World's toughest assignment
He climbed 21,890 vertical meters, drove 3,394km, was up before dawn on 14 days and took 23,789 photos. The Red Bull X-Alps is famed as the world's toughest adventure race. But for the photographers, it could be a contender for world's toughest assignment! Shooting the race for the first time was Kelvin Trautman, one of four official on-the-road photographers for the Red Bull X-Alps*. Below he explains why taking photos was almost as hard as taking part.
“After the race was over, I felt like it would have been easier to compete!” says a recovered Kelvin now back home in his native South Africa. “It was like being on a treasure hunt for three weeks and they were long days!”
A typical day for Kelvin began before sunrise and would see him hiking up to a takeoff with an athlete carrying 12kg of camera gear plus water and snacks for himself. Sometimes it wouldn't end until the early hours. “You never knew how long you were going to out there for,” he says. “Some of the hikes were pretty tough, not only the gradient but also you weren't following any sort of trail. To save time, athletes would look for most direct routes up!” He adds: “And usually when I got back down it would mean, spending the next hour downloading images and prepping them for an upload. which was challenging in itself, trying to find signal in the middle of nowhere!”
On one occasion he was tasked with catching up with Nick Neynens in Switzerland. “Nick was hiking to get to a point late in the evening to fly early next morning. I had him on the phone, trying to talk us through where he was. I ended up leaving the car park at 10.30pm. I hiked until 1am trying to pin point the ski lift he was hunkered down at. Eventually I found him. But the next morning was great – I got some early morning flying shots which we would never otherwise have got.
”Besides the physical challenge there was also the mental stress, he says. “After two weeks, hiking and carrying all that weight does take its toll. On top of that you're trying to be creative at the same time. It was mentally and physically taxing and you're very aware of the need for content the whole time. You're looking for story telling shots around every corner.”
Kelvin says he couldn't have done it without his girlfriend Sabrina. Following the example of athletes, she was his unofficial supporter. “She helped enormously. She could drive while I edited photos and tried to track athletes.” But the driving brought its own challenges. Unable to hire the campervan they wanted, their only choice was to take a medium sized truck. “You could have moved half a house in there! The looks we got from some locals! Some switchbacks we had to do three point turns in!”
Would he do it again? Kelvin hesitates for a moment, before saying: “Yes! It's such a magical part of the world you'd never otherwise see. It really felt like you were off the beaten track which you don't get to feel often in the Alps. And listening to the athletes tell their stories – there were a lot of gems.”
After the hours driven and kilometers logged, the only suprise is that Kelvin only drank a mere 31 cappuccinos.
*The official photographer lineup was Vitek Ludvik, Harald Tauderer, Felix Wölk, Sebastian Marko, Markus Berger and Kelvin Trautman. Together, the team covered ground and air-to-air shots of everything from the pre-race shoots, athlete portraits, the Powertraveller Prologue to the race itself. You can see their work on the gallery here.