Author Archive

Pakistan test

Pakistan 2017

Skip right to the bottom for a list of advice relating to travel in Pakistan

In recent months I’ve struggled to maintain enthusiasm for photography and I’ve completely turned my back on social media. I’m sure anyone who has devoted a lot of time to any particular activity will at one time or another lose interest. Personally, I struggle to find the correct balance between photography and travel. Whilst in Pakistan a lot of my plans went awry and as such, I lacked motivation. I write this now almost six months after I returned, it’s taken me this long to get my thoughts together. I often find myself dreaming up new trips and I’m sure it won’t be too long before I dust off my hiking boots and begin a new adventure.

Right from the start in Pakistan my careful planning went out the window and so I came away with very few (if any) worthwhile landscape photographs. Having said this I thoroughly enjoyed my trip, I had a rented motorbike which gave me a lot of freedom and in many ways allowed me to return to the style of travel I was used to before taking up photography.

With so few photographs to show for my trip, I felt it would make sense to shed some light on the mistakes I made. The next few paragraphs will doubtless have little interest for anyone, save for a few people who might venture off to Pakistan. If you’re one of those people who enjoy travel to more remote areas and hope to do so without making too many mistakes then read on. If however, you stumbled upon this blog post only to see the photographs skip directly to the bottom.

Arrival in Islamabad and onward by road to Skardu

It would have been easier and cheaper to fly to Islamabad and get a connecting flight to Skardu, however, I had always wanted to travel on the Karakoram Highway. This great highway connects the western Chinese city of Kashgar with the lesser-known city of Hasan Abdal; which is itself south-west of the now infamous city of Abbattobad. I was picked up at the airport by a private driver and together we began the eighteen-hour drive northeast to Skardu. Driving to Skardu you actually miss a lot of the KKH, I wasn’t in any way bothered by this, there was plenty to see along the route we chose. I arrived in Pakistan during Eid al-Adha, which is one of the most important feasts of the Muslim calendar. I suppose in many ways this was a great time to arrive because the roads were quieter, although a quiet road to a Pakistani and a quiet road to a westerner is another thing entirely. Despite being tired from the flight I was determined to stay awake and absorb as much as I could from the journey. I remember the sight of blood on the road, my driver could speak very little English, but I quickly realized the blood was from the sacrifice of animals as part of Eid al-Adha and not some grizzly traffic accident! Amongst many of the sights, I can clearly remember seeing a bus driving toward us down a steep road with a cow stood on its roof.

My driver took the quicker route to Chilas via the N15 road over Babusar Top, this is the highest point on the drive, the pass reaches a height of 4173m, it’s not somewhere you want to break down, especially when you’re not acclimatised. Thankfully we had no such problems and continued on to Chilas without issue. It was on the edge of the town that our vehicle was stopped, this was an entry point into Gilgit Baltistan and I needed a foreigners registration card.



I was pre-warned to make sure I asked the officer to add in all the regions I wanted to visit. As you can see the card is initialed with the districts of Skardu, Gilgit, Hunza, and Ghanche.  What we don’t see here is a rubber stamp. Upon reaching Skardu I would discover that the missing stamp was going to drastically alter my trekking plans.

Skardu

Upon reaching Skardu I booked into the Snowland Guest House (35.295484N 75.610857E) I used this hotel as my ‘base camp’ for the duration of my stay in Pakistan. Initially I camped on the gardens, however, the lawn would be so wet from morning dew that I was soon forced inside. I secured one of the cheaper rooms in the back of the complex. I was charged 1000 rupees for this, it was basic but I was able to leave my suitcase in a locked room when I wasn’t in the hotel.

That first day I met the people who were to help organize my treks and I also collected the motorbike I had rented. I chose to use a foreign company who in turn used a local tour company. This might seem like a long-winded way of going about things, I had, of course, tried to contact local tour companies directly, but this became a frequent cause for frustration. The foreign company I found would answer emails quickly, whereas when I contacted local tour companies I would wait 2 weeks for a reply which would often be meaningless. Many mistakes were made by the local tour company I used and I feel there was, without doubt, a lack of communication between the local tour operator and the foreign tour operator. Because I don’t know who was responsible for the issues with my trip I’m not divulging the names of the operators.

As I say I met the tour operators, both the foreign operator and the local operator. It was at this point that I was asked to detail my plans for the trip. Alarm bells began to ring hard here. I’d already detailed my plans in a succession of emails; why were they asking these questions now?

Before I even flew to Pakistan I was told that everything was in order and I was ready to start my trek. This wasn’t the case, I still needed army permission. Unbeknown to me I was going to start my trek with another foreigner. This did make sense, the other trekker needed transportation to Askole. He was to start his trek up the Baltoro Glacier, while I planned to trek up Biafo Glacier. Unfortunately, the other chap wasn’t due to arrive until the day before the trek. I was in Skardu 10 days prior. Needless to say obtaining the foreigners army permission was put on hold until this person arrived. I only wish I had insisted the operators got my permission first because there would have been plenty of time to correct errors.

When the tour operators did apply for permit my foreigner’s entry card was scrutinised and because it wasn’t rubber stamped in Chilas I was denied entry (it transpired that this was just one of the issues).  I can appreciate here that the tour operators were not at fault, however, I’m sure if they had more experience they would have expected this sort of thing. My card could have been inspected on my first day of arrival. This delay took up 4 days and I was forced to pay for all costs.

Below we see the all important card with the correct rubber stamp, this was eventually procurred from the airport.
It’s worth noting that with this card I seem to have miraculously gained 10 more months visa validity! Also ‘Destination’ and Places to visit are mixed up.



Use this interactive map to see the route from Islamabad to Skardu via Babusar Top. It’s wise to take this route as it bypasses Chilas which has been rated as an unadvisable to visit by most western governments. I’ve shown the route taken by car in red, further maps show hiking in blue and motorbiking in yellow.



 When you travel in Pakistan you’re frequently stopped at police checkpoints, It’s essential to have this foreigners card with you. I wrote the registration number of my motorbike on the card (bottom left).

As I mentioned earlier the entrance card wasn’t my only issue. The tour operators had also messed up the paperwork associated with my treks. I need to gloss over this because I doubt I ever got to the bottom of it. Essentially all tourists need a permit to visit ‘closed areas’. These include the trek up the Baltoro Glacier. My plan was to trek up the Biafo and then trek up the Baltoro. Later in August, I was to trek to K6 via the Charakusa Glacier. I was charged for two permits, however, to save money the tour operators tried to squeeze in both treks with one permit. Technically this should be possible because my first trek along the Biafo Glacier does not require a permit as it is in an open zone. Of course, this is Pakistan and the army official refused permission on the basis that I might not visit the Biafo at all, perhaps I might spend all my time on the Baltoro. This is stupid because there’s a police checkpoint at the start of the Baltoro in Askole.

I couldn’t argue and by this time I’d missed me schedule by about 4 days. Gone were my plans to shoot at night with half moonlight.

I was at my wit’s end at this point, the tour operators were clearly frustrated too. I should have demanded my money back, but I knew that the porters relied on this work. In the end, I decided to cut out the Biafo Glacier and trek up the Baltoro. I’d already been up the Baltoro ten years prior, however, this time I wanted to check out the Dunge Glacier. This had only ever been planned as a reconnaissance trek, with plans askew it had now become last option. I was to regret ever agreeing to it.


Baltoro Glacier

Right from the start, I got a bad feeling about my guide. I had a young kid who’d clearly been chosen for his excellent English rather than his experience or desire to be in the mountains. I could tell he had no interest in being there, in fact, he happily told me as much! The tour operators hired mules to carry the heavy equipment for the trek. At first this seemed like a good idea, mules are used to transport equipment to Concordia, however, this is a well-worn trail. In order to reach the Dunge Glacier, our mules had to cross much rougher moraine. The mules were pushed hard and really suffered, their hind legs were bleeding profusely as they regularly slipped on the rock. We eventually had to tie up the mules, but there were too few porters to carry equipment to the Dunge Glacier. I was able to reach the Dunge Glacier with my guide, and I did trek halfway up it, however, it wasn’t as photogenic as I had hoped. I decided to cut the trek short and get down to Askole.


Here’s an interactive map showing the route taken to Askole with the blue line showing my trek up the Baltoro Glacier to the Dunge Glacier



Freedom with the motorbike

My motorbike was a Honda CG125, it’s the most popular bike in Pakistan. They’re made in Pakistan and you can get parts everywhere, quite literally in every small town, even village you’ll find spares.  I rented the bike after being told that it isn’t possible for foreigners to buy motorbikes. This is bullshit and I should have realized it was bullshit. If you have money you can buy a motorbike. I was never even given (or asked for) the papers for the bike I rented. I heard stories of foreigners buying bikes and paying less than I paid for my rental. Having said this it was nice to know I had a bike upon arrival in Skardu. There’s nowhere to rent bikes in Skardu so mine was personally delivered there. In all, I rode a little over 5000km. I had very little trouble with it and when I did I was always miraculously close to a mechanic. In hindsight, I think I would have enjoyed my trip more had I concentrated more on the bike and less on photography.


Here’s a route (below) I took through the Deosai Plains to Fairy Meadows. The yellow line signifies the route taken on my motorbike and the blue line shows the hike up the last leg to the meadows. Strictly speaking you’re not really allowed to take a motorbike to Fairy Meadows. If you’re not already on a tour you will be told you must rent a seat in a jeep at Raikot Bridge. I just blasted past the ticket sellers and took the dirt road.  It’s by no means easy on a 125cc bike. It was fortunate that I have long legs and a small bike because at times I had to put both feet on the road to take weight off the bike, otherwise it would have been impossible for the bike to make the steep track.



Here is another map showing some more trips on the motorbike. I rode all the way from Skardu to the Khunjerab Pass. I made side trips to the Shimshal Valley, Naltar Lakes and Chapursan Valley. I made many shorter side trips, unfortunately Google Maps has a mapping limit. 



I took another quite long side trip heading west from Gilgit out to the Ishkoman Valley road. Essentially I was just following my nose here and exploring for a few days. It was nice to just explore as I had absolutely no idea what I’d find. It would be fair to say that very few foreigners ever venture up this valley so I was a little apprehensive. 



I took a planned trip to the Haramosh Valley. For months prior to this trip I had arranged to meet with a Pakistani photographer who had asked to meet with me and photograph together. Despite all our arrangements he didn’t turn up. This was a little worrying because I’d been told not to go to this area alone. You can see in the map that I take a road leading to the Khaltoro Valley. This was the wrong path, and while it cost me time it was actually a really interesting road. I back tracked and found my way to the village of Dassu. It was here that I was quickly surrounded by curious men who naturally wondered what on earth I was doing. As is so often the case you don’t quite know who’s offering help and who’s out to harm. Shortly after arriving I found myself locked in a room in someone’s house. I must have spent an hour sat locked in the room before the door opened. Someone had found me a guide. I was able to leave my motorbike safe in the compound in the house. From Dassu we had about a day of hiking to reach Kutwal Lake.

It’s fair to say that I only really skimmed the surface on this trip. I was really only in the low pastures. A proper organised trip into the Haramosh Valley would have continued beyond here and up into the higher peaks. That would undoubtedly have been far more rewarding for photography, but this wasn’t an option as anything more adventurous would have to be organised months in advance.

The yellow lines on the map show the route take by motorbike while the blue line very roughly shows the hike.



Another interesting side trip off the Karakorum Highway took me to the Hopar Valley.  I would dearly loved to have taken the route from Snow Lake (branches off the Baltoro Glacier) to the Hopar Valley. I was told that a huge crevasse had opened up and it was no longer possible to make this multi day trek.  As mentioned earlier in the blog I was initially supposed to reach Snow Lake from the Baltoro. I would have been happy enough to get there and return the same way but due to the incompetency of the tour company I was unable to even do that. If I ever return to Pakistan this would be one of the highlights. I’d especially like to see the high mountains surrounding Snow Lake



Gondogoro Glacier K6 and the Charakusa Glacier

Back in 2010, I hiked the Baltoro Glacier to K2 base camp and over the Gondogoro La pass. That trek had finished in the small village of Hushe. I distinctly remember gazing up the valley towards K7 (at that point you can’t see K6). I knew back in 2010 that I wanted to return to that valley. Other than the now failed trip to Snow Lake this was to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. 

I had an uneasy feeling and a level of distrust for the tour operators, so I arrived back in Skardu with plenty of time to spare before my intended trip departure. By plenty of time I mean several days.

From Skardu, I emailed the foreign operator and requested a meeting with the local operator who was responsible for my trip to K6/K7 basecamp. I wanted to be sure that this time around all the paperwork was in order.  Whether or not I was ignored or the message didn’t get through I don’t know, but it wasn’t until the morning of my departure that I met up with the local tour operator. Needless to say, there was a problem; they couldn’t find the paperwork.

Here we are mid-afternoon still looking for the paperwork (time of departure was supposed to be 7.00am).


My patience was wearing thin!

Finally many hours late the paperwork was found, it was just as well, any longer and I think I would have just thrown in the towel and booked a plane home. That sounds silly, but I was so hacked off with the tour operator. As luck would have it I had a much older and far more experienced guide for this trip. He was a freelance guide and had nothing to do with my tour operators. 

Due to the huge delay in departing we arrived in Hushe in the middle of the night. I was told that we wouldn’t be able to start early because it was too late to find porters. I assumed these were booked in advance but this is Pakistan, it seems nothing is done in advance. I woke to a breakfast of fried eggs and toast. By now I was getting used to sharing my food with flies and somehow, miraculously I had yet to get any stomach complaints. 

By 9.00am my guide had the word out that we were looking for porters. The trouble was this was late in the season and all the men were out in the high valleys cutting fire wood. Shortly later I would see young women carrying heavy piles of branches on their backs. Apparently each household gets an allowance of firewood. The wood cutters only remove branches, they never cut down the entire tree. The firewood is only sufficient for cooking, so the winters must be extremely cold.

By around 11.00am we still didn’t have enough porters so I insisted that we make arrangements for porters to follow us later. Personally I could have hiked this without a guide, but of course part of the regulations stipulate that you must have a guide. We finally got moving and made our way towards the Gondogoro Glacier. The trail began easily enough following well worn trails used by those returning with firewood. After a couple of hours there’s a trail junction at Saicho (or Shaiescho Camp) this is the juntion with the Charakusa and Masherbrum Glaciers.  Due to our late start we were unable to go all the way to Dalsampa Camp and had to instead spend the night at the base camp for Leila Peak. Of course the skies were incredible that night, but sods law we were stuck in a featureless valley. 


Again here’s another interactive map showing the route taken from Skardu to Hushe via road. In 2010 some areas to Hushe were washed out, but in 2017 we were able to drive it without trouble. I would later go on to ride this on my motorbike several times. Note that I include the route taken in 2010 up the Baltoro Glacier to Hushe. In 2017 I only went as far as Dalsampa Camp because this area gave the best view of Leila Peak. All the hikes are shown on the blue line.



Leila Peak

Nayser Brakk

Nayser Brakk

I never found a good foreground for K6, neither did I get much drama

First light on Leila Peak

I spent maybe ten days in total trying to shoot here but only got this one shot which was taken from the side of the jeep as we drove back from Hushe

From Machulo towards Masherbrum’s south face

Polo playing at Chapursan Valley
682d dunes near Skardu

Finally here are some points to remember whilst traveling in Pakistan

  • Carry toilet paper as this is rarely provided
  • Zip up pockets before using a squat toilet!
  • Take multiple ATM cards and/or travel charge cards, also U.S dollars to change in a bank
  • Keep ATM receipts so you have a record of which banks take your cards
  • Prior to traveling give some money to a trusted friend who will send it to you via Western Union if you lose everything
  • You probably won’t need a water purifier in the high mountains, but use caution and boil water especially if collected near animals
  • Take nobody’s word as gospel, many have an opinion, few are right!
  • A hard lockable suitcase will help protect your gear when traveling, this is especially important when flying or using buses. It can be left safely at most hotels
  • Charge batteries whenever possible as power can fail at any time
  • Electricity may only come on for a few hours in the evening
  • Use a licensed tour operator that arranges tours for climbing teams rather than a tin pot outfit, question the operator in detail about your plans, ask your country’s climbing organization for a recommendation, try the American Mountaineering Council or the British Mountaineering Council. Don’t accept a tour company because they promote K2 climbing on their website. Many promote this but few have ever organized any climbing expeditions.
  • Check your foreigner’s entry card is rubber stamped and request that it is initialed with the districts you plan to visit, guard it with your life!
  • Keep your passport in a zipped breast pocket, this way you don’t have to rummage through a backpack every time you question where it is
  • When showing passport and foreigners registration card to police be sure they return both items, they are notoriously forgetful!
  • Get adequate travel insurance and give next of kin a copy of the document, keep a copy for yourself in your wallet, in the event of a serious accident medical staff can find it if you’re unconscious
  • When on the road keep a close eye for animals, they have a death wish and don’t want to wait for the slaughterhouse, the same could be said of humans
  • Scan your passport and email it to yourself, this will be a huge help if you lose it
  • Check your country’s foreign office for local advice, you may not be insured if you have an accident in an area deemed unsafe for travel
  • Note the dates of religious festivals, these dates are likely to affect your travel plans
  • Do not approach the Indian border even if a police check post allows passage
  • Download Google Maps offline, or my personal favorite Pocket Earth Pro
  • Consider donating some trekking gear to your porters, they will probably appreciate it more than a tip
  • Don’t be surprised if offered tea at police checkpoints, it’s polite to accept
  • Pack some earplugs, the call to prayer can start as early as 5.00am
  • If traveling by bus you will need multiple passport photocopies
  • Carry a few passport-sized photos as these may be needed by your trekking company
  • Write on, or label equipment with your email address, there are still some honest people!
  • If you get really bad food poisoning Ciprofloxacin is a well-known antibiotic, it should be available over the counter in Pakistan. However, due to poor quality medication in Pakistan bring this from your home country if possible
  • Due to frequent delays do not attempt to take a national flight on the day you’re due to take an international flight. Travel by bus from Gilgit to Islamabad takes at least 18 hours, longer if leaving from Skardu
  • Whatever the season if trekking above 5000m you will need a warm down sleeping bag. Temperatures are likely to be several degrees below freezing
  • A down jacket is a godsend in the mountains, but be careful not to let down get wet
  • Be careful not to gain altitude too quickly, research altitude sickness
  • A Nalgene bottle filled with boiling water will really help keep you warm in your sleeping bag
  • Pack a trash bag in your backpack so you can keep your gear dry if it rains, this is much more effective than a rain cover
  • If leaving your guest house early in the morning make sure the gate won’t be locked, pay the night before you leave. Pakistani hotel staff sometimes wake late
  • Do not photograph strangers in Pakistan, especially women, unless you have their permission

Some basic advice for motorbikers

  • Get a spare key cut and keep separate
  • Fold back the pillion riders foot pegs, otherwise, if you slide on a corner your leg could catch on them
  • Wear a motorbike helmet, besides the obvious risk your insurance won’t cover you if you have an accident
  • Download the manufacturer’s user manual as a pdf
  • When you first receive a rental bike take a note of the bikes odometer so you have a record and will know when it’s time for service such as oil changes etc
  • Make certain your insurance covers you to ride a motorbike, check the policy for engine size restrictions
  • Sleeping policemen; otherwise known as speed bumps are rarely marked

Countries I travelled as of 2020

Countries I travelled to as of 2020


Powered by 29travels

Current location


Liverpool – Lhasa

In 2006 during my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail I met a young American guy. We hiked together for a couple of weeks and during that time discussed future adventures. I’d always relished the idea of doing a bike tour, it’s a cheap simple way of exploring the world, it’s not too fast or too slow and it’s pretty healthy. Besides being nice to share experiences with your cycling partner the other advantage is that you can safely look after each other bicycle when you have to re-supply in a store. 

When I finished the hiking trail I immediately went to work on a sail boat in the south of France. Planning a trip across Central Asia took a fair bit of time and so I was understandably concerned that my cycling partner Jarrett would bail out at the last minute. We were in regular contact during that time and would often send each other messages to voice our concerns that one or the other would pull out. It was during my planning that I began to question the idea. Visa planning was draining and route planning threw up numerous problems. When the captain asked me to stay with the boat and sail across the Pacific to New Zealand I had to make a decision. Naturally enough I chose the bike trip because I couldn’t go back on my promise. 

Step forward a few months and I’m meeting Jarrett at Manchester Airport with his bicycle. We set off cycling through the English countryside and he confides to me that all the time we were sending messages back and forth he was hoping I would back out. There was nothing else to do but laugh, we hadn’t even crossed the English Channel and we were both admitting to each other that deep down we didn’t want to be doing this!

 



I couldn’t resist a photo op’ at the Greenwich Royal Observatory in London. Here we are stood on either side of the Greenwich Meridian. I’m stood to the west and Jarrett is on the east. From here on we’d head 91ºeast



This is roughly our route across Europe, it’s not entirely accurate because we followed much of the Danube and Google Maps is not capable of detailing that section

A crisp sunny morning cycling along the Danube

It took us just three days to escape the British Isles, but even before we made it to London I managed to strain my achilles. I distinctly remember riding too hard up a hill on the edge of Henley-on-Thames. This injury would go on to plague for over a month. In fact I questioned wether it was wise to even continue. 

Romania was a big eye opener, so close to the opulence of west Europe yet the poverty was evident wherever you looked

It took us less than a month to reach Istanbul, but from here we were held up while applying for visas. Our route took us onto Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Again here we successfully applied for more visas but it was not without troubles. I remember struggling to find embassies in Ankara. Frequently we found their addresses had changed and nobody seemed to know where they’d gone. There was an obvious language barrier and knowing who to trust was always an issue. It was in Ankara that we had our first experience of genuine public kindness.  We were lucky enough to find a carpet salesman who closed down his shop and drove us to several embassies. 

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul. We got this view from the rooftop terrace of a a cheap backpacker hostel

Moving on from Ankara we head off towards the north eastern border with Turkey and Georgia. We’d end up discovering that Turkey was one of the easiest countries in Asia. It was assumed we were on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca. We were treated like guests in Turkey and sometimes found it impossible to pay for our shopping. This was great, if not a little embarrassing. 

Finding food and water was easy in Turkey

Our route across Turkey

We found a water pump in the middle of a village
This was the main ‘highway’ between Bayburt Turkey and the Black Sea coast
I slip off the road!

We were very fortunate to begin our trip in 2007, the following year Georgia was invaded by Russia and China banned all independent travel within Tibet

It was disappointing to see a dump truck offloading garbage directly into a ravine. A stream below flowed directly to the Black Sea


A mild pothole, road conditions would get much worse

We came to an abrupt halt at Baku, it was impossible to cycle into Russia and all our attempts to get a boat across the Caspian Sea proved unsuccessful. There was nothing for it but to fly across the Caspian. 


Our route across Central Asia. Google Maps won’t allow me to continue the route but we went directly from Sary Tash to Kashgar

Once we arrived in Kazakhstan we were immediately forced out into the desert. The heat was intense and we found ourselves forced to shelter from the sun during the heat of the day.

Six bottles visible, but I had a further two in the panniers
Sheltering from the heat of the sun during the day
Khiva Uzbekistan

Crossing the deserts on the west coast of Uzbekistan was quite a challenge, so it was a relief to reach the tourist town of Khiva.

The Ark Citadel of Burkhara
The Uzbeki So’m I got all this for $50

One of the most amazing things happened to me whilst crossing over from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. There was nowhere on the border where we could get Uzbek’ currency and with a long ride of 320 miles (520km) to the next town we had to try to exchange U.S dollars for Uzbek’ So’m at a fruit market on the border. I mistakenly read the rate on the internet, so I got myself into the situation where I was offering $50 and asking for about a tenth of the rate for Uzbek’ currency. Needless to say it didn’t take long to find someone willing to help me make that exchange! 

I took a small bundle of particularly small notes, the kind that actually look worthless. I got a bad feeling that I was being ripped off but what could I do, I was being given exactly what I’d asked for. What I didn’t realise was that the little old man in the fruit market was actually telling me to wait right there and he’d be back with more. I of course walked off only to find Jarrett had exchanged his money and got several times the amount I had. I was gutted with my stupidity and was just leaving the market when the old man came running up behind me and thrust a huge wad of money into my hands. I was quite honestly amazed at his honesty, here was a man who was clearly extremely poor yet he was prepared to run around looking for a stupid westerner. 

While on the subject of money we have here a bar of chocolate not a €50 note. I don’t know why but chocolate was always wrapped to look like western bills
Passing into Tajikistan we came across relics from the Soviet – Afghan’ war.
Camping at night was always a concern. Never was placing a tent peg more of a concern
Tajikistan was without doubt the highlight of the trip for me. It’s one of the poorest counties in the world yet it hides a lot of incredible mountains
Afghani civilians take a treacherous route cut into a cliff
Thankfully we acclimatised very quickly, I don’t think either of us noticed the altitude.
I noticed with shock that my rim was cracked at every spoke
I’d actually been carrying some epoxy with me which proved ideal as a quick fix

I discovered my wheel was cracked at every spoke. Thankfully this happened barely three days from Kashgar where I was able to get the rim replaced. I was able to get a good quality rim fully rebuilt for the equivalent of $10, that same rim is still going strong now

The leg down to Lhasa

We both lost a lot of weight and suffered from gastro’ issues from the moment we left Turkey. The sight of this junk food is making me ill even now. This might have to last 4 or 5 days

Finding food was by far the biggest problem we faced. Somehow or other we found out that the Chinese military would sell their rations. You just know the foods going to be bad when the Chinese military won’t eat it! We got hold of several batches of their emergency tablet cake. I’ve since found out that it’s almost identical to the cake that you’d find inside a lifeboat, with the one difference being that the Chinese version is even more tasteless. The ‘cake’ would come in blocks about half the size of a house brick. You’d take one bite and it would crumble in your mouth with the consistency of dry flour. 

 

While riding through part of China I discretely took this photograph from the edge of a military base

Photographing any Chinese military installations is strictly prohibited, so it was a risk even to photograph this. Later the following day we attempted to barter for Chinese rations. The ration cake came in a metal foil packet and so I was waving one of these about trying to get the attention of a group of Chinese soldiers. It was a stupid thing to do because they mistook the packet for a camera. The next moment I was surrounded and hands were quickly reaching into my bags for inspection. When my camera popped out I was immediately on edge. Of course the only word of English I could recognise was the one word you never want to hear ‘Spy’. Yes I was briefly accused of being a spy. I’ll never know if it was all just a bit of fun to those guys but it certainly had me worried. 

I said the potholes would get bigger
I really couldn’t have asked for a better cycling partner
We weren’t sure but I think this was the official point where we entered Tibet
We may have been riding at 5000m here but on the Tibetan Plateau it’s more like rolling hills
One of the high points on the road, you can see that for cycle tourists we were travelling quite light. Notice also the regular dirt piles at the side of the road. The Chinese were building the roads in 2007. We were very fortunate that they weren’t sealed as it would have made it far too easy
We meet another cyclist heading in the opposite direction

It’s worth pointing out here that neither of use had a single puncture the entire way. We had heavy duty tires that were protected with Kevlar. I still have the same tires to this day. Other than my broken rim Jarrett had a minor problem with his cranks. All in all we were extremely lucky.

This was some really nice road, clearly it has just been graded and is ready for a coat of tarmac
A typical Tibetan home
The Tibetans were by far the happiest of people
The Tibetans always seemed to be happy
Happy people at a roadside camp
This photo reminds me of the vast open spaces of Tibet
One of the last stretches into Lhasa
The famous Potala Palace

We probably looked like concentration camp victims when we arrived in Lhasa. Both of us had lost a considerable amount of weight. I lost so much weight on my legs that when touching both thumbs and middle fingers together I could encircle my thigh.

We’d each had our share of sickness which to varying degrees affected us worse some days than others but never truly left. Jarrett made the decision to call it quits and fly home. At first I was adamant that I would continue and to this day I wish I had. Independent travel is no longer allowed in Tibet and so I’ll never be able to return. I would dearly love to have ridden at least as far as Hong Kong.

Our plan was never to ride beyond China so we fully accomplished everything we set out to do. I just wish we’d taken a week to recuperate before continuing. Cycling to China was like running a marathon; pretty shitty when you’re in the thick of it but extremely rewarding afterwards. 

 


Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the premier long distance hikes in the world. Stretching from the border of Mexico the route crosses the  length of California before entering Oregon and finally ending on the Canadian border. With a distance of 2653 miles (4270km) the trail passes through some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery in the U.S. 

Hiking the trail in 2006 was an incredible experience for me, it was whilst hiking that I decided to develop my enthusiasm for photography. Long distance hiking does have one disadvantage; you have to keep moving as you have limited food to get from A-B. This of course means that if you find a great place to photograph you are unable to wait for good light. 

 




Day one, right on the border and looking far too clean
Early days in the Anza Borrego Desert
Water for walkers, kind donations when needed most
Wow someone left candy on the trail
There were a lot of rattlesnakes in the desert
Looking pretty but this is pollution from Los Angeles
Reaching Kennedy Meadows and the start to the Sierra
The high point on the trail
I climbed Mt Whitney as a side trip
In 2006 there was a lot of snow
I had great weather
I hiked on my own but would often meet other hikers
I would go on to bicycle to China with this guy in 2008
River crossings were always fun
I’ve never seen fir cones this big before
I reach the midpoint
Mt Hood in the distance
I ended up getting Trench Foot
And plenty of blisters
Food wasn’t too healthy. The Mountain House meals were a kind donation
from two day hikers I met
Forest fires were a real problem. I watched this one go from very little
The fire progressed towards me
I rarely built a campfire but it was always nice when I did
Following the firefighters
I saw a few bears but this is the only one I was quick enough to photograph
The Tatoosh Fire forced me to finish my hike in Hope Canada instead of at the official spot at Manning Park
I reached the border on September 11th. From this spot it was a full 30 miles to the nearest town, fortunately I was able to hitchhike to Hope BC.

Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne HRP

Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne HRP

Having my U.S visa cancelled really cobbled my plans for 2020, as if that wasn’t enough Covid-19 is now the biggest ongoing threat in living memory. I spent much of the early part of 2020 hiding from the general population. I spent much of my spare time jogging in the dark streets of my home town. In August it seemed like the UK was passed the worst of the virus. We had seen as many as 1000 people a day dying from Covid, by August those figures had dropped dramatically. I decided to head out to France to hike the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne. Back in 2001 I hiked the GR10 which is one of the easier paths across the Pyrenees. The HRP is quite a lot tougher with an overall altitude loss/gain of around 52,000m. I decided not to use my large Nikon Z camera for this trip and instead relied on a cell phone. I have a video here

For anyone thinking of hiking the HRP I thought I’d offer some advice regarding the logistics of the hike.

Equipment choices

Navigation:
In 2001 when I hiked the GR10 I used a series of 1:50,000 scale maps. I needed 9 maps. These days almost nobody uses the old maps it’s much more convenient to use GPS. There are really two options here; a standalone GPS or a regular smartphone. I used to use the Garmin 60csx, now however, I go with the masses and use a cell phone. You really can’t beat the accuracy of a designated handheld GPS. They rarely let you down even in thick fog or with a canopy of trees over your head but a cell phone is good enough. I use a cheap Chinese RealmeX2 which has a large battery and plenty of internal memory. I installed the app OsmAnd which is more than adequate. I downloaded the route using Wikiloc this is a great resource library for hiking trails. If you can’t find a route on Wikiloc try Alltrails. You simply need to search for the hike, then download the track. OsmAnd requires a GPX track. There are a number of sites on the internet showing how to set this up. I actually went one step further and created a set of satellite maps for my app. This was nice to have but probably over-kill for a hike like the HRP.

Charging electronics:
I used a RAV 16W solar panel to charge my Anker 10,000mah power bank. In hindsight this was probably overkill, I think I could have coped with a smaller panel (perhaps 10W) and likely a 3200mah power bank. It’s worth noting that many power banks are cheap Chinese rubbish, take my advice and get a good one. Before I left for this trip I sewed snap buckles to the backpack and panel. This allowed me to fit and remove the panel with ease. 

Tent / Sleeping Bag / sleeping pad / backpack
I used my 24 year old MacPac Microlight tent. It’s a tent that’s clearly stood the test of time. In all honesty though, it was a bit of over-kill for the HRP. It’s a tent that is more suited to the wet climate of New Zealand and with a weight of 1.6kg it’s no featherweight. I would have preferred my Henry Shires Tarptent, this tent requires a trekking pole as the main upright pole for the tent. I could not bring trekking poles with me without paying extra to put them as they would have to go in the hold of the plane. I decided against paying £80 for hold luggage.
My Marmot Hydrogen is rated at -1C/30f, it was perfectly suited for this trip.

For a rain jacket I used a Silnylon cape, these are great, they weigh just 200grams and also cover the backpack.
To sleep on I used a foam Thermarest Z matt. to save weight I prefer to cut this down to about 70% of its original size. The matt fits nicely rolled up inside my pack. I keep it open rather than rolled up as it makes a big open tube within the backpack.  This makes it really easy to see and access everything within the backpack and keeps the contents protected within the matt. Everything packs away nicely in my ULA Circuit backpack. The pack was small enough to register as carry on luggage yet still had a third volume left for food. It’s a great pack that’s stood me well through many hikes.

I would only ever use a Nalgene bottle in sub zero temperatures, they can be filled with boiling water, tucked down your sleeping bag they’re great for cold nights. The trouble is they weigh too much, instead I just picked up a disposable 800ml soda bottle that lasted all through the Pyrenees and Alps.

I kept my equipment list basic and minimal, but could easily have saved weight with a lighter tent, lighter solar panel and power bank.

Footwear etc:
If I made any mistakes it was with footwear. I used a pair of Salomon trail shoes for my GR5 hike. I suffered terribly from blisters. In hindsight I wish I’d bought shoes that were capable of taking two pairs of insoles without crushing my toes together. With only one insole my feet gave me a lot of pain. Thankfully they were worn out by the time I finished the HRP. I bought a new pair of shoes in Decathlon in Nice. This time I opted for a slightly larger pair that would take two insoles.

Below are two interactive maps showing the routes followed by a few images, remember they’re only from a cell phone

 






The HRP has plenty of refuges, you can either stop by for a snack or if you choose it’s possible to stay half board.
The trail is easy enough to follow
Aigüestortes National Park
Aigüestortes National Park
A welcome surprise as I cross a pass
Ancient villages in the Spanish Pyrénéenne The cell phone camera couldn’t cope with the sky
Who doesn’t want to be above the clouds
Trail view
Cowbells (they can get irritating)
A misty forest scene
A chamois goat (not bad from a cell phone)

Domo Blanco 2019

Domo Blanco has arguably one of the best viewpoints in the Chalten Massif. Ever since I saw a photograph taken from its summit I wanted to climb this mountain. Back in 2014 I made my first trip out to the Marconi valley. The climb looks deceiving, it looks like it should take far less time than it actually does. On that first excursion we barely made it a third of the way. I had no idea what I was doing, I was using blunt glacier crampons, not only was my equipment inferior but I was also way out of my depth. 

Stood on the summit of Domo Blanco with the west face of Cerro Chalten behind

I made a total of five attempts before I was successful in my bid to climb Domo Blanco. During the very last weather window before I left for Europe I got my chance to climb. We can see here the weather was forecasting perfect conditions:

 

The day before we were to set off I pulled something in my back. This happened in my cabin for no reason. Perhaps I was anxious, I’ll never know what caused it, but I was in a lot of pain. I made the decision to go and just put up with the pain as best I could. As long as I was stood up I was ok, but I’d soon discover I needed help just to put my boots on! This injury continued to trouble me long after I returned to Europe. I think I took at least 8 weeks to recover from it.

 

The hike to the base of the climb begins at Punta Electrico
We camp directly on the glacier

It’s about 14 miles to the point where we camped on the glacier. We were without a stove but fortunately managed to find some meltwater. That night we met another group of climbers including one guy from Scotland Scott Becker this group would go on to climb Cerro Rincon which is another peak that is on my dream list. It’s not a particularly technical climb, though for me it is quite intimidating. This photograph of Scott’s shows the insane view from the summit.

During the night the wind rose steadily, between the pain in my back and the rising howl of the wind I had no sleep whatsoever. Then suddenly at about 4.00am the wind died down. I knew we would be starting our climb in darkness, I knew we would have no moon as the moon was in new moon cycle. Despite this I never expected to have so little light, I thought we’d still be able to see the vast wall of Piergiorgio, but it was so dark we couldn’t see the route to the base of the climb.

The night before my climbing partner Mauro had talked about taking a different route up to the base of the climb. I thought it madness to risk a potential problem trying a new route to the base rather than just going the way I knew worked. Mauro had never been here before so he was relying on my route finding to get us to the base. In the dark I simply couldn’t tell where to go. It worked out that we ended up going via Mauro’s new route. 

 

Mauro and I took route 3
The sun was up by the time we began the exposed sections
Looking down to the Marconi Valley
We reach a pass and are rewarded with our first view of Fitz Roy’s west face
To the south we look across at the summit peaks of Cerro Piergiorgio
From the pass it’s a simple climb to the summit.
The Torre Range, not so spectacular from this angle
We make a safe descent and return to the road hoping to hitchhike back to town

GR52/GR5

France has over 100,000km of hiking trails known as Sentiers de grandé randonnée. There’s a lot of information online so I won’t try to add to it. After finishing the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne I decided to hike the GR5, normally one would begin this trail at Lac Leman on the Swiss / French border. Instead I chose to hike from south to north. This actually worked out nicely because I had the sun on my back much of the day. As an additional benefit my solar panel soaked in more power. I added a little to the overall distance by hiking the GR52. This I’m told follows a more impressive route than if one were to start in Nice. In fact I’d go as far as to say that if I were to return to any parts of the hike I would go back to certain areas along the GR52. 

Here’s some of my photos:

 

The trail begins in Menton on the French Italian border
The GR52 begins with a steep 2000m climb here we see the last glimpse of
coastline. I chose to begin my hike in the evening, this was shot in the morning of the first
full day.
As much as this was a pleasant hike I’m always keen to look for potential places to photograph. This lake was a little off trail but I thought it might be a place i’d return to with a real camera.
A reservoir in the Vanoise National Park
The cellphone really can’t compete with my Nikon Z7, but it was far more practical for this trip
A beautiful waterfall makes me pause in my tracks
Just south of Mont Blanc this was another place that held my attention. When the sun opened through a gap in the clouds it really helped bring out the colours in the foreground.
Again we see the rich colours enhanced by diffused sunlight
Though access would be difficult and dangerous I feel sure this gorge has many photo opportunities
It was a little odd seeing a British phone box in France
Mont Blanc

France

Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne HRP

Having my U.S visa cancelled really cobbled my plans for 2020, as if that wasn’t enough Covid-19 is now the biggest ongoing threat in living memory. I spent much of the early part of 2020 hiding from the general population. I spent much of my spare time jogging in the dark streets of my home town. In August it seemed like the UK was passed the worst of the virus. We had seen as many as 1000 people a day dying from Covid, by August those figures had dropped dramatically. I decided to head out to France to hike the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne. Back in 2001 I hiked the GR10 which is one of the easier paths across the Pyrenees. The HRP is quite a lot tougher with an overall altitude loss/gain of around 47,000m. I decided not to use my large Nikon Z camera for this trip and instead relied on a cell phone. I have a video here

For anyone thinking of hiking the HRP I thought I’d offer some advice regarding the logistics of the hike.

Equipment choices

Navigation:
In 2001 when I hiked the GR10 I used a series of 1:50,000 scale maps. I needed 9 maps. These days almost nobody uses the old maps it’s much more convenient to use GPS. There are really two options here; a standalone GPS or a regular smartphone. I used to use the Garmin 60csx, now however, I go with the masses and use a cell phone. You really can’t beat the accuracy of a designated handheld GPS. They rarely let you down even in thick fog or with a canopy of trees over your head but a cell phone is good enough. I use a cheap Chinese RealmeX2 which has a large battery and plenty of internal memory. I installed the app OsmAnd which is more than adequate. I downloaded the route using Wikiloc this is a great resource library for hiking trails. You simply need to search for the hike, then download the track. OsmAnd requires a GPX track. There are a number of sites on the internet showing how to set this up. I actually went one step further and created a set of satellite maps for my app. This was nice to have but probably over-kill for a hike like the HRP.

Charging electronics:
I used a RAV 16W solar panel to charge my Anker 10,000mah power bank. In hindsight this was probably overkill, I think I could have coped with a smaller panel (perhaps 10W) and likely a 3200mah power bank. It’s worth noting that many power banks are cheap Chinese rubbish, take my advice and get a good one. Before I left for this trip I sewed snap buckles to the backpack and panel. This allowed me to fit and remove the panel with ease. 

Tent / Sleeping Bag / sleeping pad
I used my 24 year old MacPac Microlight tent. It’s a tent that’s clearly stood the test of time. In all honesty though, it was a bit of over-kill for the HRP. It’s a tent that is more suited to the wet climate of New Zealand. I would have preferred my Henry Shires Tarptent, this tent requires a trekking pole as the main upright pole for the tent. I could not bring trekking poles with me without paying extra to put them in the hold of the plane. I decided against paying £80 for hold luggage.
My Marmot Hydrogen is rated at -1C/30f, it was perfectly suited for this trip. I also used a Thermarest Z. I prefer to cut this down to about 70% of its original size. The matt fits nicely rolled up inside my pack. I keep it open as it makes a big open tube within the backpack. This makes it really easy to access everything within the backpack and keeps the contents protected within the matt. 

Footwear etc:
If I made any mistakes it was with footwear. I used a pair of Salomon trail shoes for my hike. I suffered terribly from blisters. In hindsight I wish I’d bought shoes that were capable of taking two pairs of insoles without crushing my toes together. With only one insole my feet gave me a lot of pain.

 

 

Here’s a few images, remember they’re only from a cell phone

 

The HRP has plenty of refuges, you can either stop by for a snack or if you choose it’s possible to stay half board.

 

 

The trail is easy enough to follow
Aigüestortes National Park
A welcome surprise as I cross a pass
Ancient villages on the Spanish Pyrénéenne
Who doesn’t want to be above the clouds
Trail magic
Cowbells (they can get irritating)
A misty forest scene
A chamois goat (not bad from a cell phone)

United States

I’m banned from the U.S

At the time of writing I am banned from entering the United States. I believe I have spent a little over three years of my life in the U.S so if I never get to return I at least feel I’ve had my share of experiences there. As a U.K citizen I am eligible for the ESTA visa waiver program. During most of my visits to the U.S I have entered with a B1B2 visa, this has allowed me to travel for up to six months at a time. Unfortunately, my old visa ran out, I replaced it but the embassy have cancelled my replacement. No explanation is given. In February 2020 I was due to spend six months in the Southwest, I was not allowed to board the plane and so all my plans were thrown out of the window. 

How I travelled

Transport in the U.S is not what it is in Europe, without a car you’re going to really struggle. As such I had to buy second hand cars, fortunately this is relatively straightforward as long as you have a mailing address in the State where you plan to buy it shouldn’t be too hard. Of course regulations are different for buying vehicles in all States, so check before you travel. Because buying and selling cars is quite a commitment it makes sense to travel for lengthy periods, this is why I prefer to travel on a B1 or B2 visa.

 

I owned several vehicles from 4WD’s to smaller Subaru Outback’s
Subaru’s were ideal, cheap on fuel and comfortable for car camping

The Four Corners of the Colorado Plateau

Nowhere else quite took my attention like the American Southwest. The corners of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico provide some of the most unique photo opportunities. I did explore the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii, but I kept returning to the desert.  


Patagonia

At the time of writing travel to Argentina is heavily restricted for both Argentine nationals and foreign travellers. Due to my own countries travel restrictions I am taking the time to edit my blog to make it easier to navigate. As ever feel free to email me if you have a specific question. I regret that I do not reply to requests for specific info’ relating to a photographs location.


Cinque Torri Dolomites

Cinque Torri

I strive to photograph unique subjects, or at the very least add my own take on a commonly known image. In this instance it was borderline impossible to come up with a unique composition. The Cinque Torri have been photographed many, many times before, I am however, drawn to jagged peaks and so while I deleted every other image from my 2020 visit to the Dolomites I ended up keeping this one.


The Priests Passage

This image was taken in a very touristy area. Like many others I had gone to visit a monastery, but my attention was drawn to a distant canyon that looked interesting. It took a couple of visits to get here when the sun lined up, I might return one day when the sun is slightly higher in the sky. For now though, I’m quite happy with this find as I believe it is relatively unique.


Rime Ice

Rime Ice

I’ve had quite a fascination with the Patagonian mountain Cerro Torre. The summit of that famous peak is adorned with exquisite rime ice formations. Knowing I would never have the opportunity to summit the Torre I decided it was worthwhile heading to northern Finland to witness rime ice forming on fir trees in the depths of winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Flysch Rock

The geological phenomena known as flysch rock is quite remarkable on the north coast of Spain.

 

 

 

A quick snapshot from outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.


Allerton Oak

 

 

 

 

 

The Allerton tree is a 1000 year old oak that was at one time used as the site of a courthouse, due to this it is referenced in the Doomsday Book. Interestingly back in 1864 a huge cache of gunpowder Exploded on a ship that was moored on the River Mersey at Monks Ferry, this is a distance just shy of 5 miles! Despite a distance of over 2 miles the blast caused a huge split in the oak, thankfully it survived. The tree won the 2019 ‘Tree of the Year’ award from the UK, National Trust.

Here’s a vertical composition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Neuschwanstein Castle

 

Neuschwanstein Castle is far from a ruin, but it’s certainly ancient. In the fantasy fairytale Sleeping Beauty Cindarella’s castle was modelled on Neuschwanstein. As is so often the case with my photography I spend several days reconnoitring my subject and frequently much longer trying to capture a good shot. I wanted a composition that wouldn’t look like it was shot from a drone, so I envisioned some foreground in my subject. That proved much harder than anticipated due to the topography. All in all though I’m quite happy with this.


Preparing to leave Patagonia

Preparing to leave Patagonia

It’s been a while since my last post and I’d like to be able to submit some new and impressive images. Unfortunately this winter continues to disappoint, we had a cold spell, which did at least allow me to shoot some ice conditions, but we’re now experiencing warmer weather. This means there’s no ice, and with the exception of one morning we’ve had almost no snow the entire winter. I will be leaving Chalten on August 3rd and in all honesty I don’t know that I’ll be returning. Accessing the back of Fitz Roy has become a dream, which unfortunately looks to be a pipe dream. I ask my local friends to join me and they appear keen, but tie them down and they won’t commit. This is frustrating because it’s far too dangerous to go out on my own. It’s been suggested I head elsewhere, and I have been to Torres del Paine twice in the past 4 months. The last trip was unproductive; TdP is even warmer than Chalten. Clearly Patagonia has entered into a cycle of warm weather.

_ACW3443I went to Perito Moreno Glacier and took this image from the waters edge. It’s rather dangerous due to the ever advancing glacier which threatens to come toppling down on you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

_ACW3638I went to Torres del Paine, the first night was really still so I took a few shots from _ACW3746the typical touristy locations. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t particularly favorable in the following days.

 

 

 

_ACW3655And finally another from the campsite.

 

 

 

I returned to Chalten exhausted, but a light dusting of snow lay on the ground, so first thing in the morning I was out in the park. I made the decision to go 6km into the park rather than attempt new and potentially interesting shots from Laguna Torre. The reason I did this was because Laguna Torre is lower and the areas that interest me see more sunlight, therefore it was quite possible that the snow would have melted, or not existed at all.

_ACW3886-Edit_ACW3966-Editsky_ACW3925-Edit_ACW3866

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One from above Laguna Blanca. I shot this at about midnight, it was so windy my headlamp was literally blown off my head, it fell straight down the cliff never to be seen again!

_ACW3560-3552


Yet again at the gorge

Yet again at the gorge

I’ve been told I spend too much time at the gorge, but I can’t help trying to get a sunrise shot. It’s a mere 10km (each way). I was out there this morning, it looked like it was going to be amazing and in some respects it was, but by sunrise, the clouds had completely shrouded Fitz Roy. I’m heading back out tomorrow, fingers crossed!

A super warm foreground with strong cyan in the sky make a weird image

As you can see the sky was on fire behind me

As you can see the sky was on fire behind me

 


Trip Report Cordon del bosque to Estancia La Suerte

Trip Report Cordon del bosque to Estancia La Suerte

Last year I did a lot of scouting within both the national park and the surrounding lands in the El Chalten area. Many of these exploits never made it onto my blog. If scouting images don’t prove worthwhile I tend to think a trip report would have little of interest. These past few days I’ve been out on a three-day trip, which I feel has good potential for photographing the park from a northeasterly position.

Shooting from the northeast could allow for some great shots both at sunrise and at sunset.

Here’s some pics, all taken with a cheapo camera.

_dsc2082/ _DSC2118_DSC2119_DSC2121_DSC2124_DSC2125_DSC2133_DSC2134_DSC2139_DSC2140_DSC2141_DSC2142_DSC2143_DSC2146East-sideWest-side


Climbing Paso Superior to the base of the Brecha de Italianos

Climbing Paso Superior to the base of the Brecha de Italianos

I just returned from a climb over Paso Superior and accessing the very base wall of Fitz Roy. A real climber would consider this a mere trek. During the summer when the route is still covered with snow left over from the winter it’s an easy climb because the snow tends to level things out. With a light dusting of snow in late fall, it was a challenge because the crevasses were wide open and light snow covered the rock hiding places to put your hands and feet.
Paso Superior is essentially the last gap before starting to climb Fitz Roy or Poincenot. Just before the pass, there’s a small sheltered area with a depression in the snow, which is base camp for anyone climbing Fitz Roy from the east. It’s easy to imagine what it would be like in the summer with numerous foreign climbers.

I agreed to go with my local friend Sebastian despite the weather forecasting snow. It was nice to venture somewhere new and it will remain a good memory; one, which I feel, will give more meaning to the photographs I’ve taken during my time in this area. I’m sure if given the chance earlier in my life I would have taken up alpine climbing. Generally, the term alpine climbing means to climb on mixed snow and rock while carrying all other equipment such as camping gear.
My climbing partner Sebastian works in Chalten as a heating engineer, he works a lot, and can’t get out as much as he would like, due to this he’s rather unfit. This is a shame because on a good day he’s a strong and competent climber.

If time allowed I would love to have made an attempt on the climb of the Brecha de Italianos (see pic), which would have given excellent views of the ice field and the Torre range to the west.

We climbed into the dark under headlamp until we’re able to camp at a place called Punta Velluda, or ‘Hairy Point’. I’m guessing the name was chosen due to the spiked rock pillars rather than the English term, which could give another meaning. Thankfully by morning, I was able to cajole my friend into continuing.

Here are some images shot with a basic point and shoot:

_DSC1861_DSC1869_DSC1912

_DSC1925_DSC1931_DSC1969_DSC1981_DSC1974 _DSC2000_DSC2035_DSC2046_DSC2025glaciar superior_DSC2057_DSC2063


Photographic guiding in Los Glaciers National Park 2017

Photographic guiding in Los Glaciers National Park 2017

A few weeks ago I posted a blog report stating that any photographic workshop here in Los Glaciers required a permit. I’ve discussed this in detail with the head park ranger Alejandro Caparros. In the last few days, Alejandro has discussed the regulations with the governors of Argentina’s national park system. Therefore what I write here is the most up to date information available and is written with Alejandro’s permission.

In my last post, I stipulated that workshops required a permit as well as a local guide. This would be the case if a group was being taught photography; essentially any teaching activity requires a permit, as long as you’re not teaching within the park you can do so freely providing you have a local guide. Getting the park to define teaching isn’t easy, but in all honesty, I don’t think any workshops need to worry, as long as a workshop guide isn’t actually sitting clients down with pens, pencils, and notebooks there shouldn’t be a problem. There is, of course, no problem with teaching back in your hotel.

If a guide did intend teaching in the park there are a great many hoops. The guide would have to provide proof of insurance for each member of the party. This insurance would have to be one singular policy covering the group.

Proof of 3rd party insurance would also have to be provided to cover in case of accidental damage, an example being if a client caused a fire.

A permit to teach must be applied for at least 90 days in advance.

All workshops will be required to have a local guide; there are a number of companies in El Chalten. One of the more popular is Fitz Roy Expeditions:

www.fitzroyexpediciones.com.ar

It should be remembered that local guides are NOT PERMITTED to take clients off the trail.

I also spoke with Alejandro about the commercial use of images taken in the park. The Rangers have always insisted that photographic images taken within the park cannot be commercially used in any way. They’re now beginning to appreciate the difference between a big pro commercial photographer and a keen amateur potentially selling a few prints online.

Park Entrance Fee

Finally, the biggest change for most visitors will be the introduction of a park entrance fee. This has been talked about for years, however, it’s now looking like it will be introduced, potentially as early as September of this year.

The park is looking for a non-governmental organization to take over collecting the fees. The fee is expected to be 150 pesos for a single day and 300 for a three-day period. At present, there’s no word of longer permit.

Climbers are expected to be charged triple, with fees funding more rescue services. There is, however, no talk of rescue helicopters.

There’s no talk of creating a locking entrance gate, so photographers will have no problems accessing the park before sunrise providing they purchased their permits in advance.


How much do we know about the places we go?

How much do we know about the places we go?

Long before someone conjured up the name 'workshop'

Long before someone conjured up the name ‘workshop’

Since all the workshops left the park we’ve had some rather unpleasant weather in El Chalten. This past week the clouds have been so low they’ve obscured even the peaks surrounding the town. On these occasions you don’t know whether the clouds are sitting low in the valley, it could very easily be the case that Fitz Roy is poking out with a sea of cloud beneath. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to head out and get up high. As such I’ve been out wandering around at dawn, unfortunately, there’s not been enough heat from the sun to burn down the cloud layer. You’d think I could shoot the forest and the fog may indeed create some interest, but it just doesn’t inspire me when there’s no interesting light.
I went out to the gorge one morning at 6.00am, I didn’t leave until the afternoon but nothing happened. It’s quite hard to stay enthusiastic when it’s like this; I just have to hold on till it clears.

With time on my hands, I’ve been thinking about how travel has changed in the twenty-first century. I add here an article taken from my local paper. Back in 1981, my father went out to the Everest region of Nepal on what was surely one of the earliest commercial photographic workshops. Nepal opened to foreigners in 1952 nearly 20 years before my father’s trip, however, Alfred Gregory’s 1981 photographic holiday was the very first tourist group to enter via the south by flying into Lukla.

Alf Gregory who organized the trip. He was the photographer on the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953

Alf Gregory who organized the trip. He was the photographer on the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953

I was barely ten years old, but I remember my father’s preparing for the trip. As a family, we would go hiking in the English Lake District at weekends and he’d wake earlier so he could walk to work.

My father was fascinated by stories of the early climbs in the Himalaya; prior to his trip, he’d read everything he could. Bookshelves were stocked with titles from climbers such as Eric Shipton, Chris Bonnington, Mallory and of course the 1953 Hillary, Tenzing ascent. A map was purchased showing the route the team would take, upon his return it was framed with the route carefully drawn out. It still hangs in my parent’s home today.
As a married man this was the only trip he took away from the family.

Now in this generation I see people wandering all over the globe, jumping on a plane

Incredibly this article made it into the national newspapers in the UK

Incredibly this article made it into the national newspapers in the UK

on a whim to photograph wherever they please. That’s all well and good, but I wonder how much people truly appreciate the places they visit. Frequently I meet people here in El Chalten with no idea of the names of the peaks they point their cameras at. I like to think I’ve absorbed as much as I can about the places I visit, particularly here in Los Glaciers National Park.

When my father returned from the Everest region he made a number of prints, many of which were hung in his camera shop. Some stayed at home, certainly, those early prints had an influence on me, 25 years later I went trekking in the same area.

This article was taken from the local newspaper. The month long trip cost £1225

This article was taken from the local newspaper. The month long trip cost £1225


Glacier Grande

Adela Glacier

I just returned from a trip to photograph on and in front of Glacier Grande, this is the glacier visible from the east shoreline of Laguna Torre. Back in 2010, it was possible to take guided treks on the ice, since then glacial retreat has made access far more difficult. Accessing the ice requires scrambling down a steep bank of very loose rock which often breaks free sending anything from loose stones to car sized boulders hurtling down to the ice. It’s certainly no place to linger any longer than necessary. Despite its difficulties, it’s a seriously rewarding place to photograph. It’s essential to get permission from the Rangers before heading out. They used to give me a month long access permits; nowadays these are being restricted to weeklong stints. I never spend a week on the ice; it’s just nice not to have to keep bothering the Rangers.

Late April and so far all of May has been still, the strong winds for which Patagonia is so well known have been kept at bay. These unusually still conditions make for pleasant hiking, but at the back of your mind, you have to remember a glacier is a dangerous place of course just like any mountainous region weather conditions can change rapidly.

_AAA0403

This was a super quick shot I took whilst balanced on a very sharply angled crevasse ridge. Trying to stop my backpack from falling into the crevasse and using a tripod with ‘floppy leg syndrome’ was not easy.

 

 

 

_AAA0343

The Condor would have been flying over the glacier just six years ago!

 

 

 

 

_AAA0265

This one was criticized because the mountain looks slanted, it’s not, it’s just an illusion caused by the foreground ice. I’m definitely not going to rotate the image to make it look right, it either works or it doesn’t. As it probably doesn’t I’ll move on to other compositions and keep trying for a more interesting sky.