Exploring the Indonesian Rainforest in Search of Orangutans

Adventure photographer Grace TSP in Sumatra in the Indonesian Rainfores with the 38L Hybrid Duffle Backpack

Grace TSP is a documentary and adventure photographer/filmmaker based in North West England. She is a multidisciplinary creative and prides herself on her ability to shoot in a multitude of sporting disciplines and environments from diving on shipwrecks and interacting with some of the oceans largest sharks to rigging and hanging off sheer rock faces and ascending snowy peaks. Her goal is to communicate the incredible feats of human skill, strength and persistence in our world’s wildest elements and generally create a sense of wonder as to how humans utilise our natural playgrounds.

Written by Grace TSP

In September, I undertook one of my most physically challenging shoots of my career. 10 days in the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, documenting the local guides and their endless pursuit to protect Indonesia’s Orangutan population. I used to live in Thailand, so I was well acclimatised to South East Asia’s intense humidity, but the dense jungle terrain and especially sleeping in the wild was going to be a whole new experience for me. I knew I was going to have to pack light but at the same time, I was going to be spending 5 days continuously trekking in the jungle with no opportunity to charge camera kit or wash clothes so I also needed to have a significant amount of spare batteries and kit on me for the duration of my time under the jungles canopy. Upon arriving in the town of Bukit Lawang on the edge of the national Park, I repacked my backpack for going off-grid.

Grace in the rainforest holding a camera and an image of an Orangutan

My kit for the jungle comprised of the following:

- Two cameras, two lenses, an off camera flash and 14 spare camera batteries.
- A drone and drone controller, 2 hard drives and 8 memory cards.
- A set of waterproofs, a Rubik’s cube and notebook for evening entertainment.
- A hammock, a sleep bag, a tarp to cover the hammock.
- A 1.5 litre water bottle and packet of rehydration tablets
- Spare underwear, a spare top, a spare trousers and a spare pair of socks.

And with that we set off into the 7,927 km2 jungle in search of the illusive giant apes. After a couple of hours of trekking to camp 1, we caught a glimpse of our first orangutan, a huge male moving through the jungle but a couple of metres from the forest slow. It was quite dark at this point and so I wasn’t able to take any photos but simply enjoyed the experience and what incredible luck in witnessing one of these incredible animals so quickly. We arrived at camp after dark so I found a good spot by the river to sent up my hammock and after a beautiful camp fire meal prepared by the porters, crashed out to the orchestral soundtrack that was the jungle at night.

The next day we set off super early, expecting a couple of hours trek before we’d reach a location where we may see some orangutans. This wasn’t necessary as the jungle gods continued to bless us with good luck. Within 45 minutes of beginning our trek, we found a mother, father and baby orangutan preparing for a morning nap high in the canopy. Whilst mother and baby slept, the male watched guard nearby, eating fruit from the trees and occasionally having his own little siesta. We spent all day with this family of 3 who didn’t seem to mind our company, the inquisitive baby even came to check me out, descending the canopy to be within a couple of metres from me…I think my ginger hair must have intrigued it and thought "what a funny looking orangutan".

Grace trekking through the Sumatran rainforest and her guide

We returned to camp late and the next morning packed everything up to move deeper into the jungle. We spent the next 3 days with no sightings until our guide tracked down the crown jewel of the jungle, the alpha male, affectionately named King Louis, and boy did his size and character earn him that title. We found him sitting atop one of the tallest trees in the area, as if surveying his kingdom. Eventually it was time to leave the jungle. I was going to miss the connection I had found to nature here…I hadn’t had access to my mobile phone for 5 days. It was awesome and a beautiful reminder of how simple things can be.  My legs were knackered, my clothes were soaked and I smelt like literal garbage but I have a camera and a head full of beautiful memories. Despite being so physically demanding, it was also my most rewarding shoot to date.

Grace trekking through the Sumatran rainforest with the 38L Hybrid Duffle backpack and an image of an orangutan
Thanks so much to GROUNDTRUTH for making my journey a hell of a lot more comfortable and convenient.


 RIKR 38L Hybrid Duffle Backpack review:

My last camera bag was a very expensive (over £500) camera bag by a very well known brand. It was designed specifically for adventure photography but it is COMPLETELY overshadowed in every way by this backpack! I recently put this bag through its paces on a 10 day shoot off-grid in the jungle’s of Sumatra. The bag withstood tropical downpours, bushwhacking through dense jungle vines, sliding on my arse down steep muddy mountainsides and wading waist deep through rivers. I managed to carry all of my camera equipment for the entirety of the expedition in this bag and despite it weighing a tonne, I never once had to have a good ol' moan about the weight or how much my back was hurting, this bag is so damn comfy! An added bonus is that despite accommodating a rather incredible amount of kit, the bag doesn’t look that bulky, meaning I could get away with passing about 18kg off as hand luggage on international flight, winner!

RIKR Tech Pouch Review:

I've had many tech pouches in the past, but this one surpasses all of them by a country mile. I’ve never had the ability to store all of my memory cards, cables and hard drives in the same place before. It’s so easy packing my laptop bag now…laptop, check! Tech Pouch, Check! Ok, let’s go! There are so many different areas to store things so it’s amazing if like me, you’re really OCD with how things are stored, everything can have its own separate compartment. Absolutely Epic. I may get a second!

RIKR Camera Bag Review:

On A recent shoot …I somehow managed to accidentally lob my RIKR Camera Bag with about £5k worth of camera equipment in it, down a steep hill. It hit every tree and rock possible on its way down and landed in a big muddy puddle on the road below. My Camera Gear was absolutely fine and after a quick rinse, the camera bag looks good as new. I think that says it all. The padding inside this camera bag, really is unlike anything I’ve seen in a camera sling bag before! Your camera is so snug and protected in there! The mesh side pockets are also such a great feature! I can fit my off camera flash in one side and a water bottle in the other. I did a full day’s forest shoot with only this bag on me, it fitted everything I needed and more!


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