“I want to keep finding ways to embed my work with intent by putting the spotlight on topics and people that challenge the status quo.”
Ryan Sandes: “I came out of that first foray pretty scared, having realised how far removed we would be from rescue – completely at the mercy of the elements.”
Kelvin Trautman: “Pretty scared? I’m sure you told me that was the most scared you had ever been.”
In 2013, I formed part of the production team for The African Attachment, tasked with documenting Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel’s 220km+ Drakensberg Grand Traverse for Red Bull Media House. We had brought Kelvin Trautman on to shoot stills and video for the duo’s first recce. It was the first time I had ever worked with Kelvin, and the assignment would see him having to shoot both mediums by himself, lugging camera gear and slimmed-down safety supplies across some of the highest peaks south of Kilimanjaro, all the while having to keep up with two of the fittest guys in South Africa. Their goal was to complete the entire route. At the time, the brief we gave him seemed fair.
A couple of months ago when Kelvin and I first started talking about this article, he relayed how much more was at stake that night and that maybe “pretty scared” was a bit of an under-statement.
“At about 20h00 on the second day, under a sky full of stars, we set out to climb the last 300m to the summit of Giant’s Castle, a precipitous peak that sits around 3300m. The going was slow and I was tired. Humping camera equipment for what was now 30 straight hours across 160km of rough mountain terrain had taken its toll.
With less than a hundred vertical metres to go before the summit, one of the Drakensberg’s infamous unannounced thunderstorms hit us. It shuddered violently around us but as each flash of lightning illuminated the summit just ahead, we decided we would to push on.
An hour passed and with it came the hail and even stronger storm winds that almost laid us flat. My world had been reduced to a head-torch beam, and my thoughts kept wandering someplace warm. Occasionally a little voice (probably of Greg, my producer) in my head would say ‘push record Kelvin, you need this footage’, but the camera was sodden, and refusing to power up.
I had to try hard to remind to myself why I was here.
The last rock scramble almost proved the end. We were hell-bent on tagging this peak but within metres of us a white flash, an almighty crack struck so close I felt it in my spine. We lay sprawled on the ground and there was a literal buzzing of electricity in the air around us. Everyone was ok, albeit quite literally shell shocked. We summited and got off that mountain.
The descent took longer than we thought though, and after two hours the weather hadn’t let up. It was after midnight now and temps were well below zero. We decided to take shelter. I felt lethargic, and wasn’t sure if it was fatigue or hypothermia. Ryan was shaking uncontrollably. We set about pitching our two-man tent and that’s when I discovered Ryan had decided not to pack the tent pegs. Above the howling wind, he said “they weighed too much so I left them behind”. I can’t remember if I cursed or laughed. Either way we had to find some tent peg alternatives to try anchor the fly sheet and stop the rain from flooding the tent. While Ryan clung to the madly flapping fly sheet I went in search of rocks. And I’ll be damned if I could find any rocks lying around. I ended up digging up a few with my bare hands and using them as anchors.
As I lay in the tent, huddled next to Ryan without a sleeping bag or dry clothes, I reflected, for the second time that night, on how I had got here.”
For more of Kelvin Trautman’s work, go to https://kelvintrautman.com/