For about 6 days at the beginning of May 2013, Hotel Sol on the black sands of Puerto Naos’ southern shores was the centre of the mountain running universe. As the official hotel of Transvulcania it literally crackled with pre-race nerves and buzzed with the sound of millions of megabytes of photos, audio and video relentlessly uploading to the servers of multitudes of running websites across the world. A nondescript room, just left of the hotels main entrance, was the nerve centre of this activity – the fabled press room. A place where the hottest race-related stories break, sun-deprived journalists spend far too much time and, importantly, where one can get hooked up to some free WIFI. Like I said, the centre of the universe. At least that’s how it felt for those heady days in early May. Then I met Christoph Malin.
The bright lights of the Transvulcania startline & the Milky Way galaxy © Christoph Malin
We had been in contact by email for the months leading up to the race – exchanging travel plans and ideas – but the truth was that I had no idea what he looked like. I did know that he was a very talented, Innsbruck based, astro-photographer who spends long, dark nights perched on mountain tops capturing his visually surreal time-lapse films. When we first bumped into each other in the press room I was immediately struck by his infectious passion and energetic enthusiasm for his craft as well as his unadulterated affection for the island of La Palma and the immense, star-filled, night skies that stretch infinitely above this small volcanic landmass in the Atlantic. ‘I’ve been to La Palma 18 times or so since 2006 and I can never get enough,’ he says with a massive smile. ‘There has been a Sky Law here since 1975, reducing light pollution to a minimum with intelligent public lighting and the effects can clearly be seen – a beautiful starry sky even visible from within larger cities on the island.’ We chatted a while about La Palma and the race and I came away from our encounter throughly convinced that Malin could create a unique visual perspective on Transvulcania. I also came away from our chat with the distinct feeling that the Transvulcania pressroom wasn’t the centre of the universe after all. Talk of far-off galaxies and deep space had made sure of that.
Chistoph Malin. In his element, La Palma May 2013 © Christoph Malin
Malin disappeared the evening before the race. The chances are that nobody really noticed he was gone, so caught up in race preparation were most every other person at the hotel that Friday. As athletes carbo-loaded up on pasta and rice at the hotel buffet, Malin loaded up his dusty four wheel drive with his ‘portable’ time-lapse kit and headed for the high-country. He told me later that the kit consists of, ‘three cameras, camera backpack, tripods, panning mounts, sleeping bag, bivouac sack, mat, food, water and warm extra clothes,’ before adding, ‘It weighs about 35 kg and is what I can still handle after two sports related spinal disc herniations in 20 years using walking sticks! It’s tough!’ So as the hours to the start of Transvulcania 2013 counted down, Malin’s jeep joined the line of vehicles snaking their way round the steep hairpin bends on the road out of Puerto Naos. At the junction most turned north on their way to pick up their start-numbers in Los Llanos. Malin instead swung his jeep south and headed for the route of the volcanoes. The races first big climb.
Tools of the trade © Christoph Malin
The start area of Transvulcania sprawled around the lighthouse in Fuencaliente on La Palma’s southern tip. As 6 a.m. approached on the morning of the race, it was a cacophony of PA announcements, excited athletes, hovering drone video recorders and pumping europop music. It was electric. It resembled some exotic north-African square like Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech, except that the djellaba wearing locals had been replaced with about 2000 lycra and compression-sock wearing ultra runners and a sea of head-torches. The frenzied start was a deafening rhythm of thousands of trail-shoe-clad feet drumming the tarmac below, sprinting towards the GR131 trail and the relentless climb to Los Canarios. The athletes head-torch beams occasionall glanced upwards into the inky darkness. Somewhere up there Malin was looking down on the scene, his cameras firing off image after image. When he returned to the hotel a couple of days later, the images he brought back were mind-boggling.
Transvulcania Treasure © Christoph Malin
TWAN is an acronym for ‘The World At Night’, an exclusive astrophotographer collective which is the home to some of the best Landscape Astrophotographers in the World. Christoph Malin has been part of the group for the last couple of years. ‘The past three years have been super-intense,’ he says. ‘I have worked very hard and dedicated nearly my entire working life to Astrophotography to be accepted within this group of highly skilled professionals, whom at the same time are great mentors and colleagues. But after 20 years of doing sports related photography I am totally into this new challenge.’ Transvulcania offered him a new and exciting opportunity – to combine the beauty and uniqueness of the race and landscape with the incredible stellar expanses that La Palma offers. ‘Our goal is to make people aware of the beauty of the night sky, to present stunning nightscape photos and time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks and world heritage against celestial attractions. TWAN is a bridge between art, humanity, and science.’ enthuses Malin after we discussed the possibility of capturing some images of the race.
Tripping the light fantastic. Runners headtorches streak across the Transvulcania trails © Christoph Malin
Much has been written about Transvulcania 2013. The race has been dissected and reported from every conceivable angle and each runner has been photographed at every jaw-dropping location along the incredible point-to-point course. Yet when one looks at Malin’s photos it gives us a startling sense of just how ridiculously lucky we are that here on this tiny planet we can partake in the simple playful act of running through the valleys, craters and mountains. Heck, it even makes us realise just how lucky we are that we exist at all. It’s a very cool thing.
The route of the volcanoes © Christoph Malin
La Palma & Transvulcania give the enviable combination of amazing trails under our feet and wonder-inducing night skies above our heads. It’s those things that have made this Ultra SkyMarathon one of the greatest mountain races on Earth and a jewel in the crown of Skyrunning’s calendar. As for Christoph Malin, La Palma has something of a magnetic pull, ‘Standing in awe under a beautiful starry night sky is a mind changing experience that many of us have lost or have not even had the chance to experience because we live in light polluted urban areas,’ he says. ‘There’s this famous story about a power outage in Los Angeles years ago, where police received phone calls from worried locals that were reporting “a white band in the sky” and were anxious. They had seen the milky way the first time in their live and had no idea what it was!’
You can register now for Transvulcania 2014 – Just remember to stop, switch your head torch off and look up from time to time. You won’t be disappointed.
Check out more from Christoph Malin on his website.
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