DCP 193: The Karakoram Anomaly - With Mathew Farrell

To what lengths will you go as a photographer or filmmaker to do a job?

Photographer and filmmaker Mathew Farrell has probably gone farther and higher than most of us will in a lifetime. Mat was hired to document a team of scientists doing valuable glaciology fieldwork in the Karakoram, Yukshin Gardan Sar, area in northern Pakistan.

For the past several years, climate change has caused much human suffering and loss of life and property from glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). GLOFs occur when lakes of water hidden within the ice walls of glaciers burst through those icy walls. The entire lake floods the inhabited areas below the glaciers. Hence the need for this survey.

I wake up in a bed. I haven’t slept in one in a month... two months? My fingertips are swollen, split and stiff. My feet a mass of blisters. My lips burnt and tender, but I’m otherwise fine. Sergiu is more or less the same. I still woke with the sun at 5.30am. I can’t be in bad condition then, although I feel that I ought to be.
— Mathew Farrell
Photographer and Filmmaker Mathew Farrell

Photographer and Filmmaker Mathew Farrell

How did Mat get involved? About a year ago I received this email from him:

"On a more exciting note, this winter (your summer) I’ve been invited to join a three month long science, community development and climbing expedition to Karakoram mountains in Pakistan. The expedition is called the Karakoram Anomaly Project (karakoram.co). In brief, the expedition will be investigating why glaciers in the Karakoram are growing instead of receding; run local community workshops about the flood risk associated with these growing glaciers; will climb a new route on a 7000m (21000ft) peak. I’m heading along to shoot a documentary about the expedition, as well as helping with scientific photography work."

Wow! That’s a story I wanted to know more about! And what a story it is.

After the science was done, Mat and Sergiu Jiduc set off to climb a 7500m peak in the Karakoram, Yukshin Gardan Sar. Originally, photographer Tim Taylor had plan to climb with Mat and Sergiu. Unfortunately, Tim suffered an injury just days before they were to set out on the climb. Perhaps Tim's misfortune of tearing a ligament in his ankle was actually good fortune for him. Mat and Sergiu set off on their own and at first things went well. However, the weather took a turn for the worst. They faced the threat of avalanches. Forced to turn back, they got lost on the way back down the mountain. They had run out of food, and having run out of gas for the little stove they used to melt snow into drinking water, their situation was dire. They managed to get a radio signal out and call for a helicopter. Before the pilot would start the rotor blades, they would have to deliver $20,000 in cash in a suitcase.

Being lost, though, there was little hope that the helicopter would be able to locate them on the gargantuan mass of Yukshin Gardan Sar. Best practice dictates that you stay put when lost. Yet in this case staying put would likely be a death sentence. So Mat and Sergiu decided to keep moving down the mountain. After a long grueling hike, they came upon familiar ground and were elated to find themselves no longer lost. They made it back to base camp with thirty minutes to spare before the suitcase of $20,000 was gone forever. They were alive!

In this episode, Mat talks about his experience documenting this important survey with a Sony a7s kit and a Cinestar drone. It’s a story of endurance, frustrating setbacks, survival and ultimately - success.

Links from the podcast:

Mathew Farrell's website:

Mathew Farrell on Twitter @flowstatephoto:

Karakoram Anomaly Project Website: