Ewan Harvey is a photographer from Scotland. Never one to turn down an adventure, he joined Ewa Kalisiewicz and Tim Howell on a ski-touring and BASE jump expedition through Sarek National Park in the far north of Sweden —Europe’s last true wilderness.
Tim Howell leads an adventurous life. After turning eighteen, he set off to train and work as a game ranger in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Sadly, his guiding was cut short after visa problems so he returned to the UK where he enlisted in the armed forces, serving his duration as a Royal Marine Commando. Fast-forward a few years, and he is one of the world’s most accomplished wingsuit pilots and BASE jumpers opening new exit points with an appreciative nod to the merits of old-world exploration. Also a formidable alpinist and climber, his elite skillset is matched only by his determined mindset and easy-going attitude.
Tim and I teamed up last year to climb Mount Kenya where he achieved the first wingsuit jump from the mountain, the highest on the continent. It was also the first BASE jump in the whole of Kenya. We met for the first time in Nairobi and ended up making a pretty good team.
Ewa Kalisiewicz is an also an extremely accomplished BASE jumper, and happens to be Tim’s wife. Born in Poland and now living in Switzerland, Ewa works Monday through Friday for the IATA as a professional in the corporate world, but as soon as 5pm on Friday hits, she swaps high-flying meetings for high-flying adventure.
During her school years Ewa was determined to earn her wings and worked very hard to make it happen. Working full time while studying allowed her to save enough to complete the requisite sky dives to confidently progress to wingsuit piloting and eventually, wingsuit BASE, widely regarded as the ultimate expression of extreme sport.
Known in the industry as the ‘Wingsuit Power Couple’, Ewa and Tim met on a BASE jumping course she was leading in Spain. Travelling the world together, planning adventures and accomplishing objectives, they have continued to develop their backcountry, alpinism, and flying skills. Together they make a formidable team.
Into the wilderness
I was invited to join Tim and Ewa on their expedition to the Arctic circle to climb Skierfe – a shark-like mountain deep in the Sarek National Park in Northern Sweden. With almost 500m of vertical drop into the Rapadalen valley, the plan was to jump from the summit. But getting there was no small task.
Reaching the top of Sarek’s Skierfe was going to be a very different challenge to our African expedition. The frozen lakes, boreal forests and wind-blown mountains of the Arctic Circle were only a few of the obstacles we would have to face. Even in April, it was uncertain how conditions would be. The week before we arrived in Kiruna, the locals described how a recent snowstorm had been the heaviest they’d experienced in the last three decades. No issues for skiing then.
Perhaps counterintuitively, for an extreme sport viewed as adrenaline-fuelled there is a lot of patience required. Tim and Ewa are both very calm and methodical when it comes to preparation, especially before the jump. Despite setting off at 4am to make the summit early, the cloud was hanging low and chances of a jump were slim. The sun burned off the mist, but the wind picked up. As Ewa explained to me, the vertical cliff and warm air create an updraft which, if paired with a sudden gust, can throw off the flight path and lead to catastrophe. For Tim, any wind affecting the sensitive aerodynamics of the wingsuit will need to be considered before making their jump.
After seven hours of waiting at the summit, our patience was rewarded. A small window of opportunity presented itself. It was now or never and within quick succession they made the jump, speeding off down the mountain.
This late in the day, the frozen lakes formed pools of water. The rivers were thawing as winter was coming to an end. Tim found this out the hard way on his way back to camp. I received a radio message to let me know he had gone through the ice. Apart from being uncomfortably wet, Tim was safe and well back at camp.
Pushing the limits
Even though taking photos is my job, there are many more important responsibilities any expedition photographer must meet. You are part of the team, and the team comes first. From the few expeditions I’ve covered so far, I have learned that the key to success in the backcountry is efficiency. Everything from packing, to setting up camp, cooking meals and layering clothing – being fast and organised is the name of the game. This is where Ewa and Tim’s experience really shows, and while I got quicker each day, being familiar with your equipment is vital.
Covering an expedition like this often means you’re ahead or behind of the action to get the angle and tell the story, which means being fast and flexible. This is not so easy when you are following two elite alpinists. I tried my best and was helped greatly by a steady supply of chocolate.
My photographic style is very organic. The only important aspect to me is story. Sometimes disregarding the traditional rules of composition and allowing technical imperfections into my shots can be an advantage and enhance the narrative. Candid moments, stressful situations and glimpses of humanity are unscripted, and my photographic voice tries to reflect that. I’m not afraid to use grainy images or a mix of black and white and colour, so long as it enhances the narrative.
Similarly, I am not precious with equipment. It is rare even that I carry a camera bag with me, as I prefer my camera to be always at the ready. My selected lenses are usually wrapped in my down jacket or similar (apologies to all gear heads!). I’ve never had an issue with any of my lenses, owing to the fact that they are extremely well built.
I am often shooting in extreme conditions and remote locations – it is important for me to have absolute trust in my kit. It is essential that I can capture the critical moments, such as the BASE jump, and not worry. Weather windows and timings can be very slim and there is no practice – you only get one chance to get the shot!
After two successful jumps, including the first wingsuit BASE in Sweden, I’m left alone at the summit. The arctic sun lingers on the horizon much longer, and I do not take it for granted for a second. I pack up the rope and gear and prepare to ski down. A quick self-portrait with my camera perched on the rocks, and I set off back to our camp below. I love my job.