Last October, Jeremy Jones and Teton Gravity Research traveled to Nepal for 40 days in search of monster lines for their upcoming film Higher. With one of the greatest riders in history and a full film crew, they got what they came for—two runs above 20,000 feet on Shangri La, a dramatic snowcovered peak not far from Everest. Images from photographer Andrew Miller and Jeremy Jones highlight a spectacular trip.
Above: Immediately getting off the plane in Kathmandu, it was clear I was in a different world. Monkeys hanging from power lines, families weaving through six-lane traffic on scooters, yaks in the middle of the street, and people everywhere. Here we are at the Monkey Temple harnessing as much positive juju as we can for the mission ahead, filming for Higher with Teton Gravity Research.
Day 3: What I love about travel is how you never know what you are going to see. Meeting different people along the way and seeing how they live gives me great perspective on life. I was talking to these medicine men on the bank of a river, watching cremation ceremonies being performed in the middle of a bustling town.
Day 4: Flying in to Lukla was a trip. We were stuffed into this small plane that probably should have been retired long ago. We all had our expedition backpacks on our laps. For 40 minutes we were weaving in and out of clouds through the mountains when the shortest airstrip I have ever seen appeared. It was tacked onto the side of the mountain and was actually sloping uphill. It was a relief to walk off that plane.
Day 8: Before coming to Nepal, I thought I lived in the mountains. But once here I realized I lived in the foothills of the mountains. These people live in the mountains. For days we trekked our way up the Khumbu Valley. Hours would go by without seeing anything. I would feel like we were getting out of civilization only to come around a corner and see a town stapled to the side of the mountain. I could never get my head around their way of life and how almost all supplies came in on foot. They live a simple, rustic life and are some of the happiest people on earth. Ironically, most of them really wanted to come to the U.S.
Day 12: Leaving civilization and heading into Shangri La Base Camp, with Everest and Lhotse in the background. Excitement is at an all-time high. It is time to get off the trail and into the hart of the Himalayas.
Day 12: We pushed further up the trail to Base Camp. The porters are a physical anomaly. A normal load was 100 pounds, carried with some twine and a piece of tarp that goes around their forehead. Some of the guys were carrying double loads—200 pounds! At 5'8", I would be considered big there. I have no idea how they do it.
Day 14. Carrying a load to High Camp for the first time up around 17,000 feet. Sir Edmund Hillary set up a camp here in the '50s. My eyes are glued to the direction of the face in hopes of getting a glimpse of it. Is it ride-able? Am I crazy for traveling to the other side of the world to try and snowboard in Nepal?
Day 17: Early morning break in the clouds after an evening snowstorm. I could never really wrap my head around these mountains. The size, magnitude, and vastness are on a level I have never seen before.
Day 21: Going into this trip I got very little encouragement from most climbers about the chance for good snow. But all the climbers come in the dry season and focus on higher mountains. We focused on the end of the Monsoon season in hopes of getting fresh snow on peaks below 23,000 feet. Conrad Anker and Jon Krakauer where the two people that thought we had a chance of getting good snow. They were right. There was a lot of potential for significant descents in the 18,000- to 23,000-foot range. I saw a lot of dream lines off of these lower unnamed peaks. I have no idea if we got lucky with conditions, if this was average, or if it is was a bad year. But it felt to me that there are a lot of unclimbed and unridden dream lines waiting for an ambitious rider to tackle them.
Day 27: Working on the last two films, (Deeper and Further), with Teton Gravity Research has been a huge learning experience, both in how I climb the mountains and how we document it. The cameramen are the true, unsung heroes of the films. They have to carry tons of weight, sleep with batteries, and keep their lenses from fogging during multi-day storms. For Higher, TGR wanted to step it up and shoot in 4K. I was not sure if this was possible due to the added weight of the cameras, but the cameramen embraced the challenge. Here, Matt Herriger dials in the long lens while Nick Kalisz looks on. These guys are the best in the world at what they do.
Day 29: Base camp. No one has camping more dialed than our Nepali outfitter. I left all the logistics to our local handler in Nepal, Jiban Ghimire. We never talked about our base-camp setup, food, or any other details. I could not believe my eyes when I came over the ridge and saw our home base for the first time. We had separate tents for cooking, media, a shower, and a bathroom. And they said this was their basic level of camp accommodations.
Day 29: Back at base camp waiting out a storm. Having a good crew is the key to expedition success. Having the right skill set is important but having a positive attitude during the lows of a trip is essential. There are plenty of people that can stay positive for the first two weeks of a trip. But not many that can maintain high spirits through week 3 or 4 of an adventure.
Day 32: The day before I sat on the top of Shangri La (white peak on the right sky line) for 3 hours at 21,400 feet, waiting for a cloud to move off the face. At 3:30 p.m. I aborted the mission and down-climbed the ridge in a white-out to the saddle where I could ride from. It was the hardest day of the trip and spirits where at an all-time low as we walked back into camp at 9 p.m. We were all spent, and intended to head back to base camp for a much-needed rest day at lower altitude. But word of a huge monsoon approaching in 36 hours changed our plans. We stayed put and made one more attempt for the peak. As forecasted, a 10-day storm rolled in the day after we rode the face and dropped 8 to 10 feet of snow in the mountains.
Day 30: Luca Pandolfi enjoying good snow on our first lap on Shangri La. Picking a riding partner for this trip was tricky. I was looking for someone with Himalayan experience, could handle really steep terrain, and had been on long expeditions before. These criteria quickly whittled it down to Pandolfi, who is from Chamonix. He had been to Pakistan before and had racked up some of the most impressive big-mountain descents in the Alps the last few years.
Day 33: Dropping in, the snow was a little firm for the steepness of the face. At 45 degrees, it would have ridden really well. But at 60 degrees I was having a hard time holding an edge on the face. This image shows about 10 percent of the line and I am about one-third of the way down the face. At this point I am descending with my axe in the snow. The line was relentless. Normally halfway down a face the slope starts to flatten out, but on Shangri La it actually got a few degrees steeper.
Day 33: I have made it past the crux and into better snow. I am no longer in a no-fall zone, but I am physically spent. I was really surprised how hard the snowboarding was at altitude. A few months prior to this trip, I snowboarded off Denali and felt pretty good. But this was much more demanding terrain and every turn required an explosive movement. It felt like snowboarding underwater. All I can compare it to is my worst hold-downs in surfing, where I would come up seeing black spots. I've never maxed out my lungs quite like that.
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