The Eidfjord in Norway, three hours east of the city of Bergen, is famous in ice climbing circles for its large number of icefalls (frozen waterfalls). At over 500 m, the impressive ice and snow structures prove a positively magical attraction for ambitious ice climbers. But Thomas Senf's team had more in mind than chasing the few hours of daylight. They were interested in the much longer night. "Photography and filming at night is a big challenge," says Senf. "The right lighting determines whether you succeed or fail. The ways to play with the factors of light, time and environment are boundless and fascinating in equal measure." The innovative idea to bring to life and capture in a unique mystical atmosphere athletes climbing the huge icefalls at night using colored flares, spotlights and headlamps was the result of a meeting with Swiss mountain sports manufacturer Mammut. The illumination was the work of David Hedinger, a Swiss artist who works with the medium of light. The colors, reflective ice and moving shadows created images that appear to be from another world, the world of myth and legend.
With the Mammut climbing team of Daniel Arnold, Stephan Siegrist, David Fasel, Ralf Weber, Ann Aylin Sigg (all CH), Aljaz Anderle (SLO) and Mirjam Limmer (D) they had just the right models. The entire team was fully involved in the several hours of preparation. Lamps were fixed in the ice using time-consuming rope constructions and connected to 500 meters of cable. The Frost Giants made the climbing anything but easy. "We lowered all the material down from the top of the falls and often had to improvise because of the crazy ice formations; it required complete concentration," says Dani Arnold, who holds the current speed record for the north face of the Eiger. The combined forces of the climbers, who were armed with ice tools and crampons, meant that even the Nordic Frost Giants did not prove indomitable.
Thomas Senf, photographer
Thomas Senf grew up in Leipzig. His love of the mountains led him to move to Switzerland in 2002, aged 21. He lives in Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland. While studying Mechanical Engineering, he was constantly drawn to the major mountains of the world. Together with friends he achieved the first ascent of the Harvest Moon route on the Thalay Sagar and the north face of the Arwa Tower in the Indian Himalayas. While training to become a mountain guide, photography began to take an increasingly important role. Today, he works with the outdoor photo agency Visual Impact.
In order to realize his photographic ideas, Thomas Senf's projects use some of the world's best athletes in their respective sports. His mountaineering skills mean that he mainly specializes in the following areas: mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and expeditions as well as BASE, outdoor, air and ski activities.
"Flares exploded and extinguished prematurely"
Thomas Senf on the nocturnal photo shoot
I had considered for a long time how to work with artificial light, which is normally only possible in a photo studio, in major mountains. The idea of illuminating frozen waterfalls was the result of a meeting with Mammut. The transparency and reflective properties of ice in the sun had often caught my eye. With its virtually unlimited number of icefalls, Norway seemed like the perfect place put our ideas into practice.
Ice climbers have often been photographed, even at night, but what I had envisaged at home proved more difficult than expected in the icy reality of the Norwegian night. Only by joining forces and relying on the climbers' high technical level was it possible to position the lamps and flares so that the results met my expectations. The climbers kept correcting the lamps by a few centimeters using bizarre rope constructions in order that the beam was in exactly the right position. Flares exploded and extinguished prematurely under the flowing water.
This project was unique in the extent to which mutual trust and awareness among all the participants of the possibilities and limitations was crucial to our success.
"When it gets dark I just keep on climbing"
Daniel Arnold on the photo shoot
The trip to Norway was a welcome break from the everyday life of a climber for 29-year-old Mammut Pro Team athlete Daniel Arnold, who is from Uri, Switzerland. "This time for once, it was not only top athletic performance that was the focus, but also the photographer's vision," explains the record holder for the north face of the Eiger.
A few days before the trip Dani had conquered a real ice climbing marathon on the Breitwangflue in the Bernese Oberland. In just 13 hours, he strung together three of the most difficult ice and mixed climbing routes in the world. The limited winter daylight was barely enough for such extreme performance, but that doesn't really bother Dani Arnold. "When it gets dark, I just turn on my headlamp and keep going," he says. This meant that night climbing in Norway was not an entirely new experience for Dani, but the impressive light and color effects produced by spotlights and flares behind the ice certainly were. "One moment the icefall looked like a dripstone cave, the next like a Gothic cathedral," says the Swiss climber, enthusiastically.
Following the photo shoot in Norway, Dani Arnold set off with his Austrian Mammut Pro Team colleague David Lama for Alaska, where the two managed a spectacular first ascent of the 1500-meter-high east face of the Moose's Tooth.