MISSION ANTARCTIC DISPATCH 5 :: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MUPPETS & MONKEYS

Dec 17th 2012

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Xavier is poised at the lip ready to drop “The Captain," one of the steepest lines of his career. I’m a part of the camera crew in position below. Unfortunately, we are all staring blankly at each other, dazed and confused…

It’s an honor to be here. Although I’m a not a rider, I was lucky enough to be able to puke my brains on the Drake passage and contribute to the team as a The North Face climber and Camp 4 Collective filmmaker. I’m a Yosemite climber ‘monkey’ at heart and am a bit of a fish out of water this mission.

Did I mention that last time I filmed with Xav in Jackson, WY I almost died with skull and vertebrae fractures? Yup, that makes this all a bit more exiting.

At any rate, it’s been amazing to be here collaborating with Xav’s Timeline creative team of storytelling ‘Muppets’ consisting of Tero Repo and Guido Perrini. Tero is a Finnish photographer with a lifetime of experience shooting on snow. Guido is a Brittish filmmaker who is also a veteran shooting in the cold and has shot/edited all the Timeline movies to date. I’m not sure why Xav calls them the ‘Muppets’ but I think it might be because they are so chill and have a great sense of humor. A few times so far they have surprised us with their full body Penguin outfits they have stashed somewhere. They have been a great tool for breaking the tension when documenting stressful and dangerous lines but it's not working right now.

“OK if you guys can’t decide I’m going to hold this little piece of paper behind my back in one hand and whoever guesses it is the lucky winner.” Tero crumples the paper and puts it behind his back. Between Guido and Myself the lucky winner gets to fly tandem in a Paragliding system to get aerial shots of Xav dropping in. Since helicopters are not allowed down here this was a major part of Xav’s dream for this expedition: To show the beauty of Antarctica from the air with aerial riding shots on par with big productions….but in a low impact lightweight ‘expedition’ style.

I guess Xav and his Muppets have been testing and learning about flying a bunch this last year, but the story’s are less than inspiring. Tero said when he tried it back in Europe he crashed multiple times before successfully taking off and then when Guido tried he lost a shoe it was a catastrophe. Then when I talked to Conrad Anker, my climbing partner who has spent a lot of time in Antarctica he was also really sketched out “The one guy I knew, he was one of the most experienced paraglider pilots on the planet and died down there doing that, the winds are fickle…”

So with all that in mind I picked Tero’s right hand and of course from it emerged the winning piece of paper. Meanwhile, Xav is shitting himself at the top of ‘the gnar’ waiting for us, so I got ready to fly as fast as I could.

Despite the fears, It’s certainly some relief to be flying with Christophe Blanc-Gras a pilot that has 25 years of experience and seems to be quite safe. Its also comforting that with Xav on top of the line is legendary climber/guide Tony Lamiche who is reporting to us about wind conditions up high and in general staying acutely aware of everyone’s safety while on the snow during the expedition. All in all it’s a pretty motley crew of Monkeys and Muppets but also an amazing team working together behind the scenes and firing on all cylinders when time is right. (I won’t even mention captain/crew of our ship in this dispatch, they need a whole post to do them justice!).

Click, click, click….all the little clips to the paraglider rig are in place. I have empty 128GB card, a full battery, a GoPro shooting BTS on my helmet, a lifejacket and an emergency dry bag to stuff the camera into in case we crash into the sea.

Christophe initiates the launch sequence and we ski off and into the cold aerial world. The massive icebergs quickly become tiny white puzzle pieces surrounded by mesmerizing emerald green rings interlocking along the coastlines. The camera strap is cutting painfully into my neck, my balls are being crushed by the awkward position I’m in and I feel a bit airsick from looking at the camera monitor and not the horizon….quite the gripping first paraglider experience.

All of that is quickly blocked out as we approach “The Captain”, the king line of the expedition. I hit the radio one last time, “20 secs Xav. Nice Christophe perfect altitude. Tony, you do the final count. Tero, Guido 10 seconds...” Tony picks up where I left off “3,2,1 dropping…”

Well you know the rest, hopefully you will see the results of all the teamwork and vision if we manage to make it home safe back across the Drake Passage.

Thanks for following,

Renan Ozturk

Thanks to Camp 4 Collective and Tero Repo for the exceptional photographs.