Marmot Rocks the Zillertal
I've just got back to the UK after a week in Austria courtesy of Marmot Europe. I didn't really know much about the region known as the Zillertal before I went, apart from the fact it's very picturesque and it has a lot of climbing there, mostly on Granite. I did remember Gerhard Horhager (Marmot sponsored athlete) talking about the place where he was born, brought up and still lives, at the end of last years Marmot meet in the Frankenjura (Marmot try to get all their Euro Athletes together at least once a year)
As the plane leaves Manchester in crystal clear blue sky's and a promise of perpetually soaring temperatures for the foreseeable future, I fall asleep with a smile on my face - only to be woken slightly prematurely to landing with an announcement from the captain advising everyone of "Bumpy weather ahead" when we finally taxi to the gate, it was raining. Not just spotting mind, but full-on, horizontal rain. O joy! The curse of the photographer had struck again, and what a curse. Blah blah blah. The three hour drive didn't inspire, I got drenched running 10m to the services. By the time we finally arrived in the valley the rain had subsided a little and our host Gerhard assured us we would have sunshine the following morning!!!
The evening was spent "meeting and Greeting" the rest of "Team Marmot" most of which we already new from previous years, with a few new faces thrown in for good measure, great to meet old and new alike.
The following morning a few jaded, but mostly fresh faces peered out from behind the curtains of their rooms in the hope of seeing Sun, unfortunately all we got staring back at us was a wall of Grey and once we'd ventured out from behind the breakfast table, a cold and very inhospitable wind, ah well, we're all athletes, well, they are. They can still climb in four degrees, come on guys, what's the matter with you I think as I pour myself into my biggest, warmest jacket!
To be fair the weather did get better, just not on that particular day, nor the next, but by Wednesday the sun started to peep out from behind the clouds and the temperature started to soar! Sadly most of the Athletes had to leave by Wednesday evening and although the weather hadn't exactly been the greatest they'd all made the most of their time in the Zillertal, especially Albert Leichtfried and Matthias Trottmann who were already at the crag by the time most of us were contemplating what to have for breakfast! In fact you'd think these guys would be ready for their beds after their evening meals and a few beers, not so! On one occasion I saw Albert still lounging in the Sauna at gone 3a.m - hardcore!
So, after the dust had metaphorically settled and everyone else had packed up and driven or flown home, it just left "Team UK" to sample the delights of the "getting dryer by the minute" granite rock architecture., we had a blast, from vertical climbing on technical walls with crimps, to overhanging, arm pumping jug hauling, with names like Total Brutal, Sex Magic and Science fiction, at exotic sounding places like Monkey Island, the huge face of the Bergestation or the dramatic setting of Nasenwand.
In terms of taking photos the Zillertal is a very picturesque, yet dramatic landscape of almost vertical proportions. Huge hillsides, fabulous jagged peaks, free falling waterfalls and my personal favorite, glaciers. Glaciers always make me think of great adventures.
I wasn't really there to take photos of the scenery though, I was there to take photos of Marmot's 2014 range of outdoor clothing, worn on location by their athletes and later in the week, climbing photos of the athletes doing their thing!
From a climbing photographers perspective shooting in the Zillertal is both a bit of a dream and nightmare scenario all rolled in to one.
The nightmare unfolds as soon as you get out the car, throw on your 40kg's of cameras, food, water, climbing, rigging gear and rope and start up the near vertical approach hike in order to get to your crag of choice.
Take Nasenwand for instance, you stand in the car park, crane your neck back as far as it'll go comfortably, and there sitting directly above you is the crag. It doesn't look that far away! In fact it isn't. The approach starts as a pleasant stroll through a wood, quickly turns in to a series of small, tight switchbacks and ends in a vertical via ferrata where you have to haul yourself up steel cable and metal rungs attached to the vertical rock-face. But at least it's short and sharp!
The Dream side of this scenario starts to unfold when you actually arrive at the crag. Because the ground is so steep, and the crag is set into the hillside, instead of having to rig and climb up a rope to photograph the climber, you can merely walk up the adjacent hillside and shoot across at the climber. I always say that once your on a rope, the angle may well be dramatic and offer a Birdseye perspective the average person would never see, but it does limit your options, you can only move a short distance left and right, as well as up and down.
Having said all that, the Zillertal is actually home to the shortest walk-in I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. Well to be honest you can’t even really call it a walk-in, more of an “open the car door and get out” yes Total Brutal, as its known is truly a roadside crag. In fact when you’re lowering off after completing the route, you’re second has to look out for oncoming traffic! and in terms of taking photos it couldn’t be any easier, as you climb up an adjacent boulder and shoot straight across at the climber enabling you to get some really dramatic images, or walk off down the white lines, turn round, frame your subject, fire off a few and then run for cover as a huge lorry goes thundering past - The Zillertal truly has it all and it was a privilage to share it with such an awesome bunch of people. Thanks Marmot for the invite.