Pakistan’s northern areas are very rich in terms of mountains and scenic beauty, and with some of the highest mountains in the world such as the three great mountain ranges of Hindu Kush, Himalaya and The Great Karakoram, it’s a mountaineer’s dream.
But what drew Petr Jan Juračka, a Czech scientist at Charles University of Prague and a professional photographer, to the country’s rich landscape was the chance to break a world record in altitude photography.
Petr has worked in South Africa, Lesotho, Egypt, Uganda, Mongolia, Greenland, Cuba, Russia and Germany for various photographic and film-making projects.
What he is really passionate about, however, is using cameras attached to drones to capture the beautiful scenes at some the world’s highest places.
As Petr explains, he had flown his drone in places such as Uganda, South Africa and Lesotho but there was always something missing. “I should be satisfied with all of that but I wasn’t. I have been waiting for something bigger and higher. I wanted a big project, as big as a project can be, and the project came to me.”
The way Petr tells it, it was fate. Czech climber Klára Kolouchová called him one day to ask if he would like to be part of a climbing expedition to K2. It didn’t take long for the photographer to agree to the project and he is really glad he made the journey to Pakistan.
“K2 is the mystic point attracting all of us. I have to admit that I had some doubts about travelling there, but my experience was really great! I really appreciate the hospitability, kindness and charisma of the Pakistani people. I would like to take my family there to see it with their own eyes.”
Before coming to Pakistan, the highest altitude at which Petr had photographed was at 3,000 metres in the Austrian Alps.
Although he was unsure if his equipment would work at higher elevations — K2’s peak is located at 8, 611 metres — it was an ideal place for him to try to break into the Guinness World Book of Records.
Pakistan, after all, has one of the highest concentrations of high peaks in the world — it has 108 peaks above 7,000 metres and countless others above 6,000 metres.
In Europe, by contrast, the highest peak is at Mount Elbrus in Russia and it is just 5,642 metres high.
But Petr worried that the low temperatures might cause the batteries of his drone to stop working — at that point, the lowest temperature at which he had flown a drone was 18.5C below zero.
He was also concerned about the low pressure he would encounter at the peaks (the drone didn’t perform well in tests that Petr conducted in scientific chambers at low pressure environments).
During preparation time, he found out that the K2 base camp is dubbed the Bermuda triangle of drones and decided to keep a duplicate of everything.
Petr eventually ended up carrying equipment that weighed in at 75 kg, and had two DSLRs, two tablets, two computers and two drones on his trip.
A good decision in hindsight considering one of this drones crash during the first test flight.
On June 30, 2016, Petr flew his drone at the altitude of 6,334 metres above sea level on K2’s Camp One for three minutes under freezing conditions — a likely world record.
While he is yet to be verified by the Guinness Book of World Records, Petr says the possibility of being included as a record breaker for photographing at such a high altitude has made him so excited, he has sleepless nights.
The photographer adds that he shall never forget the beauty of Pakistan or its people. “In comparison with the Alps or African hills, Karakoram is a completely different story. It is huge, harsh but beautiful. It is a paradise for people.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 27th, 2016