Photo Journal, Issue 7, December 12, 2009

Recollections on Adventure Photography

Back in 1997, I was on a 20-day trek into the Khumbu Region of Nepal. The high point of the trip, both literally and figuratively, was the hill called Kala Pattar that overlooks
Mount Everest Base Camp. However, it took a lot of walking to get there. Of course, I was armed with two film cameras and plenty of ISO 64 and 200 slide film. Since I had trekked there previously, I felt like I was armed with experience, but I still carried along some gadgets in my pack to help avoid catastrophe. One such gadget was a handheld GPS receiver.

After the first ten or twelve days on the trail, the trekking group had gone downhill from Gokyo Ri (peak, around 17,600 feet elevation), we had crossed over the Ngozumpa Glacier, and then we started heading up toward Cho La (Pass of the Wolf, around 17,500 feet). We set camp at 3 p.m., leaving us several hours of walk short of the pass. However, a few of the other trekkers were struggling with the altitude, so it made sense for the group to stop overnight. I sat around drinking hot tea and staring up toward the pass, and I finally decided that I wanted to take a little photo scouting hike up toward the pass that very afternoon. At 4 p.m., I announced to the Sherpa mountain guides where I was going and when I would be back (at 6 p.m., for dinner), and carried little gear. My film camera was dangling over one shoulder, my GPS receiver was in one pocket, and a small water bottle was in another pocket. Since I intended to return by dinner time, I saw no reason
to carry a flashlight. I took a GPS position fix at the campsite and took off.

After an hour of fighting my way through a boulder field, I got high enough toward the pass to try to shoot a panorama of that valley. Just then, wisps of fog closed in, and my panorama turned useless. My watch said 5 p.m. and the air temperature was falling, so I
figured I would just turn around and head back to camp. By the time I got back into the middle of the boulder field, the sunlight was rapidly fading. I certainly couldn’t find any trail, so I switched the GPS receiver on and it pointed the way back to camp. Unfortunately, it was pointing the “bee line route” back to camp. Through the boulder field, that was not necessarily the optimum route back. Visually, I could see the ridgeline ahead of me, and I knew that the camp was just beyond a small notch in it. Let’s see, was it this notch or that notch?

In the dim light, I had to pay more attention to the rocks in front of me and less attention to my compass bearing. My GPS receiver had a greenish backlight so that I could see its
screen, but it would stay illuminated for only ten seconds after each button press. I finally wised up to use the GPS backlight as my flashlight, so I turned the receiver around and pointed the green glow toward the rocks in front of me.

By the time it got good and dark, I was crawling over each rock along the route. I looked up and saw a glowing light approaching me in the distance. It was the Sherpa guides. Two of them were coming out to look for me with a big camp lantern, so I continued ahead
until we met. Since it was not far, we went straight back to camp in a hurry. As I slumped down in a seat for dinner, I looked at my watch, and the time was exactly 6 p.m. as I had promised.

Now, many years after that day, I keep a very small flashlight inside my camera case for situations just like this.

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