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January 2010: Meili Snow Mountain, China

From the Photographer

Scott Warren

Rising above the remote northwest corner of China's Yunnan Province, the Meili Snow Mountain Range includes 22,241-foot high Kawagebo Peak.

This impressive summit straddles the border between Yunnan and Tibet and is considered to be one of eight sacred mountains in Tibetan Buddhism. And, given the vast range of elevations of the region, The Nature Conservancy has identified these mountains as a "landscape with major ecological value."

All this was absent from my thoughts as our 4WD left the small nearby town of Deqin. But, after climbing quickly from the deep mountainous cranny that enveloped the village, it became abundantly clear why this place is so special.

Twenty minutes or so from Deqin our driver, a local Tibetan with steady hands on the steering wheel, pulled off at a remote roadside overlook. Yawning to our west was yet another insanely deep gorge (that of the Mekong River, I was told) and beyond that stood the Meili Snow Mountain. Its decidedly pointed summit mingled with passing clouds as dark forests reached only part way up its slopes.

The mountain's presence was considerable, much more so than the peaks in my home state of Colorado and certainly as impressive as those I had seen years before in Nepal.

As for the peak's sacred stature among Tibetans, that became readily apparent when I realized that tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands, perhaps) of prayer flags were strung around a pagoda-styled viewing platform, along walkways and between every available post. Flapping in the Himalayan wind, the flags dispersed the prayers of all of the faithful who traveled to this sacred spot.

Clicking away furiously for some minutes, I soon stopped, hung my camera on my shoulder and simply soaked in the scene.

Our passing of this vista came in mid-afternoon, a time of day that photographers often loathe. Indeed to shoot from here at sunrise or dusk would have been advantageous, but I was lucky to be in this place at all, with whatever light was available at the time.

When our party passed back through two days later, it was late in the day — almost dusk — but clouds had since engulfed the peaks and snow burdened the prayer flags.

I photograph with a Canon EOS 5D camera (digital) and a variety of lenses. For this and most other images I used a 24-105mm Canon lens on the camera. It has a wide ranging focal length and is relatively lightweight. I shoot everything in RAW format because it offers a better range of highlights and shadows. This may mean I have more work on the computer back home, but I will have a considerably better image in the end.

Scott S. Warren has photographed for The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian Magazine and more. He is a 1999 Alicia Patterson Fellow for his work in Siberia. His work can be viewed at


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