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Everest

Follow the epic challenge of National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez as he tackles a 14-day, high altitude trek to Everest

Monjo, Nepal
2,835 meters
4/8/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Finally—John Burcham, my videographer, and I are up and away! Our flight left just after 6:00 am, we were in Lukla by 7:00, and started walking by 8:30. It’s just gorgeous and great to be up high with a clear sky and beautiful mountains.
Monjo, Nepal
2,835 meters
4/9/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
The trail is crowded with trekkers and Everest climbers but everyone’s happy. Still jet lagged, pretty wiped out, and definitely feeling the altitude (I took a pill to help with that before dinner).
Monjo, Nepal
2,835 meters
4/9/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Tomorrow we’ll climb 600 meters to Namche Bazar.
Khumjung, Nepal
3,780 meters
4/11/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
After a couple days acclimatizing in Namche Bazar, we are back on the trail.
Khumjung, Nepal
3,780 meters
4/11/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
It feels good because we actually have a plan figured out. Our goal is to reach Kala Pattar (5,500 meters) around the 17th or 18th. From there, we should have a very good view of Everest. Then we’ll hustle back down valley and still make our scheduled flights out.
Khumjung, Nepal
3,780 meters
4/12/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Of course the weather has to cooperate and we have to stay healthy—two highly questionable things, but at least it’s a plan. One thing I don’t worry about is these smartphones. Today I shot with them in blowing wet snow and they just kept right on performing, unstoppable.
Khumjung, Nepal
3,780 meters
4/12/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
We photographed the new Khunde Monastery last night. It isn’t completed yet, but the paint is fresh and bright. Today’s five-hour walk brought us to Pangboche.
Pangboche, Nepal
3,930 meters
4/12/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
It snowed so hard on us today as we walked up the Imja Khola River—literally white-out blizzard conditions! It made the trip incredibly beautiful, and almost surreal. Not many trekkers were out today, but as we made it up from the river and entered the village of Pangboche I photographed two yak drivers.
Pangboche, Nepal
3,930 meters
4/12/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
I showed them the photos on the smartphone and made friends. These guys do all the heavy hauling up to base camp in rain, snow, and every other kind of weather.
Pangboche, Nepal
3,930 meters
4/13/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
By dawn the next day, skies were clear over Pangboche.
Lobuche, Nepal
4,910 meters
4/14/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Change in plans. We intended to spend two nights acclimatizing in Dingboche, but we felt pretty good and the place we were staying was pretty grim—so up we came. The hike up to Lobuche was fantastic and the morning was beautiful.
Lobuche, Nepal
4,910 meters
4/14/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
I feel like we are finally really in the mountains.
Lobuche, Nepal
4,910 meters
4/14/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
As soon as we began the serious part of the climb, it started to snow. Real snow that never let up at all, and really, really cold. We arrived around 2:00 and I headed straight for my sleeping bag.
Lobuche, Nepal
4,910 meters
4/14/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
The rooms in these tea houses are not heated, and this one was well below freezing. The snow we tracked in on our boots and packs didn’t melt. Snow kept falling, but around 4:00 sunlight came shining through the frost on our window.
Lobuche, Nepal
4,910 meters
4/14/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
The storm cleared and brought the most incredible light on the mountains. Until today, we have only had clear mornings and cloudy evenings. Maybe we’re finally above the haze? Tomorrow we head to Gorak Shep, and if the light looks promising, well try going up the mountain, Kala Pattar. As we’ve walked through the glacier-carved valley, Everest has been a little dot in the distance. But the higher you go, the bigger it gets. If we can get up Kala Pattar, the view should be stunning.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/15/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Wow! We have arrived at Gorak Shep in relatively good health. We checked oxygen saturation levels and were both at 83%, and our guide Mingma was at 87%--all good. Seem to be in a decent position to shoot a photo of Everest.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/14/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
We went halfway up Kala Pattar this afternoon, but got frozen out when cold, thick, windy fog blew in. I was wearing everything I brought and the cold was still too intense.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/15/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Then, about 4:30 I took a walk and ended up at about the same place. The wind had died down, so it was much more pleasant to be there. I could see Everest intermittently through the clouds, but I wasn’t high enough to make the image I wanted. We’ll try again tomorrow.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/15/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Now I’m back at the tea house, where my room is an unheated 10 x 10 plywood box. Fairly miserable conditions, but sure beats a tent. Tomorrow will be a long day. Our plan is to hit Kala Pattar around 8:00 after the sun has cleared the horizon; then make our way to Pomori Base Camp; and finally get back over to Kala Pattar for a late afternoon shoot.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/15/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
This was a long, cold, miserable day punctuated with brief moments of intense beauty. It all started well at about 6:30 as we left for Kala Pattar under a clear sky, following large groups of people.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/15/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
On top of the mountain, at about 5,500 meters, I made some good images after the sun was high enough to light the side of Nuptse, and highlight the Khumbu glacier.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/16/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
We are getting amazing, magazine quality-images out of these 20mp devices. I’m especially excited about the panorama-mode images I shot. To be able to take those panoramas straight out of the camera and generate a file without having to use a computer was great. There were enough clouds in the sky to give my images mood, and the whole scene was classically beautiful. We hunkered down to wait as the light continued to change.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/16/14
Nokia Lumia 930
Wow, did things change! The wind picked up and blew about 40 mph. It snowed. Zero Fahrenheit. We waited. Mingma gave up and headed back to Gorak Shep. Conditions got worse, and worse, and worse. On top of Kala Pattar there’s no place to hide from the wind, so we were grateful for our heavy down jackets. We kept hoping the weather would break, but it never did.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/16/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Most amazing, our smartphones were completely unaffected. They just plowed through these awful conditions with no battery or hardware issues at all. We don’t baby these devices—they spent virtually this entire assignment in my pocket or my hand. But despite cold, wet, and wind, they never missed a shot. Around 4:00 we gave up and headed down. On our way, we met Mingma coming up to bring us hot tea and biscuits. Sherpas are amazing; always thinking of helping other people.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/17/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
Woke up late, hoping to head back up after the weather began to clear. We sat in the tea house, waited, made friends with other trekkers, waited, had lunch, and waited some more. Finally around 3:30 we headed up Kali Pattar. Working above 18,000 feet, in an environment with so little air, it’s really nice to be using small, light cameras that fit in your pocket rather than a bulky five-pound DSLR. Every step up here is hard work, and any additional weight is difficult to carry. We reached the summit around 5:00—beautiful and bitterly cold. The afternoon storms were clearing, blowing clouds and occasional snow, just gorgeous.
Gorak Shep, Nepal
5,180 meters
4/17/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
I shot until well after 7:00. For me, the sweet time to photograph is always right after the sun has gone down, or just before it comes up. Our smartphones performed really well in those low-light moments. I got great frames, but my water bottle froze solid in less than an hour. By the time I stopped shooting I could no longer feel my fingers. Meanwhile the smartphones were unfazed. I can’t believe the abuse they take—and they’re not just durable, they also deliver staggering results. Back in Gorak Shep now, well after dark. Happy and exhausted.
Pangboche, Nepal
3,985 meters
4/18/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
We left the Gorak Shep tea house before 7:00—spirits high, happy to be finishing up and going down. Life at 18,000 feet is tough. It’s a land of rock, ice, snow, and wind. Nothing grows that high, there’s half the amount of air you have at sea level, not a human environment at all.
Namche Bazar, Nepal
3,440 meters
4/19/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
On the way to Namche today, we were met with a steady stream of monks headed up the valley to attend to the funerals and cremations of the dead Sherpa. Everyone in this valley has lost someone. Sadness weighs on the locals, even as groups of happy trekkers pass them on their way up.
Lukla, Nepal
2,860 meters
4/20/14
Nokia Lumia 1520
LONG day today. I shot early this morning in Namche, then hiked down the valley all day. It is growing crowded with trails filled with trekkers, porters, donkeys, and yaks carrying supplies.