Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sikkim Flora | Yumthang and Yume Samdong Valley in June

At the start of the monsoon in early June and after the crowds have gone the valley between Yumthang and Yume Samdong  in North Sikkim presents a floral spectacle which is not seen by many. Here are some photographs of the flora of the valley.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mallory and Irvine | 8th June 1924

The view of Everest from the Kharta glacier on the 1921 expedition
On 8th June 1924, two men left  Camp VI (26,700 feet)  to make an attempt on the summit of Everest. 

Camp VI  was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. " Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping  across the mountain and covering the north face. Neither the face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. There was also a sharp wind which was making climbing very difficult.

Suddenly at 12.50 pm the mist cleared and Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first,  the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest". 

Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

But even today, ninety three years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest experts believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb.

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924.

The 1921 expedition team - Mallory sitting first left

Mallory and Irvine boarding S. S. California on their way to India in 1924 

Irvine working on oxygen cylinders  on the1924 expedition

Members of the 1924 expedition - Standing from left Irvine, Mallory, Norton, Odell, Macdonald. In front: Shebbeare, Bruce, Somervell, Beetham. Members not in the photo : Noel, Hingston, Hazard.
Norton and Somervell with their sherpas before the summit attempt

Route map of Norton and Somervell's attempt
Norton set an altitude record  in 1924 without oxygen reaching 8570 metres which remained unchallenged until Messner and Habeler climbed Everest in 1978 without oxygen

Last photo of Mallory and Irvine leaving for Camp VI 1924

The list of provisions for the summit climb found on Mallory's body  - he planned to be on 2 cylinders of oxygen. Please note the rations on the left!

The 8 pm in the note to Noel should be 8 am

Mallory had no compass on his last climb

Map showing position of Odell and the last sighting of Mallory and Irvine

                                  "..... some day you will hear a different story..." George Mallory

All photographs reproduced above are copyright of Royal Geographical Society, John Noel Photographic Collection and their respective owners. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Nikon | Three News Lenses Introduced

Nikon announced the introduction of three new lenses - two for full frame Nikons and one very attractive lens for DX bodies.

Nikon AF-P 10-20mm F4.5 -5.6  ED VR
This lens promises to be a winner for DX users - it is light only 230 g in weight, reasonably priced   $309 and has VR as well.  It would be the ideal wide angle zoom for DX shooters who want to travel light and yet have the convenience of a wide zoom. Its competition would be the Nikon 12-24 F4DX and the 10-24 F3.5-4.5. This lens would be slower than both the other two DX wide angle zooms  and also lose 4mm on the top end. However, you get a lighter lens with a significant reduction in cost. One waits to see what the optical performance  would be like but looking at Nikon's latest offerings this promises to be very good. Neither of the two earlier Nikon DX wide angle zooms had vibration reduction.

Nikon AFS Fisheye 8-15 F3.5-4.5 ED
This a wide angle fisheye zoom for full frame Nikon DSLRs. If you do a  lot of photography in cramped interiors and need a fish eye perspective then this could be a choice. However the obvious deterrent is the price $1250. This is a gold ring lens so expect the same build quality and weather sealing as the other gold ring lenses in the Nikon stable. The lens also focuses to 0.5 inches making it very suitable for close up work.

Nikon AFS 28 F1.4 E ED
This lens complements F1.4 series of wide angle  primes the 24 F1.4 and the 35 f1.4. If you have any of these two lenses then adding the 28 f1.4 would not be a prudent choice. The lens has been built on the  Nikon 28 F1.4 AFD which was one of the legendary lenses in the film days. Priced at $1999 this is also a gold ring lenses and eminently suitable for low light work, interiors etc delivering gorgeous bokeh at the f1.4 aperture. Nikon's prime lenses are built to extremely high quality and one expects the same performance from this lens. The lens is on the heavier side 645 grams for a prime lens.

These lenses can be pre ordered  and should be in the shops by late June 2017

For more information on all these three lenses do visit the Nikon site

Monday, May 29, 2017

Everest | The First Ascent May 29th 1953

Tenzing and Hillary at Tengboche monastery after the ascent 
Today is sixty four years since the first ascent of Everest.

On 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am, a Sherpa and a New Zealander became the first men to stand on top of the highest peak on this planet.  However the intervening years has seen a sea change as far as Everest is concerned. The mountain, enshrined in controversy, has now become a playground for guided expeditions, with clients paying between twenty five to sixty thousand dollars or more to stand on the highest point on earth. The South Col route climbed in 1953 is now disdainfully referred to as the “yak trail”. The dangerous icefall below the Western Cwm is maintained by a team of sherpas right through the season led by a senior “Icefall Doctor.” 

In order to make it possible for inexperienced clients to summit Everest, the entire mountain has fixed rope from bottom to top. This year 2017 the first ascent of the mountain was made by a team of  sherpas from different expeditions who fixed  the rope right to the summit and they were followed by the guided clients. A tragic death on the mountain this year was Ueli Steck who fell off the Nuptse wall while on an acclimatisation climb.

However, this post recounts through photographs,  the 1953 climb, the historic ascent of the first two men to summit Everest and the team of climbers and sherpas who supported them through this endeavour.

Bourdillon and Evans on their return from the South Summit on May 26th 1953

Nawang Gombu crossing the icefall ladders - Gombu later became the first man to climb Everest twice

The map of the Khumbu icefall and the route followed by the 1953 expedition

From left: John Hunt, Ed Hillary, Tenzing, Ang Nyima,  Alfred Gregory and George Lowe after the ascent

The code which was later used in the telegram to send the news before the Queen's coronation

The telegram sent by John Hunt after the ascent

Hunt, Hillary and Tenzing in London

The full expedition team with the sherpas
Tenzing and his mother at Thyanboche monastery after the climb

The signed colour supplement of The Times
All photographs in this post are copyright the ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY and the respective owners.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Everest 2017 | Hillary Step Destroyed by Nepal Earthquake

Many of you must have read the news on social media and press reports that the ionic Hillary Step just below the summit of Everest on the south side is no more. Tim Mosedale while climbing Everest a few days ago reported this on his Facebook page and mentioned that this would probably be the result of the 2015 earthquake which rocked Nepal including the Everest region.

Jamie McGuinness of Project Himalaya posted a photograph of the step taken by him in 2008 and a comparison of the two photographs below clearly indicates the changes to the topography of the  Step.

The question remains that will be changes to the Step make it easier or more difficult to climb the last bit to Everest?

But let us go back to the climb of 1953 when Ed Hillary free climbed the Step for the first time and it was only then he was sure that the two of  them (Hillary and Tenzing) would make it to the top.

In the video interview below given by Hillary many years after the successful climb he recounts the climb of the Step on that memorable day May 29th 1953.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mussoorie Mountain Festival | May 18-20 2017

The Mussoorie Mountain Festival will be held from May 18th to 20th 2017. The theme of the festival is conservation as it relates to the Himalayas and other mountain ranges in the world.

 I will be presenting an exhibition of photographs on Nepal Himalaya - A Journey Through Time from our Nepal book at the Festival. I will also be speaking on 20th May at 2.30 pm on Mustang - The Lost Tibetan Kingdom - Tradition and Change. I hope to meet some of my friends at the festival.The festival details and program is given below:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Machhapuchhare | The Fishtail Mountain

Last light from Poon Hill - winter sunset
The Fishtail Mountain of Nepal Machhapuchhare has not been climbed. Attempted in 1962 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts,  the climbers failed to make the summit. Soon after the Nepal Government put the mountain "out of bounds" and no further expeditions were permitted.

I first saw the mountains of the Nepal Himalaya from the lawns of the Crystal Hotel in Pokhara. It was December 1978 and in the grey light of a chilly dawn with my first and new SLR camera, I attempted to take some photographs. The garden was full of red poinsettia blossoms but in the pre-dawn light they looked dark crimson, almost black. And then behind them in that half light, there was the Fishtail mountain, Machhapuchhare, her razor sharp ridges slicing the inky blue sky.  Next  to her impossibly high were the Annapurnas and to the west peeking over the lower hills was Dhaulagiri. I have seen variations of this Himalayan vision in different incarnations all through the years, and it never fails to arouse a feeling of awe and amazement each and every time.

This essay shows the some of the moods of this iconic mountain:

From the flight between Pokhara and Jomsom - Annapurna II and IV on the right

Before dawn from Annapurna Base Camp

Dawn Tadapani

From the forests between Sinuwa and Bamboo on the Annapurna Base Camp trail

Dusk Annapurna Base Camp

Rising moon after sunset - Machhapuchhare Base Camp

From the swimming pool of Tiger Mountain Lodge Pokhara

To find out more about are treks in this region do visit


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