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Photographing Mount Everest

Photographing Mount Everest was one of the most elaborate and dangerous photos I have ever taken. Here is its story.

I started planning for this photo months in advance of the actual trip. Using my apps from The Photographers Ephemeris series, I was able to see exactly when the Milky Way would be where behind the mountains. The composition of the picture was also clear beforehand: the Khumbu Icefall was to wind its way to the main subject, Mount Everest, which would then rise into the starry sky together with Nuptse.

So I knew when to stand where, but first I had to get there. With 2 crazy travel companions, we started our two-week journey shortly before Christmas 2021 and reached the viewpoint of Kala Patthar almost on time on 02.01.2022. However, Kala Patthar is not a simple viewpoint, but a full-grown mountain, which is over 5600 m high. Who has ever been on the road at high altitude knows how exhausting each additional meter of altitude is and we had to bring 450 of them under us. The route starts in Gorak Shep and takes about 2-3 hours to climb, depending on your fitness level.

Then finally the time had come. We saw Mount Everest for the first time on our trip. We were incredibly lucky on this day because the days before were often cloudy and many people we met on their way back were not able to view the infamous mountain from this point.

Then about an hour later the sun slowly began to set and we witnessed the most impressive sunset I have ever seen. The 8000s burned in fiery orange.

Then I was alone. And really alone, because the few others had already started their descent during sunset. Now it would be decided if my plan would work. So I put on a total of 5 jackets, two of which were thick down jackets, and a bivy sack, and hid in a small crevice to protect myself from the strong wind and the bone-chilling cold at -25°C.

After about half an hour it became really dark and the first stars appeared. However, also a large cloud field moved up, which caused me some worry in my small cave.

But then I recognized something, with which I had not counted. Because of their height, the two mountains Everest and Nuptse still shone long after sunset in a weak orange, which one could recognize however still clearly with the naked eye.

Now it was just a matter of waiting and hoping for the best. With time I recognized the Milky Way better and better and I stared simply completely overwhelmed by the happening into the night sky.

Then something tore me out of my trance. The cloud field was getting closer to Everest and was almost jutting into my view. So in no time I took off my two pairs of gloves and pressed the shutter button of my camera.

I already shot the foreground half an hour before with a 30-second exposure time, so I could get the details of the mountains and the Khumbu Icefall (My remote shutter release was lost along with all my luggage during the flight there). My original plan to place the Milky Way more in the center didn't quite work out but the result was still respectable.

Then began the 90-minute descent through absolute darkness. Exhausted and cooled down as I was looking forward to something warm to eat in the lodge and my sleeping bag.


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