This summer, celebrated landscape photographer Colin Prior will travel to north-eastern Pakistan to kick-start his latest mission: capturing one of the world’s most spectacular yet oft-overlooked mountain ranges, the Karakoram.
Home to the world’s second-highest peak, K2, the western Himalayan range also lays claim to being the planet’s most glaciated region outside the Arctic and Antarctic – and it was this stunning landscape that provided the spark for the Scotland-based photographer’s Karakoram project.
“The Karakoram is an area I’ve been passionate about since my first visit in 1996,” Colin tells us. “Back then I was working with British Airways shooting their corporate calendars, which meant travelling to 40 countries over a four-year period. Of all the fantastic landscapes I saw, the Karakoram stands out as the place that filled me with awe, and it’s really this that’s drawing me back.”
With sponsorship from Lowepro, Rab and LEE Filters, Colin and a colleague are planning a series of expeditions to the range over the next four years; a project culminating in the publication of a new book in 2018. So with four months and counting until the first trip, how are the preparations going?
“There are two big challenges about making a book like this work,” Colin explains. “The first is pace, which is why we’ll be making a number of visits from different approaches – initially from Pakistan then later from China. Secondly, we’ll need to break away from what you find in all high altitude mountain environments: two colours, blue and white, which can become monotonous.”
The photographer will take two camera systems with him to Pakistan’s Himalayas, and expects 90 per cent of his images to be digital. “May and June tend to be the best months in terms of weather,” Colin adds. “I’ll leave in the third week of May when there’s the maximum amount of snow on the glacier. In September, another excellent time to visit, I’ll travel to the Karakoram’s northern side.”
Colin isn’t alone in his desire to return to the Karakoram. A cursory glance at the early history of mountain exploration reveals that Sir Martin Conway and the Duke of the Abruzzi’s imaginations were captured in much the same way – the former climbed Baltoro Kangri in 1892, while the latter ascended K2 17 years later. So what is it about the Karakoram that has such an effect on an explorer’s psyche?
“This is one of the questions I want to answer,” Colin says. “Central to the Karakoram’s appeal is how the mountains have been left undisturbed. While Pakistan isn’t the most stable of countries, the irony is that instability and a lack of investment have protected the Karakoram from development. If the mountains had been in India, there may well have been roads and lodges by now. But before any development can take place, the Kashmir situation will need to be resolved.”
Despite being home to four of the planet’s 14 8,000 metre-plus peaks and stretching for 311 miles, relatively few people are familiar with the Karakoram, and this is something Colin hopes to rectify on conclusion of his latest project. In four months’ time, he’ll enter the Baltoro Glacier from Askole, with the team of two being supported by their own sirdar, cook and porters.
“There are some key mountains I want to photograph, and initially I’ll spend some time around the Trango Towers having made my way from Urdakas. From there I’ll move across to the Mustah Tower, which is just one of the most amazing mountains,” Colin explains.
“What makes the Karakoram different is that because its peaks are so vertical they won’t hold snow – it just avalanches off. They’ve got character that’s not found in the peaks of Nepal and Bhutan – the rocks’ gradual weathering has resulted in profiles resembling towers, cathedrals and minarets. For a photographer to have these rising vertically from a landscape is just so visually exciting and stimulating.”
One of the most impressive peaks is K2, which rises to an elevation of 8,611 metres. “It’s scarcely believable to look at, just a pyramid of rock that rises vertically from the Godwin Austen Glacier,” Colin says. “Other highlights include Gasherbrums G1, 2, 3 and 4, of which 1, also known as the Hidden Peak, is the highest. While this is a well-trodden area, my second approach [through the northern slopes from China] will follow in the footsteps of Francis Younghusband – the man who laid the trail through the northern side, which the Eric Shipton expedition later mapped in 1938.”
Colin has read these early explorers’ original books to understand just what they felt and experienced in the Karakoram, and the photographer is keen to combine their mountain observations with his own, contemporary photography. “It’s this rich history of exploration that I want to seed through my book, which I hope will reveal how spiritually enlivening this region is,” he says.
You can keep up to date with Colin’s progress via his Twitter page.
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