Much more than any place I’ve ever visited, the Himalaya are a landscape more vertical than horizontal. The mountains in the Khumbu are towering masses that because of their altitude are always covered in snow. The valleys are steep and narrow, completely impractical for roads. The only way for people to get in or out is on foot over steep terrain; all goods are either carried by porters or beasts of burden walking the same paths (there are a few places helicopters can land but this is extremely expensive and somewhat dangerous). Just a few suspension bridges (all built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust) provide access across the roaring rivers to the other side of a valley. Hotels and hostels are limited and often you just camp in terraced fields, as our group did when this photo was snapped.
I’ve liked this image ever since I first took it. I’m not exactly sure why it appeals to me; in part it must be that it evokes memories of being there. The photo captures three of my traveling companions enjoying a sunrise and the panoramic views, ready to begin the day’s trek. We are in the shadow of a tall mountain so you only see them by their silhouette — they could be anyone. The brilliant snow covered peak across the valley dwarfs them and a few clouds drift by at eye level. The silhouetted strings of Buddhist prayer flags behind my companions are a bonus that further sets the scene as Nepalese. This photo was taken with the very first digital camera I ever owned, a small pocket-sized model that seems like ancient technology now but which I think proves you don’t need great gear to get a nice image.
I heard one of my favorite nature photographers, Galen Rowell, lecture in Kathmandu just before traveling to the Khumbu (he died shortly thereafter in a plane crash in California, a great loss). Galen loved to photograph these mountains because of the special light at high altitudes. When asked what his secret to a great photo was, he liked to give his standard answer: “f/8 and be there”. It may not even have been his line, but it makes a point — the key is to be there with a camera in hand…..and fortunately I was that day.
(Click on thumbnail to enlarge)