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Guest post: Everest Base Camp, Nepal with the Nikon D600

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Prayer flags adorn all high points in the region, with the prayers said to be released into the air as the wind blows. Dingboche, 4300m with Island Peak, 6200m at the end of the valley.

Hi, I'm Jason Freeman (www.gowildimages.com), a graphic designer based in Melbourne, Australia with a passion for photography and the very great outdoors. I purchased a Nikon D600 this year, and gave it its first workout on the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek, Nepal. Here's a few tips for aspiring Nepal photo-trekkers (click on image for larger view):

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Mt Everest pokes out between the West Ridge (L) and Nuptse (R). This is the view from Kala Pattar, a rocky outcrop at 5500m. Afternoon is the best time, with sun on the face. Sunrise can be disappointing, with the sun rising behind the trio.

Trek overview

To reach EBC, most people start by flying in to Lukla from Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. The landing is a heart-stopper, but the real fun begins after Lukla - a tiring, but rewarding hike on well-marked trails, through a truly unique landscape, with lodging and food available all the way up to 5300m. Acclimatizing to the increasingly thin air is a slow process and the walk to EBC is usually completed in around eight short days, including two rest days. The return trip, with a lot more downhill and no acclimatization delay, takes about five. Only 'average' fitness is required, and age is no barrier!

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Twin Otter aircraft queue up at Lukla airport, making the most of fair weather. Always allow a few days for possible flight delays when clouds obscure the runway.

Baggage allowance

The aircraft are small and bag weights are enforced. You can take 10kg in your baggage and 5kg carry-on. It's possible to purchase more allowance, but unless you have a porter, this is a nice limit to follow!

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Porters carry 30kg as a 'standard' load, but will sometimes carry three times that much! Here, some medical testing equipment is heading to EBC.

Difficulty

Anyone familiar with weekend hiking shouldn't have any problem walking without a porter or guide and most locals speak at least basic English, so can steer you in the right direction. If you prefer to take it easier (it's never easy!), you can organize a porter in Kathmandu or Lukla. Trails are broad and easy to follow but bring a basic map so you can plan which village you will stop at each night. Down low, there is accommodation each hour or so. Up high, it can be a few hours between lodges.

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Dzos (a cow-yak hybrid) have right of way on the narrow suspension bridges. They are tame, but always stand on the uphill side of the trail to let them pass - you don't want to be pushed off!

How much is too much?

Everyone has their preference for how much photo gear to take and when hiking, it's all about compromise - low bulk, low weight and sticking to the minimum required to achieve your desired results. For me this meant buying the D600 rather than the D800, which is larger and heavier. I took two lenses, a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 - for its natural, documentary style, ultra sharp and excellent in low light - and a Nikkor 16-35mm f/4. I had looked at the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 - but the extra 300g of weight and an exposed front element that couldn't easily take a filter was a negative. I took a small tripod, which was particularly handy for HDR, night shots, video and time lapse. A polarizing filter was handy for reducing haze and icy reflections.

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Tengboche monastery, 3800m. In Spring, afternoon clouds are very common, but if you can keep awake and brave the chill, the skies often clear up by midnight (30s, f/8, ISO100).

An hour of power

Cold weather greatly reduces battery life, particularly alkaline and NiMH types. Lithium ion batteries are more cold tolerant, but none will last 13 days, so you need spares and/or you need to recharge. Luckily, lodges in this region have either hydro-electric or solar power and provide access to power sockets (Euro or US plug). You pay by the hour, but as these systems have very low current, a full charge can take all night and be quite expensive. In peak trekker periods, you may have to wait for a free socket. Keep your batteries and camera in your pack overnight and away from the cold of walls, floor or windows if possible. If camping, I'd recommend putting batteries in the foot of your sleeping bag. AA batteries are available to purchase along the trail, but may have already been weakened by the cold, so are not a reliable option. I carried six batteries but barely used four, avoiding the need to charge. I left the GP-1 GPS adapter at home - this eats a battery a day and unfortunately wasn't viable for a trip of this duration.

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Snow storms aren't entirely bad for photography - avalanches are more frequent! These are well away from the trekking route, so not a concern for walkers.

Status update

Slow internet is available up to Gorak Shep at 5300m, the last lodges before EBC. Don't expect to be able to upload all your images, but you will be able to get a few images and emails off. Again, you pay by the hour and may need to queue up to use the house computer. Bring some portable apps pre-installed on a USB stick - a portable browser, image editor and anti-virus can be useful. Patchy and unreliable mobile coverage is available all the way to EBC. Local SIMs can be purchased cheaply in Kathmandu.

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A casual chat with a Sherpa lodge owner while stopped for lunch led me to this find. He had summited Everest ten times and had collected these items from past expeditions, including some of Hilary and Tenzing's equipment from the first ever successful summit in 1953. There are so many stories to discover - chat to the locals as much as you can.

Breathe in, breathe out

With all the effort you exert getting up the hills, it helps to keep the camera and second lens within reach. Dropping the pack and picking it up again can be hard work when you're already fighting to breathe, so buy a wide, soft aftermarket neck strap and keep the camera handy. For the DIY types, consider making a short strap that clips into your pack's chest strap. With a matching clip on one end and socket on the other, the weight of the camera is on your shoulder straps, instead of your neck. For a makeshift lens holder, I used the factory-supplied soft pouch and clipped the drawstrings onto the shoulder strap of my pack using a small accessory carabiner.

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On a clear night at 4600m with no moon, there was no shortage of light from the mass of stars above. 30 x 30sec exposures, stacked. The in-camera intervalometer did a fair job, but the need for a 1sec delay between shots gives some banding to the star trails ( 30 x 30s, f/4, ISO3200).

Layer upon layer

You'll need a few layers of clothing at any time of year and a windproof/waterproof jacket. I've never needed a down jacket for trekking in Nepal, even at 6200m mid-Winter, and have just relied on multiple, thinner layers. Quick-drying fabric is ideal. Nights can be bitterly cold, so gloves and beanie are needed. I'd recommend a balaclava if you intend on extended periods outside at night, and thin gloves to wear inside thicker ones - you can take one layer off for fine control if you need to, without exposing your fingers to the cold. -10C is common up high, so water will freeze if you don't keep your bottle in your jacket or sleeping bag. Generally cameras are fine at this temperature, and only the most adventurous mountaineers will need to consider applying non-freezing grease in their cameras or other cold treatment such as applying tape over any metal surfaces.

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The majestic Ama Dablam peak, one of the more recognizable and formidable peaks.

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The predominantly Buddhist Khumbu region is well-decorated with spinning prayer wheels, flags and carved rocks. Walk clockwise around religious buildings and touch prayer wheels with your right hand only.

Tasbir? (tuss-beer) Photo? Locals are very friendly and may be happy for you to take pictures of them. It helps to learn a few words and make small talk - a little respect goes a long way. Avoid pointing or touching, particularly with the left hand.

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A chilled yak in Gorak Shep, 5300m.

Shoot me

Yaks. Yaks are cool. They can be nervy, so sit a few meters away and let them get used to you for a minute. Then move slowly closer. When they snort at you, it's time to take a step back! The people - porters carrying your bodyweight up a steep hill while singing, friendly Sherpas with a permanent smile, simple family life and the omnipresence of Buddhist monks. Glaciers. Here today, gone tomorrow. Maybe.
Mountains. In Nepal, they go up into the clouds, then continue out the top. And of course, Everest, the World's highest mountain, riddled with climbing routes and epic tales.

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Khumbu Icefall, Mt Everest. I had the pleasure of spending some time with the fabled 'Icefall Doctors' before they headed off on their first day of work in the 2013 climbing season. The Sherpas are employed to find a route through the enormous shifting blocks of ice and snow-covered crevasses and place ladders and ropes for aspiring climbers. This 2-3 week task is incredibly dangerous and, sadly, one of the lead Sherpas, Mingmar, lost his life in a crevasse just two weeks later.

Play it safe

Traveling in Nepal is pretty safe overall, but you should not trek alone. It's easy to meet up with people on the trail in busy seasons, in Kathmandu via noticeboards or via online forums before you leave home.
Bring a combination lock to lock your room and make sure windows are closed. Water is safe once boiled or treated with iodine. Bottled water can be bought, but is expensive and adds to waste issues.
Vegetarian food is usually pretty safe. Avoid the lure of a yak steak - you will almost definitely get sick and it's most likely buffalo anyway! Bring some dried meat from home if you need a meat fix. Snow storms aren't entirely bad for photography - avalanches are more frequent! These are well away from the trekking route, so not a concern for walkers.

Cold, wet, busy or hazy?

Nepal has four distinct seasons. Winter can be bitterly cold, but blue skies are common. Summer is warm, but monsoon rains make views impossible. After the rains abate, the air is clear and the temperatures mild - this is the most popular trekking season. Spring is comparably mild, but the air can be hazy, after several months with little rainfall.

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The number of trekkers in peak months means an increase in prices and a good chance of not being able to find a bed. Avoid October, November and April. The months each side are more relaxed and Winter can be very peaceful, as long as you have an extra layer of clothes on hand.

Costs (approximate, US$):

  • Flights $150 each way (Lukla-Kathmandu)
  • TIMS card $10 (trekker registration)
  • National Park permit $30
  • Basic food & accommodation - $15 per day down low, to $30 up higher (as all food/drink is carried in).
  • Porter (optional) - around $15 per day, including food and accommodation costs (make sure to negotiate this upfront).
  • Battery charging - $2 per hour down low, up to $5 per hour at 5300m.
  • Internet access - $1-2 per hour
  • Sleeping bag, jacket, backpack - can be hired cheaply in Kathmandu

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22 degree halo. The large ring and dark inner is not lens flare - this solar phenomenon occurs only with Cirrus cloud containing ice particles.

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Tengboche, 3800m. Unloaded yaks head back down to pick up another load, with Mt Everest looming 5000m higher above.

Everest is only one destination in Nepal, and there is plenty more to experience in the foothills, cities and jungles. To see more Nepal pics or to drop me a line, please visit www.gowildimages.com. See also this video from the EBC trip.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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  • scott800

    cool. i really enjoy the guest posts that tell a story.

  • Global

    Great post. Not really Nikon oriented, but well appreciate these kinds of interesting articles as a change of pace. Pretty soon this site is going to make more sense as a Mansurav Photography Life type site than a blog.

    • zoetmb

      It’s Nikon oriented in that he used Nikon cameras to capture the images. In the end, no matter what equipment is used, or what rumors there are about forthcoming equipment, it’s the end-image that counts.

      Also (IMO), if you’re not shooting as a pro, a photographer frequently needs inspiration. Great photos like these provide inspiration. Whenever I come back from a photo show, it’s not the hardware that I see that provides inspiration, it’s the photographs that are displayed that provides the inspiration. I almost always return from such a show, grab the (Nikon) body and go shoot something.

  • Tenzing

    Beautiful pictures!

    Mt. Everest fixed the oily sensor that nikon could’nt.

    • Nobody Important

      Funny. Not your reference to the D600; the fact that’s your reaction to such an interesting article.

  • scott800

    camera/lens settings info would be awesome

    • phil

      Why does it matter ? Can’t you expose a shot correctly ?
      The gear selection is there, and that’s more useful than EXIF. The 16-35 is an absolutely obvious choice, but I would rather take a D800. The higher resolution is especially useful for landscape/mountains.

      • scott800

        I dont know how I missed the lens choices, it was right on top. :/ I thought 14-24, but some didn’t seem right. Thanks for pointing out that he mentioned the lenses he used, that’s all I really wanted to know.

  • SonyMonster

    I enjoyed this! No fluff, no self praise, no bs. Just a real read with straight photos. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://stevewakeman.tumblr.com/ Steve Wakeman

    Wow awesome set of images!

  • Spy Black

    I saw a documentary once about a famous Japanese skier that skied down Everest back in the ’70s. The details of getting up there were well documented, so the modern-day variant of those details in this article is very interesting.

  • One More Thought

    Fantastic shots and story. Thanks.

    Re Nikon gear this shows that the D600/D610 is a very durable camera under very rigorous conditions. Even though on paper it may seem to have a semi-pro build, and not as weather resistant as lets say a D4, it certainly is an extremely tough camera.

    In fact I’d venture to say that all Nikon dlsr’s are far more durable than even their specs would say.

    • ronin

      I would like to understand what very rigorous conditions there were that showed this model to be an extremely tough and very durable camera. Even more durable than its specs say.

      Serious question, because my takeaway was that I would have expected even a low end camera to be fine on a two week vacation.

    • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

      So far, so good – will see how many trips it holds up to! The camera did get a fair bit of drizzle, (external) dust, cold and even sun on this trip.

  • tertius_decimus

    Beautiful pictures and nice read!

  • Aldo

    A pleasure to read… with pictures that tell the story.

  • mikeswitz

    Great pictures, great story telling. Thank you, Jason.

  • Gorji

    Great Blog post. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us Jason. The pics here and in your gallery are awesome.

    • Gorji

      And the video is just incredible. Wish I could download it for eternal use.

  • John Motts

    This is what it’s all about. Inspiring photography that opens a window on to where you were. Fantastic.

    Thanks so much for sharing with us. Now I want to go there!

    • John Motts

      P.S. Equally great writing too!

  • Erica

    Thank you for this nice post. Love the photo’s.

  • jk

    great images ,really impressive!
    I still prefer the D600 sensor over anything else , but my 3 copies of it had bad bad dust issues and I sold them all.
    but to be honest if the D610 does not have any serious issue , I might get it back soon , that sensor is really amazing and I love it better than my D800E sensor(IMHO, the D800 sensor is overrated).
    I think the D610+ Sony A7 make a great kit for me.

    for me , the D600/610 might be the ideal size for night walk or like that.
    I think the A7 is the right sized camera for in a city mall or street shooting , though.

    thanks for sharing your great works here.

  • D!

    See the D600 is pretty goood!!

  • T53

    Marvelous Photography. Wonderful Read.

  • fjfjjj

    Many of these are extremely beautiful. The photographer has a talent, an eye, a natural gift, and the perseverance to put it to use. Congratulations on your accomplishment!

    • Chris Zeller

      These photos were absolutely terrible with all the oil spots! ;-) LOL! Awesome work! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.vinividinori.nl/

    Thnx for adding the prices! Nice to know that it’s affordable to get there… Maybe a thing to do in the future?

  • Daniel Shortt

    Not a dust spot to be seen, AMAZING! (I own a D600 BTW)

  • Jorge

    This was one of the better guest posts here! I truly enjoyed reading this and love the images! Great job! No BS, straight up. loved it.

  • Corporate Slave

    This article is a proof that one doesn’t need to own a Df to do pure photography

    • stormwatch

      The truth is that NOBODY needs Df :-)

  • TrP

    Finally something positive posting about the famous D600. Great post!

    • Paul

      Interesting information. So you’re telling me you can take photos with the d600? what?!?! “finally something positive about d600″ haha. its like we (collective internet) think that it can’t even function or take pictures. of course it does.

  • rosshj

    Great photos. Thanks for sharing!

  • Z

    Great photos and informative narrative … well done!

  • gr8fan

    Remarkable pictures and great blog! Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to this website.

    • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

      You’re welcome! And many thanks to Peter at NikonRumors for considering a travel-and-photography post.

  • Steven Hyatt

    Hi Jason. Thank you for pursuing what you love to do and thank you for taking the time to share your images and your experience. I respect your willingness to put yourself out there for others to see. Good work.

  • http://z7photo.com/ Csaba

    Oh my, these are some of the most impressive travel photos I’ve seen lately :) Well done, and very very nice writeup.

    More of these, Nikonrumors :)

  • http://Flickr.com/inthemist InTheMist

    Great images and writing!

    Awesome advice – I really want to do this some day. Until then, thanks, Admin for bringing these types of stories.

  • Bud

    ” -10C is common up high”

    -10? Here I was expecting to hear how his camera performed at the summit, wondering if it’s ok for me to try and shoot birds in the fairly common -20 weather here on the northern prairies. It sounds like Everest might be a nice vacation spot!

    • Ian Dangerzone

      yeah, haha! it was -7 last night, and I live in the freakin’ okanagan.

    • BluePlanet

      A good one. Calgary, here :-)

    • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

      Book yourself in for Island Peak in Winter – you may see -30C up top and will feel right at home! But yeah, Nepal is quite temperate and one of the warmer, high altitude places you can go (due to it’s latitude). The same altitude in Alaska could be 20C colder.

  • Taggart

    Wow! Great article. Makes me want to book a flight!

  • Craig

    Great article, nice shots, excellent practical advice. Well played, sir!

  • WLDLF

    Great story and nice pictures. I’ve done this trek last year in may with D800, N24-70/2.8 and N70-200/2.8 + tripod and w/o porters. Gladly the weather was better than when Janson was there as I didn’t had any snow.

  • Mark

    By far one of my most favorite guest posts I have read recently. Very well done!

  • BluePlanet

    Super post and super photos. thanks for sharing!

  • myuziq

    Great. Also we have to spread that D600 is a great camera. I love my D600 and never regret that I bought it. It’s the most useful camera from Nikon for the light weight, lens compatibilities and full-frame sensor! Go D600!

  • Jon Ingram

    Best guest post ever! Can’t wait to visit base camp myself some day! Thanks for sharing admin. Great stuff and good practical commentary

  • Mansgame

    Changes nothing. Most of his shots are at f/4 and wider and of different textures so dust spots don’t show up.

  • Maji

    Great write up and thanks for sharing the tips. It must have been an amazing adventure!

  • subeg

    very well written, I am a nepali but haven’t been up there yet. Thank you for the post about Nepal

  • stormwatch

    Great photos, I see D600 suddenly becoming more and more popular. :-)

  • jk

    I know I am going to seem like a jerk/elitist type. I really appreciate what you have done and I do think you are talented and this is purely constructive criticism. There is something off with these most of these images, they lack clarity and crispness and nearly look one dimensional. I do not feel my opinions are entirely subjective either.

    There is a technical flaw somewhere in the mix, I cannot tell if it is the initial exposure or the web processing or just in need of a simple sharpen for web?

    You were clearly in a lot of difficult lighting situations. I would imagine mostly harsh or dull/flat.

    Good for you to get out and shoot and for taking the time but I would revisit them and try a second round of editing to really make them shine. Sorry to be the storm cloud, I sure know how it feels to hear these things. All the best.

    • Shay

      Quit embarrassing yourself.

    • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

      I totally agree with you. On closer look, I have probably over-compressed these shots, while trying to keep the file sizes down. Pics above range from just 70-340KB.

  • davewyman

    I enjoyed the article. Perhaps one day I’ll make it to the Everest area.

    Going with nothing longer than 50mm would seems somewhat radical. The shorter the lens, the smaller the mountains. On the other hand, the Himalayas are so immense, a 50mm might be all that’s needed.

    For my mountain travels – in California, where the tallest peak is about 15,000 shorter than Everest – I prefer to go with a Sony NEX 7, and a 20mm and 75-150mm zoom.

    • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

      A 70-200mm f4 would have been nice – this is ultrasharp and considerably smaller/lighter than the f2.8. I did use a DX Nikkor 18-200mm for some shots, but was disappointed with the sharpness (which I was reasonably happy with, when on the D300!).
      I think the longer lens is great for candid people shots and mountain textures. Much of the time there aren’t distant views – you have to go quite high to see a horizon in Nepal!
      Whether that size/weight is acceptable for a remote trip, is up to the individual. For me, ultrawide was the priority, with a small, fast lens second. With a porter, or more hiking fitness, I wouldn’t hesitate for a third lens and another 1.5kg, even if it was rarely used.

      • davewyman

        I think you made such good photos, no matter which lenses you had, because you’re a good photographer. And as you pointed out, the D600 isn’t that heavy a camera.

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    great travel post .. but the d600 build quality is realllllllly low

    today, selector dial ring fell off .. and auto focus stopped working… lucky it was my backup at an event ..

    a freaking toy camera

  • sangesh

    Nepal is amazing and the pictures you posted are too. Love my country :) here are some of my pic taken form d600 on my way to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) easy and EBC trek http://sangesh.com.np/blog/2013/04/a-long-awaited-journey-to-abc-finally-accomplished/

    • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

      Nice series you have there – it really captures the fun and adventure of trip, and of course the beauty of the place and its people…

  • http://www.gowildimages.com/ GoWild Images

    Hi all, thanks for the great praise, feedback and long-lost D600 love!
    I want to add that much of this article is, of course, subjective and someone else could rightly say that a heavier or higher quality setup is better for them. The story is purely a record of my thought process on selecting a travel kit.
    I have to mention the D word – dust. For this trip, the camera was new, so I avoided the ‘top-left dust monster’ until I’d taken 2000-3000 pics. At that point, the dust was bad, but only when shooting very wide, fully-stopped-down and against a plain background – then it was a tedious clean up job that slowed Lightroom processing to a crawl. Luckily this was only a few % of the shots that I was taking, so major clean-ups were rare. After getting the sensor professionally cleaned ($90), it was another 1000 or so shots before I started seeing dust again. The self-clean function helps, but I think I will routinely need to get the camera cleaned (more so than any other comparable camera would). Maybe long-term, the issue will decline.
    Should someone buy a 2nd hand D600? I wouldn’t let the dust issue stop you – the camera is cheaper now than ever and a D610 may be out of your budget. Just factor in a sensor clean or two to your pricing…

    Feel free to post any questions, and I’ll reply directly to some of the comments below. Happy shooting!

  • scott800

    thank you so much for your reply! that is a great feature to have on you site, i really love all of your work.

  • Everest trekking in Nepal

    As I am an independent guide
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