Updated: Jun 13, 2019
Sean Green of Grizzly Munro Diaries was heading up to the Downhill World Cup at Fort William, to be on the Terraventure and MSC Tires stall and I was heading up for a few clients to click some buttons, so we decided to get there on Friday afternoon and head out in the hills.
We dreamt about taking on Aonach Mor and Beag, straight up the hill from the cable car, descending down the grassy ski slopes and then finally descending down the track for the World Cup. We knew it was a long shot, but I emailed the Nevis Range to see if we could be granted permission. To my surprise, I got a reply and it was a go, except we couldn't use the actual World Cup track, as all the trails were understandably closed to the public, due to the rangers being busy elsewhere. But we did get a pass for the gondola and special access to the Top Chief trail.
We met at the Nevis Range, parked up, packed up and cycled the short distance to the hustle and bustle of the World Cup. I signed in as media, grabbed the vest and we got our tickets for the gondola at the station.
When two guys on trail bikes, not wearing full face helmets joined the queue amongst the professional racers, we were quickly pulled to one side and questioned, after a few phone calls, and the emails I had shown, we loaded up our bikes and headed up in to the clouds.
It was pretty grim down at the bottom of the gondola, but it was wild the 550 metres higher up.
Wind and rain hit us hard, making the short ride to the infamous start gate high above the Nevis Range tough. Ignoring the weird looks from the guys on the big rigs, we passed the wooden structure and started to push up the grassy slopes. Puddles entrenched our feet as we passed the ski tows and fences. After only 100 metres further up, we stopped to make a decision.
It was too wet and wild to contemplate getting out the camera gear, and with fading light we decided to head down the hill for more sheltered and favourable conditions for photographs.
Skidding down the grass, we picked up the black graded Top Chief.
The wooden North Shore sections were sketchy in the wet and the wind too kept speed in check. My camera did come out when we dipped in to small sheltered glens, finding whatever features we could to make some interest.
I kept the 70-200 on the Nikon, choosing not to change lenses in the conditions, but had the trusty Fuji X100T in a dry bag in my pocket, you know to capture the epic views... I'm sure they were lurking under all that cloud somewhere.
Before hitting the trees we made the most of the light.
Once in the shelter of the trees things got dark, but we found a couple of light patches to play with, pushing the Nikon D750s ISO to it's max. Even at ISO12800, the files still came out really well, giving us some contrasty, moody images.
Back at the vans, we got changed and headed in to Fort William for a couple of beers and food to warm up.
The next day rain was still bouncing off the tarmac as I jumped on the free bus to the event and Sean cycled in. We met up with the Terraventure crew where Grizzly Munro Diaries had a small stall, showing off the Deviate Guide and some images of mine on his awesome banner.
MSC Tires were available to look over and buy, as well as the other products stocked on their website: https://www.shop.terraventure.co.uk
The tan walled Grippers proved to be popular, and having run one on the front of my bike for a while now, I have to say they are perfectly suited to British conditions.
With the rain finally starting to die down, I headed up the hill to capture a bit of the Elite women's qualifying runs before the 4X finals started.
The 4X always gathers the crowds for some excitement and amazing racing. I dropped the shutter to capture some motion as the riders hit the table tops before battling for the finish in front of the crowds in the arena.
After the excitement and the people started to disappear, once again we headed in to Fort William for beers and food.
Next morning the rain was still unrelenting as we made our way again in to the event village.
An early start and I was in the MS Mondraker team pit, getting images for Kingud of their products in use.
As it was race day and the riders and mechanics were a little tense, I tried my best to be inconspicuous and work around their work.
Mathew Snape is passionate about Kinguds ethos of environmentally friendly products, from biodegradable lubricant to refillable bottles.
Wandering around the pits and stalls of the event village, I bumped in to the guys at Sender Ramps once again, and once again they gathered the crowds. Both big and little kids alike were keen to try out the manual machines and look over their ever growing selection of collapsible, portable ramps and training aids.
Sean had packed some riding gear and in between the racing we had planned to get in to the rain soaked woods in search of atmosphere. Pushing up some of the secret trails of the Leanachan Forest, we found some ruts, roots and roost paired with some patches of light.
After getting drenched, we headed back down to the hustle and bustle of the World Cup, where I left Sean to talk to the people interested in his challenge and sell his Grizzly Munro Diaries merchandise.
I headed up on the gondola as the Elite men started to come down.
Camera in hand and umbrella above head I made my way down the track, stopping at the rock gardens and features of the top open section.
Every now and again, the cloud would lift giving us views down Loch Linnhe.
The wind up top made jumping the gaps difficult, making the riders keep a low profile.
The mechanics descended with the training wheels via the warmth of the gondola, leaving the best of the elite to descend on their own two wheels.
Once in the trees the weather, mud or the midgies hadn't dampened the spectators spirits, where the riders were met with a wall of sound, sometimes silence and the odd arse or two thrown in for good measure.
With all the riders down safely, I headed in to the media tent to dry out and catch up with a few fellow photographers and friends, saying bye before making the long drive back to Yorkshire.