In April of 2014 Rob spent three weeks in the Everest region working as a porter on the legendary trail to Base Camp. He ate with the porters, slept in their lodges and lugged a full porter load of 35 kilograms up to Gorak Shep, which sits in the shadows of giant peaks and is the highest settlement along the route. He walked for up to 8 hours each day in hot and dusty conditions. By the second day his calves were sore, his shoulders hurt and both feet were in a bit of a mess. And he had a horrible sore spot developing on the base of his spine. He seriously questioned his sanity.
I know this region very well – as a trek leader for KE Adventure I’ve led more than thirty trips in the Himalayas over the past decade. But struggling along the path beneath a heavy load has revealed an entirely new perspective. Most of the time I am bent almost double and focused no more than three paces ahead of me. Looking up is a luxury.
There were two motives behind the project. Firstly, Rob wanted to shine a light on the hard work that the porters do to support the dreams of trekkers to get high into the Himalayas and, secondly, he wanted to see if he as a relatively fit 51-year-old bloke could cope with the rigours of the work. He somehow made it and come back with a greater respect for the people who are the backbone of the mountain economy.
‘I am 35 years old and have been a porter for the past 12 years,’ said Pasang Doma Sherpa, one of a minority of female porters. ‘I will do this job for maybe another three years and then no more, I’ll be too old and tired. I am sending my children away, to good schools, to get education. Porter life is not a good life.’
As well as carrying the load Rob also took it upon himself to document the experience through making a short video and creating a series of portraits of the porters on an old-fashioned large format camera using Ilford FP4 film. And after 18 days walking with a heavy load, he came to agree with the words of Pema Chodren, a Buddhist monk:
‘Whether we regard our situation as heaven or hell depends on our perception’.
If you would like to find out more about this project, which Rob carried out to highlight both the work of porters and the support of the UK charity Porter Progress, the film is available to watch on Vimeo and you can listen to the geocast on the Geographical website here.