This image was taken in 1999. On film. You know... at first, I wasn't going to put this image our site. It's not technically great. But life’s not perfect. And it still takes my breath away no matter how many times I see it. It’s a miracle we even got this image of the spectacular Himalayas. And most of all… it’s a great story. So… here's the short version (lol):
We traveled from Chengdu to Lhasa and then made our way across the entire expanse of Tibet. All along the Friendship Highway (in 1999 it was incredibly challenging but an unforgettable adventure). The Friendship Highway is an 800-kilometre incredibly scenic route connecting Lhasa, with the Tibet/Nepal border and crosses three passes over 5,000m. Altitude sickness, anyone?
We got a little band of misfits together by looking at a travelers noticeboard at a backpackers (no internet, no cells in 1999 and especially nothing in Lhasa. So we were totally old school). We had to hire a driver to take us on the trip as at that time foreigners couldn’t rent vehicles themselves. And there were absolutely no buses or other means of transport. So the two of us, a great American guy, a girl from Hong Kong banded together and hired a random driver (presumably also from the backpacker noticeboard) who tried to extort us halfway through our trip by telling us he would abandon us in Old Tingri (about halfway through our trip) unless we paid more money. Thanks Mr Chen. Great memories. We only have ourselves to blame. But omg we all had the best time. Gyantse to Shigatse. Sacred Mount Kailash. Rongbuk Monastery … and this image… The Northern Face of Mt Everest.
We started to make our way to Everest Base Camp but a fresh snow made us turn back halfway through the hike. We’re sure Mr Chen had been through all our bags that we'd left behind with him and his car. But the more we think back, we’re probably just lucky that he was still there waiting for us 8 hours later. On this particular day we couldn’t get to Base Camp on foot though. Disappointed and exhausted we ended up driving to this location. The Northern panoramic view of Everest from below the Gyawu La pass on the Friendship Highway between Lhatse and Shelkar.
So of course there were no digital cameras on this trip in 1999. I was using Velvia film for most of the journey. I thought I had brought enough film to see us through all of Tibet until we got to Kathmandu in Nepal where I might be able to pick up some more. But something was happening to my camera in the cold weather and the high altitude. I would put the film in the camera, take one image, and then the film would rewind as if the roll was completely finished. I was wasting roll after roll and only getting 1 image per roll of film.
So by the time we finally reached Mt Everest, we had very very limited rolls of film. Because of this camera malfunction, by the time we got to Mt Everest, I had only two rolls of Velvia left (which at this rate meant only 2 frames.)
We stood here taking in this beautiful panorama. I put in my last roll of film. And without even clicking the shutter, the film immediately rewound !!??!! What? I was panic stricken.
But by some miracle, a van passed us on their way to Everest with a group of climbers/hikers and I flagged them down. When I think back on it now, they probably thought we were in some kind of trouble. We’d seen barely anyone the entire trip so nothing short of a miracle. But they stopped and I asked them if they had any rolls of film they could spare. And this lovely group of Swiss guys handed over 4 rolls of film. Nothing fancy. Just 4 rolls of film. Just like that. I’m so incredibly grateful for their generosity. And we’ve made sure to try to pass on any type of small kindness to travelers as we wander these past 20 years. It just made such an impact on me.
So because of these amazing travelers, I have negatives of Mt Everest. No slides archived. And it's been hard to keep negatives in good quality all these years. But I have 4 images of Mt Everest. This wide shot. A close up of the North Face, one with some Tibetan flags and Mt Everest in the background. And a silly snapshot of our crazy band of misfits (and Mr Chen too) at the road to Base Camp. Four absolute treasures.
After a few more days on the road we finally got to the border and said teary goodbyes to Mr Chen. Yes, he was mad, but had grown on us. He gave us an empty box of cigarettes as a parting gift. We then had to hike 10kms in a No Man’s Land to the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge to cross into Nepal. Where again… we were completely lacking in any type of judgement or sanity.
Let me explain: Our backpacks were so heavy and the hike felt so long. It wasn’t. But it felt it. We recall trying to buy a donkey at one point. But an incredibly decorated truck rolled up beside us. It was a beautifully decked-out Pakistani truck with lots of colours and religious messages. A few others had passed us on the hike to the border. But this one stopped and asked if we’d like to throw our backpacks on the truck to lighten the load. Which we did.
Don’t judge us. I really don’t know what we were thinking. But… when we finally got to the border crossing, there were all 4 backpacks lined up neatly at the border checkpoint. How incredible is that?! Ahhh. What a wonderful world we live in.
And because I’d used ALL the film we had on 4 photos of Mt Everest, all we have of this hike and the entire rest of the journey are these stories and the memories.
This photo means the world to both of us. We hope you like it too
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