Marmot Photography Awards 2020

Nick Brown UKC 19th February, 2021

UKC and UKH are proud to announce the winners of the 2020 Marmot Photography Awards

An automatic selection of five photos from each of the categories on site was made based on the votes from the previous 12 months. Users were then asked to vote for the overall winners of each category from this selection. In addition to the category awards, we also have three overall winners (1st, 2nd, 3rd), which were selected by professional photographer Lena Drapella.

Lena Drapella is a UK based climber and a photographer, specialising in outdoor adventure photography and climbing events.

She graduated from an Academy of Fine arts, which gave her photography a distinctive feel. In her work she often focuses the attention on the subject's emotions, showcasing not only the success but also the struggle, fear, determination and joy. Lena has worked with many British and international athletes and her photos have been published worldwide.

Facebook: @lenadrapellaphotography
Instagram: @lenadrapella
Twitter: @LenaDrapella

Winner of the Trad Climbing Category and Judge's Special Mention: 'Clo Mor Crack' by Hamish Frost

Sony A7III, 16mm, 1/320s, f/8, ISO 160.
Sony A7III, 16mm, 1/320s, f/8, ISO 160.

'I spent a good number of days last summer hanging out on the side of sea cliffs, helping Guy Robertson fill in the final photographic gaps in his most recent book, 'The Great Sea Cliffs of Scotland'. Some of the most memorable of those days were spent in this place, the cliffs of Clò Mòr on the Cape Wrath coastline. These cliffs, rising up 280m above sea level in places, are the highest on the mainland in the UK. They're easily the most ambitious location I've photographed in terms of access and rigging, with plenty of loose rock, abrasive edges and not to mention wild exposure to contend with. The route itself, 'Clò Mòr Crack' E3 5c, was first climbed by Mick Fowler and Chris Watts in 1989. Its remote location and challenging access meant it had likely seen few (if any) repeat ascents. Taking a soaring crack line that cuts straight through the heart of these cliffs, the route features superb Torridonian sandstone crack climbing in amazing positions. Well worth seeking out for any connoisseurs of adventurous climbing!'

Lena: 'This image is simply stunning. The wild exposure, the contrasting colours, the line and the climber, all make this photo one of the best guidebook cover shots I've seen. Perfectly executed, hats off!'


Winner of the Winter Climbing Category: Callum Johnson Committed to the crux of the Flying Fox by Marc Langley

Nikon D850, Carl Zeiss 18mm Manual Focus Distagon Lens, 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO 100
Nikon D850, Carl Zeiss 18mm Manual Focus Distagon Lens, 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO 100

'In recent years the majority of my photojournalism has been focused on the harder end of trad and sport climbing, with a small focus on bouldering. Being an avid winter climber myself, I wanted to apply my photography ethics to the Scottish Winter Climbing scene. Having reached out to Callum Johnson on the back of last years Scottish International Winter Meet, he had mentioned the possibility of something new and hard on An Teallach. The scene was set! Packing the bags and making the 8-hour drive from Leeds to Torridon the night before. I was filled with anxiety - conditions can be insanely fickle in Scotland, but you have to make the effort despite the possibility of not taking the camera out of the bag because things are so challenging.

'Callum had already given me some insight into the proposed route location the week prior. Armed with this knowledge I had a look at the direction of light throughout the day and started to formulate some sort of composition. I knew, that if the right ingredients aligned the shadow of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill would be cast onto the ridge behind Hayfork Gully; adding an extra element to the photograph. On the day things worked out perfectly. Myself, Tim Miller and Callum Johnson made the fairly long slog into the heart of Hayfork Gully.

'The gully is bound by gargantuan cliffs on the south side running its entire length. Seemingly impregnable to the unimagined or less brave. Conditions were perfect - for once. Clear skies, sunshine and minimal cloud. I left Callum and Tim at the belay and soloed further up the gully to figure out my composition and align the different elements. Some three hours later after some harrowing climbing and perhaps the single biggest act of bravery I had ever seen, Callum arrived in my viewfinder for the second time. Prior to this arrival, Callum took a ground fall from about 20 feet up the route, Tim's legs were buried like fence posts and stayed strong. The shadow of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill presented itself just as I had imagined, a fleeting moment in time and gone as quickly as it arrived. I took the photograph, a single exposure and the job was done. Callum and Tim made the first ascent of a bold new line on An Teallach; The Flying Fox (VIII) and I made the long drive back to Leeds the day after. Happy to be reminded that nothing comes easy in this game and you have to be prepared to take risks.'


Winner of the Landscape Category: 'The Cairngorms at Moonrise' by Robert Durran

Camera: Fuji X-T2 Lens: XC 50-230mm at 143mm, 1/140 sec, f5.6 and ISO 200
Camera: Fuji X-T2 Lens: XC 50-230mm at 143mm, 1/140 sec, f5.6 and ISO 200

'Moonrise just before sunset is a photographic holy grail for me and I always try to make the most of these opportunities. With early winter snow on the hills, moonrise on the 28th of November looked very promising, but covid meant I was confined to my Perth and Kinross council area. The wonderful Peakfinder website showed the moon rising behind Cairntoul viewed from the Drumochter Munros, but the Fara above Dalwhinnie looked ideal, the lower intervening hills providing a better foreground, and the moon rising from left to right over the less interesting shape of Braeriach giving the composition a better balance.

'Fortunately, the council boundary in the hills to the east brought Dalwhinnie within reach using a cunning "as the crow flies" interpretation of the "five mile rule". For once the plan worked perfectly, except that fog formed on the summit at just the wrong moment and I had to run a few hundred metres downhill to the north to get below it in time to see the moon emerge. After returning to the summit for some marvellous late light, I was so elated that I forgot to navigate properly as I jogged off down the hill and I ended up floundering around in the dark for an hour and a half looking for the crucial break in the forest which leads down to the Loch Ericht track. On this occasion, it didn't seem to matter though.'

See more of Robert's photos in his gallery here.

Winner of the Expedition and Alpine Category: Les Drus - sunset after the storm by Luca Celano

Canon Powershot S100, ISO 80, F8, 1/160sec
Canon Powershot S100, ISO 80, F8, 1/160sec

'This photo of the Dru was totally unplanned. My climbing partner John and I had walked into the Envers des Aiguilles with our tent, four days of food, and some vague plans. We knew there was going to be bad weather on two of the afternoons, including the walk-in day, so I decided not to take my Canon 6D and 24-70mm with me. My bag was heavy enough without that camera and I was a bit lazy about carrying a DSLR, so I just took my old Canon S100 Powershot. The next day we sprinted up a route whilst watching the storm clouds building in the distance. We got back to the tent minutes before the lightning started and battened down the hatches whilst outside the world appeared to be ending. After a couple of hours, the storm eventually blew it's self out, just in time for the sunset to illuminate the remaining clouds curling around the Dru a stunning pink colour.'


Winner of the Bouldering Category: 'Autumn sun on the Farr Away Boulder, Strathnairn' by Peter Herd

Panasonic Lumix 100 (micro 4/3), 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200
Panasonic Lumix 100 (micro 4/3), 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200

'This is a boulder not far from where I grew up in Inverness. Jamie Murray brushed up and developed it after the trees were felled around 2008. At the rate the new trees are growing, it won't be long before the boulder is reclaimed.

'The rock is bullet hard gneiss. I've spent some time here over the past few years. It's all just off of vert or slabby. The problems feature wee thumb sprags, slopers, quartz lumps and rippled smears. 'Quiet-confidence' and the ability to breathe while you move are perhaps useful skills for the trickier problems.

'That day I was just out pottering with my friends Marcus and Rory. I didn't have a particular agenda to take photos but I tend to have a camera in my bag so I have the option. It was just one of those days. Leaden sky, bright sun, a passing shower leaving a double rainbow-wake. So for a few minutes, I sat on an old tree trunk and took some snaps. I suppose I was looking to pick up the density of the surrounding forest as well as the wide expanse typical of the northern Highlands. That and the simple joy of a little rock climb in the sunshine. The sun stayed all day so the three of us went fishing in Marcus's blow-up boat, in a loch just around the corner. That's about it.'


Winner of the Sport Climbing Category and Judge's Special Mention: 'An Uneasy Peace, Malham' by John Thornton

Canon 1DX Mk II, 16mm, 1/2500 sec, f/2.8
Canon 1DX Mk II, 16mm, 1/2500 sec, f/2.8

'I've wanted to shoot this climb for some years but never got the chance despite spending most of my summer days here. Although I'd originally planned to shoot under different light conditions I couldn't be happier with the results. The blanket of grey cloud created some even lighting which was easy to work with and really allowed me to focus more on the composition of the shot.

'Andy gave a sterling effort tentatively balancing his way through the first section of the route up into the large roof that extends out above the Cove. He almost made it but unfortunately, it started to rain (pretty hard) which forced us both to retreat rapidly.

'Overall I couldn't be happier with how this photo turned out with the little time window that we had.'

Lena: 'This image keeps on surprising. When looking through all of the entries for the first time, this one stood out for its image quality. The beautiful symmetrical composition and the 'hourglass' shape is hard to unsee once you've spotted it. Not to mention the exposure, the colours and the central position of the climber, all making it a near-perfect poster shot.'


Winner of the Winter Walking Category: 'Buachaille Etive Beag' by Rob Johnson

'On this day I was working with Trail Magazine, providing some winter skills coaching to their writers as well as being the photographer for the day. We started off in thick cloud and spent some time on the lower slopes looking at ice axe and crampon skills before emerging into the sunshine and realising we had been gifted an inversion. We then rushed around like mad things as I fired off shots in all directions and got very bossy with Jenna and Jake. This is my favourite image of the day.'


Winner of the Hillwalking Category: 'Sunset over the Glyderau' by Jethro Kiernan

Nikon D810, 16-35mm, 1/125 sec, f/7.1, Lee ND Grad, Tripod
Nikon D810, 16-35mm, 1/125 sec, f/7.1, Lee ND Grad, Tripod

'This shot was one of those well timed accidents. It was early spring and the final small patches of snow on the summits were just disappearing. I'd gone up to Crib Y Ddysgl to get some photos in the golden hour but I hadn't managed to persuade anyone to come up with me, so was planning to just shoot some landscapes, however, the clouds rolled onto the summit and didn't look like they were going anywhere. I headed back down towards Cwm Glas spur to drop back into the Llanberis Pass and when I dropped out the bottom of the clouds and as I got to the spur, the low sun began to light up the Glyders and clouds across the valley,

'I tried a couple of landscape shots but also wanted to get a feeling of scale that having a person in the shot provided so set the camera on a timer and dashed into the shot.'


Winner of the Scrambling Category: 'Golden hour on Crib Y Ddysgl' by Rob Johnson

'This day was one that looked promising in the forecast for a dawn raid on the Clogwyn Y Person Arete and then onto Crib Y Ddysgyl. I hooked up with my friend Tarquin and together we sat shivering in the dark at the foot of the Clogwyn Y Person Arete waiting for the blue hour as this is when I wanted to shoot the lower section of the route with head torches. We soloed together up the route with me snapping away as we gained height. Poor Tarquin was made to repeat the upper section as the sun rose and then we headed onto Crib Y Ddysgyl. I got him to head towards Crib Goch purely for this photo before we turned around and headed to the summit of Garnedd Ugain. I then descended to Llanberis on my paraglider while Tarquin walked down. This was my favourite image from the morning'


3rd Place Overall: 'Karakorum Highway wacky races' by Colin Wells

Nikon FE2, Nikkor 24mm, Agfachrome CTx100
Nikon FE2, Nikkor 24mm, Agfachrome CTx100

'This image wasn't so much an attempt to compose a photograph, more a result of a lack of composure. Taking the picture was pure displacement activity – anything to avoid contemplating the potential consequences of an overtaking manoeuvre about to be taken on a blind bend on the Karakoram Highway above a 200-ft vertical drop to the River Indus by our quite insane local 'taxi driver'.

'We always used to say that the most dangerous part of expedition climbing was probably travelling to the mountains rather than the mountaineering. Sadly, over the years this often proved to be mere bravado (as it did on this particular trip which saw two team members perish on the mountain).

'Nevertheless, those mad 600-mile journeys on mostly gravel roads through one of the most geologically unstable regions of the world tended to stick in the mind nearly as much as the climbing. This picture, therefore, captures some sense of the fear and exhilaration I felt at the time. It is perhaps also a hint of the experience that is lost as travel becomes increasingly bland and hermetic due to cheap air flights and the inexorable spread of tarmacadam across the globe.'

Lena: 'The movement, dust choking the air and the rock-strewn road create an image filled with stories and adventures; a photo I would imagine encountering during a travel festival while listening to a gripping story. The longer I look at it the more questions I want to ask. Who are the passengers? Where is the road leading? What's the objective of the trip? I want to know more!'

See more of Colin's photos in his gallery here

2nd Place Overall: 'Did somebody order spindrift?' by Luca Celano

Sony A7Rii, 24-70mm, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
Sony A7Rii, 24-70mm, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

'The Spindrift photo was taken on the Mountaineering Scotland International Winter Meet in Feb 2020. It was our second (and last day) on Ben Nevis for our team, and with a typically poor Scottish weather forecast, we decided on a short day to give us time to pack up our kit from at CIC hut and walk down to the valley, before the big party that evening. Avalanche conditions were bad, which limited choices somewhat, so Calle (my guest from Sweden) and myself, along with Hamish Frost and Al Todd decided on a mass ascent of Vanishing gully to try and get some good ice climbing photographs. It also turned out that Brodie Hood had the same plan… I don't think a Scottish winter route has ever seen so many photographers and expensive cameras at the same time! The forecast turned out to be very accurate with massive spindrift battering us the whole way up the route. Whilst we waited out of the fall line of the ice, I took photos of Hamish leading, when the biggest spindrift avalanche I've ever seen came pouring down the route. Absolutely battered by the snow I randomly pointed the camera at the others waiting at the belay and fired off some shots in burst mode, hoping the camera would catch something good. It didn't disappoint.'

Lena: 'In the age of social media, adventure photography can sometimes look a bit staged. The classic guidebook cover look, colour coordinated outfits, and eye-focus are the norm we're all used to.

'This image is nothing like that. The focus is a bit off, the subject's eyes are closed, the expression is hardly flattering. This photo is as rough as it's real. Raw and authentic. You can almost hear the climbers' thoughts: ' damn I wish we stayed in the pub'. A photo that is shot in the moment and impossible to recreate. It's what memories look like.

'They say the best camera is the one you've got on you. It's not all about the best gear, the longest lens or the perfect light. Sometimes it's about taking your camera out when others won't dare to. Showcasing the real spirit of adventure. It wouldn't take much technical improvement for this image to secure the win.'


1st Place Overall: 'Throwing some moves on the Llyn' by Jethro Kiernan

DJI Mavic 2 Pro, 1/320 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100
DJI Mavic 2 Pro, 1/320 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100

'This photo of Archie Ball was taken at the end of a day of photographing at Craig Doris on the Llyn. I had photographed a few routes from an abseil and I had been intending to set one up at the top of the route, but Archie was already starting the route and I was struggling to find a good abseil point in the right position. I decided to try the drone to get some shots.

'The light had a softer feel to it with a bit of sea haze diffusing the light, his Tee shirt (which had been a birthday present from James Williams, the belayer, specifically because Archie kept turning up for photos in monochromes) really caught the eye and the face on perspective brought out the texture and complexity of the rock and gave a hint of the frangible nature of the Llyn geomorphology.

'Going through the pictures in Lightroom this composition jumped out because of his body position as well as it being a good example of a figure in a landscape.'

Lena: 'What a piece of art looks like in the photography world. The high contrast, the colour, the composition - all making this photo stand out from the crowd. An ideal example of the rule of thirds: the mirrored positioning of the climber and the golden reflection on the rock provide artistic balance while the unusual climbing gives a focus for the eye and draws the viewer into the captured moment. Technique, timing and light all work together to create a really strong image. Would definitely hang it on my wall!'


UKC and UKH would like to thank all the users who submitted photographs throughout 2020. In total there were 12,151 user-submitted photos, a real testament to the online climbing community.

Other articles in this series

Marmot Photography Awards 2021

Marmot Photography Awards 2019

Marmot Photography Awards 2018

Marmot Photography Awards 2017

Marmot Photography Awards 2016

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