John Thornton is an award winning adventure sports photographer, ﬁlmmaker and accomplished athlete. He mainly shoots skiing, climbing and mountaineering. As a skier and climber himself, a lot of the time he is documenting his own adventures. When a friend suggested exploring high mountain terrain in a country totally unknown to him, he couldn't resist the lure of adventure. We caught up with John for his behind-the-scenes insight on this film-making trip to capture both the skiing and the experience of travelling in Kyrgyzstan:
Last year my good friend and expedition leader Ernst Sprenger inquired about my interest in climbing and skiing untouched, high altitude, remote peaks. My answer being “Of course dude! But where?” The answer was Kyrgyzstan…I had barely heard of this country but before I knew it, I had packed my bags and begun the best ski expedition of my life.
Our aim was to explore two regions in order to climb and ski mountains that nobody had before. The ﬁrst region being Ak-Shirak and the second being the Suek range in the South East of Kyrgyzstan. They were both host to a great number of unclimbed peaks but there was little information about what we would face. This gave me a mix of emotions. As a photographer I wanted to know exactly what I will see, but the adventurous side wanted that element of exploration. The facts we did know were:
- Our Base Camp would be around 3600m with peaks ranging from 4000m to well above 5000m altitude.
- There are certainly no lifts! To successfully climb and ski these mountains we would have to deal with long, exhausting approaches (more on that later)!
- We would be hundreds of kilometres from civilisation and a proper rescue.
We spent the next few months preparing physically whilst refreshing on the vital skills - such as crevasse rescues:
During the trip we encountered what we had hoped for. A true adventure where we were entirely reliant on our own skills. Our surroundings were prehistoric and magniﬁcent. From the mountains that towered high above us to the wilderness that lived around us. We had found the right place for an adventure in a world where much has already been explored.
Over the next 24 days we discovered a variety of terrain from rocky, barren peaks to heavily glaciated summits. This was undoubtedly some of the best ski mountaineering I had ever done but it came at a price. Many of the peaks required long approaches that on most days we toured, climbed and skied 15km - sometimes even 30km! During our time there we managed to summit 14 peaks of which 8 had never climbed before.
If you’re looking for stunning landscapes, a remote adventure and a cultural experience I cannot recommend Kyrgyzstan enough. A massive thanks to Ernst Sprenger for organising this trip and to ITMC Travel who provided us with our Base Camp and Transport. ITMC Travel are currently producing a guidebook for the area and our additions will be published later this year.
Reliable and robust gear was essential on trip like this. I don’t even know of a ski shop in Kyrgyzstan itself! I have been using f-Stop’s Ajna for the last few years and it has never failed me - I just love the size of it! It gives you the capability to go on big missions but also strap everything down for those days when you need to go fast and light.
My other favourite gear which was on the packing list for this trip was:
- Canon 1DX Mark II which is an absolute power house for sports photography and ﬁlming.
- Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens is so versatile in many scenarios.
- Whitedot R.98 Carbonlite skis which are light but allow you to charge on the way down.
- Julbo Aerospace goggle that is great for touring due to its clever SuperFlow system.
- Jöttnar’s Bergelmir jacket which, whilst breathable keeps out the gnarliest of weather.