“For the stone from the top for geologists, the knowledge of the limits of endurance for the doctors, but above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.” George Mallory
I meant to post this when I returned from Nepal in May but like so many other things, it remained on the pile of procrastination with a note to self that I really must finish this. I am fortunate that my work takes me to beautiful scenic mountains in different countries but even during rest back home in Hong Kong, I seek the high places to connect & restore. For years, I have wanted to spend time in Nepal and in particular the Khumbu region of the Himalayas. After the intensity of filming the ‘More Than A Race’ project, my wife kindly granted me leave to head to Nepal with the intention of resting, refocusing & recharging after too many months of burning the candles at both ends. The release of More Than A Race was the culmination of months of pouring myself into a project while working on multiple photo assignments. I love my work and count myself extremely fortunate to wake up each day and start working on something that I am passionate about. But there comes a time when the batteries need recharging. Some folk draw strength from a community and although at times this applies to me, I recharge best on my own. Solitude is the state I am particularly comfortable with and the mountains are where I am most at ease in that state.
A few days in Kathmandu were well spent with Richard Bull [Trail running Nepal], Lizzy Hawker and Ramesh Bhattachan [Race Director of the Annapurna 100] where I managed to squeeze a photo shoot with Aite Tamang, Yam Kumari Rai & Tirtha Tamang to help promote their bids to compete at UTMB & to give some profile to these runners with raw talent. It was a challenge to do these shoots in the popular Swayambunath & Boudhanath Stupas with the curious crowds but I enjoyed do something different from the typical mountain trail photo shoots.
Aside from these photo shoots, it was also a time to explore the streets of Khatmandu with my camera.
Leaving Kathmandu and flying over the mountains that line the approach to Lukla airport, I started to relax for the first time in a long while. I was away from a laptop or any other gadget, which was refreshing as I spend far too much time as a photographer & film maker in front of computer screens. Some would beg to differ that the flight to Lukla is relaxing and is best described as a total adrenaline rush & not for the faint hearted. There is no room for error here as the landing strip is built into a hillside which drops into a valley at 2800m. We approached through the mountains and then quickly pulled up & rose to reach the short landing strip with the propellers being whacked into an aggressive reverse for landing.
Walking past all the porters hanging around the airport and onto the trail that would take me towards Everest Base Camp, I had no schedule of where I would stay & just planned to walk as far as I wanted and then find a place to sleep. Laden with a rucksack that held minimal gear & a sleeping bag I soaked in the hours of solitude in this breathtaking natural arena while passing porters carrying huge loads and children walking for hours across the mountain passes to go to school. After a night in the Sherpa heartland village of Namche Bazaar, I felt that I was adjusting to the altitude well enough to keep moving and so set off for Tengboche Monastery where I found a room and bed. I set off from Tengboche at 5am as the sun was beginning to rise. I could see a weather front moving in and I knew I did not have the time to reach Everest Base Camp. I wanted to climb as close as I could and get some shots that I could give to my daughter who wanted a photo of Everest.
I set off towards Panboche with the intention of climbing Mt Tabuche that looms above with the intention of gaining a good vantage point to shoot the surrounding range. Approaching Panboche, I could see the weather front moving quickly towards me in the distance. I knew I didn’t have long before the whole area could potentially be closed in for days. I climbed Mt Tabuche as hard & fast as I could with my camera in a back pack that I had borrowed from a local Sherpa boy after my own bag had broke while climbing some gnarly terrain the day before. I had not given much time for altitude adjustment and so aggressively climbing from 4,000 up to 5,000m on full throttle after just flying in from Kathmandu just two days before, was a tall order. It was dicey as I was all on my own & was climbing some sketchy terrain but I was spurred on by the looming weather front that was closing quicky in and I was determined not to be robbed of the chance to get some photos, even if only for my daughter.
Within 25 minutes of reaching near the top of Mt. Tabuche, the weather front had closed in the range and visibility was poor. I had managed to take all the shots that I wanted within that small window of opportunity.
I hit the downhill hard from Mt. Tabuche to avoid being caught in the poor weather and made it to Panboche with another broken bag that I would replace for the Sherpa lad who had kindly lent it to me. As I crossed one of the rope bridges that are part of the journey from Panboche to Namche, I was joined by a young man named Nema. We talked as we climbed and walked and he shared that he was returning to his village after visiting the Lama in Panboche to make offerings for his brother who had died in the recent Everest tragedy that claimed 13 Sherpa lives. Nema waa Sherpa guide as well and he spoke of the 7 times he had climbed Everest with foreign expeditions. I was struck by his gentleness and inner strength. As we shared the mountain pass, we shared stories and hopes for the future. We parted ways near Khumjung with a recognition that a friendship had been made.
And so it was only a few days later that I was back in the intensity of Hong Kong. Yet, I felt recharged and energised.
- I returned from Nepal to some fantastic news and I am really chuffed to announce that ‘More Than A Race’ is going to be screened on all Cathay Pacific flights during December 2014. I have been busy working on subtitles and getting More Than A Race ready for the in flight entertainment system and am indebted to Phyllis Yuen and my wife Gabriella who worked tirelessly on the Chinese translation and subtitles so it was ready for Cathay Pacific. This will take this short film to a far wider audience wider than we imagined when we set out to capture the HK100 journey.
Gear used in Nepal:
- Canon 5D mk2
- Glass: Zeiss Distagon 35mm T* f/2 ZE
- Canon: 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
- Canon: 16-35mm/2.8
- The North Face Inferno sleeping bag
- Arcteryx Alpha SV Jacket
- Suunto Ambit
- Osprey Ariel 55 litre rucksack