The story behind the title photo – Part 3, Technology

I found it most interesting that that my first blog of this series “People“, flowed very easily off the pen – and the second blog “Process“, did not. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me because I’m not at my most comfortable in Process. This is the realm of the Project and Program Manager.

Interesting too that these days, writing “Technology” was somewhere in-between the two. I’m pretty certain that there was a day in the not-too-distant past when it would have been much more natural for me to talk about Tech.

That said, even in my lifetime, the improvements in Technology have been incredible.

Strong, lightweight and durable

When I grew up, mountain boots were heavy and hard to wear in. We carried a single 5′ long walking stick hewn from solid pine. Socks were wool and T-shirts were cotton. Torches were made by Maglite and doubled up as an assault weapon.

This was only 30 years ago and now I look at my wardrobe, full of a plethora of high-tech. My latest walking boots weigh nothing, were broken in after a single day, are waterproof and can carry a crampon. Walking sticks come in pairs of adjustable length carbon composite. Socks are made of silk and synthetics, and the age of synthetic T-shirts means no more wet heavy sweaty clothes. Torches are made by Petzl, weigh nothing and light up the moon.

And the sport is so much the fun for it. The high-tech has meant that as I get older and fatter, I can perform better than I did when I was 18. I suppose that all this equipment comes at a cost, but it seems worth it. Interestingly though there are two areas of this story where I don’t believe technology has served us in the last 50 years.

Sports Nutrition vs Mother Nature

Now it’s true that even since I was at school, we have come a long way in understanding our bodies’ needs for sports nutrition. The latest Science In Sport protein shakes improve recovery time after serious exercise. We can balance our needs for vitamins, complex carbs and protein.

But up on the mountain this is all rubbish. The best foodstuffs are provided by mother nature. I carry nuts (usually walnuts), dates, figs and other dried fruit. Sometimes a chunk of cheese. The fact is that for a day in the mountain, these simple foods provide the best calorie-weight ratio of anything, and they are easy to digest. It’s the only stuff that Michel will take out my backpack – he won’t take any modern energy bars from me.

There is one caveat to this, which is when the going gets really tough. Last year I led a Bluefin expedition to do the Three Peaks Challenge. The highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales with 4500 vertical metres and 26 miles, in 24 hours and 650 miles driving along the way.

I stocked up on serious quantities of Sports in Science product before we went – enough for everyone – and on the last mountain, Snowdon, conditions were terrible. We were pretty much the only people on the mountain and I feared losing much of the senior management of Bluefin to what turned into a hurricane (technically, as there were 70mph winds on the summit).

At the bottom of Snowdon I was still quite fresh and I have done a number of similar walks in the past. So I started to feed the group one SIS Caffeinated Gel every 30 minutes – and noticed something incredible. They started to consistently outperform me and I was struggling to keep up with them.

I had enough left for me to take one gel on the way down and the transformation was incredible. I ran down Snowdon pacing 8 minute miles. Now I don’t think you can survive for long on the SIS gels but when the going gets tough, mother nature can’t compete.

CMOS vs Cellulose

Camera wars have been going on since the beginning of time and it’s all about the technology these days. The problem is that at the professional end of digital photography, you have to invest serious money in equipment – thousands and thousands on bodies, lenses and supporting kit. And it’s a rat-race, Nikon trying to overtake Canon and vice versa.

This photograph though was taken with a Hasselblad 501CM. Mine cost about £1000 including the 80mm fixed lens and the design dates back to the 50s although mine was made some time in the 80s. It is entirely mechanical and takes reels of 12x 6cmx6cm film. It requires an expensive light meter to get good results (I use the Pentax Digital Spotmeter – as did Ansel Adams) and a lot of patience.

I’ve since ditched my 35mm digital rubbish and have a Canon Powershot S90 point and shoot camera for my digital needs. I have Ken Rockwell to thank for a lot of this.

People, Process & Technology

And this photo is the outcome of the People, Process & Technology described in these 3 posts. It feels reminiscent of any good project – all of the factors coming into place at the same time.

Mont Buet is known as “Le Mont Blanc des Dames” (The Lady’s Mont Blanc) because it is a classic training site to complete prior to an attempt on Mont Blanc. It is a long and difficult ascent and a treacherous descent in traverse. It tragically claims lives most years.

I lugged the Hasselblad with its light meter and tripod up to the top of Le Buet and spent my time gauging the terrain. It’s a fixed lens so you move the camera not the lens and this makes you think about composition. The finality of clicking the shutter (only 12 shots remember) means that you really think before you shoot.

And the quality of the output is amazing. Forget about megapixels. I blew this picture up to 6’x6′ and you can still see every little detail of Mont Blanc. And because it’s hard to get to, you won’t see this angle of Mont Blanc anywhere else.

At that moment I knew I had to stand on the top of her and look back over Le Buet.

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