By Keith Partridge - Freelance Cameraman & Mountaineer
All photos copyright Keith Partridge
Another powder avalanche poured down the narrow gully and all over me. It was worse than having a cold shower. The whole climbing team was on edge. Those tell-tale hairs on the back of my neck were well and truly up and that gentle nag in the subconscious told me that things were not great. It was always worth listening to the signs. Years of working and climbing in the mountains had taught me that. My axe rattled as I planted it into the ice. I took it out to have another go. Splinters showered into my face making me spit. The axe still wasn’t holding. I then peered into the hole that my sharpened steel pick had made. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach and a split second later raced as the adrenaline surged. I was climbing on a hanging sheet of ice that seemed to be hovering vertically above a void. Beneath the air-gap was a bottomless layer of gravity defying powder snow. Conditions had deteriorated beyond the point of being dangerous. We were working high on Siule Grande in Peru for the film ‘Touching The Void’. I shot until the film-load ran out and then we retreated down the flutings and across the crevasse riddled glacier. Exhausted, I was glad to get back to camp but also pleased that the climbing team was strong and acutely aware of the mountain environment. Conditions dictated just what we were able to shoot and we knew that was how it had to be. We had pushed it as far as we could.
From the snow-mushrooms of the Andes, the loftiness of the Himalaya and the vast granite swathes of Yosemite to the tranquillity of the English Lake District and the rain soaked Highlands of Scotland - mountains undoubtedly have an allure. They also challenge almost like no other environment, often drawing the unsuspecting deeper and deeper into them with potentially catastrophic results.
Just being in the mountains can be difficult enough. Working among them demands much more in terms of self-reliance, flexibility, an understanding of personal and physical limits, levels of motivation plus the ability to remain relaxed in the most extreme of conditions.