I have always been fascinated by the The Himalaya – a land of secret and sacred summits bathed in mystique and religious devotion. When I first took up mountaineering photography I literally bought any publication that I could find that contained images of these mountains along with information on travel throughout the region. The urge to visit The Himalaya, and Everest in particular, was strong, and as soon as I felt I had the experience and the confidence in my own abilities I took off to see what I could achieve myself.
On reflection and with harsh analysis, my early expeditions were photographic disasters; but they did build the foundations for the future. My first visit to Everest, in the Spring of 1979, gave me some idea of the scale of the mountains, the conditions, the problems and the opportunities for photographers. The typical spring weather was mixed; I suffered mild altitude sickness (the only time in my entire career) and even then was generally disappointed with my results. Yes, I saw Everest from all the traditional viewpoints, but my images were uninspiring. As a consequence I returned in the Autumn of 1981, but once again the trip was plagued by poor weather and a shortened itinerary so I achieved even less than before.
With the experience of several more trips under my belt including one to the Karakoram, and now as leader of a climbing expedition, I managed at my third attempt – in 1986 – to organise things to perfection. The weather was superb and we all came back with marvellous images from every possible location. But never satisfied, I regretted later that my material was only in 35mm format. So, back I went again in 1990, this time armed with a Mamiya 6. Again we enjoyed superb weather and at last I shot Everest using a format which would produce outstanding enlargements.
The Fuji GX617
But fate would see me returning to Everest again when I was persuaded to lead a photographic expedition in Autumn 2000. This time I resolved to take the full set of cameras including the Fuji GX617, on what turned out to be my most successful Everest expedition of all time.
On the day of our arrival at Gorak Shep, most members of the expedition wanted to take a relatively relaxing afternoon in camp. As my guiding services were not required I decided to take off up Kala Pattar on my own. The weather was superb – exceptionally clear air but with a strong biting cold wind and a few clouds flirting with the summits. These were perfect conditions for photography. Considering I was carrying so much equipment, I made surprisingly good progress up Kala Pattar and arrived on the summit at 3pm.
To my surprise I had the mountain to myself and could happily indulge in the enjoyment of being ‘at one’ with the majestic mountains and stunning scenery all around. At over 5500 metres, the wind was so stong and cold it made my eyes water, and it was extremely difficult to keep my tripod upright, but I made full use of the conditions by taking a series of images in a variety of format permutations.
A Lasting Impression
Sherpa Pasang joined me just after 4.30pm and he helped me switch around my equipment as I reached the climax of the afternoon’s photography. As I had hoped and expected, the snow on the highest summits started to turn cream, then gold and finally crimson. I was witnessing a superlative display which defied description. It would leave an indelible impression on my memory which remains to this day. Punctuated between periods of frantic activity during which I took as many images as I could possibly manage, I left myself moments of tranquility to fully appreciate my situation and my surroundings.
As the pink sunlight finally faded from the summit of Everest, Pasang ushered me down. In the faint post-sunset afterglow we hurried on down the mountain and back to camp at Gorak Shep. I was tired, cold and burdened by the weight of my equipment, but uplifted by the experience which I had encountered. To this day, the hours spent on Kala Pattar that afternoon remain the happiest, most fulfilling and rewarding moments of my entire photographic career.
Date : 8th November
Location : Summit Kala Pattar, Khumbu Himalaya, 5545m
Time : 1615 Local Nepal Time