OMG, How High Are We?
Everest Region, Nepal
Many of the treks that I attempt are at very HIGH ALTITUDES, and yet, it is often hard to communicate that elevation through my photography. That is why I especially love this shot from the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal -- the fact that the helicopters are flying below us pretty much says it all, and puts our relative elevation in perspective. Now. If only I could figure out how to somehow photograph what the exhaustion and nausea of altitude sickness feels like...
Oh wait, this photo comes pretty close:
All jokes aside, now that we've been through the pandemic and most people have had Covid at least once, I finally have a point of reference to compare being at high altitude elevations to. It's very, very, similar to Covid. When I had Covid, I remember taking a measly little shower at my house, and feeling so drained and wiped out from that simple little task, that afterwards I had to go lie down. And that is totally what it feels like hiking at high altitude, you barely walk a few yards, but it feels like you just ran a mile. Your backpack only contains the bare necessities, and yet it feels like it's filled with lead bars and weighs a hundred pounds. And just like Covid, the danger is invisible, and the misery mostly internal.
While hiking the EBC, I constantly thought about the scene from Gladiator, where they stab Maximus in the side with a knife, cover up the wound with armor, and then send him out to fight in the arena like he was healthy and just as capable as his opponent. But he wasn't, he was suffering, only no one could see it.
Similarly, we'd take photos of ourselves throughout the trek, and as hard as I tried to pull distraught, unpleasant faces, they still couldn't communicate just how miserable I was feeling at the time, inside my own head and body. I remember deliriously thinking that if only I had a massive head wound with blood trickling all down my face, maybe then I could at least visually communicate how shitty I was feeling and how difficult it was to not call one of those helicopters you see in the photo to come and collect us and take us off this stupid mountain!
I will say that after a certain point, I no longer had to TRY to make unpleasant faces-- I look back on some of these photos (many of which I don't even recall taking), and the misery we were feeling is so evident, it's almost palpable.
In fact, I will admit that above 17,000 feet I was no longer carrying my own camera gear, and at some point after 17,400 feet, I am embarrassed to say I was no longer even carrying my own camera! My porter offered to carry it for me, and I was so weak, I accepted. He'd pass it back to me as needed -- so that pathetic, feeble me could snap a few photos -- then I'd hand it right back to him. It was pitiful, but that's how we moved forward up the hill towards Kala Pathar.
You can see a what I look like at the HIGHEST I'VE EVER BEEN here, but spoiler alert, it's underwhelming and I just look like a generally unpleasant person to be around: