Heavily packed with photo equipment, our tour takes us to Fuorcla Pischa – with the aim of photographing ibexes around Pontresina. Will we be successful?
Who doesn’t know him, the king of the Alps and the tourism mascot of the canton of Graubünden. At home in the steep, alpine terrain, he moves there like a king on his red carpet, with somnambulistic security and a sovereignty that no human will ever achieve: the ibex.
The shy animals, which usually avoid too close encounters with humans, live in the barren high regions of the Alps – where there are more gray rocks than green plants and where temperatures are more often below zero than above.
Looking for ibexes around Pontresina
Engadin, ibexes, Pontresina: this combination should somehow be promising. So during our stay here we want to make an attempt to get these fascinating animals in front of the camera. The autumnal weather conditions and the resulting few tourists and hikers should perhaps play into our cards. Our route will lead us once around the Piz Albris, with starting point at the valley station of the Diavolezza mountain railroad.
Cool: great weather, a tremendous view of the Engadine mountain giants Piz Palü, Piz Bernina and a solitary hike that we have all to ourselves. Not so cool: having a tripod, a gimbal for a telephoto lens, a camera and two lenses in the backpack, one of them a fast 400 mm telephoto lens with extenders. To put it another way, the backpack on my back is not exactly lightweight.
But what the heck – around one and a half hours we are seen, unfortunately only in a mediocre mood, passing Fuorcla Pischa at 2835 meters. Thanks to an unclosed zipper on my jacket pocket, my ten-day-old iPhone 13 Pro has taken on a life of its own and sought its way out into the open. Almost as if by design, it landed directly on the jaggedest rocks around us and, unfortunately, no display glass, no matter how sturdy, can help… The thing is gone. 😖 After a break and again somewhat calmed minds, we then first examine the landscape in which we are standing.
Fuorcla Pischa is a barren lunar landscape. The Lej da Pischa is already frozen over, the thin ice occasionally emits ghostly buzzing sounds in the otherwise perfect silence when the surface moves slightly.
Otherwise: no human, no animal. Only us. As if there were nothing else in this world.
Wildlife photography with telephoto lens and tripod
Some chocolate helps to get over the frustration about the destroyed cell phone and a few hundred meters later the mood improves abruptly. Marina discovers a small group of ibex standing a little below at a small watercourse. Maybe our visit was worth it after all? Let’s see…
Carefully I unpack the camera, mount the telephoto lens including 2x extender, because this extends the focal length from 400 mm to 800 mm and you “get closer”, and prepare the tripod. Everything happens quietly and without hectic movements, so as not to scare away the animals. They are watching us, but otherwise they are not disturbed at all in their activity. A good sign.
With the camera and the tripod we approach the group carefully and try to keep a distance that does not make them restless. We succeed quite well, because none of the animals behaves frightened and partly they even lie down – totally relaxed.
One of the animals wears a transmitter on its distinctive horns, so they appear to be tracked in some way.
In the following half hour, photo after photo follows, partly also videos, partly on the tripod, partly from the free hand. Marina laughs about my laboriously suppressed gasp half kaputt – she must hold the heavy thing but also not from the free hand stable enough, so that sharp images arise.
After half an hour and a few changes of location, we leave the small herd alone – but in the meantime I am also nauseously cold and I can hardly move my hands from exertion.
In the descent we move along the small high valley Val Languard to the alp of the same name, which is completely abandoned waiting for the winter season. Our route leads us after a few meters of altitude in golden-yellow larch forests subsequently through Pontresina to the train station. With the Rhaetian Railway we return in a few minutes to our starting point, which we reach again around five hours after our departure, enriched by a few pictures.