iporter - One Step at at Time
Born of a caffeine-fuelled dream, amongst the snow-clenched peaks of the remote Limi region of western Nepal, iporter is a documentary project with a twist.
In March we announced that for three weeks in the spring of 2014 KE Leader Rob Fraser will switch his normal role will and become a porter on the most famous trek in the world, to Everest Base Camp. Rob will be joining our Ultimate Everest Trek departing on 13th April and will eat with the local porters, sleep alongside them and struggle with a full load on the trail, as part of the team working on an expedition.
The project aims are two-fold. Firstly, to raise awareness of the work that porters do and how hard there job is and, secondly, Rob wants to find out if he can cope with the strain for just one trek. Being an averagely fit 50 year-old, Rob figures that it will be tough. Rob will be making a short video of his experience that will be screened at the Kendal Mountain Festival in the autumn.
As a photographer he will also be making a series of portraits of the porters that will form an exhibition to be shown at The Royal Geographical Society in November as part of the Porter Progess UK annual fundraising event. 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 of the 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. A tough way to make a living.
Undertaking the project will no doubt be a huge challenge for Rob. Having led numerous treks for KE in the Everest region over the past decade he knows what to expect of some of the days, especially the tough crossing of the Cho La. That said, Rob is sure that the experience will throw up more than a few surprises. He just hopes that some of the surprises at least are happy ones.......
Well Rob has now returned and yes it was an experience, but would he ever repeat it?
" I have just recently returned from working as a porter on the trek up to Everest Base Camp and have since had the chance to reflect back on what happened.
You won't be surprised to hear that I found it tough lugging a load that weighed up to 35 kilos for 13 days from Lukla airport to Gorak Shep and back. By the second day my calves were sore, my shoulders hurt and both feet were in a bit of a mess. And I had a horrible sore spot develop on the base of my spine. I seriously questioned my sanity as to what I was doing there.
But as the days progressed I grew stronger and managed to sort out my mental attitude. By the end I was happily(ish) walking along with the porter crew that I was teamed up with. I couldn't carry in the traditional Nepali way by using a namlo (head strap), however, and had an old rucksack brilliantly adapted by Keswick-based, Millican bags.
During my time in the mountains I learned that porters get paid in the region of 1000 Nepali rupees each day and out of that they had to pay for their own food and lodging, which could be as much as 300-500nr, depending on whether they ate one or two meals in a day. I interviewed about 20 porters and discovered that most were using the money they earned through portering to pay for a better education for their children, so that those children would not have to work as a porter.
I am now starting to piece to together a 30-minute video from the 12 hours film material I shot. I am hoping to show this at Kendal Mountain Festival in the autumn. I am also starting to develop the 70 plus monochrome images of the porters that I shot on a large format camera. The images will form an exhibition at The Royal Geographical Society in November to help with the work of Porters' Progress UK