Tramontana is the latest short film by Montanus, a bikepacking project out of Abruzzo, Italy. The film is one-half expedition and one-half introspective dreamscape. Feel the cold darkness, hear the crackle of the fire, and then learn how they made the film as well as the DIY portable woodstove that takes center stage.
Words, photos, artwork, and film by Montanus
Tramontana [tramonˈtaːna] is a cold and dry wind that blows from north Europe towards Italy carrying snow and frigid temperatures. In ancient times the Latin word trānsmontānus (trāns- + montānus) indicated what was beyond the mountains, unknown, barbaric and dangerous.
Spending the night outdoors alone amidst wilderness is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of bikepacking. But at times, this experience can also be quite traumatic. Sleeping within house walls generates a sense of security that can vanish when replaced by the thin fabrics of a tent and sleeping bag.
Tramontana is half dream and half expedition. It’s an introspective journey through the pathways of ancestral fears: dark, cold, isolation in open spaces, and wild beasts. Tramontana is also a tribute to Fire, the natural element with whom man has used to quell these fears. Fire is light beyond the sunset, heat in the middle of the cold. Fire is fellowship. Fire is ember for food and safety from wild animals. The harshness of winter wakes the wild side from forced hibernation between the depths of the ego, where it’s written the history of mankind since the dawn of time. Traveling through the “transmontanus” reveals who we are and where we come from.
DIY WOOD STOVE
To film in midwinter — and in complete self-sufficiency — we decided to set up a basecamp to store food and equipment, and to use as shelter during snowstorms. It was also crucial for warming up and drying clothes. The best solution was to maintain a warm tent heated by a wood stove. To prepare this basecamp, everything had to be tough. And it had to be light and compact enough to be carried on bikes. We chose an MSR Twin Sisters shelter. It’s not a true tent as it is floorless. It is, however, a four-season tarp-shelter with two doors, two vents, and a snow skirt.
Our handmade wood stove was built from a 5L metal tank reclaimed from a commercial espresso machine. Using an angle grinder we cut a rectangular opening in the frontal area. That was then repurposed as the door to load wood into the stove’s chamber. The ventilation is provided by a central hole in the door — see 06:35 in the film — as well as four holes in the lower front of the stove. A rivet-hinged piece of aluminum slides to cover or uncover these holes to adjust the circulation of air. Using a threaded rod we affixed a grill to the top of the stove to cook food, dry wet wood, heat beverages, and melt snow for water. Immediately behind the grill, there is the exhaust pipe outlet which attaches to a flexible and extendable aluminum tube. This penetrates the side of the tarp through a fabricated wood elliptical eyelet. The eyelet is designed to be zipped into one of the doors which protects the fabric from the heat of the tube. Last but not least, we dug a rectangular hole between the two sleeping bags, for the stove to sit securely and to allow cold air to settle below.
Filming ourselves without the help of a crew was not easy, even less so when the weather conditions became extreme. The bitter cold and stout gusts of wind were our hands’ worst enemies as we often have to remove our gloves to properly use the equipment. In addition, the cold weather shortened battery life. To help this situation, we protected them by wrapping with insulation and storing them under the clothes to allow body heat to keep them above freezing.
Regarding the hardware, most of the sequences were filmed using a Sony RX10 Mark II with 24-200mm F2.8 lens. For additional photography we used a Canon 6D with a 24-70mm F4 lens and a 50mm F1.8. The tripod is an old Manfrotto 055 Nature with a ball head. We applied additional padding on the legs for easier bike transport. We also used two camera dollies: one home-made model with aluminum profiles and ball bearings with a stroke of 40 cm, and the other is an Edelkrone SliderOne with a 15cm stroke. The aerial shots were captured by a DJI Mavic Pro equipped with three batteries, an obvious choice due to its small size and versatility. The stabilized shots were made with the DJI Osmo, a light and compact three-axis stabilized handheld camera. In regards to the audio recording, we used the Rode VideoMic Pro microphone with a Deadcat windshield and the SmartLav+.
For the full set of photos, visit montanuswild.com/tramontana
A sincere thanks to FATlab for supplying us with Bootie Fat prototypes. We’d also like to thank all our sponsors: Adidas Eyewear, Adventure Food, BarYak, Box Components, Camelbak, Ergon, EVOC, Five Ten, Fratelli Marronaro, Miss Grape, MSR, Oxeego, Therm-a-Rest, TitanStraps, Vittoria.