After hours of strenuous climbing, you've made it to the peak. You're ecstatic and you want to live this moment forever. You also want to record it on film. You dig out your camera, take a couple of shots, and just when the mood sets in, the ominous red light on the display flickers. And then it shuts down. Agonising, isn't it?
Even while you manage to brave the elements on a trek, the gadgets you take along after much deliberation can fall prey to the vagaries of nature. Either the battery of your laptop or camera conks off because of the weather or the machinery of your cellphone acts up. But combating these evil forces isn't a problem, expert trekkers say. Simple remedies are at hand to protect your gadgets and make the battery last.
Keep the elements out
Mountaineer Sanjay Saith (52) learnt how unpredictable gadgets become at high altitudes the hard way. On an expedition to Mt Everest, the needles on his light meter (a device photographers use to measure the amount of light) became sluggish due to contraction of the metal, which resulted in improper readings.
His advice to photographers is to protect their gadgets from even the smallest amount of dust. "Since the metal leaves on the shutter are susceptible to snapping when exposed to dirt, drape the camera in a jacket that is made from foam padding and lined with waterproof poly."
Kaustubh Upadhye (27), who has been shooting pictures on his treks for the past eight years, protects his camera from rain with a waterproof, shock-resistant bag and a camera cleaning kit. The kit comprises lens solution, cleaning cloth, brush and cotton buds.
The idea, says trekking enthusiast Pinakin Karve (25), is to save your gadgets from two harmful things -- moisture and impact. In the rains, Karve wraps his camera in a thick plastic bag before putting it inside the camera cover. When it gets dusty, he uses a blower or brush to clean the camera. Silica gel pouches help keep moisture away but they must be taken out of the bag from time to time and left in the open to dry, Karve cautions.
As an added protection, trekkers could cover their haversack with a poncho or a big polythene bag.
Layers and insulation
To keep their gear safe, trekkers have several innovative techniques that they swear by. Some wrap their laptop in a T-shirt, others use toilet paper and newspaper to cut out the moisture, some others stick to bubble wrap. But the idea is to add layers.
Some camera bags come with layers of insulation and a rain fly, a protective cover attached to the bag, which shrouds it completely when zipped up. Trekker Hitesh Gusani (37) wraps his camera and laptop in sheets of bubble wrap before keeping them in his water-resistant haversack. He also wraps the lenses with tissue paper and newspaper.
When taking shots in the rain, he holds a polythene bag or a small umbrella above the camera to prevent water from trickling in.
Karve uses a waterproof laptop bag but he, too, adds layers to insulate his equipment. He wraps the laptop with a T-shirt and a polythene bag before putting it inside the laptop bag.
But there are times when despite your best efforts, water still finds its way to your gadgets. Don't worry if that happens.
"When water's entered your camera, keep it beside a fireplace all night and then inside your sleeping bag or jacket," advises Gusani.
Making the battery last
But a safe camera (or laptop, or cellphone) is no better than a dead one. How can you ensure that your battery doesn't give up on you? One way to do that is to carry reserves.
Upadhye learnt the wisdom of carrying spares when he'd gone to Leh for a 15-day trek last year, and his Nikon D80 conked off on the fourth day. He had carried an extension board, so he recharged his camera at a brief halt he made at a village that had electricity. But Upadhye knew that he'd got plain lucky.
In the next trek, he carried a spare battery pack along.
On a trek, Karve carries three sets of rechargeable batteries for his Canon S3 IS. "I use them in rotation and carry an extra pair of spare pencil cells."
But the entire kit allows Karve only four days of continuous shooting.
Which is why, Upadhye says it's equally important to conserve the batteries.
"For instance, using the flash in low light conditions drains more battery. Instead, carry a tripod so your camera is steady when light isn't adequate, and you won't have to waste battery on flash," he says.
To make the battery of a digital camera last longer, switch off auto-focus and preview options and turn off the display. "I use the camera mostly in manual mode.
Turning it on and off in short intervals uses up too much battery," he says.
On a trek to Gangotri, Gusani left his Canon PowerShot out in the open for a while to get it acclimatised to the weather. He also carried a solar-powered charger to recharge the batteries.
"To make them last longer, batteries must be kept in warm places such as the tent or a sock. But there's nothing you can do about laptop batteries; you have to carry a spare one," he says.
The key to using your electronic equipment on treks is to use them sensibly. Carry a solar-powered charger and whip it out each time the sun shows up, and stow the gadgets away whenever it gets too cold or windy or if it begins to pour. It's all about defying the natural elements smartly.