Standing at 29,028 feet, 41--year--old Makalu Gau was literally on top of the world. It had cost him his fingers, nose, toes, heels, and his climbing partner, but on that day in 1996, he became the first Taiwanese mountaineer to climb Mt. Everest from the Nepalese side.
After being plucked from the summit that eight men in his group never reached, Gau feared his dream of capturing the majesty of China's mammoth mountains through photography would never happen.
Gau was the visionary behind the "100 Peaks of China" project--sponsored in part by SanDisk--which had drawn him to Everest's peak. But the project, begun in 1992, would have to wait. He spent a year in the hospital, underwent 15 surgeries, followed by another year in physical therapy.
"I kept thinking, 'I haven't fulfilled my dream,'" recalls Gau. He decides to put all of his efforts and energies into finishing the project. . .
First things first
Without fingers, he had to learn to hold a camera again. He started with a small, lightweight automatic camera. When he could hold that firmly and press the button, he moved onto a Nikon SM2. When he found it too difficult to adjust manually, he switched to the Nikon F90x, the camera he brought on his most recent trip to Xinjiang, Tibet.
To get in shape for his next climb, he made many trips to the swimming pool next to his apartment, swimming for 40 minutes every day. Afterward, he would hike for another 50 minutes, up and down the steps of a small 4km mountain.
Gau steered clear of meat and other oily foods right before the trip to avoid stomach upset. He wound up surviving mostly on Nang (hard bread) dipped in water, due to the limited variety of food available in the village at the base of the mountain. "Almost everything they (the villagers) ate had lamb in it, even their noodle soup," says Gau.
The "mountain monster," as Gau's friends call him, set off for K2, the world's second highest peak, with little more than a Northface Rock 22 tent, sleeping bag, mattress, and cooking equipment in the way of camping gear.
In addition to his Nikon F90x, he packed a Nikon Coolpix 8700, Garmin GPS system, Fujitsu P7010 laptop, SanDisk 1GB USB Flashdrive, 1GB SanDisk MP3 player for entertainment, and a small Sony TRV 900 camcorder.
Gau claims he would have been lost without his 1GB SanDisk Extreme and Extreme 3 CF cards. They were designed to operate under severe climate conditions--within a temperature range of --13 to 185 degrees. And their RescuePRO software helps you repair accidentally deleted or lost information and images.
He fit everything into two Northface luggage bags and a small Lowepro backpack. The backpack was all he took with him whenever the call of an image lured him from the campsite.
Typically, he set out shooting within two hours of sunrise or one hour before sunset, and took pictures during normal daylight hours for documentary purposes.
"I wanted to make sure I captured the strong reflective lighting on the mountain," says Gau.
Over time, Gau learned a great deal from his climbing that helped him achieve his two main goals: survive and take pictures.