Loweprofessional Petr Jan Juračka has been into drone photography since the early days of DIY builds and has followed his passion into the newer commercial quadcopters; he has flown around the world from the Austrian Alps to Czech National Parks, venturing into South Africa and Lesotho and maneuvering in the windy deserts of Mongolia. But he never thought that his biggest piloting challenge was right around the corner.
Petr has just set a World Record for flying his drone at K2 base camp in Pakistan, at an altitude of 5,001 m.a.s.l., and has reached a max elevation of 6,100 m. Read more about his fascinating adventure and check out his full video below!
“It was on a cold November afternoon in 2015, when I first met the great Czech climber, Klára Kolouchová, in Prague,” Petr says. Klára is the first Czech woman to have summited Mount Everest (8,848 m, 2007), and today, she is probably the only active Czech women in the high mountains. She ascended Aconcagua (6,962 m, 2005) in South America, Denali (6,199 m, 2013) in Alaska, as well as Cho Oyu (8,201 m, 2006) in China. “Klára offered for me to join her on the 2016 U.S. International K2 Expedition. I could not believe that it was true. This was a definitely a challenge for me! I have never been so high! My previous altitude record was 3,368 m at Hochalmspitze in Hohe Tauern, Austria. We summited Hochalmspitze in winter conditions in 2011, and this was surprisingly excellent training for Pakistan!”
Petr immediately forced himself to increase his physical training. “Beyond swimming and climbing artificial walls, I felt I need to run as much and as frequently as possible. Being a father of two daughters and finishing my Ph.D. at Charles University in Prague just weeks before departure, I had to figure out how to juggle it all. Therefore, I started to run with my younger daughter in the pram, when she needed to sleep. This usually took about two hours after lunch, and we were able to finish a 20 km circuit around my city each time. I enjoyed that training!”, Petr adds.
However, the physical training is only one small piece of the puzzle. Then there is the gear. Getting to K2 base camp is not an easy task at all, as it lies on a glacier between K2 (8,611 m) and Broad Peak (8,051 m) at an elevation of 5,001 m, more than hundred forty km from the closest trail suitable for off-road jeeps. “My friend Lucie Výborná, a journalist accompanying another great Czech climber, Radek Jaroš was at K2 in 2014, and advised me of one crucial thing – to have duplicates of everything! So I decided to take two DSLRs (Nikon D500 & Nikon D810A), as well as two drones (DJI Phantom 3 Advanced), two computers (MacBook Pro and Toshiba Tecra), two tablets (iPad mini and Huawei with Android), two pairs of all the cables, etc. Together with some clothes and a ridiculous amount of batteries, this weighed about 75 kilos, more than I weigh!” Petr smiles.
“More than the altitude, I was afraid of the cold. The drones are powered by LiPo batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. I keep both my drones on the old firmware, which allows them to start with a frozen battery, but still before every start I warm up the batteries with my body by keeping them in my sleeping bag. Before I left for the expedition I ventured out for a testing trek and flight across the highest point in the Czech Republic, the Giant Mountains, when it was freezing. The lowest temperature at which I was flying a drone was about -18.5 C.”
“We gained a lot of knowledge about flying in the winter during that time, and I got the feeling it might be able to fly at base camp, as well as over the glaciers. However, after a serious googling I found the K2 basecamp to be a Bermuda Triangle for drones! In 2013, Polish climber David Kaszlikowski was probably the first man with a drone here. He wrote to me that the drone flew, but that he could not get good footage because of mechanical problems with the gimbal. In 2014, another drone was carried here but crashed immediately. And mine? I smashed it just a few meters before reaching base camp! However, I had a second one, as my friend advised me, so my adventure could go on!”
“Since my first chat with Klara, I knew I would carry my drone in the Lowepro DroneGuard BP 450, as I was thrilled with its performance in Africa. We had filmed on the coasts of South Africa and the highest peak of Lesotho, Thabana Ntlenyana (3,482 m). We invented an additional warming system for the bag, but I found this not suitable for the expedition, because of substantial battery consumption. So, I decided to just warm-up the batteries with my body.”
View Petr’s South African adventure in the YouTube video below!
“The above images show us in the Karakoram, Pakistan. After two days in airplanes, one day at the hotel and one day in the Jeep we were looking forward to six long days trek to base camp! Together with the sherpas, hundreds of porters, donkeys and some other climbers we were definitely on the go!”
“When you are this remote, the first thing you notice is the night sky illuminated with zero light pollution. This beautiful scenery is what were people used to seeing centuries ago!” This is Broad Peak (8,051 m) shot by Petr directly from K2 base camp. While all the guys slept, Petr enjoyed shooting and rendering time-lapses in his tent.
Watch Petr’s full video from training to ascent below!
Be sure to check out Klára Kolouchová‘s webpage and stay updated with regular news from the expedition.
Klára and Petr would like to thank all of their sponsors, without whom the expedition could not have happened. Among the most important donators is Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz, International Boarding School in Switzerland, whose students they look forward to meeting this autumn.