In August 2017, I had the opportunity to photograph husband and wife Donnie Campbell and Rachael Campbell in Chamonix, France. Donnie Campbell is one of Britain's top ultra runners, sponsored by Salomon. Rachael is a nurse and a talented mountain runner, running for Team GB in 2018 and placing 5th female in the 2018 Marathon du Mont-Blanc 90km series.
One of my first tasks was to decide where I would take elite athletes for a mountain running shoot near Chamonix that would help me to produce images I hadn't seen before.
Location 1 - Désert de Platé
On the day Donnie and Rachael welcomed us to the Argentière campsite they'd been calling home for the Summer, my assistant Alex remarked how we appeared to have brought the Scottish weather with us (a temperature of 3 degrees C was reported for the following day). Although the Chamonix valley was socked in with low cloud and drizzle, we had done our research and the weather was looking better a few days ahead so we headed north in the rain to Plaine Joux and followed the route of Le Dérochoir (a fun, if initially sketchy-looking 'via ferrata' that follows a weak point up the dramatic cliffs of Rochers des Fiz and leads to Col de la Portette). Our plan was to stay overnight at Refuge de Platé and shoot sunrise shots of Donnie and Rachael playing on the amazing limestone rock landscape of Désert de Platé, with Mont Blanc in the background.
Désert de Platé was an area that had immediately sprung out when I did some location scouting online. I definitely did want to shoot running images in the Chamonix valley but, when I googled possible locations, the south side of Chamonix (the Lac Blanc side) was clearly the running photographer's location of choice. For good reason. The views are awesome. But I also wanted to find a location that no-one else had. So my plan for our 4-day shoot was to shoot on the balcony paths of Chamonix but also find another location that I hadn't seen any running shots of. Désert de Platé, as it transpired, wasn't an entirely unique location for running (whilst we were in Chamonix, Kilian Jornet posted a video of Seb Montaz and himself playing around between the rock crevasses) but I think we made a good choice. The cracked limestone rock offers huge potential for foreground interest in a photo shoot and the views of Mont Blanc are immense. We only had the time and the weather for one shoot before we headed back to Chamonix but I'd love to return and explore more.
Location 2 - Lac Blanc
When the sun became too bright for photographs at Désert de Platé, we descended via Le Dérochoir and returned to Chamonix for lunch. Two hours later, Alex and I were on our way to 2,352m high Lac Blanc, taking advantage of the chairlifts from Les Praz to Flégère to L'Index to help alleviate some of the weight of our camera and lighting gear. Donnie and Rachael chose to run up from Argentière. The location of Lac Blanc (the 'White Lake’) is, arguably, home to the most famous views in the Alps, with thousands of photos on the internet of the scenic lake and its mountain refuge, nestled beneath the Aiguilles Rouge, with its expansive views over the Chamonix valley to famous peaks such as Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte, Aiguille du Dru, Grandes Jorasses, the Chamonix Aiguilles and Mont Blanc.
Donnie and Rachael met us at Refuge Lac Blanc. By the time they'd arrived, I’d already decided that a Saturday night in August wasn’t the best time for a photo shoot at this busy location. There was an awful lot of people around the lake. It was too crowded for the shots I had in mind so we descended to lower Lac Blanc and prepared to shoot there. There were already photographers set up (it's a popular lake for reflections) so I took the time to check they didn’t mind if we took some running shots and received a positive response (though in the morning I learnt there was a photographer I had missed and we had spoiled their time lapse. If this was you, I do regret it). After we wrapped up our shoot, I chatted to Salomon's social media manager, Jeremy. Donnie and Rachael returned to Argentière and Alex and I bivvied out so we could shoot some mountain landscape images at dawn. We arranged to meet up with Donnie and Rachael later that day.
Location 3 - Le Brévent
Donnie and Rachael’s base in the Alps was their camper van at Camping du Glacier d’Argentière (www.campingchamonix.com). After Alex and I had descended from Lac Blanc (pleasingly, the trail popped out at a bakery in Argentière), it was nice to sit in the mid-day sun at the campsite with fresh bread and a chilled drink as we prepared for our last shoot of the trip. We had two locations in mind. A visit to Tête de Balme or Aiguillette des Posettes for a sunset view down the whole Chamonix valley or to head south-west to Brévent for a closer view of the Chamonix Aiguilles and the summit of Mont Blanc. The latter won, not least because I love looking at the Chamonix Aiguilles (and Les Drus - oh, Les Drus - along with Cerro Torre and Torre Egger in Patagonia, two peaks I could photograph simply every day).
Le Brévent is a popular destination in the Alps for Chamonix’s aerial specialists. Paragliders take off very close to the Plan Praz mid-station, taking advantage of thermals above the town, and BASE jumpers plunge from a pedestal not far from Le Brévent’s 2,525m high summit. We didn't see any BASE jumpers but we did see plenty of paragliders as we left the summit of Le Brévent and headed into a magnificent rocky playground that stretches out like one great, big, broken ridge into the distance towards the Aiguilles Rouges. I'm confident there's huge potential for capturing adventure sports images beneath the peaks that rise above the Grand Balcon Sud, including running, hiking and scrambling photos, all with stunning views across to the big alpine peaks. I made a note to discuss it with clients on my return.
All that was left was for us was to descend the 1,500m to Chamonix, first on an easy trail and then down the initially scrambly but fun Chamonix VK route steeply downhill to arrive in town well after dark. I knew my quads would burn from the 3,000m descent I’d had that day but it was a good feeling and I was sad to be leaving. Three days shooting running in Chamonix simply isn't enough. I'll look forward to going back.