BASED IN: Miami, FL
KNOWN FOR: Destination wedding photography
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-Pro2 Camera, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens
In July 2018, KT Merry undertook one of the most gruelling trips a photographer can take: an eight-day trek to the summit of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. She packed an X-Pro2 for her journey and returned with stunning photography that perfectly describes the harsh conditions she battled, and the rewards for doing so.
"My husband, Chad, and I found ourselves on our way towards Kilimanjaro thanks to two clients, Andres and Nadear. We’d been commissioned to document their journey as they made the trip with 12 friends. Over the last few years, Chad and I have traveled lots, particularly to Kenya as part of our project Render Loyalty, but summiting the world’s largest freestanding mountain was going to be a whole new challenge.
"I had a FUJIFILM X-Pro2 in my bag, along with my medium format film camera loaded with FUJICOLOR PRO 400H color negative film."
"On day one, we set off on the Lemosho Route at an altitude of 2,360m. The Londorossi Gate, our set-off point, was a blur of excitement and controlled chaos. Buses dumped off hikers eager to get started, while porters lined up to receive their loads, each with a 20kg weight limit.
"I took the opportunity to check my camera gear: I planned to shoot film in the medium format camera, since I’d had success with that on a previous trip. Knowing I was to have no power or replacement kit once we’d left, I packed plenty of spare batteries.
"I’d advise anyone tackling a trip like this to invest in a really good quality daypack made for trekking – with a waist belt to evenly distribute the load. Pack well, so you can ‘rough it’ comfortably."
"Within an hour, we’d trekked into the wet rainforest, heading straight up a packed mud trail at a slow pace set by our guides, while the porters sped past us. “Pole, pole,” they said, which means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili.
"‘Can’t we go any faster?’ I thought. We took a short hike to 2,895m before settling at the Mti Mkubwa campsite, a small clearing surrounded by dense forests. There, we set up our tents and settled in for tea and snacks. This would be our routine for the next seven days.
"The next day, we set off at a more routine pace. The hours moved quickly; most of our concentration was focused on where each foot was placed and I carefully watched the set of boots in front of us, mirroring their steps. We grasped at rocks and ascended what felt like straight up, progressing from 2,895m to 3,500m. This day felt much more like climbing!
"The evening’s camp, Shira 1, was set beside a beautiful river and opened to dazzling views of Kilimanjaro. It was warm enough for us to explore and take photos for a while. I used the X-Pro2 and XF18-55mm, capturing the vastness of the landscape around us."
"Day three saw our longest hike yet. After reaching our camp, we completed an acclimatization hike. This involved hiking up a small peak, resting for 20 minutes at elevation, and then returning to camp. Each morning and evening, we checked our heart rate and oxygen levels. Many of us were beginning to feel the effects of our increasing altitude.
"I realized at this point how much I was enjoying using the X-Pro2 alongside my film camera. Their very different formats and focal lengths complemented each other well, and the portability of the X Series camera was a blessed relief given the 30lb or so I was already carrying in my daypack. Even while juggling my gear and navigating uneven terrain, the X-Pro2 was easy to use, especially with the live view LCD screen. As with film, I shot on manual, staying at around F8 for landscapes and F2.8 for portraits."
"We passed through Moir Hut, Lava Tower, Barranco, Karanga, and finally to Barafu, our base camp well above the clouds. At 4,600m, this alpine desert doesn’t support plant life or much else beyond rocks and dirt. The rough terrain was transformed with clustered camps of colorful tents in the otherwise moonlike landscape. We had an afternoon to rest and an early dinner before we retreated to our tents in anticipation of the summit.
"By now I was beginning to compile a list of advice in my head that I’d give to photographers following in my footsteps. For instance, shoot at mid-range or small apertures to give yourself some depth-of-field. You also need to know when to climb and when to shoot – team up with other photographers to take turns with the camera, that way you won’t have to look through your viewfinder all the time. Oh, and really comfortable underwear is a must!"
"In the darkness and cold, the glow of headlamps and excited chatter filled the air. It was 10pm and we’d soon be off for our attempt on the summit. Four hours later – after walking at what felt like a glacial pace – I finally understood why “pole, pole!” was so important; we’d been conserving our energy. While this had been frustrating early on, I could see now that it’s the only way to make it to the very top of this incredible mountain.
"By 6am, the sun began to rise and we started to see more and more of the landscape. We were climbing in ice and snow now; every step was slow and took extra effort to avoid slipping and falling. “Pole, pole,” I said to myself.
"We came to a sign for Stella Point. Relieved, I thought we’d made it to the top. Then our guide told us we still had 45 minutes left to reach Uhuru Peak at 5,896m, the true summit. My heart sank. This part of the trek, while less vertical, was all ice and snow. This was where many climbers reached their breaking point. The snow was thick and I fell several times, the camera and my bare hands hitting the snow."
"As climbers reached the summit, my husband Chad and I captured their arrival as best we could. The scene at Uhuru Peak was surreal: we were surrounded by glaciers, and a stunning sunrise swept across the entire frozen landscape. I was lucky I didn’t feel sick at this point, though everything was becoming a blur.
"While our cameras’ batteries took a hit from the extreme cold, I was impressed by how well the X-Pro2 performed at the summit. One of my favorite aspects of this camera is its color output. It took very little post-production work for the shots to look entirely cohesive with my film shots. The grain and color were so close to the film shots I could share the photos side by side."
"Our guides urged us to begin our descent before we all became too ill from altitude sickness. It took about five hours to reach base camp, where we had a few hours to eat and rest before we packed for the journey to the next camp, where we were to spend the night.
"The next day, after an eight-hour descent back to Mweka Gate, we were driven into Moshi. We were filled with accomplishment, exhaustion and excitement as we anticipated our first shower, a cold beer and a night’s rest. Soon, we’d return to our everyday lives. Chad and I would climb aboard yet another flight for another destination to photograph. But at the same time, I felt changed: time had slowed down as we climbed Kilimanjaro ‘pole, pole’, and even now it still feels slower somehow."KT Merry is a Fujifilm-compensated professional photographer.
To see more of KT's work, visit her website.