however the moon and clouds made astrophotography very limiting. We got some sleep as temperatures plummeted – after all, we were camping above millions of tons of ice which had a coolbox effect,  before a very average sunrise. and we began the descent back down the mountain.  Exhausted, fatigued, and stiff.

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fast packing essentials | montane

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