To Tell The Truth
There are a few things I need to set straight. For example, I spent my summer working, not touring abroad. There are these things called extenuating circumstances. I’ve been afflicted with them of late, so bear with me as I fill in gaps that I had to leave earlier.
It was eleven pm. There was no reason to suspect I might have another email, but I checked the mail app on my iPod one last time before turning in for the night. A message from my dad showed up.
Want to be a climbing cameraman?
Sure I wanted to be a climbing cameraman. I ran upstairs to get more detail. It was there that I saw a spam email to my dad stating that “17K ASL” was very pleased with his cinematography and would like to hire him to film at high altitude on top of a mountain. It was all way too rosy to be true. Money doesn’t grow on trees and people don’t just offer great jobs to random strangers. A few quick google searches yielded nothing about any organization called “17K ASL.” I warned my dad not to reply, since that would demonstrate to the spammer that he’d found an active email address. But a reply had already been sent. Bummer. He needed to be more careful in the future.
By morning we’d received a reply, still expressing interest, but not providing any details about what mountain was to be climbed or why the mysterious 17K ASL needed a cameraman. I pushed this from my mind and left for eastern Montana, where I spent two weeks with my dad and brother on a ranch 35 miles from the nearest outpost of civilization and out of range of the nearest cell tower. In short, we were very hard to contact. But the determined folks at 17K ASL somehow managed to find us there.
17K ASL, so named because their work would be taking place at 17K feet Above Sea Level, was making a documentary about Mt. Ararat and wanted my dad to be their head cameraman, or Director of Photography. Because of his mountain experience, they also wanted him to outfit and lead a 12 man team to the summit of Mt. Ararat, where they would live and work for an extended period.
Only four days later, my dad left on a scout trip to Turkey. In his absence, it fell to me to choose and order most of the outdoor gear for the expedition. Three or four days per week I’d drive down to Rocky Mountain Outfitter, a specialized mountain shop in town, and spend a few blissful hours poring over glossy catalogues of high end outdoor gear and clothing. It was gear junkie heaven. With advice from the staff at RMO, we were able to pick out all the tents, sleeping bags, coats, boots, socks and other items needed for the trip. Two weeks later, boxes started showing up. I felt as though Christmas had come in late June.
The prodigious quantity of gear made its way to an office in Los Angeles, where I worked with a group of production assistants organizing and packing duffel bags in which our gear would travel to the top of Mt. Ararat – The Painful Mountain. I really enjoyed preparing for the trip, but that all faded into obscurity as soon as a van dropped us at LAX with 41 large pieces of luggage. Much like a long and heavily loaded freight train, our group of seven strode through the door of the airport single file, each pushing a cart bulging with 50 pound duffel bags. The attendant at the ticket counter informed us we’d broken the record for the most bags ever checked by a single party. The previous record had been held by the Saudi royal family. A cheer rose up from our group.
Our first couple weeks abroad were spent acclimatizing to “Turkey Time,” a phenomenon where nothing happens until many hours or days after it is supposed to. Instead of living at Camp M a week or so before heading to Mt. Ararat, we spent over three weeks experiencing the joys of Camp M’s enthusiastically up-bubbling sewer and stuffy rooms. During that time, interviewees trickled in at random intervals. Each new arrival was taken to a pre-scouted location where we’d shoot an interview. Because of militant groups in the area and civil unrest, a couple Turkish people we interviewed objected strongly to all the “shooting” interviews, preferring we spoke in terms of “filming.”
I managed to get the overseas tummy bug two days before Turkish Time moved forward enough for us to depart for Mt. Ararat. While most climbers spent only four or five days climbing Ararat, our team took extra time acclimatizing, because getting the necessary footage required us to live on the mountain for an extended period of time.
Originally, the plan had been to spend about 45 days living on Ararat, but Turkey Time had eaten that almost in half. In retrospect, this wasn’t bad, because activity on Ararat’s summit was limited. Based on “information” from a mysterious “Mr. X,” an alleged expert on Mt. Ararat, we filmed a group of climbers living and working at Chuckmuck.
The Wild Bills and a few other individuals spent every day puttering about working on this or that. Inevitably, there were broken generators, slack guy-lines on tents, or snowed in items to maintain.
Though living atop a mountain might seem boring, we had plenty of filming to keep us busy. Every adventure turned into a filming opportunity. During a blizzard we filmed the Wild Bills packing up their operation so tools didn’t get buried or lost. We explored down the Ahora gorge, a 10,000 foot deep hole in Ararat’s side. Near our mess tent, we discovered and explored a crevasse, essentially getting a sneak peak inside a cross section of Mt. Ararat’s ice cap.
Working with and learning from experienced industry professionals was every bit as exciting as spending eight weeks traveling around Turkey. Officially, I was to work as a sound man with the second of the expedition’s two camera crews. The Old Chap, a quintessentially British sound man with 26 years experience working in over 100 countries, shared with me a wealth of information. I’m very grateful for his advice and demandingly high standards, which whipped me into shape and helped me learn quickly. In addition to doing sound, I got to manage gear logistics and even do some camera work. Though I enjoy most all aspects of production, working with a camera is definitely my favorite part of the job.
Compared with the six day effort required to get up Ararat, coming down took no time at all. Even so, we were a pretty sore bunch by the time we reached 2200 meters, the place where we were to catch our ride back to Camp M. While hiking down the seemingly endless scree-fields of Mt. Ararat, I contemplated the answer to a big question. Before heading to Turkey, I wondered why on earth I’d want to live and work on the Painful Mountain. As the center of ethnic conflicts, the maker of its own weather patterns, a semi-active volcano, and a very popular climbing destination for climbers all over Europe and Asia, the Painful Mountain is a most interesting character to get to know. But a couple weeks living on the mountain proved that maintaining a relationship with the painful mountain was… well, painful. Don’t get me wrong: the time spent on Ararat was an incredible adventure. However, its time was up and I needed to move on to the next adventure. When the much abused Land Rover Defender rattled around a corner in the road, a feeling of curiosity and excitement washed over my sore body. Where would the future take me?