Behind the Scenes

Anthony trying NOT to slide off the edge.

While the tapes show enjoyable, wondrous journeys that nearly anyone can embark upon and enjoy, shooting the series what another thing all together.

Take, for instance, Glacier Climbing. When your host, Elizabeth Barnes, climbs the wall of ice, we see her climbing it from below, from above and from next to her. In reality, we didn’t have a TV studio with us­ we actually shot it with just one camera. So Elizabeth had to climb the wall nearly three times (she didn’t go all the way up the first time). In addition, while Elizabeth had the benefit of a belayer and ice axes to climb her way up the wall of ice, the videographer did not. This proved especially difficult for the section of video shot from the side.

The videographer had to climb the wall of ice­ with just one rope, tied at the top of the wall, available to secure himself. The camera was then fed up to him and he shot the video with only his feet planted in the ice (with crampons) and hanging from that one rope from the top. Both of his hands were on the camera. The opening sequence, where Elizabeth talks directly to the camera from the middle of the wall of ice– with summer’s greenery flourishing behind her– is where this incredibly difficult shot can most easily be seen. That’s her, speaking her lines, in the still photo on the right.

Then, the third climb was shot from the top of the ice. This was shot by the videographer both lying on his stomach and by standing and leaning over the edge to get the shot. These methods were both secured by one of the staff climbers of St. Ellias Alpine Guides anchoring the guide and providing a safety cable for the camera so that, if it slipped, it wouldn’t fall– all the way down.

So, if you count Elizabeth, the host, Anthony, the videographer, Elizabeth’s belayer, Anthony’s belayer, and the still photographer (the Executive Producer), and a few other climbers who came over to see what was going on, you realize that there are a lot more people around that you don’t see, but a lot less than might be expected on a big-budget shoot.

There were a lot of examples where many of the cast did double duty to make this series come together for you, the viewer. In Backcountry Camping, for example, the remote location selected for filming was 120 miles above the Arctic Circle and only reachable by float plane. Actually, while we were filming, we saw a research group parachute into the area, but they are not in the video. Besides, parachuting wasn’t on our list of things to do.

Theo whole crew, and half the cast!

Because of the remoteness, and the small size of the plane (and the weight of our gear) the Executive Producer was not able to come to oversee the production. Only the two hosts of this episode, the videographer, and the guide were on-site during the entire shoot. The the pilot’s actual landing and takeoff were used in the show and everyone had to pitch in to get the equipment from one place to another.

Even something as simple as walking to a new location to shoot a scene is not as easy as it sounds. Much of the area we were shooting in was riddled with tussics. Trying to walk on tussics is like trying to walk on moss-covered football helmets. They are not evenly spaced and none are the same height.

Delicate Tundra Moss & Flowers

If you walk on it the wrong way, it shifts a bit from under you and you fall. Twisting your ankle is an ever-present danger. This danger increases walking with a loaded pack or equipment, which all of us were. Walking between the tussics is even worse. The muddy quagmire these tussics grow in suck down your shoes. Lifting your feet and body over these tussics, now up to your knee, takes a lot of energy. Because the crew’s safety was paramount, it took our crew upwards of two hours to go about half a mile. When we reached our new location, we wanted to do nothing but go back to the cabin and lay down to rest. But we would set up the gear, and shoot the scene we had worked so hard to get to.

The area we walked through was beautiful. Part of that beauty was the animals bounding through the area, the untouched landscape and the many fragile things we passed. From tiny plants eeking out their three months of existence on small rocks, to inch-long caterpillars easing their way through the underbrush (both of which are in the video)

It’s easy to see why Alaska has such lure for travelers. The exquisite beauty is untouched by civilization as we know it. That beauty spans from the largest mountain scape, down to the smallest precious flowers on the ground. We made sure to include the entire range in every video we made.

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