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Notes From the Road: Climbing the Himalaya

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@Nat Geo Photographer Aaron Huey rapelling from the Grey Tower above Camp 2 on Ama Dablam

Notes From the Road take us into the field with photographers at work and lets us experience, in their own words and pictures, assignments in progress.

So this is how it works sometimes:

Phone rings. Photo editor says, “Can you leave for Everest Base Camp tomorrow or the next day?” You of course say, “Yes.” Then start to cancel everything you had planned for the next 35 days and start to buy gear and pack bags.

That was this summer, and now my life is wrapped around this story for a year. We are halfway right now. All of this is good. Better than good. It’s what I live for.

Some of this is supposed to be a secret, so I can’t give it all away, but I can tell you that I’m on assignment, on my second of three trips trip to the Khumbu in Nepal, high up in the Himalaya.

To be honest with you, I’m a little out of my element. I’m a rock climber (almost 20 years now) and very comfortable on ropes; I love heights, I love exposure and technical climbing, but this kind of ice-covered pain I have stumbled into is new to me. But when the red phone on my desk (that goes straight to HQ) rings and they say, “Ice and snow,” I say, “How high?” and then I jump. Because that’s what we do. Comfort zones are long gone. The world is elastic, and so we shape-shift and push up hard against the edges and begin the work that leads to the images you see.

Each assignment requires a huge leap to see and think differently, and in this case, it is requiring me to not just think differently, but also to become something different as well. Beside pushing my mind into places it has rarely been, the mountains are changing me physically, reshaping my body as we climb day in and out.

On this trip I happened to arrive just before the Indian cyclone last month, and the places I was supposed to visit are now covered in two or three meters of fresh snow. Dangerous. Lots of people stranded, some killed, and many mountains deemed unclimbable. But I know what I need and where to find it, and so I walk into the belly of this white whale and begin the suffer-fest.

I’ll be going above 20,000 feet a few times to make images, and I have great traveling companions in Danuru and Panuru Sherpa, two of the best climbers on the face of the Earth, with a combined 28 Everest summits between them. So I know they can drag my body off of the mountain if need be. (Don’t worry, Mom!)

Now back to the endless trudging through ice and snow. You can join me by following the journey on Instagram (@argonautphoto). Or come swing by Ama Dablam Base Camp. I’ll be in the yellow tent!

Photographer Aaron Huey recently returned from an assignment for National Geographic in the Himalaya. Over the coming days we’ll be reporting on his adventures as he discovers the joys and pains of high altitude photography while surrounded by snow and ice. You can see all of Aaron’s Notes From the Road here. You can also follow his journey on Instagram (@argonautphoto).

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