Just thought I would throw up some quick thoughts around the recent film ‘Cold’. The work of Cory Richards and editor Anson Fogel, ‘Cold’ documents Richards ascent of Gasherbraum II in the winter of 2011 with Simone Moro and Denis Urubko. Shot by Richards on a DSLR while on the route, the film follows the final summit push of the team of three. I should start by saying that simply filming at this altitude and temperature is an amazing feat, and as climbers all of us in the room were dumbfounded by the sheer quality and stillness of the images he had succeeded in capturing. I have never climbed at altitude, only read about it, so for me the film was an amazing view into both the sheer scale of the venture they are undertaking (in terms of the vastness of the landscape), and the minutae of everyday – moment-to-moment functioning. I was fascinated by it all; watching what the team was carrying, the process of brewing up, warming hands, prepping boots in the morning, ascending fixed ropes, and the hacking coughs at the summit.
When the film is finished there are some editorial notes which are worth watching as well. The process of making the film is explained, that the film was conceived of after the climb, written and distilled from notes and discussions with Richards – his film material (sent out in dispatches from the climb) edited into a tight and concise storyline. There was some brief footage of the approach and the first stages of the climb. At first I wished there had been more of this – providing more of the sort of journey narrative that other films like “As it Happens”, which documents an ascent of Tawoche by Richards and Renan Ozturk, provide. On the other hand, I don’t think this was really the goal. Fogel is very clear in expressing that for him, the experience of the climb should be told as a story focused on the final moments of struggle upwards – the revelations that climbers find at altitude, on the brink. That comes through in spades, in the shots of Richards after the avalanche which buried the party on the descent. Tears streaming down his face as he turns the camera on himself, we see Richards close to collapse. If the montage of shots from childhood etc. during the avalanche seems contrived, these shots of Richards’ face are crushingly real.
Leaving the room, I was struck by what Richards had succeeded in doing. Throughout the film, he repeats “Go gently”, advice given to him by his father, and this obviously manifests itself in the aesthetic of the film. The respect they all seem to have for each other and the mountain shines through in smaller moments – Moro and Urubko joking about crevasse falls, the agony of post-holing, and the peace that seems to emanate from all of them when they rest in the tent. Maybe its the altitude meaning that emotion just takes too much energy, but considering they are probably all scared, they appear monk-like, quiet, calm. I had a sense, many times magnified, of the soul-filling silence that I find when I climb in the winter here in B.C. Despite the howl of wind, the hammer of snow on a hood, or the crackle of frozen nylon, mountains remain huge immutable masses, absorbing thoughts and emotions, leaving only breath hanging in the air and the steady plod upwards. Maybe I’ve just been reading the wrong accounts, but I had always envisioned Himalayan climbing (summer and winter) as being something inconceivable to mere mortals (and in many senses it is), but the images looking back down the route at the glaciers and valley bottom, thousands of metres below, anchored the experience. They made the whole thing much more real and as I stood up to go, I felt myself yearning to be hacking on the summit, in the cold.