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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Video

Dec 06, 2018

Film Review: Ode to Muir. A Snowboarding Movie, and an Important Covert Education

Lost in amazing scenery, and one of outdoor's great personalities. Prepare to learn, even if you won’t realize it’s happening.

WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

Before we get to the movie itself, don’t be put off by the narration that you’ll hear in the trailer. It’s a tone that you might expect from the X-Factor announcer, or any movie trailer that starts off with, “In a world…” and it’s important to give you an incentive to push on, in case you might need it.

To answer the question that I suspect you have… yes, the same narration continues throughout the film. I know, it doesn’t seem like a good thing, but I have my own personal relationship to that voice. Something that develops as the film continues, and you recognize its purpose.

WHAT WERE WE EXPECTING FROM “ODE TO MUIR”?

The film is called “Ode to Muir”, so an education about John Muir and the John Muir Wilderness? Probably. Great scenery? Sure. Another awesome Jeremy Jones snowboarding video? Very likely! I was correct on 2 of 3 fronts.

“Price of admission: lots of calories”

In short, this is a nine day, 40 mile foot-powered trek through the Sierra Mountains, as two-time Olympian Elena Hight, and a guy introduced as the “Sierra Phantom” accompany Jeremy Jones deep into California’s John Muir Wilderness. The remoteness is exactly that, and it is earned. Jeremy takes joy in mentioning the “Price of admission: lots of calories”. His point is a good one, that this is something that we can all enjoy. Crest after crest, the views are stunning and beautifully shot (as you might expect from a Teton Gravity movie). Jeremy indulges himself in pointing across valleys, and announcing that they must make their way in that direction. By his own admission, he has spent a lifetime in the Sierra, and continues to see landscapes the first time. The outdoors is a big place. 

Of course, Jeremy Jones does not need any introduction. His snowboarding movies have adorned bookshelves around the world for decades now. This, however, was something different. It was something more important. There is less of an emphasis on the music, or even snowboarding (don’t expect death-defying descents here). Instead, you will find more of an emphasis on Jeremy, the landscape, and more than anything else, Jeremy’s message. This is propaganda, just the positive kind.

Ode to Muir is a little like trying to subtly slip the bad news into an everyday sentence using snowboarding to distract us. “Honey, have we got milk at home, I crashed the car, because my parents are coming around this evening”.

Note: Whilst this is not your typical snowboarding movie, I could still hear the customary Jeremy Jones’ oooohs and ahhhhs from those sat around me.

THE MESSAGE

Time is spent on recalling a bygone era, when politicians spent time in the outdoors, they appreciated them and fought for them. They sat around fires, and really experienced the outdoors, they didn’t just swing clubs at The Mar-a-Lago Club. This movie is a call to action, that we must do something now, but gives us hope, that things can be done correctly, with the attitude that we have seen in presidents past. 

The movie is interwoven with animations that paint an important, and scary picture with regards to the future of our climate and planet. Key messaging that continually remind you that this is not just a snowboarding movie. This is an education, but not algebra, the information is presented well, it sinks in and you immediately recognize the importance. You’re going to bring this up and discuss these newfound stats when you’re next hanging out with friends.

Whilst the animations play an informative role, Jeremy contextualizes them. He refers to the terrifying term “last descents”, the chilling concept that people are now doing things that might not be possible in subsequent years due to climate change. As someone who lives in the outdoors, Jeremy can see these detrimental changes in his everyday life, and of course, it means a great deal to him. He isn’t just using what he is, but who he is to pass on this important information. Not stood behind a podium, but communicating important information to us whilst he uses his skills, and the beautiful shots to hold our attention. Jeremy obviously loves what he does, but he now chooses to do what he has done for so long, in such a way that communicates an important message. It’s commendable. What’s more, this isn’t a one-off, Jeremy is the founder of “POW”, or “Protect Our Winters”, an initiative with a mission to turn passionate outdoor people into effective climate advocates.

Find out more about POW: Protect Our Winters.

Still, an important point is made, real change can unfortunately only be sparked in the wilderness. Walking up the mountain isn’t enough, we need to walk up to the White House, and up Capitol Hill too.

THE PERSONALITIES

“The older I get, the more I love my snow”

A great element of this movie is easy to miss, Olympian Elena Hight trying to understate her own abilities. Elena is, of course, a very accomplished snowboarder, she’s more than comfortable on the snow and her modesty with regards to split skiing wasn’t fooling anybody. It’s an attitude that is great to see, but will make your average Joe, with your average abilities (like me), smile. Her reservations regarding her own ability are not shared by anybody else. Nor were there any problems for Elena when it came to the descents. She’s awesome, and a great addition to the film.

Jeremy introduces the “Sierra Phantom” pretty quickly. In effect he’s presented in a way that you would describe what Mogli is to the jungle, “ he’s out there all day and you just see his tracks”. A brief appearance, but worthwhile. 

Elsewhere, there are laughs from those who are sat around me watching the movie, as Jeremy reaches the crest of ridge and summits alike. You might expect “f*ck, that was hard” or “Jesus, I need some air” but no, invariably you will only hear “Good job”, another “Good job”, or “The older I get, the more I love my snow”. As impressive as Jeremy’s attitude is, and of course, it’s due to his familiarity with something that he has done for so long, it is also the relaxed nature of those that that summit with him. You won’t hear them telling JJ to “shut up and pass me the water”, it’s all fist bumps!

The movie ends with JJ suggesting a moonlight ride, to “get the last bit out of it”; spare a thought for those that might have fancied an early night. You would really have felt for the production team, had it not been for the stunning shots caught under moonlight. As someone who can relate to these guys, they live for such shots, and wouldn’t have required much encouragement. Not that their skill shouldn’t be acknowledged, something special is happening behind the camera. Many of the shots are powerfully engaging, whilst the audio is picked up perfectly, regardless of powder being thrown around.

BACK TO THE NARRATION

Here’s the thing about the narration. What would the movie be without it? Whilst Jeremy brings credibility as someone who is acutely aware of “last descents”, John Muir’s words hold unparalleled sincerity that can only belong to a different time – a time when people were less cynical, and in this context, given that this is propaganda, a perspective from that time counts for something.

I had a relationship with that voice. So much so, that I almost felt apologetic by the end. In a way, the voice is synonymous with the film, you need to absorb the delivery in order to absorb the information. It was just harder to do so in comparison to appreciating fresh pow.

Who would I recommend the film to? People who like ski docs? People who care about the environment? Just general outdoorsy people? It’s of interest to each, they all cross-pollinate in a way that was definitely intended.

This is an important film to watch, it’s incredibly digestible, and it will raise awareness of important issues. It’s the kind of content that we need more of.

You can find more information, and a calendar of tour dates should you like to go and watch the movie for yourself here. We encourage you to do so.

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Expeditions

May 21, 2019

Field Notes: Solo Ultra-Running the High Himalaya

Peter Van Geit, wilderness explorer, ultra-runner, Founder of the Chennai Trekking Club, shares the field notes from his 1500 km alpine-style run across 40 high altitude passes the Himalaya.

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WRITTEN BY

Peter Van Geit

During the summer of 2018, I completed a three-month journey across 40 high altitude passes in Spiti, Pangi, Chamba, Kinnaur, Shimla and Kangra districts of Himachal, in the Himalaya. As always, I ran alpine style, which means self-navigated and with minimal gear through forests, alpine meadows, moraines, glaciers, snow and wild streams. Although I did meet up with a few friends for portions of the journey, my mostly solo exploration took me to many lesser known passes only used by shepherds including Chobia, Chaini, Kugti, Pratap Jot, Thamsar, Kaliheni, Lar La, Padang La and Buran to name a few.

In the following collection of photos and captions, I jumped districts and valleys across the Pir Panjal, Dauladhar and Baspa ranges traversing through the picturesque valleys of Pangi, Saichu, Sural, Miyar, Hudan, Chandra, Tsarap, Zanskar, Lingthi, Lugnak, Lug, Barot, Ravi, Pin, Parbati, Baspa, Chenab, Buddhil Nai, Pabbar, Chamba and Spiti.

The journey was one of stunning natural beauty, hospitality beyond words and overwhelming vastness of remote out-of-this-world landscapes.

Several weeks went into planning the route, analyzing maps including OSM (Open Street Maps), SOI (Survey of India), Google Earth, Olizane and various reference blogs. Credit goes to Sathya Narayanan who inspired me through his solo trekking explorations and wonderful blog before he went missing last August. Also thanks to my close friend Maniraj who identified many trails. Navigation (and photography) was done with my OnePlus 6 mobile and offline OpenTopoMaps. A total elevation gain of 200,000 meters with seven passes above 5,000 meters and 21 passes above 4,000 meters. Being an ultra runner and minimalist, carrying only 6kg luggage, most of the pass crossings were done in just one to two days after initial acclimatization, covering 30-40 km every day. The remaining time I traveled on HPRTC buses in between sections. The journey went across colorful alpine meadows, high altitude desert, vast glaciers, wild stream crossings, huge moraines, steep landslide-prone valley slopes, a few technical climbs and wilderness navigation near a few unused trails.

On many nights, I overnight camped in the tent I carried with me, but many times I stayed in shelters with shepherds and mountain tribes and in many welcoming homes at remote, hospitable villages. My food packing was kept basic with no cooking tools to reduce weight. No technical gear was carried except for a pair of hiking poles to assist in crossing streams, ice slopes, and landslides. The journey was one of stunning natural beauty, hospitality beyond words and overwhelming vastness of remote out-of-this-world landscapes. I indulged in lip-smacking local cuisine, encountered hikers and wildlife in the remotest corners of the Himalaya, and listened to beautiful music on local instruments. More details on passes, route, preparation, photos, and videos of my journey can be found at ultrajourneys.org.

Saichu Valley Apline Meadow, Pangi

Traversing beautiful alpine meadows dotted with pink and yellow flowers in the remote Saichu Valley in Pangi beyond the last village of Tuan. These higher altitude meadows of Saichu are grazed by many herds of the shepherds who migrate each summer from Chamba valley through one of the many passes across the Pir Panjal range. Here on the way to explore an unknown jot (5,260 m) trying to cross over from Saichu to Miyar valley.

Shepherd descending from the Kugti pass (5,040 m)

Descending from the Kugti pass (5,040 m) with a shepherd guiding his 500 sheep into the beautiful cloud indulged Chamba valley below. Kugti is one of the several passes across the Pir Panjal range used by shepherds for their annual migration to graze the high altitude meadows. Here we are crossing over from Rapay village along the Chenab river in Lahaul to the picturesque Kugti village in Bharmour, Chamba. The Kugti pass requires traversing of moraines and landslide-prone slopes on either side of the pass.

High altitude meadows of the Miyar valley

Bright red alpine flowers in the high altitude meadows (4200m) of the Miyar valley while descending the Pratap Jot (5,100 m) pass onto the moraines of the Kang La glacier. Pratap Jot is one of the several passes across the Pir Panjal range separating the Miyar and Saichu valleys. Around 10 shepherds and their 3000+ sheep graze the beautiful meadows of Saichu valley every year crossing one of these passes. The 25km long Kang La glacier seen here connects Lahual/Pangi with Zanskar, Ladakh – walking across this vast moraines landscape of huge boulders and rocks on top of melting ice is quite challenging.

Best friends in the mountains

“The warmest hospitality can be found in the most remote corners of our planet.”

Your best friends in the mountains – the gaddi’s! Here preparing hot chai, fluffy roti and yummy aloo gravy for two starved (and half frozen) travelers after an icy crossing of the Rupin pass with heavy snowfall and hazel during mid-September 2018. The shepherds leave home at the start of summer in May and cross several high altitude passes to graze their large herds of 300 to 600 sheep and goats in the remotest corners of the Himalaya returning only six months later in Sep-Oct. Every few weeks they descend to the nearest village to resupply rice, atta and other food items. They use home woven blankets and clothing to stay warm in their temporary shelters in the alpine meadows between 3,000 to 4,000 meters altitude. The warmest hospitality can be found in the most remote corners of our planet.

Chobia pass glacier

A heavily crevassed glacier as seen from the top of the Chobia pass (4,966 m), shepherd gateway across the Pir Panjal range separating the valleys of Lahaul/Pangi and Chamba. As per shepherds, the Chobia pass is the second most treacherous pass (after Kalicho) to cross the Pir Panjal range leaving around 20 out of 500 sheep dead during the annual crossing of this pass. From the Pangi side at Arat village along the Chenab river, one has to traverse steep landslide-prone valley slopes, a vast section of moraines and negotiate deep crevasses in the glacier (following a trail of sheep poop) before ascending a final steep rock to reach the narrow pass. On the Chamba side on the way to Seri Kao village, all bridges were washed away during flash floods in August 2018 requiring scaling steep trail-less slopes on one side of the valley unable to cross the forceful stream currents.

Fresh glacial snow near the Pin Parbati pass (5,300 m)

Fresh snow on top of the glacier near the Pin Parbati pass (5,300 m) in September 2018. The pass was first crossed in 1884 by Sir Louis Dane in search for an alternate route to the Spiti valley. The pass connects the fertile and lush green Parbati valley on the Kullu side with the barren high altitude desert of Spiti near Mud village. At the Parbati valley side, one encounters many shepherds and hikers on the way to the Mantalai lake and one can indulge in the scenic hot springs of Keerghanga. On the Pin valley side, the eye gets treated by the mesmerizing color shades of the valley slopes of the Spiti rock desert.

Tso Mesik ghost town

“Was survival of the harsh life in this barren high altitude desert too tough?”

Tso Mesik, one of the many ghost towns one encounters along the remote Tsarap river valley while hiking from the Gata loops (Manali-Leh highway) in Lahaul towards Phuktal gompa in Zanskar, Ladakh. What appears to be once thriving settlements with beautifully constructed homes, surrounded by fertile farming fields have been abandoned for many years. Residents seem to have left in a hurry leaving everything behind. Was survival of the harsh life in this barren high altitude desert too tough, did a natural calamity (2014 floods) force them to leave, did the comforts of the city life tempt them to migrate or did their lifelines (water streams) dry up due to global warming and melting glaciers?

Ibex skull found on the Lar La pass (4,670 m)

An ibex skull on the Lar La pass (4,670 m) deep inside the Zanskarian mountains in Ladakh on the way from Phuktal to Zangla. The entire journey involves crossing two other passes including Rotang La (4,900 m) and Padang La (5,170 m). On the way one passes through Shade village, one of the most remote settlements in Zanskar, being two days away from the nearest road head. Between Lar La and Padang La, I encountered yak herders grazing remote alpine meadows in this barren desert, producing 100 liters of milk from as many domesticated yaks every day, also producing butter and cheese. The same is transported using donkeys, horses and yaks to Shade village to survive the six months of total isolation during winter. All animals are carefully kept in enclosures at night, safe from nocturnal attacks by the elusive snow leopard.

Beneath the milky way at the base of the Phirtse La pass (5,560 m)

Dreaming beneath the milky way at the base of the Phirtse La pass (5,560 m), the highest of the 40 passes crossed in this trans-Himalayan journey, the Phirtse La connects Tangze village in Zanskar with Sarchu in Lahaul. The starlit skies were captured on my OnePlus 6 phone with 30 seconds exposure trying hard not to freeze off my butt in that very cold night at 4,700 m. The pass connects the Southern most section of the Zanskar valley which is dotted with many beautiful small settlements like Testa, Kuru, Tangze, Kargyak, small fertile patches in the barren desert of Ladakh. On the other side, one descends into the beautiful Lingthi valley encountering shepherds and wild yaks on the way to Sarchu where it joins the Tsarap river.

Menthosa peak, 6,443 meters

Menthosa peak, at 6,443 m, the second highest peak in Lahaul and Spiti, as seen from an unknown pass (5,300 m) while crossing over the Pir Panjal range from Saichu to Miyar valley in Pangi. Menthosa is situated in the Urgos Nallah, a tributary of the exceptionally beautiful Miyar Nallah. Here climbing up steeply from the beautiful alpine meadows of the Saichu Nallah beyond the last settlement of Tuan across vast stretches of moraines towards Great Himalayan Range to enter Miyar valley.

Trapped in a fog whiteout

“I got trapped in a sudden dense fog whiteout in the late afternoon at 4,100 meters and lost the trail.”

One of the most intense experiences during my journey. While descending from the Chobia pass, the most dangerous in the 40 crossed, I got trapped in a sudden dense fog whiteout in the late afternoon at 4,100 meters and lost the trail used by shepherds. Further descent was impossible being blocked by steep rock faces on all sides. Having lost my tent the previous day in the beautiful Miyar valley, I spend that night wrapped up beneath a small tarpaulin sheet braving the cold rains, while trying not to slide down from the inclined slope. Next morning the sunrise cleared up the fog and I was treated to a stunning view of the green Chamba valley below. One hour later and 500 meters lower I was enjoying a hot cup of chai and alloo roti in the first shepherd shelter on my way out.

Award-winning documentary

Upon returning, I shared all of the footage from my journey that I took with my OnePlus 6 and shared it with my friend Neil D’Souza, who compiled it into a short film which won the Best Mountain Exploration Film Award at the IMF Mountain film festival.

For more information on Peter’s journeys, visit ultrajourneys.org.

Instagram: @petervangeit
Facebook: @PeterVanGeit

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