With 10 porters in tow each carrying 60 pounds each, TGR's 15-strong snow camping crew sets off across Jackson Lake for the base of Mount Moran. Max Hammer photo.
On March 26th, a crew of twenty-five from TGR set out onto the frozen surface of Jackson Lake to haul sixty pounds of gear apiece, including three dedicated to the equipment of a single camera, six miles across the lake to a snow camping site at the base of Mount Moran, where they'd set up for four days and three nights in order to tack off three of the most infamous lines off Moran. Griffin Post, Angel Collinson, Max Hammer, and snowboarder Mark Carter would attempt to knock off the Skillet, the Sickle, and the East Horn for the filming of next year's TGR release, Almost Ablaze. With the help of a dedicated team of TGR cinematographers and seasoned guides from Jackson Hole's Exum Mountain Guides, the athletes would hike upwards of 5,000 vertical feet, and would have exactly one chance to capture movie-quality skiing on steep, demanding lines with variable snow after exhausting themselves on the climb. This wasn't your mom's film shoot...
The idea for the shoot followed from
TGR's snow camp at the base of the Skillet off Mount Moran.
Of course, before a single turn could be made on skis, the difficult logistical task of setting up an entire filming operation seven miles away from any road, services, or vehicles had to be undertaken. Ten porters had to be hired to help bring the gear out to the snow camp site, in addition to a camp cook, three guides, and multiple cinematographers and photographers. An additional porter had to make the fourteen-mile round trip out and back to the camp every day to bring in fresh batteries for the RED Epic cameras, and the whole crew would have to coordinate with Todd Jones, who was back in Jackson with the GSS 250 camera mounted to a helicopter, waiting for the weather window to clear. All in all, it would come down to a single day in which all three lines - the Skillet, the East Horn, and the Sickle - would be hiked, skied, and filmed within a few hours of each other.
The Skillet, viewed from TGR's snow camp site, is the main gut going up the middle of Mount Moran. Max Hammer photo.
"The Skillet glacier is one of the most beckoning lines in the park because it’s so visible and massive," said Griffin Post, who decided to take on the line with snowboarder Mark Carter. "From most places in the north part of the park, and particularly on Jackson Lake, you can see the massive ramp that starts off of the summit ridge and terminates almost at the lake, 5,000’+ below. It’s one of those lines that’s just asking to be ripped, so for me it was an easy choice. The way that our camp was set up, you clicked in at the top and could ski non-stop to the vestibule of your tent." Todd Jones was just as excited. "It’s the big main line that you look at from so many different perspectives. it’s not crazy rowdy, but it’s beautiful and an absolute all-time teton classic. With 5000 feet of all true fall-line skiing, it is a very rare run to be able to ski."
Camp life for the athletes meaning trying to stay warm in the middle of winter with no heating and conserving as much energy as possible. Griffin Post has to mind the sunburn, too.
With the first day set for a weather day and the chance to test the local snowpack and explore the lines a little, efforts focused on trying to stay relaxed and save energy while managing the various difficulties of camping in the snowy wild. "To start with, we were hauling a sixty pound sled for six miles across a lake. So before you ever gain a foot of elevation, you’re already putting in the better part of a day of work," Griffin said looking back. "Living out of a tent is awesome, but it can also be draining. It’s a lot of micro-managing gear and just constantly trying to stay warm. And no matter how good you are at managing gear, your boots are always cold and rock-solid in the morning. It’s like forgetting your boots in your car every night, and there’s nothing you can do about it."
Max Hammer gets his first glimpse at the full run of the Sickle on the hike up. The Sickle runs from just below the larget mass of rock at the summit. Max Hammer photo.
With a good window for weather, all three crews left to shoot their lines on the same day with staggered starts to time their ascents with the best light that each line received. "The Sickle’s in the shade all day, so can film it anytime," said Lead Editor Blake Campbell. "The Skillet got the best light between eleven am and noon, and the East Horn got the best light later in the afternoon. So the Skillet crew with Mark and Griffin left at five am, Angel left an hour later, then Max."
Exum Mountain Guides' Zahan Billimoria hikes ahead of Max Hammer as cinematographer Chris Figenshau shoots the hike from above. Max Hammer photo.
As the morning wore on, the final climbing party of Max, Exum guide Zahan Billimoria, and TGR cinematographer Chris Figenshau made their way up the most technical line of the three. "The line looks rad from all the way across the lake and the choke in the middle offers an interesting crux to navigate," Max said when explaining his line choice for the trip. "Likewise, even the uphill required serious thought as to route navigation, so the whole line was really intriguing. It's a serious line, and the Reaper is not far from your thoughts going up and down the thing."
Don't look down.... Max Hammer gives some perspective of the hike up the Sickle.
Calling it "hands down the rowdiest line" of the trip, Todd Jones would swoop in periodically as the Sickle crew as they climbed the line. A crux towards the end of the couloir often develops a large runnel that would render the kind of top-to-bottom ripping Max wanted to shoot impossible, not to mention that a fall above that section would be a very, very bad thing. Max was thankful to lean on the experience of his climbing partners, Zahan and Figenshau, to get up and down the daunting line. "Those guys are bosses and very reassuring. Not to mention, Figs has incredible storytelling prowess that will keep you hiking for days without even realizing it."
Mark Carter, Exum Mountain Guides' Nat Patridge, and TGR cinematographer Dutch Simpson.
Over on the Skillet, Mark Carter and Griffin Post had just topped out and prepared mentally and physically to rip the 5,000 vertical foot Skillet, with variable snow in place of perfect heli powder, after an exhausting five-plus hour hike while Carter's nagging rib injury was acting up again. "It’s obviously a lot more work hiking these lines every day and you essentially only get one crack at these lines per day, just due to the sheer amount of energy required in climbing them," Griffin said.
Five hours of hiking, and one chance to ski it for the camera... no pressure! Griffin Post photo.
"On the other hand, it’s a far more intimate experience with the mountains," Griffin continued. "You get to learn every inch of your line on the way up, and figure out all of the nuances. While you may get far more lines using a heli, it’s a far inferior experience in the mountains. But for filming, it’s a lot more pressure to stomp your line the first time as there are few second chances in the hiking game."
Angel Collinson tops out on the East Horn of Mount Moran with photographer Mark Fisher and Exum's Bill Anderson.
As Griffin and Mark readied to shred the photogenic Skillet, Angel Collinson and her climbing party topped out on the East Horn, whose aesthetic knife-edge ridge overlooks the Skillet from the south and delivers a steep east-facing snowfield above some technical areas littered with rocks. It would be the longest line she'd ever attempt to film.
Angel Collinson shreds the East Horn, with the silhouette of the Grand Teton in the background, for next year's film Almost Ablaze.
Despite the obvious tension produced when a career film athlete and the camera crew, including those up close on the line, shooting from across the valley, and from the helicopter, are only given only one chance to shoot a line after hours and hours of sweat, tears, and preparation, Lead Editor Blake Campbell almost think it's easier to film. "These bigger objectives are actually kind of easier to shoot because the story is more natural; these guys are overcoming all these obvious difficulties to tackle these lines. The documentary aspect is already there. And it’s cool to have that pacing build towards these single lines. Watching from the perspective of the barbie angle from across the valley, it's kind of like watching paint dry. But getting these shots up close, and the ones from the heli with the big reveals showing the scale of just how big these lines, and these mountains, really area. Getting all these different angles makes these objectives sing from a cinematography perspective."
Look forward to catching the full story of the Moran snow camping mission in next year's film, Almost Ablaze.
Want to go behind the scenes of more TGR shoots? Check out:
-#TGRItalian: an Instagram update from TGR in Italy
-Watch Nick McNutt and Tim Durtschi film in the Wyoming backcountry for Almost Ablaze
-Sony Mind's Eye: Dash Longe in Italy