When Hornets Attack: WildChina Expert Stefen Chow

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Just last week, WildChina’s Beijing offices were pleased to welcome WildChina expert and renowned photographer and mountaineer Stefen Chow. Stefen has just returned from leading a group of students on a photography trip through Guizhou. After catching us up on what the students thought of the trip, Stefen took a moment to give us the inside scoop on his life adventures:

When Hornets Attack: WildChina Expert Stefen Chow
(Denali, or Mount McKinley, Alaska)

Stefen, who originally trained as an engineer, explained that he first fell in love with the mountains when he was 16 years old. But it wasn’t love at first sight. Instead of an inspiring story of breath-taking views, or the discovery of a zen-like solitude–which we admit, we were expecting–Stefen told us about an encounter with a pack of hornets.  It goes something like this…

On a school trip to hike Mount Ophir, in Johor, Malaysia, Stefen and his classmates were assailed by a pack of hornets and were forced to retreat from the mountain.

What struck Stefen (other than an all-consuming panic) was how the chaos of the attack completely threw all preassigned roles and responsibilities out the window. The “leaders” of the trip were no longer in control of the situation–shy classmates stepped up to the plate and class clowns lost their voice and looked to others for direction.

Stefen says he was honestly taken aback by the people his classmates revealed themselves to be, in that moment. Stefen recognized how being in the wilderness can bring out the best and the worst in people, and really give you insight into a person’s character. He realized that out in the thin mountain air, you have the opportunity to see who people really are… and from that moment, he was hooked.

When Hornets Attack: WildChina Expert Stefen Chow
(The Poverty Line – China)

Since that trip, Stefen has hiked and back packed all over the world. Some of his favorite expeditions have been the ascents to Denali and Everest (which thankfully were not plagued by angry hornets!).  One life-altering realization that did hit him on the mountainside a little more traditionally was his love for photography.  Chosen as the impromptu photographer on his Everest adventure, Stefen realized that not only did he love the art of capturing his surroundings on film, but he also had enough material to launch a career.

When Hornets Attack: WildChina Expert Stefen Chow
(Portrait of Peking Opera. Collaboration with Ministry of Culture, China)

Trying to balance these two passions has proved tricky, and while Stefen continues to pursue as much time outdoors as possible, he is currently focusing his efforts on his career as a professional photographer. In addition to leading WildChina photography trips for students, Stefen’s work tackles a whole range of topics and subjects. Today his resume includes acting as the official photographer for the Miami HeatLA Clippers tour in China, features in Foreign Policy magazine, and judge for Nikon’s 2012-2013 photo contest.

While Stefen’s career in photography has sapped some of the time he used to spend exploring the mountains of the world, he has not, he says with a smile, “officially retired” from mountaineering. In the (hopefully near) future, Stefen has plans for a five week Shelf to Shelf crossing of Greenland, where perhaps he will discover yet another piece about himself.


If you are interested in learning some tricks of the photography trade on your China travels, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

Photos by Stefen Chow

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