The Marconi Pass, Viedma Ice cap, Patagonia

This little spot was my camp site for one evening, during a six day trek on the Patagonian southern ice field. After hiking for two days to get here, where the second day included climbing the steep Marconi glacier to the top of the Marconi pass, we arrived at this spot. It's pretty exposed up here and we used a lot of large boulders to peg down our tents for the night. marconiglacier.jpg

We'd hiked up from the pass below using ice axes and crampons. It's a challenge not to impale yourself with the crampon spikes whilst carrying an 80L backpack - and my backpack was by no means the heaviest or largest either. My guide and porter were extremely fit and very experienced. This kind of trek is not for everyone and you need to be versed in the use of crampons and know how to do an ice axe arrest (the final ditch attempt to save yourself when you've lost your hold on the mountain side).

Turning a full 180 degrees around, I had this view (below). This is what I'd come for. On the far left is Fitzroy and on the far right you can just see the tip of Cerro Torre peaking up with it's signature ice mushroom. I believe Art Wolfe has a similar shot, taken a little earlier in the day. It was interesting to find his shot in the book 'Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky' a year or so later. I wasn't surprised we'd both shot the same view point because you really can't move anywhere, and there is only one clear point of interest to shoot at.


These shots were taken on a Mamiya 7II camera. I took with me the 50, 80, 150 and 210 lenses for the camera, along with a Sekonic 608 light meter, Gitzo 1228 tripod with a Kirk BH-3 ball head and around 30 rolls of Velvia 50. The entire kit was contained in a tiny Lowepro Orion bag, stowed away in my Macpac Glissade 80L backpack.

The Mamiya 7 lenses are second to none. The wide angles are the best I've ever used with no distortion at the edges. This is primarily because there is no mirror in the camera, so the wide angles can be designed so the back element is very close to the film plane. I've just recently gone back to the 7, because quite franky I've been missing it. Although I do think digital has it's merits (it is the only solution in a commercial environment, amongst others), there is simply something very intuitive about the 7 for me, and the look and feel I get from using film from a 6x7 transparency is something I feel I've been missing whilst using 35mm digital sensors (5D).

I think I used the standard lens for both these shots with a Lee ND 0.9 hard grad to control the dynamic range between the sky and ground. I prefer the hard grads to the soft grads - because when the hard grad is placed so close up to the front lens element, it's pretty diffused anyway, whilst controlling the exposure of the sky. The soft grads are fine for very gradual changes, but I seldom use them (even though I have 9 filters with me at all times - 3 hard ND, 3 soft ND and 3 full ND filters).

I seldom use the built in meter on the 7, except for when I have the 80mm lens on and I'm doing street photography. For landscapes, I always use the Sekonic 608 zoom master I have. The reason for this is that the meter in the 7 acts like a spot meter when you have a wide angle on it, and center weighted with the 80 and an average meter with the 150 and so on. The other reason is that the meter has a scale. It shows me the dynamic range between the lowest value and highest value I want to record on the film. So for instance, if I see that the scene requires 10 stops of latitude, I know that Velvia can handle around 3 to 5 stops, so it's definitely time to put on an ND grad. I then meter for the ground and expose for that.

Preparation is key for a trip like this. I'd done a lot of research into the ice cap, and what I was expecting to see. I'd also been climbing hills for months before hand with a heavy back pack to make sure my fitness was adequate. If your fitness is good to start with, the trip will be enjoyable, but if you intend to get fit whilst doing something like this, you'll have a very hard time.