Its around 6.30 in the morning perched on the black rocks of Kala Patthar. Its a prayer-flag-wrapped point of rock with truly stunning views. The dull and serious black triangle of Everest to the east, Pumo-ri to the north so close you could lean on it (you’d need thick gloves though, its icy) and numerous other peaks of rock and snow scattered in every direction.

I am standing contemplating this sunrise view. A Dutch couple are doing the same. Not much needs to be said. There is so much to absorb visually. More people will soon be arriving and there is a small, slow trail of early morning people trickling up the hillside.

“Yea, I’m just going to put some layers on Pemba”, informs the girl, who has just arrived with her guide, reaching into her rucksack. Pemba says nothing, rightly, as this just audible brain activity and needs no response.

“Can you take a picture of me, Pemba?”

“And one more? Ooh, one more, the cloud’s moved!”

“Now can you get one or me and Everest together?”

Pemba does his best to keep his client happy and moves around carefully, snapping the American girl in various poses, taking care not to fall to his death.

Meanwhile a few meters below on a small platform, the boys from South Carolina have turned up.

“Hey, I know exactly what picture I want!” Boy gets down and begins doing press-ups on the cold rocks while his friend takes pictures.

“Yeah! That’s definitely going on Facebook. You’re tagged bro!”

To Pemba I mentioned that it is a shame that people summiting Everest late this morning won’t enjoy the spectacular view from the highest point on earth. Between 6.30 and 7am a thin cap of lenticular cloud over the summit has thickened, darkened and descended.

“My friends are summiting today.” Informs his client. “They’re really strong climbers and they can probably do it in like 5 hours from camp 4 so they probably like summited at 5am already.”

Maybe its just early and I am tired, but I feel deflated. In a few short moments I’ve been Americanated and now it is time to go away and leave this view behind.

Marathon training.

This morning, inpired by a book I just finished, stolen from Billi Bierling‘s tent, called ‘Survival of the fittest’ by (forgotten his name) I tried to run 10km from Gorak Shep to Lobuche and back.

Going was just about ok. There is a drop in height of just over 200m (from 5100m). It was snowing a little. I stopped and had two cups of hot lemon in a lodge in Lobuche and spent a while gazing at the photos on the poster of the Croatian Women’s 2009 Everest Expedition. Then it was time to return. Going out took 35 minutes and the return took a painful 50 minutes.

It seems the legs are fine, it was just a short run after all. What did I learn then about running at altitude?

– Arms are surprisingly heavy things to carry.
– Running anything remotely uphill ‘crashes’ the heart
– Having conversations with people is hard when breathless but necessary
– snow in eyes makes keeping feet on level ground doubly hard while eyes are wobbling in their sockets
– Running at altitude gives you a big headache
– It feels a bit pathetic to feel so pathetic when a guy walks past, albeit slowly, carrying 4 large, empty gas cylinders on his back.

7 days to go until this Everest Marathon but I fear that boredom will kill me first. There is little entertainment here in artificial Gorak Shep and not much to keep busy with apart from reading and making the hour long trip over to base camp. While it remains misty it is cold and the spectacular views can only be seen on the postcards behind the desk in the lodge.

Tomorrow I will go and visit basecamp as Billi returns from summitting yesterday. Looking forward to see her and hear her story. And then I think I will go and visit the Croatian Everest Women’s team camp and say hello.

Everest marathon 2009 dilemas

In about 21 days (29th may) I am planning to join the runners doing the Everest Marathon. There are a few dilemmas associated with it besides risk of heart attack. Firstly I am not going to pay the entrance fee: $US 999 just for receiving boiled water on the run seems nonsensically high for an unemployed layabout. So I am going to print my own number, perhaps either ‘666’ or ‘$US999’ would do, and somehow tag a long avoiding the start line, finish lines and shameful cheapskate embarrassment. As far as I can work out it is just a commercial venture, unlike its competing, non-profit Everest Marathon in the autumn, so I don’t feel too bad, not at all in fact.

The second dilemma is that by doing it I will outstay my visa. I has a chat about this with a man in the immigration office today. He suggested that going over just by one day would be “just a mistake, that’s human nature isn’t it? We all make mistakes all the time.” However if I was 15 days over, then “that would be deliberate and naughty. You would get a 15,000 Rp fine (150 Eur0) and up to 5 years in jail.” I’d better buy some good books to read.

Training has been going okayly and probably I will make it. As usual the objective will be to get it over with as quickly as possible. 5 hours of pain would be better than 6. Still the altitudes on the route horrify me.

As this is not a legitimate entry in a legitimate event, I won’t be raising money for charity. However, if you are feeling flush to the tune of one dollar per month, take a look at this: and

Quite amazing and hopefully it’ll aid education, and speed up essential communications rather than facilitate moronic chat conversations replete with smilies. Though I guess if your brother is working his ass off in the hot sun of Bahrain and you haven’t heard from him in 6 months, a few smilies are ok.

I wish me luck.

Sailendra Kharel

I recently interviewed Sailendra Kharel, a promising Nepali photographer, for a magazine in the UK. It is not yet published and we’ll see if it is what the readers want.

What I liked about him, and he was very likeable in many ways, was his determination. Its not easy as a photographer in Nepal, though that could be said for any place. But in Nepal press photography is not very developed, the pay is low or none existent and the drive for creative and technical excellence is limited.

Two things stand out from his story, apart from the constant refrain of trying harder.

Firstly he still uses an old Canon 350D. Many photographers obsess about their equipment, which is the best camera, how is the quality, which lenses should I use, should I upgrade etc etc? And they would look down on a 350D. For Sailendra, the camera represents 4 months’ salary. The equipment decision is thus closed and Sailendra views this as an opportunity as he can just focus on being in the right place at the right time and getting the right shot to the best of his ability.

Secondly was the story of how he first got into photojournalism. Again, the right place, the right time coupled with energy and determination.

Read the draft version (complete with spelling mistakes!) here and the edited, final version here at Photography Monthly.