Climbing the highest mountains in the world with the goal of capturing fantastic images and videos presents several unique challenges. Tripods, a PC and a drone were among the equipment carried by the Photosafari team from Kazakhstan when they tackled the largest range in Central Asia, the Pamirs.
A Hard Nut to Crack
The Pamirs are a tough climb, even for professional mountaineers. The plateau is vast, elevation frequently changes and so does the climate from zone to zone. Travellers are forced to adapt to these conditions along the route. Most routes are located at over 4000 meters up in the mountains, where the rarefied air breaks down both people and equipment. It is for this reason that an expedition to the Pamirs requires members to be in excellent physical shape and have special mountain climbing gear and clothes.
“We’ve done a lot of travelling, so we pretty much knew what difficulties we would face and how much we needed to prepare. But since this was a new frontier for us, it was hard to predict everything,” Konstantin Kikvidze, one of the expedition members, said. “Our biggest problem was we hadn’t dealt with such high mountains before. We needed to prepare automotive equipment, drones, special clothes and, most importantly, we needed to get in good shape. High up in the mountains almost everyone experiences hypoxia and different kinds of weakness. So, two months before the trip we started training, hiking and climbing in the mountains, to acclimatise more easily.”
Lunar Deserts and Martian Craters
It took almost as long to come up with a route: the goal of the exhibition was not simply to test their physical strength, but create an opportunity for unusual photography. For photo and video experts, such places are a natural treasure. The Pamirs offer a rich and interesting culture, positive and colourful people and an unusually scenic landscape. Endless greenery gives way to the snow-capped peaks of some of the world’s tallest mountains. The landscapes are even reminiscent of lunar and Martian landscapes: mountains are grey and brown, everything is deserted, and it seems as if no one has ever been there before.
Of Strong Body and Mind
The third and last important stage of the team’s preparation involved picking out the right gear and special equipment needed, including the photography equipment. Ironically, in running away from civilisation and into untouched wilderness, what was needed most was cutting-edge technology.
“The base camp near Lenin’s peak can only be reached on foot, so we had to carry all the shooting, storage and processing equipment on our backs. It’s not easy to cover 12-15 km up a mountain with a drone, cameras and several lenses, in addition to a sleeping bag and kit to set up camp,” explained Konstantin. “We tried not to use up our batteries, as there’s no electricity at the top and spares wouldn’t lighten our load. However, this was no easy task — the landscape kept changing and the incredible colours didn’t let us put the camera down for long.”
Photos and video gathered on expeditions like this are unique in many ways, in that returning to conquer a mountain pass or shoot a glacier a second time to recapture a particular moment is difficult. In order to store and review large amounts of material, the Photosafari team used well-tested 2-in-1 devices running on Intel® Core™ processors. A thin, convertible laptop didn’t require much space and lasted for some time on one charge, which meant it could also be used to set up photography equipment and control the quadcopter drone.
“We ourselves also needed to ‘adjust our settings’ and ‘recharge’ from time to time,” said expedition member Ekaterina Koshko. “Almost everyone was using a tracking app that monitored our vitals during the ascent and while at the top. If our pulse went too high during the climb, we stopped to take pictures and catch our breath.”
The extreme weather conditions also led them to seek shelter from time to time. “Because of how high up we were and the low pressure and thin air, the quadcopter stopped following commands at one point and we completely lost control of it. We got lucky that it landed only a few meters away from the road (as opposed to a kilometer away) and we were soon able to find it.”
Journey into Another World
Despite all these difficulties, nothing managed to spoil the team’s impression of the Pamirs and the locals. And while you can see the landscapes in an album or on a computer screen, it’s only in person that you can truly absorb the unique culture of the local people, learn about their daily life and traditions and experience the warm welcome of these mountain dwellers.
“The people of the Pamirs are very kind and welcoming and always ready to help travellers. They are completely unspoiled by the comforts of civilisation. Their everyday lives have changed very little since Soviet times. Their lives are hard,” the expedition members said of their impressions. “On seemingly deserted roads, you often encounter solitary houses and young children who start speaking English, apparently because of the large number of foreigners who pass by.”
Said Konstantin: “We were also surprised that having the right technology didn’t distance us from nature, but rather helped create dialogue between nature and civilisation. It was only because of this cutting-edge technology that we were able to reveal the beauty and atmosphere of the Pamirs in a new way. We hope that our project will inspire people to conquer new heights, be they real or figurative.”
Author: Elena Smirnova