Alex Strohl is a photographer whose work has taken him to the most remote corners of the Earth. His style of photography is one that creates authentic moments and captures them as they unfold before him – continually blurring the lines between work and life.
Growing up, he had heard stories of family members that would go and walk ‘The Stevenson’ during their summer vacation. This route is a multi-day hiking journey through the Cévennes. And it happens to be right next to Alex’s family home. As he puts it, “It was my first exposure to local adventure.”
The Stevenson Trail is 163 miles long with a maximum elevation of 5569 ft originally traveled by the young Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, in 1878. Robert’s amusing account of his journey documented in the book ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes’ has drawn many to recreate this route – initially traveled to escape the world around him.
With travel restricted in 2020, Alex decided now was the time to take a fresh look at this local adventure. And it proved a transformative experience.
Growing up in this region, Alex had never really permitted himself to explore the area in such depth. “I needed permission to do it. It’s hard to see it with fresh eyes, in a creative way, so I never really took photos here growing up.
“I rarely say this was a dream project, but I was doing this thing that I really wanted to do. Often you are just having to do work, meeting your walking goals, and thinking practically. And on top of that you need to take good photos. It can be a bit daunting. But this trip was one I really wanted to do. This one was close to home.”
On this trip, Alex not only went back to his family home but back for family time and was joined by his dad, Frederic, and wife Andrea. Alex prefers to travel with people, stating that being in nature is an experience that should be shared. Adapting parts of Stevenson’s original route to include areas Alex wanted to explore, he set off with his father and Andrea joining him for parts of the journey. This revised itinerary took them on a new adventure in familiar surroundings – then led them right back home again.
“With my dad, it’s nice to get him back on the trail at 83. The last time we probably did this was in 2015”. The highest and most challenging part of the hike was spent with Frederic.
“The temperatures were around 3 degrees. It was really windy. We battled headwinds. It was so foggy I had to pull out the map a few times.” At night, it was often below zero inside the cabins.
“It’s very interesting because you have the Rhône Valley where it's flat, it's hot. And then you go west and it goes like this.” Alex gestures with his hand a dramatic incline, “and then you're 1000m high, from 300, suddenly to 1000. And that elevation gain – which is not a lot by Alpine standards – changes the weather completely.”
The reason Alex has always liked this area on the plateaus is for its famously bad weather. “The people up there have to battle the elements. I feel like autumn in the region is a constant flux between being too hot or too cold. You have to prepare for winter-like cold but also very mild temperatures in the middle of a sunny day.”
“We got rain two days out of six, so the waterproof On gear was needed. The best part of the whole thing is that we had an ‘episode Cévenol’ which is a weather event where a storm comes through the Mediterranean, through Marseille and then goes north, west, and up that slope, I showed you before.” He again gestures at the incline of the trek which he traveled with his father, “We had one of these. It was very annoying but it reflects that region.” Weather events like this usually only appear once or twice a season. Despite adding an extra challenge to the trip, Alex was glad to have experienced one within the six days of this trip.
When his wife Andrea joined the trip the pair were thankfully greeted by lovely weather. “Usually when we visit the area it is in Summer – too hot to do much. This time, I was able to show Andrea a more intimate side of the landscape where I grew up. She even said that this was probably the most we had ever done in the region in all of our trips combined.”
When trekking or hiking with your family, Alex suggests the approach of ‘talk less and listen more’. “Walking sets a rhythm for conversation. It allows for natural breaks. With fewer distractions, you will talk about nature, the landscape, but you will also talk about things that would never come up naturally around the dinner table.” The conditions might also have deterred a lot of people from continuing at times but Alex says that the attitude in his family has always been to keep with a plan whatever the weather. “It is important for me to have a good time whatever the conditions. Having a camera gives me a reason to go do something.”
Alex takes time to capture landscapes with one camera and then uses a smaller film camera to capture moments. “It’s a balance between being in the moment and seeing the opportunities. Thanks to photography I get to go walk in the mountain for six days.” When he was younger he said that his camera was his excuse to do more. “If I wanted to stay up all night to see the stars, my camera was my reason to go do that.”
Traveling to far-flung places helps the creative process and inspiration comes easier. Now Alex says he has to work harder for it. “What I find quite stimulating is the stuff that only requires putting one foot in front of the other. Put your shoes on and walk for the entire day. It gives you time to process events, work on new ideas and I feel good at the end of the day. I’d advise people to simply go on as many walks as they can – wherever they can.”
Despite the pandemic, Alex is a firm believer that you can still get out and explore.
Local travel is still possible. You could go hundreds of miles away but you don't need to go that far to see things you've never seen before.
With the changing season, you may be itching to get out but find yourself worried about changes in the weather. We’ve pulled together a list of all the gear that Alex and his family took with them, which they tried and tested, taking on all of the elements.
To follow the adapted Stevenson Trail route taken by Alex and his family on their backyard adventure, and in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, check out the route below.