This winter was a busy one, and the peak of that season (small pun intended) was an unexpected trip to Africa, to join a group that was going to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro! I would be one of two people filming interviews and b-roll over the course of the hike, plus a few days around town in Tanzania.
I was having breakfast with Jen in Kentucky, just having returned from my Wyoming ice climbing trip, when I got a text message asking if I could “go to Africa for a week?” Two days later I was on my way up to Michigan to shoot the 2019 MI Icefest, and upon my return I had exactly four days at home to collect my things and get ready to jump on a place to Tanzania!
My role was to serve as first assistant to the DP, fly a drone, and be a field camera operator for about 9 consecutive days, 7 of which would be on the mountain. Nadus Films brought me on for this job after a referral from a mutual friend. (thanks Clay!!)
Getting a job like this one was personally very rewarding, as it represented a culmination of the skills and experiences I’ve been trying to hone and master over the last 8-9 years. Things like managing (international) travel logistics, working out of a backpack with limited access to resources, and of course hiking many miles and taking care of myself in an extreme outdoor setting all while capturing stills and video. All of the long hikes in the snow working on the MI Ice Film, summer mountain climbs to capture tourism content, and backpacking trips where taking camera gear topped out my pack at a whopping 65lbs had seemed to lead to this.
The job itself was by no means easy though. The group of participants were all amazing people, as were the porters who hauled gear and tents to each campsite, but at the end of a hot, 5-hour hike at elevation it’s not always easy to get people excited to take part in a long interview. Capturing timelapses and other creative b-roll was a must, so there was a lot of stop and go for myself and the DP, Mike Murphy, during the hikes themselves.
After four days of hiking, getting higher and higher in elevation each day, we reached our final camp before the summit. We were encouraged to go to bed early in order to get some sleep before the 11pm wakeup call, with a goal of hiking out of camp at midnight. A true alpine start, and the earliest wakeup time for a hike I’ve ever experienced.
Summit night/day was grueling for me. It was a bit surprising, as I had felt great the previous four days, as the hiking was pretty easy, never going more than 5-6 miles over 3,000-4,000 feet in a day. But the altitude hit me hard right around 17,000ft. It was the middle of the night, I hadn’t slept, and the slow pace and lack of oxygen just made my brain want to turn off. I fainted once mid-stride and was held up by one of the guys behind me in line. Spooky.
As the sun rose over the horizon, it awoke my oxygen-deprived brain and I felt renewed, which was good timing as I needed to get ahead in line to be on the summit when the rest of the group arrived. I raced ahead, which really means that I went from a slug’s pace to a turtle’s pace. At around 9:30am on March 9th, I tagged the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet.
I stood in for a summit photo then quickly tried to focus on getting images of the group as they embraced each other and posed for their own photos. 40 minutes went by in about 60 seconds, and a porter started pushing to get me down the mountain. After going down more than I had just come up, we had a few hours to rest and then had to hike an additional six miles to our exit camp. I was properly exhausted by the end that day.
I’ve yet to see the results of the material we filmed, but I really enjoyed collaborating with Mike Murphy to problem solve and bounce creative ideas off of for a whole week. I’m sure between the two of us, there will be some pretty spectacular imagery.