'Kind of a run-and-gun situation': Mountaineers capture the peril and beauty of climbing Mt. Logan in film
Documentary on scaling Canada's highest peak to premiere in Whitehorse Oct. 14
When John Bestfather set out to take on Canada's highest mountain in May 2021, his main goal was to climb Mount Logan, not necessarily to film a documentary.
Nonetheless, he carried his camera around his neck for much of his journey with two ski mountaineers. The group also carried with them a GoPro camera and a tripod.
"It was kind of a run-and-gun situation," he said. "We weren't going to film a movie, we were going to climb a mountain."
On Oct. 14, the film that came out of the footage, Logan, which follows the trio as they attempt to summit the peak, is set to begin a two-day premiere in Whitehorse.
Mount Logan — the second highest peak in North America after Denali, standing at approximately 5,959 metres — is not for the faint of heart. It sits in Kluane National Park in Yukon, about 15 kilometres from the Alaskan border.
When Bestfather, the director of the new film, and his two friends, Ryan Agar and Justin Wallace, climbed it in 2021, snow and ice made up most of the landscape. And it's not just the climbing that's tough — even attempting to sleep or set up a camera became a challenge.
"Standing out there, you know, not moving — it's quite cold," he said.
On one such chilly evening with the temperature somewhere between -20 C and -30 C, Bestfather mustered up the strength to film a sunset as it began dropping just below the mountain peaks. His fellow climbers were snuggled into their sleeping bags nearby.
"It takes a lot of initiative to get out there and get those shots ... but it does come together."
Bestfather said they didn't really stop mid-climb to "set up" specific shots.
Instead, he said the filming happened as they went. Sometimes, as they skied through parts of the hike, the person in the front would place the camera down to get a shot of them gliding past. The person in the back would scoop up the camera, shut it off and stow it away.
"They were awesome," Bestfather said of his team, "and super supportive."
He said the roughness of the hike — and the resulting video shots — is what he likes about climbing documentary films.
"They are quite live and sometimes they do look a little rough. There's a little jumbling in that, but I think that that brings the authenticity," he said.
"The nice thing about the movie is we kind of balance that with a bit of interviews and all that so it's not just a big shaky camera in a cold place."
His team was a well-rounded group for such an adventure. Agar, he said, was "the logistics guy." Meanwhile Wallace put together the team's hiking menu. "Anybody listening knowing Justin knows how much he trains and he was just like, awesome for his organization."
As for Bestfather: "I guess I was the guy holding the camera," he said, adding he is also a paramedic.
'Very intense and emotional'
But it's not just the perils of climbing Mount Logan that make the movie, he said. It's also an emotional journey that reflects on what it's like for their loved ones who waited at home while the mountaineers braved the possibly life-threatening adventure.
The movie shows perspectives from a mother, spouses and others involved, Bestfather said.
"I think a lot of people that will be watching will relate to some of the characters that we brought into the movie," he said. "I think that's definitely what I'm most proud of."
Whitehorse-based writer Eva Holland was among the people who got to see that side of the film. Holland conducted the interviews. She also did some on-camera and voiceover narration, and she helped shape the storyline, along with doing work on the final edit.
"I think one of the themes John was really trying to get at is sort of the price of an attempt like this, not just from people involved, in terms of their training and time and effort, but also [for] families," Holland said. "The risks they take, you know, is it worth it? Why do we do it?"
She said the film is both "very intense and emotional," and includes some footage that she thinks "is just going to kind of push people back in their seats."
As a teaser, Holland added there is "some pretty remarkable video of somebody that is in pretty serious danger."
The film will play at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse Oct. 14 and 15 at 7 p.m.
With files from Elyn Jones