A Night On Mt Alpha, Wanaka, New Zealand

This is the time of the year when the mountains are getting their white blanket and the temperatures are dropping. The views from Wanaka are even better than usual with those white peaks as a background. There is a ridge you can’t miss when you are in Wanaka, as it is right by the lake, and wherever you are in town, you can see it. It’s the Skyline. Starting on Cardrona Valley road, the Skyline goes through Mt Alpha and ends at Roys peak. I remember sitting on my couch one day with the view on Mt Alpha and thinking, there must be a cool hike going along this ridge… A few days later, after some quick research online I realised that there was a route going all over that ridge.

I started to plan an adventure and gathered some friends, Bridger and Geraint, to join me. (This track is not recommended during the winter as there are a few dangerous cliffs and slippery ice areas). With our normal hiking gear, some water bottles and plenty of sunscreen we were ready to go. A few people told us that we needed snowshoes but since it was the end of winter, we decided to go without.

Equipment

We planned to spend the night on the summit of Mt Alpha where it’s getting very cold. To keep warm and adjust my temperature during the hike, it is best to use multilayers. That way you can add or remove clothes quickly depending on your activity and the weather condition. To hike, I wear a base layer of merino wool at all times. I always have a second one in my backpack in case the first one is wet when arriving at camp! If it’s windy, I use a windproof mid layer on top to keep the extra warmth. In very cold conditions, I will add a puffer jacket and if it’s snowing or raining, I use my rain jacket, which is waterproof and windproof as well.

With those 4 layers, I’m confident going anywhere that I will be warm or cool enough while hiking.

They are easily packable and lightweight which still leaves enough space in the backpack for the other gear, mainly food and camping supplies. To camp, I use a 3 season tent, an insulated sleeping pad, and a really warm sleeping bag rated -42°C. With those 3 things, I’ve felt comfortable in every weather condition I’ve come across in New Zealand. To cook, I use a lightweight camping stove with a gas canister. It’s not as efficient since gas doesn’t do very well in cold temperatures but a stove is definitely your best friend in cold conditions to keep you warm with hot tea and food. Once everything is packed, and the weather forecast looks good, it’s time to go and explore the area.

Let’s Hike it!!

It feels like summer: Even though we started the hike early, the temperature was already really warm. Hard to believe that in a few hours we will be walking on snow… The track starts 10km from Wanaka, there is a car park and on Cardrona Valley Road and the track is well marked. You can’t really get lost from the beginning to the end. Down the valley we crossed Timber creek a few times. The really cold water from the glaciers was a refreshing feeling in this heat. In a couple of turns, we finally started to see a white peak. The hard sun on the snow creates some beautiful reflections and the smooth clouds as the backdrop were like being in a photo studio. Our motivation to reach the ridge increased as we continued to hike up the mountain. The view over Wanaka is stunning! And the wind here can get really strong! We start to hike the ridge, and the snow is hard and getting deeper. A few times I fell into deep holes. By walking slowly and carefully we made it through. We even enjoyed to penguin slide on the slopes. Maybe a week before we would have needed snowshoes. We keep hiking up to Mt Alpha where we decide to spend the night. The wind is getting stronger and some clouds are covering the stars… I’m afraid we won’t be able to see any stars tonight.. but no matter what it will be a beautiful sight.

Setting up the camp

Both tents are set up, Bridger and Geraint chose a sheltered spot from the wind, and I’ve chosen a spot where I can hopefully get some great nighttime photographs. After we set up, we started melting some snow for the tea but with the cold temperature, the gas stove doesn’t work very well. It’s taking ages and wasting a lot of gas. Alas, the night has finally come and it’s time to take some photographs. Luckily, the sky cleared up and I was able to get some great shots! In the morning I woke up after a cold and windy night.

My tent never stopped shaking all night and the stakes didn’t stay in the snow very well.

When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do with my new freedom but I had enough money to sustain 3 to 4 months and figure it all out. Thanks to the help of my friends Stephane and Ali I had a comfortable first step out of my comfort zone.

Bridger and Geraint also had a cold night and they almost didn’t sleep. They even cooked more tea during the night to keep warm. I discovered in the morning that I had put my tent just over the Mt Alpha summit sign which was under a good layer of snow. The sunrise was beautiful and it’s crazy to see from up there the town waking up. After an hour of watching the sunrise and getting warmer, it’s time to pack and head towards Roys Peak.

We could have done it in a day

But camping on top was priceless! This is definitely the best part of the hike! Wanaka Lake in the background is beautiful with Mou Waho and Mou Tapu islands floating in the midst of it. The view from here is 360°. You can see all the mountain ranges, the lake below and Wanaka in the distance.

It’s a delight for photography especially since no one hiked up here before us and the snow goes almost all the way to Roys Peak, still clear of any footprints.

The photographs are only a small portion of the beauty of this place. There are a few areas though where the track is above very steep cliffs and the snow here is very slippery as it is constantly in the shade of big rocks. Once we’ve gotten through this hard part, the shape of the hills was amazing! Layers going up and areas covered with untouched snow created amazing stark and minimalistic pictures. We finally climbed the last part to reach Roys Peak where we had a much-deserved lunch and hot tea. A lot of hikers were starting to join us at Roys Peak as it is internationally famous for its view. We took a few more pictures on the ridge then headed down to the car park where we would hitchhike back to town.

About the Skyline track: It is a gorgeous couple of days hiking, even in the cold. If you are in Wanaka and want a great adventure, this is the one you should do. Be aware that during the winter the snow is deep and you might need to use snowshoes and a shovel to dig a hole so your tent has a flat surface. If you are extra adventurous you could take a snowboard or skis with you as there are some parts you could get some really cool aerial jumps. If I had to do it again I would take one! As well, if you are lucky, you might enjoy a great spectacle of southern lights over the mountains ranges. The track is 23km long. During the summer you can hike it up in a day, during the winter it will take a bit longer due to slippery areas and thigh deep snow. It’s an all year round paradise for photographers. Be aware that Roys Peak is closed for lambing from the 1st of October to 10th of November.

Bonus: The Topo!

I hope you enjoy this area as much as I did and be a good kiwi by only leaving footprints behind. Check out NZ Topo website for all your hikes!!


You Only Live Once, But If You Do It Right, Once Is Enough

On the 8th of February 2018 it will have been 4 years that I left France, quit my corporate job and flew to Australia not knowing what I was going to do, how I was going to earn money, how I will handle being on my own for the first time… I didn’t even speak English at that time. So many questions and doubts were holding me for this 2 years long decision to quit everything and start a meeting with myself, with my life.

Today, I reflect on those past 4 years as I’m about to head back to Europe and I realize there are no paved paths, there are no right or wrong rules, there are not even rules, you are the creator of your life in every second of it. Don’t be scared of making mistakes it never is mistakes in the end but lessons to be learned. This is what I learned in this adventure, I hope it can help you.

One who makes no mistakes, makes nothing at all.

Giacomo Casanova

It all started with one decision.

And it was a hard one. After a master 2 and a few years working in a corporate job, I was doing ok but never felt very passionate about it. Luckily, I was a photographer on the side and my colleagues were great so it kept me on going being ok. After the company I was working for merged with another one, things shifted and I started feeling anxious, pressured, not recognized anymore, not so good. It lasted for a few months and a depression started to build up. It became so bad during a period of 6 months that my body started being covered in eczema. I didn’t feel making photographs anymore and was feeling kind of dead inside. No willpower anymore, this led me to drink too hard and too often, just maybe to feel something again. I decided to ask for a gap year. A decision that took me nearly two years and a strong depression to take. I was so scared of leaving my comfortable addictive income and jump into the unknown. Today, I’m grateful for this difficult period because I would maybe still be working in my cubicle and just be doing ok if none of those things would have happened.

No Mud, No Lotus

Thich Nhat Hanh

The day I received the letter saying the gap year was accepted, my life started again. I felt free, started being excited about photography again and crazy thing, the eczema disappeared a couple of days later. I never came back at the end of the gap year. Until now, that hard decision appears to be the best decision I ever took. It allowed me to experience life, to fail, to try again, to fail again, to understand, to improve, to succeed at some points and to discovering new things to fail at and finally to grow.

I bought a ticket to Australia and left on the 8th of February 2014.

Buy the ticket, take the ride

Hunter S. Thompson

When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do with my new freedom but I had enough money to sustain 3 to 4 months and figure it all out. Thanks to the help of my friends Stephane and Ali I had a comfortable first step out of my comfort zone.

Step 1 – Stepping out of your comfort zone.

When I arrived in Australia, I realized that I didn’t know how to speak English, at all. Which made the first three months even a bit more challenging. The simple things such as getting a sim card, buying a car, finding a job, making contacts… were very difficult when you don’t speak the language. I got a few jobs while in Sydney, got scammed during a job interview which makes me lost quite a lot of money according to my budget, and sometimes never got paid for my work… That’s how to learn life I guess.

It was hard to leave Sydney, as I tried to recreate the comfortable life I had in France, looking for a job and a flat to rent. Luckily it didn’t work out so I decided to go on a road trip, sleeping in my car and heading north to Byron Bay where a contact of mine who became a friend told me I could have a chance to work for someone taking photographs for a ballet. I never took photos of ballet but I liked the idea even though I wasn’t sure of anything. 800km later, I was there. The first step out of my comfort zone. I was on my own but never alone as I shared the ride with a French guy found on couch surfing then met my contact. This time it worked out. I started to work for them straight away. It was a helper’s position meaning that I was working in exchange for food and accommodation. Those 3 months were awesome. Surfing and Photography every day. When my money started to run low, I decided to go pick some bananas up north near Cairns, 1900km away. This job is well paid because of the hot weather and the snakes staying in the bananas crops.

My car decided for me that I won’t reach any banana farm and broke down in Airlie beach. A little town, known as the gate to the Whitsunday islands. I found myself alone with a car wreck and very little money. Not enough for anything else than a few days of food. That night, was the very first night that I spent alone as I was always sharing rides or houses before. I didn’t know anyone here. I remember the feelings I had that night. Mixed between being scared and excited at the same time. For the first time in my life, I had no money anymore and I needed to find a solution. I was suddenly feeling full of hope. A strange feeling in this kind of situation.

That night I learned that when you have nothing to lose anymore, then everything becomes possible.

Seriously, I was still alive and got the energy to find a solution. Which is what I started to do. Finding a solution.

Since four years, I’ve been so many times out of my comfort zone, I can make a long list from the smallest things at the beginning such as sleeping in my car to sailing in one of the strongest storms since the last 30 years between New Zealand and New Caledonia or cycling through the Australian desert on my own or sleeping on top of an active volcano…

What I realized, is that every growth happens only when you step out of your comfort zone. after taking a difficult decision. The more often you step out of it, the bigger it becomes and the easier the decisions are taken. Today, I’ve experienced so many things that I’m feeling comfortable almost everywhere and in many situations. Every challenge makes you grow with it. Especially if it scares you, do it, but always with care! It doesn’t matter how big are your steps, always start small and expand.

Do one thing every day that scares you

Eleanor Roosevelt

Step 2 – Find solutions

So I was alone laying down in the trunk of my broken car, with mixed feelings when I decided to get out and laid down on the roof to watch the stars. Maybe, a solution would arise. I started feeling one with the universe, it’s one of the greatest feelings ever as everything is alright right here right now. Nothing else matters. Even though everything was going wrong it didn’t matter, that night I learned to trust the universe. This feeling gave me the strength to take actions right away. I got on my phone and started looking for a job. Found an ad for making websites, sent an email and got an answer in the next 30 minutes at 10 pm. I was going to have an appointment in a couple of days. Things are working out!!

Actions expresses priorities

Gandhi

It is crazy because this job has been the most well-paid job of my entire life so far. I went from broken to earning around $2000/week! But even more interesting is that it made me realize the market was huge and after those 3 months, I started making websites for a living during the next 3 years. It became my main source of income with taking photographs.

I had to find solutions many times during those 4 years and sometimes, being poor or having limited resources pushed me to be creative like that time when I was in the middle of the Australian desert almost exactly 400km from both towns on each end of the sandy track when my tire literally exploded. I had spare tubes but no spare tires. The solution I found was to use a plastic bottle to make a patch in between the tube and the tire. One more time, when this happened, I felt so excited having to find a solution with only what I had right here, right now.

For every problem in life, there is at least one solution. Be attentive and you will find it. Most of the time it comes from inside of you. I believe that we have it all already inside of us, we just need to listen. Trust me, it’s hard to listen, we’ve been growing in a hectic society and it tamed all our senses because of too much noise.

Step 3 – Be true to yourself.

How to be true to yourself? It starts by spending time alone. I skipped it a lot during my year in Australia but New Zealand was the place for that. It all started when, one afternoon, I decided to hike the Tongariro crossing, a 20km hike, starting at 6 pm, a couple hours before sunset.

This usually crowded national park was now all mine. When mixing physical efforts and time alone, it enfolds such a magical world. Like a meditative state. I started speaking to myself aloud, cracking jokes, laughing, it was such a relaxing time. I discovered that I could be friend with myself. No need of anyone else to be happy. That was very new to me.

I arrived at a point when I needed to make a choice. I could either keep on the official track or climb a volcano, Mt Ngaruhoe, as well, known as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Ring. It was stated as a 3 hours hike return to the summit on loose volcanic stones. The night was already here and I decided to start climbing it. When strong winds arose and rain started to pour, I pitched my tent on the side of the volcano and stay inside until it suddenly stopped. I stepped out and that feeling of being alone in the middle of the elements was just amazing.
I cooked and stayed here watching the moon appearing and disappearing in between the clouds moving fast.

A bit later, everything just stopped. No wind anymore, no vegetation, no wildlife, no city nearby, nothing. Just me in the total silence of the night. I’ll remember that night all my life because it was the first time that I had trouble sleeping because of hearing my body working. That morning when I opened my tent and finally saw the view, I sat down by my tent and I cried. The 24th of February 2015 is the day I found myself.

From that day, I spent a lot of time on my own, hiking peaks. I started analyzing myself, my emotions, my beliefs, my reactions to many things, my resistances, the boundaries of my comfort zone. I realized that I started to be calmer in front of stressful situations. My relations with others improved a lot. Being more confident, you don’t take things too personally anymore.

Knowing who you are and what you stand for is such a great step ahead. It takes a lot of time and It is a life-long process but the more you spend time on your own, the more you will learn to know and to love yourself.

The more you are able to know and love yourself, the more you are able to love others.

Knowing yourself will lead you to be more balanced and to respect who you are. For example, when I was younger, I hated and I still do hate going to clubs, but all my friends were going and so I was going with them. I was always feeling anxious about it but I never knew why. Well, now, I know. I just didn’t like it but I was not able to interpret the messages delivered by my body.

We have it all inside us, we just need to learn how to listen. For this, we need to get out of the noise. Meditation is a great way of doing so.

Do not over think, just feel.

We think with the brain but we feel with the heart and the guts. Try to be aware of your feelings and what it tells you. When you think about something, how does your body feel about it? You’ll often find the answer right away.

Step 4 – Take money out of the equation

Money is part of our daily life, it runs the world but don’t let it run your life choices. It is very hard at first to take this apparently very important information out of the equation when making decisions but it is the key to find what you really want to do.

Since the last 4 years, I’ve been broken twice. The first time just lasted for one night, it was an easy experience. The second time, in New Zealand, lasted for a bit longer. The day that I found myself with only 5 dollars left in my hand and no back up of any sort, I realized that I was still breathing, and actually I was still able to enjoy happy moments with friends. Hiking is free, nature is free, rivers are free and luckily you can find some food for free in nature, either it is fruits or fishes.

That experience made me realize that I thought money was equal to life. Without money, I could not be alive anymore. But the funny thing is the less money I had, the more alive I was feeling.

Outside is free

The money might actually be, without you noticing it, a big influence on your everyday life decisions. But if you want to know what you really want in life ask yourself what you really want to do every day if money was not a problem?

The secret is that if you take money off the equation of your life decisions, you will start making choices that really matter to your happiness. We often associate success with money. Are you not successful if you find a way to be happy having a simple life?

I think real success is finding happiness. And happiness is more often found by sharing moments with others rather than buying the best car or last phone which might make you happy at first but will disappear with time. Happiness is as simple as cooking a dish with someone else and it doesn’t cost much.

To find real happiness, you don’t need money, you need time. And time is the only thing that you won’t be able to get back in your life. Every second is gone forever.

You always can lose the money you won but will never lose the experiences you acquired

I’m not saying that you should quit your job and start what you really want to do in life straight away, it will take time to transition if you are not ready, but this will help you find your true motivations.

The real precious thing in life finally is time, not the money or the things you own. So focusing on making your time worth is maybe the best thing to do.

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, It’s the life in your years

Abraham Lincoln

Step 5 – people are goldmine

We are more than 7 billion people on earth. In each one of us, there is a goldmine made of knowledge, values, culture, skills, experiences, beliefs… I learned a lot about myself during those 4 years on the road and most of this knowledge comes from others. Amazing people who have shared their stories, their way of thinking, their beliefs, their doubts, their joy, their sadness, their knowledge sometime coming from many generations.

Meeting people from other cultures, other religions are so enriching, with the medias we learned to be fearful of strangers. We learned that we live at the right place and other places are dangerous. During my bicycle ride from New-Zealand to Vietnam, I met many people from many different cultures and religions living all along the way. I always felt welcomed because people are curious, kind and generous.

I remember that time in Indonesia, I was sick with 40 degrees fever, but needed to keep cycling for visa timing. As I was having a break at a shop to drink some water, a man, who didn’t speak a word of English, and his family, sat next to me. He asked me something that I didn’t understand. We were smiling amused at not understanding what we were saying to each other. We used our hands to communicate. At a moment, he left and came back with a box full of cakes. I was really surprised. Is it for me? He said yes take it, you need to eat because you are cycling. I explained to him that it was very nice, I was very grateful of his action but I could not eat it because I had stomach problems and fever. He understood, left again, and came back with a doctor and kept on going with his family. Our different religions didn’t matter, we were just humans and this man has been very kind.

I have loads of stories like this one and often the simplest people are the more humans.

I truly believe that our world is amazing and that we, humans, are very kind to one another.
Everyone can be your teacher whoever they or you are. Even a newborn can teach you something. You just need to be curious.

The next step

Those four years made me realize that we live in a beautiful world and what media is showing us are meant to scare and keep us in boxes. I’m full of hope for the future. Earlier this year, I decided to stop my bicycle trip here in Vietnam after 14 000km cycling and a few thousands by sailing. I learned so much and will never stop learning but I feel that I need to focus more on the next step of my life. Focusing more on my real passion, photography, keep traveling while being more grounded, focusing more on the community around me, which will lead to creating a solid base for a family.

The most important is to feel alive! Share experiences, value your time and dare to try! Everything is possible you just need to decide.


La Pierra Menta With Friends

After 3 years away from France, I decided to surprise my family and head back home for a month during Christmas. I kept it secret so no one knew about it and they had lost all hope about me coming back. When I found myself in front of the family house, ringing the bell, no one replied. The house was totally empty.  Luckily Christophe, a childhood friend which joined me in Australia for a few month was here and he hosted me until the next day. The day after, my family was back and so surprised and happy to see me again!

While in Singapore, from where I flew from, it is very hot, here in France, it is the middle of the winter, I haven’t experienced any white Christmas for the last 3 years and it looked like it won’t happen this year either. Everything is cold and grey in Paris. But still, the Christmas vibes are here. Christmas market, mulled wine and family dinners play a big part in it.

If the snow doesn’t come to me, I will have to go to the snow!

And that’s how I planned this adventure just before new year’s eve with two good friends, Richard aka Rico and Maxence to a hut in the French Alps.

The hut we have chosen is Refuge de Presset just at the base of La Pierra Menta. La Pierra Menta is Internationally famous for its shape and used as a background in many outdoor brands advertisement. There is as well a race each year which has the same name. La Pierra Menta. It is a ski/alpinism race. On 4 days, participants have to climb up to 15 summits evolving between 2000 meters to 2687 meters high. Altogether, it’s a total of 10 000 positive meters of climbing up. No need to say that you must be well trained to enroll it. Our adventure will be way easier.

During the winter, there is only one way to go up there and it’s by backcountry skiing. This year, as the snow is old and present only at the very top, we will only use snowshoes.

The first day, a long drive to the French Alps.

While in France, I’m staying at my parent’s house located near Paris, there is a 5 hours drive to reach the base of the French Alps. A long and boring drive which is made nice because I’m with one of my best friends and after 3 years away we have a lot to speak about.

We have been invited to spend the night in Annecy at Rico’s flat. Annecy is a nice city based on a lakeside wearing the same name. In Annecy, we are still in the bottom of the valley and we will have 2 hours drive to the base of the hike. Rico wasn’t sure to join us but he finally did and didn’t regret his decision!

We had a Croziflette for dinner, it’s a special dish coming from this area made with Crozets, they are tiny squared paste made with buckwheat flour. To those Crozets, we add Reblochon cheese, onions, bacon, crème fraiche… it’s very rich to keep you warm and full of energy during the cold winter! I love it and I definitely missed it for all those years. I’m just realising it now.

The second day, hiking up!

In the morning after a good night, we headed to Arêches-Beaufort. 2 hours driving on little windy roads up to the last village. Arêches-Beaufort, is famous for its Beaufort cheese, ski touring, and from where the Pierra Menta race begins and ends. We rented some snowshoes and started the last drive to go over Le col du pré. We parked the cars at the beginning of a track only accessible by 4WD as it is totally frozen.

After packing all the bags, we started to hike at around 2 PM, yes we have been very slow, it’s meant to be a 5 hours hike and as it is the winter the night will arrive at 4:30 PM. We will have to finish the hike at night which makes me happy. I love hiking and climbing under a sky full of stars and the best photos are often made at dusk so it’s better to still be outside at this time!

After the icy 4WD track, there is not much snow anywhere else and we hike with the snowshoes tied to our backpacks for 8km before to have to stop and put them on. We are alone, surrounded by mineral giants, not a single cloud in the sky, this is such a luxury on a more than 7 Billion humans populated planet and it’s free!

Since we put the snowshoes, the sun is setting and the colors are getting amazing! The slopes are getting steeper, the snow is sometimes hard sometimes soft and we all felt down in hips deep holes many times even with the snowshoes.

We reached the first pass and discovered a second one just behind. It’s now pitch dark and we are progressing with headlights on. There is no moon at all to light us up the way and the traverse between the two passes is a bit difficult to manage. It’s slippery and if one of us fall down, it’s going to be a long, long night as the cliff ends far away below us. Once we reached the last pass called Col de Bresson, we can see the hut thanks to its light! Is there someone inside or is it an automatic light on for lost hikers in the dark night like us? We will discover it soon.

On this side of the mountain, there is less snow and I decided to take off my snowshoes to be able to walk either on ice, snow and mud patches. This is the last straight line to the hut, on an inclined slope which makes the walk hard and slippery. The more we walk, the more we go down. We finally arrive at the base of the last cliff to climb up before to reach the hut. It’s icy and very slippery but after that, we will have arrived. I reached the hut first and I’m welcomed by a border collie puppy jumping on me. So cute! He came with a group of 5 people from Belgium. They arrived since a couple of days and plan on staying here until new year’s eve. It’s impressive how much food and wine they have brought with them. We spend a part of the night speaking about mountains and adventure and it is very nice to share such great moments with other outdoors lovers. Especially because here, there is no phone or other forms of connection with the outer world.

The hut is brand new and it’s so far the comfiest I’ve ever been to. After a good dinner and chat with our housemates for the night, we go out again to take some photographs from the frozen lake. Richard, one of my friends is a professional photographer as well and we spent 2 hours outside under the milky way taking different shots from different spots in the cold night.

We played with my headlight to light up some rocks and peaks to create an open photo studio. Such an amazing place! Living in the busy city makes me a bit anxious and right here, I’m feeling great and in peace again.

The second day, Sunrise then sliding down.

The night was great! As the sunset is early and sunrise late, we’ve been able to sleep a good 6 hours before to wake up at 4:45 AM to start hiking up to the top of the Col du Grand Fond to see the sunrise on the Mont Blanc.

The views up there were amazing, we’ve been climbing up 200 meters pretty quickly and this would not have been possible without our snowshoes. The slope is steep and many parts are icy and really slippery.

For me, the best light is before sunrise and this time again it was true. We’ve been walking around for an hour before the sunrise to find different angles and get the best shots possible.

We had such a great time up there! We hiked down back to the hut at around 9 AM and enjoyed some warm sunrays on the terrace of the hut which is exposed full south to get the best sunlight possible.

At around 11 AM, we started to walk down again. The snowy side, still in the shade at midday was very icy, cold and slippery. I didn’t put my snowshoes at first and realised quickly that it was a mistake after a 50 meters uncontrolled slide down on the steep face of the slope. Thanks to the walking sticks and by hitting with my bare hands in the snow, I’ve been able to stop the fall just 50cm before a huge rock which would have crushed me. Straight after that, I’ve put on the snowshoes.

As soon as we reached a less steep slope, we started to have fun and slid on purpose. 5 hours hike up, 3 hours hike down thanks to the slides.

Back to the car at around 3 PM, we drove back to Arêches-Beaufort where we had a beer and pizzas to close well this amazing adventure.

If you have the chance to visit France and especially the French Alps, the best website that I just discovered to plan your hikes is altituderando it’s such a gold mine for all your hikes/climbs/Mountaineering in the Alps. Unfortunately, it’s all in French like many French websites, sorry we aren’t too good in English, but you still can find the list of the different hikes near the city you are staying at thanks to their search engine that you can find under the tab “Topos Montagne”.

Now, It’s your turn to go out and enjoy the great outdoors that nature can offer!


The Majestic Earnslaw Glacier, NZ

Since I arrived in Wanaka, I heard about Earnslaw burn. People were saying that you need serious skills to get there. That it’s lost in the wild, far away from everything, kind of a secret spot where people go more by helicopter rather than by walk. They were right! This 12 hours return walk is difficult especially when you add some pouring rain to the equation.

A real adventure starts when you get lost, or so the saying goes … I make sure that I’m lost from the first one hundred meters of almost any hikes… don’t laugh at me, it’s just like that. For most people who come with me, it can be annoying and they start to have serious doubts about the fact to trust me for the rest of the adventure. This time, was not an exception and when after 30 minutes of walking on a really slippery and a bit too dangerous track a meter by a hundred meters cliff following the river, I had to admit we were lost. Iva just laughed and accepted it saying that it was a good exercise to start again. We came back to the car and I double checked on my computer, to find the NZ Topo Map webpage still open and realized that the hike was starting on the other side of the river!

We have a river to cross! And what a river, we both almost slipped on rocks due to the strong current but everything went well and my photographic gear was still dry (for now). Then, we finally started to hike on the good track marked with orange triangles. You finally don’t need specific skills to find your way as soon as you start on the good track.

While we were walking, battered by the rain and the wind, I’ve had a lot of thoughts going through my mind during this 6 hours walk. After two hours, I’ve asked myself if I could find a dry part of my body. Negative answer. Impossible to notify a dry part on all of my body even with my “waterproof” jacket on. We were both totally soaked!

In this kind of situation, your mind can be really impressive and find the best way to disconnect from the bad feeling of the body. When the outside feelings are too uncomfortable, I learned to turn the focus inward and feel the warmth inside of my body rather than the cold and wet environment outside of it.

One of those thoughts was about Mike Horn’s adventure around the world on the equator, latitude 0. While he was crossing the Amazonian forest, for few weeks and was wet all the time. I felt instantly good as I knew that in our case it was going to be like that just for a couple of days.

Then, my mind jumped on his choice to allow the water to come in his shoes by creating holes in it, instead of trying to keep his feet dry. At least the water didn’t stay in his shoes when he was out of the water. It’s really nice to have dry feet when you hike but if your shoes are going to be wet you should prefer something that can release the water. The choice can be tricky.

A bit after that, I thought about my body and the feelings. I realized that our body is just a tool gave to us to emit and receive information. Nothing less, nothing more. What if you can disconnect the unpleasant information to just keep the pleasant ones? It’s maybe in what Tibetan monks excel at!

So, I tried to disconnect my mind from the feeling of my body. Not so easy. I guess the best way to do that is to focus on your breath. Thinking about the infinity of possibilities to accept the moment even if it’s not a pleasant one. After a few hours, we finally reached the alcove under a mountain where we set the camp for the night.

When you are in this kind of situation, totally wet, cold and in a remote area, you must set up the quickest possible the following points:

  • A shelter to be protected
  • A fire to stay warm

Iva started to build a stone wall to protect the fireplace from the wind while I set up the tent under the alcove. Luckily, there was some not too wet wood underneath the big alcove. Definitely not enough to stay warm all the night but enough to start a fire and dry some of our clothes especially Iva’s sleeping bag. To keep the fire going all night long we’ve been for a mission to find some wood, obviously wet, that we cut in small pieces to make it dry faster. We finally ended up with much more wood than we needed but it will be for the next ones who adventure here.

There is maybe a specific technique to make a fire under an alcove or in a cave to avoid the smoke. But we definitely didn’t know it and we had some bad time coughing with burning red eyes due to the smoke. The wind was turning quite often and it was difficult to define where to put the tent and where to put the fire.

The night was cold. Very cold. And Iva’s sleeping bag still wet after few hours of drying… We organized a bed to keep us warm with my dry sleeping bag and covered us with the wet one.

In the morning, I saw some orange glow coloring the roof of the tent and cannot believe it was the sun reflecting on the mountain. I opened the tent and it was the total opposite than the day before. Blue sky, not a single cloud. Hard to believe in Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud.

I jumped out of the tent, grabbed my wet camera bag, and start to walk barefoot to the end of the valley. It’s a long walk. The temperature was certainly below zero… I could tell because of some parts of the waterfalls and rivers were still frozen. It was really nice at the beginning to walk barefoot and feel the land. Ok, at some stages I didn’t feel some of my toes anymore but as soon as the sun touched them, they came back to life. What was impossible to see last night was finally here in front of me or it was maybe me in front of him. This majestic giant Earnslaw Glacier with all its waterfalls. Majestic is the perfect word to describe it. I was feeling so small. It’s in this kind of moments that you can feel the beauty and the strength of nature. So much stronger than each of us.

We must stay aware that we are a part of this nature, we are not over or under it. We are it and every of our action should be aligned in a way to respect it. It’s really difficult today to live in harmony with nature by consuming responsibly and locally but every effort as small as it is count. I’m trying to be more responsible every day and I realize how difficult it is.

Going to the end of valley barefoot was maybe not the best idea as the bush started to be really dense and full of thorns that were scratching my feet and legs. What a great challenge in the way to disconnect the brain from the body. But as soon as I wasn’t focused anymore on taking photographs and running in the bush it started to be very painful.

Unfortunately, a lot of my photographs were blurry due to the fog into my lenses created by the heavy rain and the humidity of my camera bag. Luckily the 70-200mm was not that foggy so I created few panoramic to recreate the wide effect of the 24-70mm to keep a souvenir of this majestic mountain.

Iva was supposed to meet me on the way to the end of the valley but I didn’t see her. I know she wasn’t going to stay at the camp and will join me but I guessed we might miss each other on the way. We finally realised back at the camp that we crossed each other by a 25 meters apart on the way without noticing it. The valley is really wide at some parts and from the alcove, there are no proper tracks anymore.

The way back to the carpark seemed infinitely longer than the first way. This is when I realized that the brain can sometimes shut up some unpleasant parts unconsciously.

If you want to do this hike you should:

  • download BackCountry Navigator App. It allows you to save some maps to access it offline with your gps. Of course, it’s always better to use a paper map as on this kind of temperatures, the battery of your smartphone will drop significantly.
  • Allow two days, three must be the best to enjoy fully the end of the valley.
  • Be ready to be wet and face some strong winds.
  • Don’t be afraid of crossing rivers, as you will need to.

If you go there, enjoy the hike it’s wonderful and worth it even if it can be tough on the body and the mind.


Breast hill – A mountaintop photo studio

As I am writing this article in the heat of South East Asia, I’m trying to remember the feeling of being in a cold environment. One vivid memory I have was the end of the winter on Breast Hill. This adventure was filled with excitement, to say the least. It started out breathtaking and ended with a dark night at the base of an icy wall. Let me take you back to the beginning…

At the beginning of the southern hemisphere’s spring, end of September 2015, my friend Leandro most known as Leo, was visiting me in Wanaka as he had to renew his Australian visa. Since there were some complications he ended up staying two extra months in New Zealand which meant he could join me on my adventures. Stoked! With us, there was also a couple, Matte Vonnée, Canadian and very talented portrait photographer and his French girlfriend Sonia. Matt and me, met at a potluck dinner at my house

 in Wannaka. He contacted me a few days ago and we planned on going to an adventure together. Our plan was to reach Breast Hill summit to shoot some amazing photographs with the beautiful views of Mount Aspiring, over Hawea Lake, as a background. Little did we know what that was going to take!

Before we could start our journey, it was important to find out the conditions and weather. Is it still snowy? Icy? What is the forecast for the next couple days? Google is a great way to find information but the guide companies and tourism centers usually have a better idea of conditions. However, no one knew exactly how it was up there since some said it’s snowy and we need ice axes and crampons, while others said it was fine to hike normally. We didn’t have the technical equipment and were on a low budget, so we decided to take the latter advice and go with our hiking shoes, gaiters, all the usual camping equipment and our photography gear. Which for Matte included a huge Rotalux Octagonal softbox and a Broncolor Move 1200 L battery for his flash unit.

Once we had everything packed, we met downtown Wanaka in the morning and followed each other to the east side of Hawea Lake. We parked the cars and despite the lack of sign to go up, we thought that we were roughly at the right place. It already got off to a bumpy start since that first place we arrived was not the correct spot. We had to hike back down to the cars and drive back until we saw the very small and discreet sign. Now we could start the hard climb up. The sun was strong and it felt warm in our t-shirts and shorts, even though it was the end of winter. During our hike up to Breast Hill, we met a mother with her kids who told us that if we were to keep going it might start to get icy in some parts.

We were determined so we continued on to the ridge. The view was breathtaking! The first patches of snow started to cover parts of the track. And a bit further along, the snow started turning to ice. This is when the technical gear would have been useful! The sunset was nearing so we stopped to get some photos at the golden hour. It was a little bit of a challenge to get the big flash set up in the wind. I was able to get some behind the scenes shots of Matte and Sonia during this process. After a quick session, we packed everything back up and kept going.

As night was beginning to fall, the snow got deeper and icier. It was important to put all our weight on each step to crush the ice for a good grip. The night became dark. Very dark as there was no moon to light the sky yet. We followed the trail poles that were rising above the snow but soon arrived at a point where we couldn’t find them anymore. They were either completely buried or too far away to be seen with our headlights. According to the map, the hut was supposed to be on our right. But all we could see was an icy cliff. If one of us would have slipped, it would be nearly impossible to rescue or find them. This realization caused some of us to panic. We had to be so close to the hut but just couldn’t see it! After a too long time trying to find our way on that wall, it was time to make a decision to either keep searching for the hut path or hike back to the car in the dark.

The fact that we were tired, cold and that our vision was limited to the gleam of our headlights made it harder to make a decision. After being stuck for at least 30 minutes on that slope, I decided to find a flat spot for everyone to rest while I climbed over a rock face to see if there was anything on the other side. The snow was deep, making it hard to make footprints. We were definitely the first to come here after the last snow. Upon reaching the top, I could see a fence in the distance! This was a good clue to help us find the track again. I came back to the others to motivate everyone to keep going before we could be getting comfortable in our sleeping bags.

The best motivation, when in very harsh conditions, is to trick your mind with imagination and visualisation. Picture yourself in a warm and comfortable environment. Especially if this is what you can get at the end of your current trip. Feeling comfortable inside your body, inside your mind even though the outside is still very cold, windy and wet.

We started hiking up the rock face and, as we reached the fence, we saw other poles indicating the track. It motivated all of us! But after walking on that track for 20 minutes we should have seen the hut but still couldn’t. Everyone was tired. Making wrong steps and sliding on the ice, some of us didn’t have enough strength to crush the ice anymore. We needed to stay positive and keep going. The mind is the key, if it starts to fade, everything else will too. A few minutes later we made it back to a crossing where we saw the mistake in our earlier footprints. We had followed the wrong poles and went to Breast Hill instead of to the hut. After 50 more meters downhill we finally saw the hut and everyone felt relieved. We began running and sliding on the ice all the way down to the hut which was hidden behind the edge of the icy wall.

The hut felt like paradise after our challenging hike in the dark. It felt good to organise ourselves, cook a nice warm dinner and soon after, everyone fell fast asleep. Except for me, I wasn’t done with the day just yet and wanted to see if I could get some photos of the aurora australis. There were some very weak green and purple lights but not enough for a memorable photo. However, the moon was beginning to rise which made for some great photographs with Leo who joined me outside of the hut. Too bad the moon wasn’t out earlier to help us find our way!

After our short night of rest, I got up early to hike the ridge for the sunrise. Leo wasn’t far behind. It was unbelievable! The view was astonishing and soon Matte and Sonia joined us in my excitement. It was the perfect location for Matte’s portraits! We spent half the morning up here taking photos. After a successful session on our mountaintop studio, we went back to Wanaka for a much-needed burger. The best meal after a hard hike! We all reminisced about our crazy adventure and we were all glad to make it safely back to town.

As a photographer, it’s rewarding to go on adventures with your peers. We can see how each other work and gain new insights and perspectives. It inspires us to keep taking photos, try new compositions, and explore different settings.

When going on hikes like this, where the temperatures can drastically change, I like to wear and pack multilayers clothes. Most important is the base layer. It’s good to have it be Merino wool. Primino is the best… it has all the advantages of Merino wool and it dries faster. Then a mid layer. This could be a fleece or a flannel shirt. Finally, a good jacket. Sometimes I will layer a windproof jacket under a rain jacket if it’s raining or really windy. Otherwise, a nice Gore-Tex will help keep you warm and dry from the elements while still be very breathable. I use Montane clothes thanks to my sponsor Further Fast NZ. They make very lightweight and packable gear. If I had to choose one, I would definitely recommend the Prism jacket, great for all conditions and it packs down to the size of a pillow.

If you want to know more about Matte Vonne, check out his work and bio here Fi.hn. Thank you to Amy Nieuwsma for proofing this article.