Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tour du Mont Blanc #5 Champex - Trient, Switerland (European Alps)

I had been hiking the European Alps for a photo project in July 2014. Unfortunately, the first 3 days were miserable with rain and a surprising snow fall on the mountain pass... Crossing the French - Italian border, then into Switzerland, I photographed spectacular scenery along the Tour du Mont Blanc trail (110+ miles, 170km trail, which circles around the highest peak in the Alps; Mont Blanc).
Continuing from the last update, I left a beautiful alpine lake at Champex, Switzerland in the morning. This section would be the climax of the Tour du Mont Blanc trail which reaches the highest point of the entire trail with a steep mountain pass "Fenêtre d’Arpette" 8,743 ft (2,665 m).
Starting with a beautiful cotton grass meadow under a perfect blue sky...
Surrounded by high mountains, the trail ascends to the higher pass while looking down the Arpette Valley down below...

The easy part was over, followed by serious treacherous climbing... First, crossing through jumbles of boulders, followed by a slippery slope with small loose stones on all fours! My 30+ pound camera gear pack slowed me down... The highest point, Fenêtre d’Arpette towers up with an unbelievably steep angle! I doubted my ability to climb the trail up with the heavy pack on my back... This was supposed to be hiking NOT rock climbing! I wish I could post images of the pass but I didn't feel safe to set up the camera on the trail.

At least the slippery scree part was over, and a steep trail continued until reaching the pass... I just wanted to get to the pass, so I kept climbing...

Finally, I made it to the narrow rocky ridge of Fenêtre d’Arpette!
Looking down the Arpette Valley below, the trail I just came from was seriously steep. Many hikers rested on the narrow ridge. Some of them hiked up from the other side of the pass. We all met at the midpoint in the middle of the day. At last, I was able to set up the camera and captured the steep pass below...

Making it to the pass wasn't the end. Climbing to the top only meant I would have to climb down the other side...the trail was also very steep and slippery with sandy rocks. Trient Glacier cascaded down along the trail while more wildflowers cerebrated in the afternoon sun along the way.

The toughest 9 miles (about 14 km) was finally completed and some hikers jumped into the glacier melt river to cool off. I made it to the small village of Trient and settled in for the night. The stunning pink church located in the center of the village. When I first saw the picture of this church while researching the trip, I immediately planned to photograph it at sunset or sunrise, whichever offered better lighting, and crossed my fingers to have nice weather. My wish was granted, it looked like a great sunset that evening. I dragged my beaten up knees to search for the best spot before sunset, and set the camera up. When the sun lowered on the horizon a warm orange light glowed on the glacier covered peak above the church. That was perfect!

This story will continue on the next blog... Please check back!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tour du Mont Blanc #4 Elena, Italy - Champex, Switzerland (European Alps)

Another beautiful day in the Alps starting with a gorgeous sunrise at Italian Val Ferret. It had been already a week since I began the 110+ mile Tour du Mont Blanc trail on the French side of Mont Blanc for a photo project. It was constant rain from the beginning with a surprising snowfall on the mountain pass. Finally, the sun came out after I entered the Italian side of the mountains. A spectacular view of the Italian side of Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses the day before, then Switzerland is ahead.

Leaving the mountain refuge early in the morning, I climbed up the Grand Col Ferret (Ferret Pass) where the Italian - Swiss border lies. My 30+ pounds camera gear pack is heavy for this kind of terrain... The scenery was well worth it! As I climbed up higher, the receding Prè de Bar Glacier looked much larger than it was from the valley below.
Entering Switzerland, I climbed down into Swiss Val Ferret with its bright green pastureland and more cattle.
A small church overlooks a glacier over the mountains in the village of Ferret.

Arriving at the charming Swiss village of La Fouly with chalet-styled buildings decorated with flowers.

Sunrise painted on I'A Neuve Glacier in golden red, viewed from La Fouly. Another beautiful day in Swiss Val Ferret.

Wildflowers in the meadow of Swiss Val Ferret.

Passing through the village of Praz de Fort. Old buildings and narrow alleys... felt like going back to centuries ago...

Arriving at Campex, Switzerland, a small resort town in the Alps. The alpine lake, Lac Champex, is located in the center of town, surrounded by wooded mountains. It is a resort town but quiet and peaceful. The lake was amazing with deep blue-green colors under the afternoon sun.

Sunset at Lac Champex. The last sun glows on the distant mountains with reflections on the lake... 

This story continues on the next blog update. Please check back.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tour du Mont Blanc #3 Courmayeur – Elena, Italy (European Alps)

As my first European photo project, I hiked with my camera gear on the 110-mile Tour du Mont Blanc trail in July 2014. The first 3 days were done in drenching rain while I trekked the mountain pass. After crossing the French – Italian border, the weather slowly improved. After days of frustration, I finally was able to capture some of the spectacular landscapes in the Alps. Continuing from my last posting, I made it to the Italian side of Mont Blanc to the town of Courmayeur. 
After a few days break at Courmayeur, I headed back on the journey. It had been already a week since I began hiking on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail. Leaving the outskirts of town, the trail slowly climbed up through the woods. Then, the trail got steeper as I left civilization behind… The town of Courmayeur was already down below!

The dense forest opened up with a wildflower meadow.  I’m impressed with the abundance of colorful wildflowers in the Alps. 

As I climbed up higher, the south side of the Mont Blanc range showed up again with the majestic Grand Jorasses rock wall with glaciers. The long awaited sunshine brought bright blue sky above the mountains and the trail.

Under the sunlight, the vegetation was bright green and the colors of the flowers brightened up as the glacier and snow-capped peaks shined against the blue sky. Many times I stopped and set up my camera until I finally arrived at the mountain refuge for the night…

At the late afternoon, the clouds on the peaks slowly cleared out and the entire Mont Blanc appeared from its long absence! The Italian side, the south face of the Mont Blanc summit was different from the French side (North face).

Mont Blanc was still out the next morning.  Alpenglow painted the summit at dawn.

Grandes Jorasses (4,208 m; 13,806 ft) at sunrise.

Grandes Jorasses and Frebouze Glacier.

Another beautiful day in the Alps… More flowers along the way. Looking down Ferret Valley (Val Ferret) below…

This story will be continue on the next blog with new images, please check back.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tour du Mont Blanc #2 Elisabetta - Courmayeur, Italy (European Alps)

In July of 2014, I toured, explored and photographed the Alps and after spending a few days in Chamonix, France, I began hiking the famous Tour du Mont Blanc trail, a total of 110+ miles. The tour circles the Alps' highest peak; Mont Blanc. Continuing from the last blog posting, I crossed the French - Italian border on a stormy mountain pass the day before.
After 4 days of bad weather, the rain finally stopped. It was overcast, but leaving the mountain refuge without rain was a good change. While walking down to the beautiful Veni Valley (Val Veni), the sunshine came through the thick clouds. The lights through the clouds created the pattern on the towering mountains.
This entire valley offered outstanding scenery.  Small lakes, surrounded by fresh greens, reflected the mountain range as a perfect mirror along the trail.  Vivid wildflowers bloomed everywhere in the valley. I just wished that there would be more sunshine and blue sky...  I could have spent many more hours photographing this area if the lighting was better.

The trail branched off to the higher mountain side which I climbed with my heavy pack.  The trail continued along the cliff which overlooked the valley and the south side of the Mont Blanc range with several hanging glaciers.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating again...  The clouds got darker, and it could rain at any moment... it wasn't desirable lighting for photography either.  I was frustrated by the lack of photo opportunities since the start of this hike.

The rain started falling again and got heavier as I was hiking down to the town of Courmayeur.  I climbed down steep muddy long switchbacks on the trail in the rain, finally, the town came into view.

Courmayeur is on the the Italian side along Mont Blanc. (Monte Bianco in the Italian language) Soon after I walked into town and I felt like I was transported back to medieval times! The town is made up of narrow cobble stone streets with old stone buildings and a chapel... The old part of the town, Dolonne, is a historic mountain village with a charming atmosphere. People are still living here without development as a tourist attraction. I spent a few hours photographing this old area.
Nice atmosphere at evening...

Here is the City Center, the tourist part of Courmayeur.
This story will continue to the next update. Please check back.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tour du Mont Blanc #1 Les Houches, France - Elisabetta, Italy (European Alps)

After a few days of photographing/exploring the Chamonix area, I started my 2 week journey on the 110 mile (177km) Tour du Mont Blanc trail with a 32 pound (14.5kg) backpack. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is one of the most popular mountain trails in the European Alps and features dramatic landscapes. The trail circles around the Mont Blanc Range and crosses the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland. Traditionally, most hikers start this trail at Les Houches, France, south of Chamonix, and follow the trail counter-clockwise which was the route I took.

I left Les Houches in early July in the rain. On the first day, the 12 mile hike was mostly an up hill climb in drenching rain. The trail goes through a beautiful mountain pass decorated with colorful wildflowers but the heavy rain and fog blocked the view most of the time. If the weather was nicer, I would have photographed the dynamic landscape along the trail. Instead, I kept walking fast to reach my next destination.
The advantage of this trail is that the hikers have good options for accommodations along the trail. The mountain refuges offer dormitory-style beds, meals (four courses!), and warm showers at most places all at reasonable prices. Hikers don't have to carry camping gear unless they choose to camp. Many hikers were carrying only a day pack for the entire trail. It was great for a photographer, so I carried my camera gear with clothing but it was still heavy!
To satisfy the Europeans' cheese cravings, the hillsides of this part of the trail is used as a pasture with free range milk cattle looming everywhere along the trail. The cattle mind their own business while hikers pass by. The sounds of the cow bells were background music throughout this journey. I was entering the Contamines-Montjoie Natural Preserve, it continued to rain all day...
On day three of the trek, an unexpected snow fell on the mountain pass. The rain turned to snow during the night and covered the mountain pass ahead in the middle of July! Climbing up the steep snowy Bonhomme Pass (Col du Bonhomme) was challenging with a heavy pack. The misty rain causes bad visibility especially with snow on the ground. This section was supposed to be spectacular mountain scenery and I looked forward capturing the dramatic mountains. Instead, I was hiking on snow with a white out view. I didn't even pull my camera out during the day.

On the 4th day of the trail, I crossed the French - Italian border, which is located on Seigne Pass (Col de la Seigne), in stormy weather. When the weather is nice, Mont Blanc can be seen from the pass but unfortunately it was white out conditions.
Descending the Italian side of the pass, finally sunshine for a spell on the trail. It was magic, the wildflowers and the green meadows were vibrant under the sun! Time to set up my camera.
I found some familiar Alaskan wildflowers in the Alps; Forget-me-Not and Cotton Grass, in the another country on another continent miles away!
I love this blue flower; Blue Gentians.

Old ruins along the trail.
While the sun was out, I was hikied up close to glaciers (Lex Blanche Glacier and Estellette Glacier). I could see the climate change has been affecting European Alps at a high rate; the glaciers here are rapidly receding. Honestly, most of glaciers there were a rather disappointing sight...
This story will be continued in the next update. Please check back!