We begin with an e-mail from Tommy Baynard, creator and executive producer of Flying Wild Alaska, a Discovery Channel show about a family of bush pilots. He sends the message to his friend, photographer and climber Corey Rich. Tommy’s just seen the huge granite walls of Alaska’s Arrigetch Peaks, and he thinks Corey should “check them out.”
“Check them out” is shorthand for “Corey, why don’t you put together a climbing expedition and we’ll work it into an episode of the show?” Intrigued by the possibility of a first ascent, Corey gets in touch with four of his friends—climbers Tommy Caldwell, Hayden Kennedy, Tommy Thompson and Todd Offenbacher—adds videographer Dane Henry to help with HD video imaging and then enlists Nikon for sponsorship support.
The adventure is on. It takes four trips for the bush pilot to fly the six climbers and a thousand pounds of gear to a landing zone in the Brooks Range. From there the six ski 20 miles, set up a base camp and prepare for the climb.
“Taking into account how far north we are, the territory and the temperatures, this is absolutely bold, cutting-edge mountaineering,” Corey says. “The route is that rough.”
Corey and Dane work as a team, constantly collaborating to record the story in video that would be used in the Discovery show as well as in Nikon presentations.
“We are always considering when stills will be best and when video is the right choice,” Corey says, “and when we should be among the climbers and when to get ahead of them to record them coming up.”
Dane’s primary objective is to capture for the Nikon video how Corey works. “There were times, though, that I can’t be the journalist,” Corey says. “The going is so tough that it’s all about getting the gear up to base camp.” And when he is the journalist, it’s no less demanding. “There are no retakes,” he says. “It’s often a struggle and it’s dangerous, and though there are a few moves I ask the climbers to do again, 95 percent of what you see is verite filmmaking—shooting what’s happening, documenting it as it unfolds, making decisions on the spot.”
Dane and Corey shoot HD video with D7000 D-SLRs and, for the most part, a trio of NIKKORs: an AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED, an AF DX Fisheye-NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8G ED and an AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.
They also carry a tripod. “When a still photographer starts shooting video, he needs the tripod even more—he can’t hand-hold for video when there’s a long lens. You see a lot of smooth panning shots in the video—that’s the tripod.”
All the camera gear is off the shelf and out of the box, with no special preparation for the trek or the climb. “We have no problems,” Corey says, “and we are not treating these cameras according to the guidelines the manual might suggest, let’s put it that way.” Corey calls the trip “a once-in-alifetime adventure,” and “one of the toughest trips I’ve ever done in terms of physical exertion. And to be fair about it, the four climbers were carrying heavier loads so Dane and I would have a little edge of energy to get in position to shoot.
“What was so unique about this project was that I got to do it with friends. We all know each other, and we’ve all worked on projects together. It’s like once or twice a year we get the band back together to write some new tunes and play them in a new venue."
The climbing adventure was featured in two Flying Wild Alaska episodes which were aired on the Discovery Channel December 9th and 16th, 2011. You can see the video Corey and Dane shot for Nikon at www.nikonusa.com/deepnorth.
For more of Corey Rich's work, visit his website at www.coreyrich.com.