Trekking with an Imperial Expedition Crew
An expedition team of eight Imperial students trekked unsupported across one of Crete’s most tiring and difficult walking routes – E4 – for three and a half weeks. My job was to document one stage of the trip, while keeping up.
Image © Thomas Angus / Imperial College London [Click Image to expand]
In the image above (click to enlarge), the expedition team can be seen coming in on the left of the frame in this large-scale stitched image. I really recommend that you view it at full-width!
I picked up their journey at Aglai Roumeli, a small village in the south west of Crete, which is only accessible by boat. From here, I was going to trek with the group up the Samaria Gorge to the Kellergi Refuge, from where we would climb on to the Mount Gigilos before I left them to continue on their journey. This would be the first time I had gone along to shoot an Imperial expedition.
Here are a few snapshots from the trip, along with a few notes from me about where we are and how I took the photo. The full selection are available to view and download on the College’s Asset Library.
Carla (MSci Geology and Geophysics) taking a bearing to locate the surrounding peaks on her map at the summit of Gigilos.
The group planned to follow the E4 only in the mountain ranges, its most challenging parts. To do this they added routes that passed through the Samaria Gorge, the longest and one of the most spectacular gorges in Europe. They planned to cross the most impressive mountain ranges, attempt their peaks, pass important archaeological sites and beautiful beaches.
Are we nearly there yet? Course leader Georgios (MSci Geophysics) and Niamh (MSci Geology) consult the map. Deliberately moving far away to use a longer zoom for a wider shot, like I have here, doesn’t sound logical, but I did this to separate the subjects from the noise of the scene, while bringing the elements of the scene closer together for a more interesting way of framing them into the environment.
Aidan (MEng Mechanical Engineering) approaching the saddle of Gigilos, a section of the climb with a short, but pleasingly good path. Contrasted with the previous image, this photograph is shot with a wider mid length zoom (and a larger depth of field/narrower aperture). I can afford to do this here to show the environment detail in focus, as Aidan is naturally separated and framed from the busy details by the white rock.
What was in my bag?
I needed to have everything with me on my back for the duration of the trip along with plenty of water and all of my possessions. The contents of my pack boiled down to these vitals:
> Two camera bodies (with grips removed), in case one failed.
> Lots of batteries, as there was no way to charge them up.
> Lots of memory cards – I couldn’t take a laptop.
> A circular polariser, since the light was going to be harsh.
> 2.5 litres of water storage.
> Enough clothing to allow me to layer up and allow for the 25°C temperature range on the climb.
For lenses I had to compromise and switch to zooms for versatility. On the wider end, I used the 24-70 as it’s just so versatile and its image quality is superb. It’s wide enough in most situations and I could stitch where it wasn’t. This lens is wonderful in the mid-range for people, and since I wanted to cover the people in the environment more than the environment itself, this was a ‘no brainer’. The versatility of the 24-70 made it the easiest choice for this assignment. This is the lens I used in the shot of Aiden above.
The next choice might be of a surprise: 70-200mm, a ‘heavy’ choice at 1.6kg. Before travelling, the images I found online of the environment looked quite baron, so I wanted a lens with enough reach to bring the environment closer to the subjects and create more drama if needed. I also then have 24-200mm of range, which is excellent.
In the image above of the group on the rocks, staying back and using a zoom to bring the elements together (the distant mountain side) adds a little drama. In the end, the landscape actually turned out to be quite rich and varied. Our good luck with the bright weather created contrast which helped further (being above the clouds improves the forecast).
Aidan, Niamh and Carla grabbing a memento near the summit. There is a fun alternative shot of this on the Asset Library where they are pretending to look at the picture on the back of the camera around Niamh’s neck here. Only this is Aidan’s film (not digital) camera, so in reality has no picture on the back to look at. Again, I used the longer zoom to bring the distant mountain and clouds closer to our subjects.
Georgios taking a well-earned rest with a tin of fish, and well worn socks in the foreground. I had no idea tinned food could taste quite SO good.
Nearby, I scuttled around under a rock for some shade with my sandwich, only to instantly get sweaty palms when I realised that I was staring down a sheer drop to certain doom. I was on a 45 degree slope with only loose gravel and rocks between me and oblivion – some of which I was sitting on – and nothing firm to grab on to if movement began. Gripping the uneaten sandwich, I shuffled very, very gently sideways back to safety and reflected on mortality.
Entering the ‘Iron Gates’ of the Samaria Gorge to begin the Gorge ascent. I’ve used the zoom from afar here to bring the elements of the Gorge together to frame the image, the same technique as above. Effectively we tackled the Gorge backwards. The common route is down from the top (at the bottom of the refuge trek) to the beach for nice relaxation. Our route was up, and then up again at the top to the refuge.
Doing the Samaria Gorge backwards mean you get the reward of the more dramatic views near the end of the climb. This is a multi-image stitch so it can be printed large.
Behind the scenes shot of me and the setup. Thanks to Georgios for the image.
I never did ask Michael the story behind his red hat (bottom right of the image).
Humzah wondering what the delay is. I’m using the long zoom at a wide aperture to separate Humzah from the environment. He also benefited from light bouncing back off the white rocks to fill in the light on his shadow side towards us. A natural fill reflector.
Georgios looking relentlessly cheerful and energetic, while on the other side of the camera I am practically a broken man.
The Gigilos saddle: a multi-image panorama.
Some unintentional, but serendipitous light flair on a paved section of the Gorge climb.
Georgios still aggravatingly cheerful…
Thanks to Nikolaus for a couple of unflattering, behind the scenes images of me scrabbling ahead, above and below the crew to shoot them on the way up.
Doing the Gorge upside down and climbing it gives it a little sting in its tail. All of the ascent is right at the end of a long rocky trek, which is where I discovered I hadn’t taken on enough calories and really should of bought a pair of those sticks that everyone has in the other images. Thankfully, the expedition team were an incredibly lovely bunch, who dragged me up that last part by my teeth and lent me some sticks to prevent my knees finally exploding and causing a sliding hazard.
The sun was as hot as it looked at this point. Shortly after this there were a couple of hairy sections, including a very deep and dangerous chasm topped by a precipice with a sheer fall and loose rocks. Something fun for my first go at climbing.
Aidan looking cheerful at a rest stop, why weren’t they tired!? The 70-200 longer zoom is also useful for setting the subject apart from their background for portraits by using a wider aperture.
Aiden and Michael (in a rare moment without his hat) grabbing breakfast in the Gorge.
Something for the geologists.
Some heavy looking bags.
Hamzuh and Niamh at one of the refreshment stops – water.
The archway on the ascent of Gigilos.
A behind the scenes shot of me shooting the crew coming through the archway in the image above. Thanks to Georgios for this image.
Descending Gigilos. Georgios appears to have lost his bag.
Approaching the saddle of Gigilos, this was the point that I realised that ******* rocky mountain in the background there, was where we were going, and we were going up to the top.
Michael’s hat takes in the view from the saddle approach.
Aidan also looking frustratingly limber and cheerful. Come back in 20 years!
Gloriously close to the summit. Rocks, rocks, more rocks… rocks… ROCKS.
The problem with hanging back to get a wide shot is you then have to race back to rejoin the group again. We were extremely fortunate with the weather during my visit though.
Humzah looking decidedly more cheerful at lunchtime on the peak, probably because food is absolutely glorious after savaging yourself clambering over rocks for hours.
Georgios plotting on the map sitting on rocks.
Carla with arguably the best seat.
Nikolaus with Georgios reflected in his left eye and Georgios’s brother Hercules on the summit in his right eye, with some clouds.
Niamh taking a moment.
The White Mountains.
Arriving at Agai Roumeli at the foot of the Gorge. The group were due to pass through here for a rest day on their expedition, and that’s where I joined them. The water here was so clear, I can only imagine how lovely it is to do the Gorge the right way around, so instead of climbing more at the top like a masochist, you get to bathe in the cool sea at the bottom.
Niamh and Georgios were still relentlessly happy.
Approaching the refuge at the end of a long day on a mercifully clear path. I was so ready to sit down at this point and also extremely grateful for the loan of Michael’s walking sticks.
The evenings at the refuge were breathtakingly beautiful with the clouds flowing and dancing around us while catching the colours from the setting sun.
The crew decided that it made absolute sense to have a 01.00 start to trek for a dawn summit because everyone was far too comfortable.
Preparing to leave the refuge. Inside the refuge there were no rocks, vicious ascents, or deadly chasms, which meant they had to leave quickly.
The refuge can be seen in the top right third of this image. It didn’t have running water for washing, but had an interesting “sky toilet” – a hut on the edge of the cliff with a piece of wood with a hole in it, which went down to oblivion. Here is a picture of the sky toilet.
The group returning to the refuge in the morning.
Getting suited and booted for an early start to Gigilos.
Georgios taking a moment with a book at the refuge as his shadow lengthens and the moon rises in the sky.
A wider shot to show the refuge in the context of its surroundings (top right). As gardens go, it’s alright.
All of us before setting off for Gigilos. I promise I did smile but the shutter went just before as I was getting in line (you can see my right foot is still in the air).
Image © Thomas Angus / Imperial College London [Click Image to expand]
Selfie at the Gigilos saddle after taking an ‘unconventional’ route to try and get a better angle ahead of the group, to shoot them climbing, and then realising that I might have got myself in a slightly ridiculous position (again).
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Imperial staff and students can view all the original images featured in the post on the Imperial College London Asset Library.
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