On January 15, Renan Ozturk and Cory Richards topped out on Tawoche, a 6,500-meter peak in Nepal, after completing a difficult 1,200-meter new route. They had to battle dehydration—no water for 36 hours—and dangerously loose rock to finish the route. It was a major effort. But here's what was really amazing: On January 20, four days after they descended safely to base camp, the two guys posted a creative, heartfelt, beautifully shot video about their climb. One day later, they posted a follow-up covering the final climb to the summit and the descent, thus breaking the news of their own success.
I think this could be a game-changer for expedition climbing films. In their immediacy and authenticity, these short clips blow many slickly produced expedition films out of the water—I find them infinitely more inspiring than TV-style documentaries. Ironically, the climbers are sponsored in part by the North Face, which led the way in big-media big-walling during the first Internet boom in the late 1990s. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the climbers on those projects in Baffin Island and Pakistan, among other places, but when your game plan includes a multi-person camera crew, it inevitably dictates the terms of the climb, including endless fixed ropes, portaledges, days of hauling and repositioning, and releading pitches. It dictates the choice of route itself.
Ozturk and Richards chose a chossy, dangerous, unclimbed alpine route at high altitude. They had no idea if they would succeed; in fact, the odds were very much against success. They climbed alone and shot their own footage, each carrying a single digital camera; they had a helmet-cam rig and a few extra batteries. They edited these clips in their tents at base camp and uploaded them by satellite modem (except for two clips for which they had to race down to Namche Bazaar after their sat link died). "It is arguable which was harder and took more time: the climb or the dispatches," Richards said.
In the intro to their summit-day clip, on the Vertical Carnival blog, one of them wrote: "As [we] are artists, we are locked in a constant struggle between what we want to capture and the energy our bodies can afford to give. It’s an instinct to reach for the camera, but one that nearly always falls second to the tasks at hand. Often times, I criticize myself for not shooting more…for not nailing the perfect image…but then again, I am fighting just to move. As athletes, we are succeeding, but as creative individuals, we are flailing…it hurts."
They may have been flailing, but they weren't failing. In my view, they succeeded beautifully.