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Everest iPorter project relies on Meindl and Source footwear

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Everest iPorter project relies on Meindl and Source footwear

​Bramwell ambassador, adventurer, photographer and all round top chap, Rob Fraser is currently working as a porter to Everest Basecamp.

He will be working, eating and sleeping with the other porters to gain an insight into their lives. Bramwell provided the footwear for Rob on this trek.

Read on for Rob’s introduction to this amazing project.

Born of a caffeine-fuelled dream, amongst the snow-clenched peaks of the remote Limi region of western Nepal, i Porter is a documentary project with a twist.

In the spring of 2014 I will become a porter on the most famous trek in the world, to Everest Base Camp. I will eat with the local porters, sleep alongside them and struggle with a full load on the trail, as part of a team working on an expedition. My strenuous adventure will take me from the densely wooded foothills to the foot of the mighty peak via a challenging 5400 metre pass.

My aim is to create a 30-minute video of my experience, from the viewpoint of a porter. The film with have a strong personal element but I’ll be talking to Nepalese porters as I go, so the video will tell their story. I’m keen to raise awareness of the work that porters do, and how tough their job can be. Another strong driver for this project is my own challenge to myself and my curiosity. Can I do it? What will other people think of me being there? Can I lug 40 kilos a day, for 17 days, and keep a smile? Being an averagely fit 51-year-old, I imagine it will be pretty tough.

I have a background as a photographer, something I’ve been doing for 30+ years as a career, so I’ll be taking my cameras with me, including an old-fashioned, cloth-over-the-head large format camera, and I will be creating a collection of monochrome portraits of the porters on the trail.

Lugging a load on the Annapurna Circuit trail

I’ve been invited to screen the video at the prestigious Kendal Mountain Festival in November of this year and I also hope to tour it to other events. The Royal Geographical Society in London has commissioned me to present an exhibition of the photographs in late autumn, when they will also screen the video. They have asked to present my work during a week of events being hosted by Porter Progress UK, an organisation dedicated to improving working conditions for porters. I conceived of i-Porter as a way to raise awareness of the tough job that porters in Nepal (and elsewhere in the world) do each year; as a personal challenge, to test my stamina and strength, and satisfy my curiosity; and as a way to bring together a collection of portraits and a video that give a fresh perspective on life on the trail - from within a porter’s

shoes

.

Why

Each year more than 25,000 trekkers visit the Sagarmatha National

Park

in the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal. All are there to realise a dream; to walk amongst the giant Himalayan peaks and to stand and stare at the biggest of them all, Sagarmatha, or as it is more commonly called in the west, Mount Everest. The experience is amazing, but it’s no easy feat trekking to the base of the iconic peak. Carrying just a small day-pack can be hard work at altitude. For many trekkers, getting to Base Camp would be all but impossible if it were not for the army of porters who make a living from hauling loads up and down the trail. As well as the client kit bags, they also carry tents, cooking gear and food - even tables and chairs for the supported expeditions. They can also be seen carrying outrageous loads of building materials, piles of foam mattresses for the lodges, giant stacks of Pringles and staggering crates of beer.

Walking above Phoksundo Lake in the Dolpo region of western Nepal

Although working conditions are improving, some of the porters are poorly equipped and carry out the journey in jeans and ill-fitting shoes. Traditionally they support their loads via a strap across the front of their forehead. I won’t be carrying my load in this way, as I reckon it will finish me off within the first mile on the trail. Instead, I have had an old rucksack adapted by Millican - a specialist bag maker based in Keswick. Their stitcher, a lady called Vera, has done such an amazing job on my carrier that I have named it in her honour: Vera will be my constant companion for every step of the journey.

A decade ago I became a trekking guide for Keswick-based, KE Adventure Travel and have since led 70 trips in 30 different countries. Many of those trips have been in Nepal and I have always felt humbled by the work carried out by the porters who work in the high mountains. I am carrying out I Porter on one of KE’s Ultimate Everest Trek, that will be arriving in Lukla - the start of the trek - on April 14th. More details of the trek can be foundhere.

i Porter has been created to help give these people a voice. I will be using a couple of lightweight video cameras to capture my journey, my joy and my struggle, the trail and the mountains, and the conversations I have along the way with fellow porters, and with trekkers (their reaction to a ‘fake’ porter will be interesting!). My interpreter, Cshiring Sherpa, will help with the filming, particularly the long range footage of me.

On the trail up to Kanchenjunga Base camp

Filming and Photography

I will also be using a head cam - a Go Pro Hero - to show a porter’s eye view of the world. There will doubtless be footage of looking down at the ground as I plod on the trail, scrabble over glacial moraine and plough through mud, and cross swaying bridges high above roaring rivers. Of course I’ll also be filming the breathtaking panoramas of the huge Himalayan peaks that will be surrounding me for most of the journey. The video will also show what goes on beyond the walking - fire making, cooking, where we sleep, dealing with injuries and card games (and I may even sneak in a preview of the toilets we get to use as porters).

My Horseman large format camera is one of my favourites - it’s an event camera, creating images on negatives that are 5x4 inches and the process of shooting on this camera invites a very particular kind of response from the subject - thoughtful, and often serene. I will process the negatives when I get back, in my darkroom at home. Then I’ll be printing them up using a range of traditional methods that result in prints with a strong visual impact and an almost timeless feel.

(The image below was shot for a project called Land Keepers using the camera that I will be carrying for i Porter.) Finally, I will be carrying my pro-Nikon digital camera. This will be perfect for taking colour photographs as I go along, from images of my feet on the trail, to people I meet, to the mountains and skies around me. These will be shown alongside the portraits in the exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society. Limited edition prints from these (mostly landscape shots) will be given out as rewards for backers. The monies I raise will help pay for the expenses of making the documentary video and bringing all the photographs together for the exhibition.

Bland family, West Head Farm, Thirlmere. Taken for the recent documentary project on Cumbrian upland farming called Land Keepers.

What Kickstarter will help me do

These include, but are not limited to: If I manage to raise more than my target then it will go towards extending the exhibition and buying some small bits of useful gear. Well, it’s really long and has sometimes been a bit complicated, but, in a nutshell:

  • return flights to Nepal plus transport to and from the airport
  • hotel and food costs for a week in Kathmandu
  • travel to the start of the trek
  • flights from the mountain back to Kathmandu
  • costs to employ a local sherpa to be my interpreter, and help some of the video camera work
  • cost to hire a porter (yes, ironically I will need a porter to help carry all my photographic gear)
  • insurance (I will definitely need this…but hopefully won’t have to use it)
  • printing costs to produce the exhibition at The Royal Geographical Society
  • a set of bathroom scales: I want to weigh all the porters I work with and the loads that they will be carrying. I will also weigh myself at the beginning and the end.

My story

I have been a professional photographer for thirty years and a freelance location specialist for the past twenty of those years. I love photographing people and I love working in remote parts of the planet. i Porter seems like a perfect project to combine both my passions.

I moved to Cumbria a dozen years ago to be near the mountains. A wonderful place to come back home to. I’m married to a writer called Harriet and she helps keep me grounded.

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