„Elk have not been seen in Switzerland for many a year. In the interests of scientific accuracy, please strike the idea of elk from your mind. If you must, think of ibexes instead, a fierce and agile type of goat with great spiraling horns. Marmots will also do in a pinch, but under no circumstances should you think of elk. No. Elk. The elkless among you may now proceed.“
Because my trip to Norway to do polar light photography was booked, I felt like I needed a little more training on how to work with my new camera equipment in cold darkness. Learn how to set up everything, memorize buttons, get used to the multiple layers of clothing and make sure that once I start packing, I would be able to make a better choice on what is necessary or only nice to have.
I selected a place that is easy to reach, still rich in nature and landscape. With 2501 meters above sea level, the Säntis is one of the highest mountains in northeastern Switzerland, provides a spectacular view both from the summit and the base of the mountain and offers an observation deck on the top. The buildings are easy to reach by aerial tramway and from the parking area in Schwägalp, there are a lot of hiking trails that are perfect for this kind of excursion.
I was lucky that the conditions I had were absolutely perfect. Clear skies and views, extremely cold weather and close to no other tourists. I arrived late that day as my target was to both get to the top of the mountain but then to get to one of the trails, find a nice spot and wait until nightfall for the training exercise. There was fresh snow as well, I could not have wished for a better occasion and the view was incredible.
Since 1882, there is a weather station up on the mountain. Looking at it, I did not need any instruments telling me that it was quite a cold day.
I stayed until the last possible moment, limited by the departure of the last gondola. With the sun slowly settling, my excitement grew. The picture received only slight and careful post-processing, colors shown really reflect the view I encountered. This picture is one of my all time favorites and captures the raw beauty that is Switzerland.
Back at the base of the mountain I packed for the night and started walking, enjoying the light.
The signposts indicating directions for the hiking trails served both as markers and measurement equipment for the amount of snow on this day.
In the beginning, walking was quite easy, the trails were nicely prepared.
Still my target was to reach higher ground, a little up the mountain side. So I dared to leave the larger path and went into the snowscape while the light was fading.
I was building up a good sweat and one time fell into a deeper pit that wasn’t visible. It took some time to get out of it again, being in it more than waist deep. The heavy equipment did not really help. But adrenaline was flooding my body and I was able to continue onward.
Here I settled and waited for the night. I brought a light snack and a thermos with hot soup that I was pretty happy about. Once the tripod was set and the camera adjusted, I was training to focus on infinity, shooting some beautiful pictures of the Säntis. It was new moon and pitch black, even with eyes adjusted to the darkness I wasn’t able to see much.
Still I got what I came for, both in terms of pictures taken and experience made.
Walking back was quite a challenge, I wasn’t feeling cold, but it was getting late. Finding the way back to the larger trail wasn’t easy because everything was really dark, but I found that some long exposure photographs were just perfect to see what was ahead of me and some of them turned out to be quite acceptable even for inclusion here. What a beautiful night I had.