Nadir Khan recounts the test of photographing one of the world’s best winter climbers on one of the world’s hardest routes… in the world’s most inhospitable weather.
The Hurting (XI) is one of the hardest mixed trad routes in Scotland. First climbed by Dave Macleod, it has had four ascents from some of the best climbers in the world. This series of images features Ines Papert, German ice climbing champion, making the fifth ascent and first female ascent in horrendous conditions.
I had planned to meet Ines and her climbing partner Simon Yearsley, in the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park at 6am, in an attempt to beat a weather front that was expected at 1pm, threatening 100mph winds. From the way Ines’ campervan was being rocked from side to side in the car park, it seemed the weather front had arrived early! Still, ‘we could head down to the cafe for breakfast and have an easy day,’ I thought. I couldn’t quite believe it when Ines and Simon said we might as well head up and look at the route as it may be sheltered from the wind. This was Scottish optimism at its best!! I really couldn’t see how this was going to work but as we were all there we headed up to the Fiaccal Buttress, being blown sideways by the wind and with visibility down to about 15m due to the amount of airborne snow both falling and being blown around. Ines geared up, thankfully putting on brightly coloured clothing – so my camera could pick her out against the grey - and Simon put her on belay. I was on a rigging line alongside her and jumaring up the rope to get the images.
It was -10C without windchill and my eyepiece, back screen and controls were covered with the moisture from my breath as it froze on the camera. Just trying to make sure the autofocus wasn’t confused by the spindrift was a challenge in itself. I had serious doubts that I would get anything usable from the day, and was hoping I would get at least one image that represented the conditions and Ines’ climb. I had to keep clearing snow from the eyepiece and front element of the lens, and to actually see anything through the lens was becoming difficult, as was checking that images were sharp.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief as Ines topped out and once we eventually all headed down to the cafe and thawed out I was able to look at the images on the back of the camera.
‘Do you think you got anything?’ Ines asked hopefully.
Feeling the tension in my body and mind relax, I was finally able to say ‘Yeah, I think there might be something here that will work.’
Nadir Khan is a highly respected adventure photographer and film maker based in Edinburgh. You can see more of his work at www.nadirkhan.co.uk