David Breashears now runs GlacierWorks to bring awareness to receding glaciers. You may know Breashears’ name as the filmmaker behind the Everest Imax film and his rescue role in the 1996 disaster.
The story of a huge picture of Everest has been running in the press for the last couple of months but I wanted to highlight it here given the unique nature of the cause and the images. Also, I wanted to add additional background on how it was made.
Breashears recently published on their website a series of images of the Himalayan glaciers around Everest, Cho Oyu, Kangchenjunga and K2 taken since 2007 on 10 expeditions. They are also showing the images at exhibitions with the current one at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It opened in April 2012 and will run through March 2013.
The image that is getting the most attention is one of Everest and Lhotse taken from near Camp 1 on Pumori in spring 2012. If you look carefully you can see climbers on the standard route all the way to Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. Plus the details of Base Camp are amazing with climbers who were there in 2012 spotting their personal tents!
But as much as the details of the mountains are amazing, the real story are the receding glaciers. Breashears told NPR
Yes, we see a lot less ice. We see a less snow cover. We see much more exposed rock in nearly all of the places we visited. In some regions in the west, a few of the glaciers are actually quite stable. But there are over 49,000 glaciers throughout the greater Himalayan region, and most of them are showing dramatic and accelerated melt rate.
The Back Story
Breashears recently told Rock and Ice that the photo is part of a larger project.
“We started out with match photography,” says Breashears, “but then we wanted to build interactivity because the more people interact with the landscape, the more they care about it.”
To create the photo, Breashears stood exactly where the famed Swiss mountaineer Norman Dyhrenfurth stood in 1952 to snap his ubiquitous photo of the Khumbu glacier. The vantage point, which is from Pumori camp 1, is easily accessible according to Breashears, and allows viewers to see not only the glacier but also the Lhotse face.
“You can see up into the accumulation zone at the base of the Lhotse face,” says Breashears, “but you can also see the Lhotse face well enough to see how the ice is thinning up there.”
The completed photo consists of 447 21-pixel images laced together. But Breashears insists that this photo is only a “beta version” that was never meant for public view. The completed project, which is sponsored by Mountain Hardware, will launch in June of 2013 and will aim to tell the entire story of one of the highest glaciers in the world.
Click on this link to see the image in a new window. Switch to the full screen mode and zoom in to visit base camp, you can see Everest MD’s medical tent in the center. Himex’s camp is the first large set of tents and IMG’s is two up from them. Both left of the trail. They are still on the moving ice of the Khumbu Glacier.
Now go up the Khumbu Icefall, look for climbers throughout but you can see many just below the large blocks near the top. They are near the prayer flags. The hanging seracs on Everest’s West Shoulder (Icefall left) are the source of much concern these days as they do avalanche onto the Icefall.
From this angle you cannot see Camps 1 and 2 in the Western CWM but can see climbers at the base of the Lhotse Face. Go up up the Lhotse Face where you can see tents and climbers off center to right from the second large rock. The line going lower right to upper left are tracks crossing the Yellow Band. Lhotse’s summit is clear and the route follows the gully.
From this angle you cannot see the South Col aka Camp 4 or the Balcony but you can see the South Summit and Hillary Step and final “gentle” slope to the summit.
Look left of Everest’s summit and down the ridge-line to see tiny climbers coming up from the North Col just beyond the clouds near the saddle. Probably Sherpas setting up the high camps for the north side.
Finally if you rotate the image to the far right, and zoom in mid screen you will see the blue roofs of last village before base camp, Gorak Shep.
The Cameras and software
In an interview with Wired, Breashears says they used Canon 5D Mark IIs (21.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor). At one point they mounted seven cameras on the nose of a helicopter for some of most remote glaciers.
But for the Everest shot, they stood in one spot (near Pumori Camp 1 just above Everest base camp) and used a 300mm zoom lens to capture the scene. The camera was attached to a motorized head, GigaPan Epic, that accurately moved the camera to capture the details. There are many software programs used to stitch images together such as Microsoft ICE, PTGUI, Hugin, and AutoPano Giga. Finally there are dedicated sites that can hosts the huge files for the gigapixel images: 360cities, Krpano, Microsoft HDview.
This tutorial provides excellent details on the entire process.
More to Come
Breashears says the finished work will also incorporate match photography, which gives viewers the ability to compare older photos taken of the glaciers to newer ones. He adds:
“When we’re done with it, it will have over 100 to 150 times more capacity,” says Breashears. “It’s an understatement to say that the best is yet to come.”
Memories are Everything