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Alpine Epic

Updated: Feb 15

My Facebook Messenger pinged to find a message from Sean of Grizzly Munro Diaries.

'Fancy joining me on a trip to the Alps, I've got a route in mind the Karnischen Hohwenweg a 155km route on the Austro-Italian border with support from USWE & Schwalbe.'

My reply was quick to say the least... 'I'm in!'

It was only after my hasty response that I realised I might have bitten off a bit more than I could chew. We were planning on using the huts for the 8 nights accommodation while up on the ridge, meaning we had less to carry, having a meal and a roof for the night, but I still had a few kilograms of camera gear to contend with, as well as the usual riding gear, tools and spares.

As this was a paid shoot, I wanted to carry a variety of lenses to create different dynamic shots. I added a bar roll to my bike to carry clothing and other necessities.

Everything was booked and it wasn't long before Sean made the long drive from Scotland, picking me up for the drive down.

Hitting the French toll roads, it wasn't long before we started to see the big hills rising in the distance and the excitement really started to build.

Arriving in Austria just in time for dinner, we found our hotel for the night, parked up and went straight out for pizza and a well deserved beer.

Photo Credit: Sean Green

With 6am starts ahead of us, we chose to have a later start and wait for the cable car station to open to give us an easy ride to the ridge. Without checking the map or GPS and the lure of the Dolomites peaking their heads above the surrounding hills, we jumped on the first cable car we came across. We set off on good tracks, but non of the mountain signposts had our destinations listed, we started to question our judgement. After checking maps and devices, yep, we had gone up the wrong side of the valley. And wasted the majority of the day on heading in the wrong direction. We did however manage to get a few good shots justifying our mistake (to us at least).

With half the day lost, we raced back down the mountain and ascended once again, this time with the correct mechanical assist.

The camera was in the bag for the rest of the day, as time was of the essence. The huts serve meals at around 5pm, with lights out around 9pm. The trail from the gondola was unforgiving, 10km of scrambling with bikes shouldered over rugged tops. As the sun was setting, we found ourselves in a thunderstorm high up on the ridge. We hunkered down under the emergency shelter where we contemplated our previous decisions, even discussing the possibility of staying where we laid for the night. Thankfully the electrical storm passed, so we made our move, finishing off with a head-torch lit descent to the hut.

Photo Credit: Sean Green

It was 10pm as we arrived, but our luck hadn't run out just yet. It was one of the guardians birthdays so they were still up celebrating, we managed to get a hot meal as well as a beer.

We woke up to the sun just rising above the peaks, wolfed down some breakfast, shouldered the bikes and raced to our first summit of the day.

Photo Credit: Sean Green

Photo Credit: Sean Green

A slither of a trail laid ahead of us, where we managed to actually ride our bikes, found some features and took some shots.

Sean's front brake had developed a small leak making the bits of riding we did find difficult, add this to the endless scrambling and hike-a-bike and our day turned in to another race to get to the hut in time for dinner.

Passing another hut, it was tempting to stop upon discovering the beer cooling in the water fountain.

We made it in time to put in our food order and laid out our sheet sleeping bags in the dorm room.

It was a restless night in a packed room that was as hot as an oven, baking us in our bunks. We woke with bad heads, blaming the lack of sleep and dehydration.

The guardians warned the residents of an incoming thunder storm, advising us to take the lower, longer route on the Italian side to the next hut along the ridge.

We packed up and took their advice.

A long climb that could have been ridden by fitter riders greeted us straight out of the hut door. Passing in to Italy, the clouds broke and the Dolomites lurked on the horizon.

This area of the world has been a place I've wanted to visit for a long time, and seeing the rugged outlines of these mountains from afar only added to their grandeur and allure.

The sun was relentless as we contoured around the hillside, filling our bottles and bladders as and when we could.

Once again the day turned in to a race for a bed and meal and we still had a 600 metre climb to contend with. Finding a sheltered spot above the treeline, we fuelled up on breakfast bars hiding from the relentless sun, gathering the energy to tackle the foreboding trudge upwards.

We headed in to cloud as we entered Austria and picked our way down a dangerous technical descent to the hut. With a now non existent front brake and a vertical drop to contend with, we made our way down slowly.

The hut was a welcome sight, we chained the bikes up outside and left them to be enveloped in mist.

Over dinner we discussed our options as the ridge was starting to take its toll on our bodies and bikes. We both agreed that persevering with no front brake was a dangerous option, and with trails on the map leading us back to civilisation from the hut, we decided on cutting our losses.

After a good nights sleep, we both woke feeling a little revitalised, and with the sun burning off the morning mist we exited the hut.

A good trail through the pines led us down to the service road, which in turn took us quickly in to a town.

Once back in civilisation, we stocked up at the local shop on snacks and soft drinks and found the nearest bus stop.

Sean took the bus back to the truck, while I waited with the bikes for his return.

We got the brake fixed and plotted the next leg of our Alpine Epic. It would be rude not to taste what the Dolomites had to offer, so we ascended once again in search of trails and photos. We found a number of trails in the shadows of these majestic beasts, so set the cameras to work.

Next stop we decided on Courmayeur in Italy, at the foot of Mont Blanc. We spent a couple of nights on a campsite, where we could shower and wash some clothes. The trails and views around here were mind blowing in every direction, so we made sure to get some pixels recorded on to the memory cards, grabbing some product shots as well as the obligatory bikescape shots.

Photo Credit: Sean Green

We took enough food with us to be able to make the most of the available light.

For a brief moment the light broke through the clouds as we descended, reaching out on the steep cliffs of Mont Blanc. By the time I'd pointed the camera in their direction, the light curled back in to the heavens.

Having used up all the local backdrops, we checked the maps and internet once again for somewhere less discovered, finding a spot on the Swiss/French border that looked promising. Arriving later on in the afternoon, rain was forecast so we took the opportunity to get the waterproofs out for more product shots in the gloomy conditions.

The sun did come out the following day, giving us some amazing light for a brief period.

Happy with the content we'd captured, meeting all the briefs from USWE & Schwalbe, we made our way back home via Morzine for a couple of days just riding. We still couldn't resist in getting more bike park images though.

For more images and to keep up to date with what and where I'm shooting next head to my Instagram on the links below.

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