In this July 2012 photo provided by Footloose Fotography, a team member prepares to fly a radio-controlled helicopter at the base of Trango Summit in the Karakoram mountain range in northern Pakistan. — Photo by AP
In this July 2012 photo provided by Footloose Fotography, a team member prepares to fly a radio-controlled helicopter at the base of Trango Summit in the Karakoram mountain range in northern Pakistan. — Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: The use of drones in Pakistan normally brings to mind images of US spy planes attacking tribal areas. But drones now are being used to capture a different kind of picture in the country – showing some of the world’s highest mountains being scaled by world-class climbers through some of Earth’s thinnest air.

Drones, or remote-controlled aircraft, have long been the domain of the American military and are used extensively in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghanistan border to spy on and target militants.

Recently, however, civilians have increasingly turned to drones to shoot ground-breaking footage of adventure sports.

In this July 2012 photo provided by Aurora Photos for Mammut, a team member gets ready to operate a helicopter over the Trango Summit in northern Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. – Photo by AP
In this July 2012 photo provided by Aurora Photos for Mammut, a team member gets ready to operate a helicopter over the Trango Summit in northern Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. – Photo by AP

This summer a Swiss expedition used remote-controlled helicopters to shoot rare footage of climbers on the Karakoram, one of the world’s most demanding and formidable mountain ranges.

“People are going to see footage from the Karakoram that no human being has ever seen,” said Corey Rich, a photographer and videographer from Lake Tahoe, California, who was on the expedition.

The expedition was a joint project between outdoor clothing and equipment company Mammut, and Dedicam, a firm that specialises in using remote-controlled helicopters to shoot video. Their goal: to document world-class mountaineer David Lama and his climbing partner Peter Ortner as they climbed Trango Tower.

In this July 2012 photo provided by Aurora Photos for Mammut, Peter Ortner and David Lama ascend the Trango Summit in northern Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. – Photo by AP
In this July 2012 photo provided by Aurora Photos for Mammut, Peter Ortner and David Lama ascend the Trango Summit in northern Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. – Photo by AP

The sheer granite tower in the Baltoro Glacier is more than 6,000 metres above sea level and is one of the most technically difficult climbs in the world.

Filmmakers long have used helicopters to capture aerial footage of climbers – as well as other extreme sport athletes like surfers and skiers –that is hard to capture from the ground. But helicopters are costly and can be dangerous if they crash or get too close to the people on the ground.

Additionally, their beating rotors often kick up dust, snow and wind – and can push climbers off balance.

Drones, which can weigh just a few kilograms and cost between $1,000 and $40,000, are a fraction of the size and cost of the helicopters traditionally used in adventure photography.

Newer models tend to have all of their rotors facing into the sky, making them look a bit like a mechanical flying spider or insect.

The main concern for the summertime expedition was how – and if – the drone would perform in Pakistan’s rugged conditions and high altitude.

“The main challenge was that the air is much thinner, and we didn’t know how the flight controls would work with this and the propellers and motors,” said drone operator Remo Masina, from Lucerne, Switzerland.

He brought two on the Pakistan expedition – one with four propellers and another with six. From the ground, he flew them with a handheld console that resembles a video game console, and wore goggles to let him see the camera’s view.

Another challenge was to find the climbers on the mountain. Tracing the planned trek route, Masina directed the drone up the mountain until he spotted them – more than a mile (roughly 2,000 metres) away.

The result was stunning images of the Karakoram and the climbers making it to the top.

Experienced climbers say the Karakoram puts the rest of the world’s mountain ranges to shame. Neighboring Nepal has Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, but Pakistan has four of the world’s 14 peaks that soar to more than 8,000 metres above sea level, including the second highest mountain on earth, K-2.

Lama and Ortner said climbing the legendary Pakistan mountains was an amazing experience.

“Here there are so many mountains, and so many difficult mountains, and mountains that haven’t been climbed,” said Lama.

“That’s probably why the Karakoram is known as paradise for us.”

This year has been particularly successful for Pakistan’s climbing industry, which plummeted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US.

In addition to hosting the renowned Lama for the first time, Nazir Sabir, Pakistan’s elder statesman of climbing who was the country’s first person to scale Everest, said 30 climbers summited K-2 in 2012, the first summits from the Pakistani side of the mountain since 11 people died trying in 2008.

In this July 2012 photo taken from a camera mounted to a remote-controlled helicopter and provided by Remo Massima, Peter Ortner, Corey Rich and David Lama stand atop the Trango Summit in northern Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. – Photo by AP
In this July 2012 photo taken from a camera mounted to a remote-controlled helicopter and provided by Remo Massima, Peter Ortner, Corey Rich and David Lama stand atop the Trango Summit in northern Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. – Photo by AP

And the drone footage obtained during Lama and Ortner’s climb will expose even more viewers to the legendary Karakoram mountain range.

Drones also increasingly are being used in other adventure sports to push conventional photography boundaries. Cameras on drones have been used to capture video of surfers on Hawaii’s North Shore and to chase mountain bikers speeding down mountain trails.

“I’ve filmed anything from kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, to track and field to just casual walking,” said photographer and videographer Mike Hagadorn, who has begun to build his own drones to support his Colorado-based firm, Cloud Level Media.

“Anything you can dream of – and as long as you don’t crash – you can make it happen.”

Experts predict drone cameras eventually will become an integral part of every sports shoot. But for now, they re definitely a novelty. The Swiss team filming Lama said villagers in Pakistan stood in awe, staring at the drones as they buzzed around, whenever he used one on the expedition.

“We were trying to do this shot that showed this quaint village,” Rich said. “But every single person in the shot is standing, stopped in the street, looking up at the helicopter.”

Updated Sep 22, 2012 02:08pm

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Comments (Closed)


Samir Shah
Sep 23, 2012 08:27am
Finally....Some good news comes out of Pakistan. Bravo guys....a big cheers to all the people involved in making this happen and put a smile on the faces of Pakistanis who are drowned under constant killings and bad news every day.
ykchavan
Sep 23, 2012 06:30am
Seen good development news from pakistan after many days.
mumtaz nasir khan
Sep 23, 2012 07:19am
Fantastic efforts to promot yr motherland. keep it up.
hussain
Sep 23, 2012 02:43pm
i personly loved, and glad to see this...
Akhter Husain
Sep 22, 2012 07:04pm
Marvelous | The use of technology for photography of mountain climbers is a real innovation.We will now be able to see some very exciting moments of mountaineers..
ABlitzer
Sep 22, 2012 04:12pm
This is fascinating. I'd look forward to watching the footage shot by this team of climbers. Lots of respect, guys!
David M
Sep 22, 2012 11:33pm
Subhanallah! Awesome, the pics and the people who made them possible. Thanks, DAWN, for the story.
Najmul Hassan
Sep 23, 2012 08:30pm
Indeed a better use of technology....keep it up guys
londonistani
Sep 22, 2012 06:04pm
pakistan does not have four, but FIVE of the eight-thousanders k2 nanga parbat gasherbrum I gasherbrum II broad peak
Ashraf Bugti
Sep 23, 2012 01:53pm
VERY GOOD NEWS. PAKISTANIS ARE TALENTED IF THEY PUT THEIR HEART AND SOUL INTO ANYTHING...GIVE PTI OF IMRAN KHAN A CHANCE IN NEXT ELECTION AND WE WILL BRING IN MANY SCIENTIFIC MINDS INTO ACTION FOR GOOD OF COUNRTY INSHALLAH
nfhassan
Sep 24, 2012 09:31am
Marvelluous .... great endevour ...
Bari
Sep 22, 2012 03:45pm
Bravo guys. Such an interesting activity for me being a fotographer and an adventure sports lover. But beyond that its more an effort also to promote the bright side of Pakistan which I am really glad to know. Keep up the good job to show this marvelous land of wonders to the rest of the world.
kr in nyc
Sep 23, 2012 02:52am
Bari from Gilgit???
Asim Nawab
Sep 23, 2012 09:16am
GO GO AND GO .....
Haroon
Sep 24, 2012 08:34am
This was some group of swiss climbers. Not Pakistanis :)
qb@gmail.com
Sep 24, 2012 07:07am
thank u bhai jaan
Abbas
Sep 23, 2012 03:54pm
Keep it up guys great news.
kr in nyc
Sep 23, 2012 02:52pm
Now this is what drones----and videos---should be used for, not hate mongering among peoples but sharing the wonders of the world. I have been lucky enough to cycle through the Northern Areas of Pakistan 4 times and met nothing but hospitality amid some of the most stunning scenery on earth. I look forward to returning.