Days went too fast. I still have clear memories of the departure, with its usual load of anxiety, curiosity and excitement, and I already find myself planning the last hours of the expedition. In the next days the team will split in three to conclude the activities in our schedule: Riccardo will recover the data –logger initially installed and will measure the sticks positioned on the Tviberi glacier, at 2500 meteres; Marco and Luca will go with Kenneth on the Shkara glacier to make the last shooting for the documentary. I will try to reach my last objective for this expedition: the remake of to the famous panoramic photo shot by Vittorio Sella 121 years ago from the Banguriani’s peak, at 3885meteres.
As always here, the logistic planning has to compromise with that indefinable percentage of adverse events which every time manifest in their weirdest forms: Georgy, the alpin guide who should have go with us, was bitten by a dog and he cant walk. Luckily, right before we left, he introduce us a friend who can replace him. I also finally ménage to find a guy, who will carry the heaviest baggage, such as tents and photographic equipments, with a horse.
We are walking since 5 am. My departure coincides with Riccardo’s one; a nodded greeting and then we go our ways, aiming to our respective appointments. The whether does not seem to be on our side, the low clouds cover the Mestia’s valley in a surreal and oppressive atmosphere, with the very heavy terrain due to the intense rain of the night before. With Mikho, my guide, we reach the village where we will meet with Goga and his horse.
During the walk the clouds began to open, to design fantastic landscapes crowned by the surrounding mountains, which are already whitened by the first snow. My first instinct is to portry the lendscape with the folding Linhof, but it is immediately clear to me that due to the strong contrasts, it is better to enjoy the landscape by eye: it is impossible to retract the different luminosity between the illuminated part of the snowed mountain and the valley that is still in the shadow and immersed in the fog, not even utilizing all the neutral density graduated filters which I have. I relax and immerge myself in watching the sunrise; for this one time, I will leave the record of these moments just to my memory.
We have to climb 1600 meters to arrive to the base camp. We communicate with brief gests: neither Mikho, nor Goga indeed can speak a word in English. This might represent a huge obstacle in case any problem arises during the climb.
A big part of the climb is on a beautiful panoramic ridge, with the view on mountain Usbha and its breathtaking glaciers. We arrive at the base camp at 11:30 am. Parts of the trail were barely visible and very steep, and they make it hard for the horse to maintain its equilibrium. It is a miracle that it is still alive. We are not alone. A small orange tent revealed to us the presence of some Moldavian guys who will try, like ourselves, to climb the Banguriani.
I settle my Ferrino tent and profit of the wonderful light to still some shot to the mountain. At the sunset I prepared the equipment I need to climb the next day; I have dinner with a hot soup and then get into my sleepingbag where everything disappear in the sleep.
As always the alarm clock is at 5 am; we have one hour to the final arrangements, the we leave fort he climb. In half an hour we reach the small glaciers below the mountain and climb towards a funnel that take us to a steep rocky canal. As I thought, the rock is not solid. Thanks to some snow that felt the day before and to the ice under the rocky debris, I can wear my crampons and reach the left ridge of the mountain from where, walking on the rotten ridge, in an hour we reach the peak!
As always happen when reaching the highest point of a mountain, the fatigue of the climb disappear and the excitement of looking out on the other side is very intense. In this case the emotion is twofold: beside reaching this fantastic sight on the Central Caucasus Range, I also visualize in just one glance the landscape shot by Vittorio Sella in 1890.
It is very difficult to describe the emotion I feel in reaching a photographic spot studied and dreamt for many months, sometimes years: it is like finishing a puzzle of thousands of pieces but instead of being at a table, you had to organize an expedition and climb a mountain….In those moments I always think to the photographer that preceded me, elated and meticulous like me: he was motivated by the wish of documenting unexplored places; myself, utilizing his precious shots, with the will of documenting the changes occurred to the glaciers. Both of us linked by something that since ever characterizes the human being: the desire of knowledge. Towards this direction I moved my way: to reach an experience that through pictures and science might be able to give us precious information to better understand the nature of these places. And to listen to their suggestions that without voice are told between rocks and ice.
During the first hours of the day the landscape surrounding me is spectacular. I observe the seven images of Sella that I brought with me from Italy as reference and immediately notice the huge regress and collapse of the visible glaciers: some of the smallest glaciers are completely gone. The weather is wonderful, there are no clouds around, but I still quickly position the folding Linhof to make sure I can shoot the pictures I want. Vittorio Sella indeed wrote on his travel diary: “The sight is wonderful but based on our position relative to the Ushba and Tetnuld mountains, it is good for shooting only late during the day. The Ushba has too much light in the morning while the Tetnuld on his back. The best time of the day to shoot the wide landscape would be the afternoon, but the clouds always cover the peaks”. It is better not to risk it. Here the weather showed us already it can suddenly change.
Nonetheless, I am luckier than Sella: the sky stay clear for the entire morning, and in the end I was able to make three rounds of shooting, utilizing two different lenses. I also shoot the Moldavian guys that reach the peak after climbing the south ridge, and numerous details of each single glacier.
Around 13:00 I start to go down. I have to descend 1000 meters to the base camp and than other 1600 meters to reach the town of Mestia. I stop a few minutes only at the base camp, just to regain my breath and fix the equipment for the last part of the downhill. I say goodbye to the Moldavian guys who will keep on their adventure but we will be in touch through emails.
After numerous steep crossings, I reach the ridge that will take me to the bottom. I proceed immersed in a fabulous landscape that gives me the sight of the entire Mestia’s valley, with the Leila Gora on the background and the big Ushba and its glaciers. I briefly stop with Mihko to eat blackbarrie without talking, while Goga with his horse keep going slowly. We will follow him right away, but instead we lost his track in the wood. We continue following our orientation as we can, through grassy lands covered by larches and birches, a fairy-tale landscape that in two hours take us to the big plowed fields in the high Mestia’s valley, right above the last village. The sight from here is touching, with the low light of the afternoon that highlight forms and colors, and my photographic mind that instinctively start calculating times and apertures for every potential shooting, until almost suddenly I am struck by the silence and warm of the day that is getting to the sunset. I completely relax and decide to don’t take any picture: the memory of these moments will only remain in my mind, to let me slip, like in a dream, in the uncontaminated lands of the wild Svanetia.