The making of the Joe Barnes feature in Dirt Magazine.

February 12 2013

Here's Pete's version of events as they happened:

The task was set. Two and a half days in the rather beautiful Scottish Highlands to get some decent shots of Mr. Joe Barnes Esq. Joe would be on the bike, Steve would handle the camera duties which also involved lugging a rather heavy camera bag about the mountains. I would act as chauffeur and packhorse, carrying food, water, extra clothes, tools, inner tubes, tripods; whilst also taking the roles of spotter, something for Steve to test his camera focus on and human tripod (no jokes please).

Day 1 was a fairly damp affair. Both Joe and Steve had a few ideas for locations in Glencoe and Kinlochleven, handily, both were en route to Fort William. The Glencoe option was dismissed out of hand owing to a lack of backdrop either of mountains in Glencoe or Loch Leven. Onto Kinloch and up to the pipes that used to feed the aluminium smelter. Options were fairly limited with the pipes, made famous by the Scottish Six Day Trial, as the birch trees limited the angles available. Combined with a steady rainfall, increasingly heavy at times, we decided to call it a day, not before checking out the granite slabs by the shore for possibilites. 

Back at Chez Barnes, the barley cup was poured, the fire lit and feet put up. Time to regroup and plan for an epic following day in the shadow of the tallest mountain in the UK with the help of a mountain of cheesy mac topped off with apple crumble.

Day 2 (Tueday 2nd) started early with the weather looking stable in the glen that sits between the UK's highest peak, Ben Nevis and the fourth highest, Carn Mor Dearg. We would take the famous Allt a' Mhuillinn path up to the north face of the Ben up to the CIC Hut below the Number 2, 3 and 4 gullies. The grass had started turning a fantastic burnt orange with the onset of Autumn so the colours on the hill were a spectacular mix of green, orange, red of the plants and the dark grey of the granite towering above us.

Joe leads us into Mordor.

Marching up the glen, a strange sound that sounded like distant barking kept me scanning the horizon. To my delight, there was a massive Red Deer stag atop the ridge on Carn Mor Dearg strutting about like a boss and making an awful racket. Its antlers could be seen from a mile away down in the glen. Impressive stuff. 

The first shot attempted was a slippy granite tongue in the middle of a river bed overlooking Loch Eil and Inverlochy Castle. As we were setting up the shot, a double rainbow appeared, we all went to action stations to get the shot done before the rainbows disappeared. Fair play to Joe, his run-out for this shot was a river or several large pools, not something I'd have negotiated successfully.

We were really spoiled for choice below Ben Nevis, the green contrasting perfectly against the glistening wet granite with a number of impressive rapids and waterfalls cutting their way down the mountain. Joe sectioned a part of the trail, then still carefully graded by the John Muir Trust, for Steve's camera with one of the many waterfalls and the towering Ben providing the backdrop. The ground, littered with granite boulders that had either fallen off the hill or been deposited by the retreating glacial ice made it hard work for Steve. trying to get the right angle for the shot without being stabbed or lying in the water that shot across the hill everwhere we looked was proving difficult.

Barnesy heading back for another attempt at a scree shot below Gully Number 2.

Onwards and upwards once Steve was happy he had got the shot he was looking for. We headed for the CIC Hut that sits near the top of the glen below the glacial loch overlooked by the Carn Mor Dearg arete. The hut itself is dedicated to Charlie Inglis Clarke, a captain of the British Army who died of wounds suffered in Mesopotamia as World War One drew to a close offers shelter to members heading up or coming off the mountains. At this altitude, grass and moss prevail, the birch trees don't venture this far. Bare granite bedrock and scree dominate. The low cloud hangining in the gullies combined with the wet granite produced a moody, imposing scene; exactly what Steve was looking for.

Lining up for the shot below the imposing north face of the Ben with low cloud adding to the mood.

The area around the CIC Hut is a gold mine for taking shots of rugged, beautiful scenery, so we spent quite some time up here getting a variety of different shots. Several different lines were shot on the slabs at the foot of the gullies and we managed to find a few turns in the path that Joe very quickly rutted up. We had to move quickly at this point, with the wind up, the weather was changing every five minutes and the light would quickly go with it. Several cloud banks moved in, while showers and even hail at one point ensured we were cold and wet for the trudge off the hill. With a cloud bank setting in, we started our descent at about four o'clock, having at or above the CIC Hut for about 6 hours. The light lower down the hill was changing into the amber evening hue which made shooting some pan shots of Joe raking down the path flanked by the burnt orange grass a tempting prospect. We took twice as long as we should have done to get off the mountain!

Another mountain of food followed by laps of the sofa and we were ready for the thrid and final day of shooting before we left Joe to recover after the Trans Provence.

The plan for Day 3 was to head up Glen Nevis. We had toyed with the idea of shooting Devil's Ridge that Joe rode for the MTBcut video Joe Barnes : Never Growing Up. The weather forecast was looking mixed so we decided against it as we wouldn't want to be caught in a storm as there is zero cover up there. Glen Nevis like the location the previous day, was a gold mine. Plenty of options regardless of what the weather did. Our destination was Steall Falls, a waterfall on the Allt Coire a' Mhail that drops 390 feet out of a hanging valley into the Water of Nevis.

Pete negotiating the wire bridge over the Water of Nevis with Steall Falls in the background.

Getting to the falls required a drive up to the end of the road at the top of Glen Nevis, then a walk up the footpath to the Water of Nevis. I had a shot planned that didn't work out involving a rock formation that resembles a giant asleep against the mountainside. The giant proved inaccessible with a bike, so we canned that one fairly quickly. Another shot Steve had worked out was primed and ready to go, but the light fell flat and with the wind fairly static we couldn't hope for any rapid changes like the previous day. 

Off the road, we quickly found a drop that was laced with the large roots of a Scots Pine, the tree itself hanging precariously over the gorge below. The light was good, the drop itself looked good in the test shots, but Steve was struggling to put himself somewhere that wouldn't involve lying down in a river or finding a sketchy foodhold on the cliff. Higher up, the gorge walls close in until they are barely 30 metres apart, the Water of Nevis crashing through the narrow gap and over the mess of boulders. Crossing the Water of Nevis involved either wading through the river (Joe's choice) or crossing the wire bridge (the option chosen by me and Steve). Easy going until you get over the water and subconciously slow to take more care. After a quick bog hop, we were at the foot of the Steall Falls, defeaned by the water falling almost 400 feet to the rocks below, and impressive sight as the river was high following some heavy rain.

Gratuitous "keep the sponsors happy" shot.

We spent a lot of time here trying to find the perfect shot. Steve knew what he wanted to capture and the trees only framed Joe from one angle. From everwhere else, it was a mess of trunks and branches. I became a flashgun holder, being careful to stay out of shot and just hoping that Steve's shutter release would coincide with Joe being at the perfect angle over the rooty drop we had picked out. The shot was there, it was just a matter of luck getting the perfect timing. Joe would keep doing his thing, gradually finding what Steve was looking for, while Steve kept altering his location ever so slightly in the attempt to get the coveted shot. I darted about trying to find the best place to sight my flash, with the assistance of Steve's direction. With time ticking on, Steve was pretty happy he'd got the shot he was after and with the light fading, just as well too! 

One run of possibly fifty Joe did that afternoon. Steve was crouched 15m back and to my right shooting through the frame made by the trees.

Heading down the valley into the gorge once more, we sessioned a shot that worked perfectly in black and white. Joe would drop of a rock right next to the edge of the river bank. Nerves of steel and exceptional bike handling skills by Mr. Barnes. The lichen was accentuated against the granite here as the rock was far darker than that of the north face of Ben Nevis. The backdrop included the impressive rust-coloured grass that flanked the longest flowstone in the UK. All in all, a successful day out that wasn't quite as hampered by the weather, making it more pleasant for us three. 

Later on that evening Steve treated us to dinner at the best pub in town, The Ben Nevis Inn. Plenty options for all tastes and that includes beer or whisky! The pub was a fantastic setting for some final lifestyle shots amongst the old hunting and snowsports memorabilia. The dark red leather sofas upstairs were just the ticket for some sultry shots of the man himself. 

So two and a half days in the best place on Earth and it was time to call time on the shoot. I was pretty happy to be exploring new parts of a place I spend a lot of my time and already think is awesome. I'll definitely be back sooner rather than later. Up early on the Thursday, we took the remainder of Joe's wet kit out of the van and loaded Steve's gear for the trip to Glasgow Airport. We left Joe to catch up on some much needed sleep after the Trans Provence. Major respect for accepting to do a shoot straight off the back of the toughest race of the year, without as much as a moan despite the fairly horrendous weather.  Thanks to Steve at Dirt for thinking of us when looking for a feature, the article is proof of how well we did on those wet days in Fort Bill. Big thanks to the Barnes family for letting us take over their house for a few days. Good times!

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