After the Avalanche: Life as an Adventure Photographer With PTSD (Part 1) | Nat Geo Live!
After the Avalanche: Life as an Adventure Photographer With PTSD (Part 1) | Nat Geo Live!

I’m gonna start before any adventures
for the magazine, before I was out in Antarctica, before any of this happened. I’m gonna start by telling
you how cool I was as a kid, because honestly,
I was pretty cool. I was the first hipster
ever, sideways trucker hat. I was kicking OshKosh B’Gosh,
popped collar, the whole deal, but really, the point of
this picture is to show you that from a very young
age, I was in campgrounds and my brother and I
were in campgrounds and we were always raised
to be in campgrounds. As my parents would have
it, they wanted us to go out from the tiniest age, and go
out and experience the world and push our boundaries
and try to understand what the world was around us, and that was very
important in my family, so they started us
skiing when we were two, climbing when we were five,
and the whole point was to sort of define
our own borders. This is me in the
Wind River Range, close to where I live
now in Bozeman, Montana, at about, I guess
I’m 11, 12 years old. You know, this is when
questioning boundaries started to take
a different turn. I was a smart kid. I went to high school
two years early and you know, exploring
boundaries took on a completely different
texture at that point, and what I mean by that
is I started exploring social boundaries rather
than physical ones, and when you’re 12
years old in high school and you’re hanging out
with 18 year old kids, you don’t have that
six years of experience to prepare you for
that, and so honestly, by the time I was 14 years old, I was completely dropped
out of high school. My parents sent me to rehab. I ran away three times,
and on the third time, as they say, the third
time is the charm, my parents gave up, and it’s
not that they wanted to give up or I blame them for
that, but they said, “Quite honestly, Cory,
we’re scared of you. “We don’t know what to do, “and if you can’t
abide by our rules, “then you can’t live at home.” So I was 14 and homeless. I look back on the
privilege of education and I shudder to think
what I was thinking, but that was the
decision I made, but that time period
led me to observe the world from a
very curious place. When I’m on the
streets, which was rare, because oftentimes,
my friends helped me and I wasn’t actually sleeping
on the streets too much, but sometimes I was,
and when I would see people picking out
of garbage cans, it took on a
different tone to me. When I myself would
have to look for food, it took on a different tone,
and what I mean by that is I started to see this as
closer to our natural state. That is a forager foraging,
and everybody in this room is actually much further removed than our evolved trajectory
than we like to think. That forager is far closer
to the way we evolved, and it was that story, that
time, seeing people struggle that actually got me excited
about telling bigger stories, and thank God for my parents
because they did start me climbing so young that
it had a gravitational, or I guess anti-gravitational
pull back to it. Climbing was the thing
that got me out of this, because I came back, I was
driven to do something, and oddly enough, visually and just in the
very nature of it it’s allegorical
to human struggle. It’s perfect for
telling the story of what humans are
capable of and how much we can overcome,
and not only that. Visually, it’s just stunning,
and you can grab people and you can capture
their imaginations So my early career
was all about this. I would go out and I
would take pictures with really crappy cameras, and I would try to
sell them to companies, and with that money, I
would go on other trips, and I’d save it
and I’d save more and I’d go on bigger trips and I’d sell to
different companies, and so that’s my whole
early career worked, and for a while, it was very
sustaining and I loved it because I could say I was
a professional photographer and people would
really respect me and I was really
proud of myself. I was kind of proving
people wrong at this point. I was proving
everybody that said I wasn’t gonna amount
to anything wrong. I was saying no, I’m
gonna amount to something, and I think a lot of my early
career was dedicated to that. A lot of it was dedicated
to making single images, and I call these
single stories, right? So a single story is an
image that you provide to a company that inspires
some sort of inspiration, that really inspires
people to buy raincoats. I’m a glorified raincoat
salesman, which is fine, or at least, it was
okay with me early on, but I started to
see this divergence between these single image
stories that I was hired to tell and the larger narrative
that I was really engaged in, the things that I really
wanted to talk about, which was not the heroic moment. It was the absolute opposite;
it was the anti-hero moment. It was the thousand yard stare. It was my version of
conflict photography in the outdoor space. I wanted to talk about
what it’s like to hurt, what it feels like,
and naturally, as you travel, for those of us who have had the great
privilege of traveling, the more you travel, the
more engaged you become. You become engaged with
culture and you start to grow a certain sense of compassion,
or at least, I did. This is a picture that I took
a very, very long time ago, but I remember it distinctly
because all of a sudden, after looking at this
image back in Huaraz, coming out of the hills in Peru, I remember looking
at this and thinking, oh, climbing’s kinda
dumb, and it’s true because it’s a very
self-indulgent act and I realized I
needed climbing, A, because it sustained me, and B, because it took
me to these places, but the most important
thing was the thing that I had missed to that point. I was so engaged in my own
struggle and telling that story that I was missing
everybody around me, so culture became
a very focal point in my early
development, but again, I wasn’t a photographer
of any note at this point. Nobody was gonna hire me to
go tell a cultural story. I was always gonna
be hired to go tell the story of mountains,
and that’s okay. This is a picture of
Mount Everest on the left. The little one in
the middle is Lhotse. In 2010, Conrad Anker, one
of our other explorers, asked if I would go here and
install time lapse cameras on the Khumbu Glacier
to monitor deflation, and it was for Jim Balog’s
movie, Chasing Ice, ’cause we wanted to look at
the impacts of climate change on the glaciers in
the Khumbu region. Coincidentally, Conrad
could kinda sense this. I mean, Conrad’s been a
climber for a long time and he could just
see me looking up, kinda like, I mean the
time lapse cameras are cool but that’s really cool. Like, you know,
I wanna go there. And so we actually finagled,
we called down to Kathmandu and I got a permit
to climb Lhotse. There was no way I
was gonna get a permit to climb Everest at this
point; it was too late, but they got me a
permit to climb Lhotse, and it was unlikely
that I was gonna do it. There was no way, because most
people take about eight weeks and they go up and down and up
and down to get acclimatized. I had been there
for three weeks. I hadn’t been higher
than base camp, and you know, I had six
days till the summit window, so people were like,
well, good luck, have fun. You know, go up, don’t die. That’s a common
theme in my life. Have fun, don’t die. But I ended up climbing it. I ended up climbing
it in six days, so a total of three and a
half weeks from my house to the top of the fourth
highest mountain in the world, and that got noticed. It got noticed by a
guy named Simone Moro. Now, Simone Moro is
an Italian climber. He’s known for hard
first winter ascents, and he called me after
this climb and he said in this awesome voice,
I’m gonna do it again. You guys ready? He talked like this. I’m not kidding, he
calls like this, he said, “Cory, do you want
to go Gasherbrum II? “Winter time, meet with us.” And I said, “I don’t
understand what you’re saying, “but I would love to go with
you because you’re my hero.” Where are we going?
Gasherbrum II. I’m like, okay, that
sounds great, where’s that? And he goes, “It’s in Pakistan,” and for those of
you who don’t know, there’s 14 8,000 meter
peaks in the world, so 14 peaks that are above
roughly 26,000 thousand feet, and nine of them are
in Tibet and Nepal, and five of them
are in Pakistan, and the nine in Tibet and
Nepal have all been climbed or had at this point all
been climbed in winter, but none of the Pakistani
8,000 meter peaks had ever been climbed in winter because they’re about
600 miles north, the weather’s much more severe, and a lot of people at
this point, I think, 16 expeditions over 26
years had tried and failed. But here’s the thing, I jumped,
I leapt before thinking. I didn’t even know any of that. Likewise, I didn’t know
that if I did this, I would be the first American to climb any 8,000
meter peak in winter, but of course, I said yes, and
all of a sudden, I was here on the literal, physical
border of India and Pakistan, so that’s something
to pay attention to. I remember taking this photo mostly because I
saw it happening. I knew the sun was gonna crest and I knew that we’re
on our summit push here, so I ran ahead in crampons,
that’s really hard. It doesn’t look
cool, you’re like… I ran and because I ran, I
was just so out of breath that I immediately vomited,
and then I get my camera out, I take my mittens off, I
think it’s actually minus 50 and I pull it up and I
realize I can’t take it. It’s frozen, I can’t turn
it off shutter priority, so I can’t change the shutter
speed, I can’t do anything, and it’s at a 50th of a second, which for those of you who
don’t know, that’s very slow especially when
you’re just vomited and you’re like
trying to do that, and I took this picture,
and that was that. I knew that moment was special because I also
knew in that moment that we were very
likely gonna summit. But the summit there
was just the beginning. Like I said, I didn’t know
I’d be the first American. I didn’t know any of
that, and to be fair, had I known, I don’t think it
would have been good for me. I was climbing out of
pure joy and I loved it. As we got to the
summit, a storm hit and on the way down, we were
hit by a massive avalanche. Six days out onto our
summit bid, one day, the last day to base camp,
we were hit by an avalanche and I sent this picture
to my mom when we got back and I said, “Mom, we made
it, we’re back safe.” And she goes, “Oh, it’s a lovely
portrait, is that Dennis?” And I said, “That’s me, mom.” She goes, oh, like,
oh, that’s gross. And I’m like, yeah, ’cause I
look like I’m 90, it is gross. My face is all swollen. Did you know that more people
have died this year from taking selfies than shark
attacks and lightning combined? Yeah, it’s bad news, don’t do
it, but do keep taking selfies ’cause apparently,
you can get ’em on the cover of National
Geographic, that’s a thing. But honestly, to get serious
for a second, that moment, as much as the avalanche was
a defining moment in my career and this image became something, it became much more than
I had ever anticipated. It represents something much
deeper, and I look at it now, I look at the gesture, I look
at the facial expression, and what I see is somebody
who’s struggling to deal with a traumatic event, a
very, very traumatic event. What happens to the
brain is when it thinks it’s going to die, it quite
literally prepares for death, and so when people say my
life flashed before my eyes, that’s a very real thing. It’s not the way
you think of it. It’s not like all these
beautiful visions and things. Sometimes, you’re like Cheerios,
parking tickets, you know. It’s all of it, compiled,
but I see this now, and what I see is a
person who is alive, realizing they’re alive after their brain has
prepared for death, and what that manifests as in
psychological terms is PTSD. That’s where it goes from there. The experience is
locked in your brain. Your sympathetic
nervous system kicks in and you are continually
experiencing that moment from that point on,
so it’s spinning out, and essentially, that’s
just a corrosive method for your brain,
and what you do is you try to find anything
to calm that spinning down. It’s where all
addiction stems from. So I didn’t know it at the time, but G II had given me the
first American to do something, 8,000 meter peak in
winter, and PTSD. It’s the gift that keeps on
giving, but we’ll get into that. I went home and I got married. I got married to
a wonderful woman. We had a wonderful
group of friends. We had incredibly
supportive families. We lived an alternate lifestyle that some parents would
be a little alarmed by. Like, okay, you’re
gonna go climb mountains and you’re gonna go climb rocks, and we had very
supportive family. But the problem was that
even right after my marriage, I started to feel disassociated and I started to feel withdrawal and I started to feel
confusion and darkness, and I didn’t know what it was. I felt like there was a
weight pushing down on me. Like, a literal weight. I’d wake up in the morning
and my brain was just going, and it was like this
very loud silence, and it reminded me of
a quote that I read, a quote from a book. It says, “They carried
all that they could bear, “and then some,
including a silent awe “for the terrible power of
the things that they carried.” That’s by Tim O’Brien from the
book The Things They Carried. G II didn’t just
leave me with PTSD. It gave me something else. It gave me an
opportunity to provide a storytelling example
to National Geographic. There was a Pakistani
military camp at base camp and because we were
there in the winter, they were very welcoming. They opened up
their doors to us. They were sort of
intrigued by us. Who are these three crazy
guys climbing in winter? ‘Cause in the summertime,
you can’t go here. It’s just off limits because there’s too many
people up on the glacier, and these guys are
18 to 24 years old. I was so alarmed by what I
had seen in western media and what was actually
happening there, so I took on the task of trying to communicate their story
in very, very brief terms, because I wanted to come
back and have something to show to Sadie
Quarrier, who had asked, she’s my photo editor
here, who had asked, hey, can you show me some
storytelling examples? It was a very unique
opportunity, extremely unique, and to look back at these and
see what I was trying to do, I can understand it,
and I think, you know, some of ’em are okay,
but oddly enough, I just wanna tell
how we got here. These guys would
come over to our camp and they’d kinda peek in and it’s like they
were six year olds and then they’d kinda
nervously walk in and we’d have tea with
them, and then finally, the reason it all worked out, the reason we became friends
is because they asked, hey, Cory, I know you
guys have internet. Could I check my Facebook? So now, I have a ton of
friends named Farooq, Muhammad, and I’m on the TSA watch
list, which is awesome. Can’t get on a plane
to save my life. But it was a real lesson
in creating intimacy and learning through
non-verbal communication and trying to take
pictures that told deeper, more meaningful stories, and really using that
which is different to show that which
makes us all the same. I love this photograph. It’s not technically perfect. What self respecting
photographer leaves a shadow in the bottom? It’s hardly in focus, but the
guy has a purple tracksuit. Like, that is dope,
that is awesome. And who dries their
clothes in minus 40? Why would you do that? But the thing is,
it’s just like, I’m a guy out drying my clothes. Sure, I’m in the
Pakistani military in the highest battlefield
in the world, but guess what? It’s relatable, and that’s
what brings us together. That’s the power of photography. It brings us together;
it brings us closer. This is hard living up here. This is very intimate
space, and to be invited in and to be shown that level of
friendship was a true gift, and it made me connect
with these guys in a way, a very real way, where I started feeling much more
for their struggle, and their struggle is one
that is very, very real. Bertrand Russell has
a wonderful quote. He says, “War does not
determine who is right, “only who is left,”
and I found this foot of a Pakistani soldier frozen
in the ice on the glacier, and it occurred to me that
this is somebody’s son and probably somebody’s brother
and maybe somebody’s uncle. These wars are ugly
and they leave scars, and our actions as
humans have consequences. They all do, but this led me to my first assignment
for National Geographic. They said, yeah, you can
take a couple pictures. We’ll try you out. Might not go so well, but
we’ll give you a shot. It was to an area
called Mustang. It’s on the northern border
of Nepal, just south of Tibet, and it was pivotal for
Tibetan freedom fighters at the end of the
cultural revolution, but before that, for thousands
of years before that, it was a space of absolute
beauty and mystery. We were using climbing
to access these caves and what I love about that is, back to one of the previous
photographs, it’s the hook. Adventure is the hook to get
people involved in science and then we can talk about
culture and human migration, so when you’re telling stories, you wanna bring these
elements together. That’s sort of what I’ve
found works best for me, and effective storytelling
always brings you in. It brings you very, very close. It takes you into the caves. It gives you the smells
and the textures. It shows you that dry, dry,
that sort of sand everywhere. But it’s interesting, when
I look at these now too, I feel like there’s a parallel with what was
happening in my life. I felt like I was standing
at the opening of a cave, looking in, not
wanting to go in, but just sort of being sucked
in, and not being able to see and feeling completely
this sense of vertigo. I didn’t know what
was happening, and much like Matt
is doing here, I was picking up random pieces and trying to fit them
together and figure them out, but nothing seemed to work. In this image, Matt is actually
finding a piece of pecha. Pecha is ancient script. A lot of times, it
looked like this. Pick it up, blow the dust off. You know, it was tax records
and things like that. Sometimes, it would
look like this, and that is an illuminated
folio that predates Buddhism. This is Bon, so this is
the animistic tradition of the Tibetan plateau before
the spreading of Buddhism. It gives a deeper understanding of how the culture
there evolved. It’s really about taking images that take tiny little
pieces of the puzzle and then put them all together. That’s what a
visual narrative is, and some of ’em have to take
bigger leaps than other, but it’s construction
from the ground up, and you have to open yourself up to seeing things in
a very different way. After a very long
time, we finally found what we were looking for,
which was human remains. This is rescue archaeology. These caves are actually
literally exfoliating off the side of the
mountain, so we’d go in and we’d collect
samples that we could. What we were really looking
for here were teeth. Now, if you think
of this in a way, basically, human
remains are like finding the corner and the edge pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle, right? Once you have that, you start
to piece things together. The reason teeth are
important is ’cause in your tooth enamel, there’s
something called strontium. It’s Sr 38 on the
periodic table, and what that has in it is a
geo thumb print, essentially. It tells you where
you were born, so if you can find
somebody’s remains and you get their
strontium index and they were born someplace
different than where they died and you do that with
everybody in the burial crypt, well, all of a sudden, you’re
painting a very real picture about human migration and trade, and this is the story
of our human family. This is why this matters. We’re connecting the pieces, and what’s so
important about that, and I think it’s more
important now than ever, now, this is ancient history,
but ancient history matters because it’s only through
understanding our past, I mean this so much
especially this week, only through
understanding our past can we hope to
navigate our future. So we have to pay
attention to this stuff. When we look back and we look
at the events that happened, how can we predict the
future, and hopefully, how can we alter it to
go down a better road? Because honestly, we
all look up at the sky and we think the world’s
so big and it’s infinite. You know what? It’s not. The sky might be infinite, but the world is very,
very, very finite. It’s extremely finite
and extremely fragile.

43 thoughts on “After the Avalanche: Life as an Adventure Photographer With PTSD (Part 1) | Nat Geo Live!”

  1. Allan Cruz says:


  2. Travel & Wildlife By ShinuPranavam says:

    Wow he is an awesome person

  3. ImaMonaKnight says:

    Hear Ya💗Thanks Foreverything💎💘

  4. Mats Stuckens says:

    very inspiring story

  5. shaneclone15 says:

    Nathan drake?

  6. Jeroenhesselman says:

    Just take ayahuasca man

  7. B. Hagedash says:

    Like with his behavior when he was 14, there will come a time when he looks back on this event and bitterly regrets wearing a foofoo scarf.

  8. Raphael DUPUIS says:

    This,could make me cry 😭😄😜😪

  9. Cormac Holland says:

    What an awesome video, I love his photography

  10. Brett Still says:

    Finally something good!! This guy is a miracle

  11. Sabina Hertzum says:

    One word defines this – awesome – but SOOOO not enough…. where can we see more of him/this???

  12. Sabina Hertzum says:

    One word defines this – awesome – but SOOOO not enough…. where can we see more of him/this???

  13. CodeDarkBlue says:

    That was incredible! I feel so lucky to have stumbled across this by accident. 🙂

  14. Dead Baron says:

    Thank you for posting more videos like this instead of trying to make those edgy, controversial videos for views. This is why people subscribe to your magazine, TV channel, and this channel.

  15. Anshuman Mishra says:

    who the fu*k dislikes such videos !!

  16. artfx9 says:

    great story

  17. Matthew Jackson says:

    Deep inhale, lip smack. Repeat. I expect greater post production editing from nat geo. This is unbearable to listen to.

  18. Ted Manasa says:

    Amazing. Cory is my photographic hero. Takes so much courage to share these dark and difficult things.

  19. Richard Bucker says:

    thank you!

  20. Eranita Padmuria says:

    When the part II will be published?? I am waiting.

  21. Jens H. says:

    really interesting ,u can learn many things from that

  22. Pavithra Kumar says:

    Hello to all the good people here!
    I am looking for an alternative living lifestyle, your advice on how to go about it would be highly appreciated!
    am a 34 year old Indian born guy. I am a college drop out, and I have
    no degree. I am an unmarried hobo. The only thing I own is my backpack
    some clothes a laptop and a smartphone. Eddie is my nomad name, my birth
    name is something else.
    I am sick of parties and don't like going
    out to meet people here, you are always judged based on your clothes,
    your car and the house you own. The only way you can get respect here is
    by pretending to be rich. I find it very disgusting as I don't like to
    pretend to be rich or behave like some other person, it feels so fake
    and uncomfortable.
    I am single and unlucky not to find love for the
    above mentioned reason. Girls wont look at you if you don't own a fancy
    car here.
    My dream is to become a landscape photographer go to
    Iceland and capture the Northern lights. I am not sure whether my dream
    is realistic or whether it is achievable or do I even have the talent to
    achieve it. But, the prospects of going to Iceland and capturing the
    landscape their surely excites me.
    I have some photography and
    videography skills, I can also speak decent English. I don't mind
    picking up a new skill if that is going to help me, I have good grasping
    power and can pick up things quickly. I am seeking some kind of
    alternative living option.

    I have some savings, can you advice me how to fulfill my dream and find the love of my life?

  23. Aysha Zahir says:

    splendid job cory

  24. Anna Meehan says:

    Cory, thank you! I work with patients with PTSD and found your talk to be spot-on with many! This video helps demonstrate that PTSD can happen to anyone and as a result of various stressful scenarios. I appreciate your openness and allowing yourself to appear "human" and vulnerable. You are an impressive individual!

  25. Shaukat Nawaz says:

    So you understood finally why Pakistan and Pakistanis are good or even great because of what has to bring them in the past and in the current but they are still fighting and fighting and survive another day every time, this is amazing guys.

  26. Freaky Chick says:

    Prince Harry's doppelgänger

  27. jjames05 says:

    the scarf seems unnecessary

  28. tokah01 says:

    Playing victim with PTSD. Typical.

  29. Fran Wilson Greer says:

    Awesome, inspiring life story

  30. Kari Fredrikson says:

    Self indulgent, egotistical, westerner. Pretentious,preening,immoral,soulless. Think about it. Who is he trying to impress? Oh,himself.

  31. Yo Esh says:

    you came from foreign and stepped in Nepals snow but i am from Nepal and i havent seen snow yet!

  32. Harry Len says:

    with NG no matter what your excellence as a photographer if you are not a storyteller they wouldn't hire you BTW this guy is an excellent storyteller….blah…blah…blah…

  33. Foot Lettuce says:

    Is it mandatory to wear a douchey-scarf if u live any kind of Bohemian nontraditional lifestyle?

  34. Abhishek Sangavikar says:

    Ummm with regards to Pakistan Army… They just bought it in themselves…. Its not just Killing them but even our soldiers @siachen… Wish they stood to the pact signed that was tabled by uno and call back their soldiers.

  35. BB 46 says:

    Only reason that you a can travel like that is because you come from a well off household.

  36. Soma Chattopadhyay says:

    Wonderful- found this presentation just great!! Thank you so much Cory for this encouraging talk. Scarf is nice too : like it 🙂

  37. Lolita Holiday says:

    I love your story.

  38. jayram dahal says:

    wow good job….

  39. Jack Chan says:

    egomaniac much?

  40. George Shaw says:

    Great story Cory!

  41. Patti Burton Salmonsen says:

    Cory I’m from Missoula Montana, can you talk to my entitled boys?

  42. dale newman says:

    isn't he second in line to the throne of England?

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