Everest Nightscape – The story behind the picture
Everest Nightscape was possibly the single most challenging photograph I have ever taken. An adventurous 200+ kilometer hike through the heart of the Nepalese Himalaya with almost 10,000 meters of elevation gain brought me to this unreal scene at 5550 meters. A gigantic panorama of 16 ultra-wide angle shots was needed to capture the full extend of the Khumbu Glacier with Everest in the center, resulting in a mind-blowing 1.2 gigapixel image!
It was a long-cherished dream of mine to hike in the footsteps of mountaineering legends like George Mallory, Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner through the Nepalese Himalaya, surrounded by the majority of the world’s highest mountains. After returning home from my sailing trip around French Polynesia, I decided it was time to tick this one off my bucket list before starting a new business venture in Europe.
Instead of taking a plane into Lukla, I chose the traditional trekking route from Jiri to Lukla, followed by the strenuous 3 Passes trek, which links the four distinct valleys of Bhotekoshi, Gokyo, Khumbu and Imja Tse via 3 high passes over 5000 meters. A great physical challenge, especially for photographers carrying professional equipment through these high altitudes! ;)
After 14 days of hiking, an abundance of Dal Bhat (traditional Nepalese meal consisting of steamed rice and lentil soup) and 3 days of food poisoning, I arrived in Gorak Shep, used as basecamp by the 1952 Swiss Mount Everest expedition and nowadays the last settlement on your way to the highest mountain in the world, Everest (8848m). Gorak Shep is a frozen lakebed covered with sand, from which you can climb up to Kala Patthar (5550m), a popular landmark on the south ridge of Pumori (7161m). Kala Patthar is known as the most accessible closeup view of Mount Everest, which is usually blocked by its smaller neighbors Nuptse (7861m) and Changtse (7543m).
Late in the afternoon I started my hike up to Kala Patthar, which took about 2 hours. Arriving for early sunset, I had enough time to plan my shot. I had brought all my warm cloths in preparation for staying until the dark night hours after twilight. I realized directly that I couldn’t survive “on the summit” due to freezing cold winds blowing at high speeds. I settled for a lower place on the edge of the great Khumbu Glacier, which provided some much needed protection from the elements. After setting up my tripod, I started taking a panoramic image series covering a view of over 200 degrees to get some shots of the landscape before complete darkness, which I planned to blend in with the following night shots.
Then the waiting period started. Soon enough I was the last remaining person on the cold black rock face. As time passed and I got colder and colder, I slowly started to lose my mind… Through occasional dance interludes I tried to stay warm. Later I counted to 10000 to make the time pass. After about 90 minutes I decided it was dark enough (or I’m close enough to freezing to death) and managed to take my remaining 16 nighttime shots that I would need to include the entire stretch of the glacier and enough stars to roughly create a 16:9 composition.
Equipped with a headlamp I started to make my way back down the mountain. To warm up my half frozen limps, I ran as quickly as I could and managed to be back in the teahouse in Gorak Shep in less than 20 minutes! Four long hiking days later and a full day in a Jeep I was back in civilization. In my hostel in Kathmandu, I couldn’t wait to work on the Kala Patthar series. I wasn’t sure how the night sky would turn out in postproduction, as I had never actually taken a panoramic image of the stars before. It turned out to be no big deal at all, with Photoshop mostly handling the stitching of the stars in automatic mode.
I was very happy how the red nightglow turned out. I had never seen it so colorful in an area without unnatural light pollution. By covering such a large degree of view, I had caught both ends of the Milky Way in the panorama, which creates an unusual but quite unique effect. I guess at some point in the year and the night, it could be possible to capture the full galaxy as an arch over Everest. Possibly worth another trip?? :)