I’ve been climbing big mountains for about 10 years now, Mt Fuji, Denali, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and most of the Alps’ 4000m peaks. In 2012 I almost summited Everest after getting to 8700m, 150m from the top. Since then I’ve been consolidating climbing experience by getting more skills and climbing independently as much as possible. As a photographer I also try to go to places that will interest me culturally and photographically, and if the location is good for climbing I try to do that too.
Tajikistan is a country with incredible mountain scenery reaching up to 7495m at the top of Ismoil Peak (Communism Peak). It’s also a country very few people know about so it was a good destination for me to explore and climb. A week before my climbing expedition I did a solo trekking route in the beautiful and much lower (4000m) Fan mountains. A good introduction to sample the great hospitality of the local people, and beauty of this tiny ex-soviet country recently emerging as a destination for adventure tourism.
After a 30 minute helicopter ride to base camp I settled into a month of acclimatising and climbing, along with a new Lithuanian friend I’d met online a few weeks earlier. This kind of expedition takes a lot of time, patience and experience. The featured picture was shot at about 6200m on the day of our summit push to Korzhenevskaya (7105m). We had already spent a week climbing a nearby trekking peak of 6000m and this was the next stepping stone on the way to successfully climbing Communism Peak a week later. (Communist peak is seen in the distance directly above my climbing partner)
The most challenging part of high altitude photography is probably not what most people would think of first. Carrying all the equipment you need obviously adds a few extra kilos to what you would normally carry but I’ve been doing this for years and have got used to carrying more than most people anyway. For me the hard part at this altitude is the apathy you get at high altitude to do things that would be quite simple at sea level, not to mention the safety of stopping and getting your camera out to make a shot in a difficult position. On Everest I got frostbite on all my fingers taking a photo at 8500m! Sometimes though its worth all the effort and you know the result is going to be fantastic, so you do what it takes to get the image. An hour after I took this picture the clouds rolled in and we arrived at the top in a white out – all thoughts of photography were out the window and we just had to concentrate on navigating our way back down safely without getting lost.
Thanks to this expedition my friend was awarded Lithuanian mountaineer of the year! Hopefully we’ll have more successful climbing and photo trips in the future and get a few more rewarding photos and summits under our belts.