The Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre was sold out Nov. 1 for a highlight of the fall entertainment season, Greg Hill’s debut of his film Two Million Reasons, and a slide show exploring the recent Manaslu avalanche disaster.
The Times Review followed Hill’s 2010 adventure to climb and ski two-million vertical feet in 2010, and we also covered the Manaslu avalanche disaster on Sept. 23 that killed 11 climbers. The presentation and films reflected on the two major events.
Mount Manaslu avalanche disaster
Hill was in Nepal to help film two German climbers who were making a speed climbing attempt up “the fourth deadliest” peak in the area. We follow Hill as he treks to base camp, all the while marvelling at Sherpas and porters who climbed alongside them – some carrying 100-kilo loads.
Narrating onstage, Hill noted kept noting that the athletes carried light packs while the locals served as beasts of burden.
“There were mostly women carrying all our stuff up there – all these short, tiny little women,” Hill noted about one stage of the climb to base camp. “Suffering their way up to our base camp.”
Meanwhile, Hill filmed his German companions. “They never waited for me. I was supposed to film them,” he joked. “Seriously, how am I supposed to film them? They kept running away from me?”
Hill explained his group’s decision to camp away from the main camp, opting for a safer location.
It’s here that he starts noting safety breakdowns – and gets drawn into them himself.
“What I started realizing on this trip is when you’ve got this crazy objective that is larger than you have ever done, you want to get up there so bad that your perceived risks you start not seeing,” he said. “You don’t notice it ’cause you just want to get up the damn mountain, you start justifying things a lot differently.”
The errors were basic. Many in his group didn’t bring avalanche beacons; others started leaving them behind. It’s extremely hard to function in the low-oxygen, high-altitude environment. Extra weight is a huge burden. First aid kits also got ditched.
They weathered out a storm at a lower camp while they waited for their summit shot. When they climbed back up to their camp Hill pulled out his shovel to dig out. “There’s six of us. How many shovels are in our group?” he asked. “That one.”
“Lots of mistakes are happening here.”
The huge avalanche rumbled down just before sunrise, taking out many tents and claiming many lives. Hill’s group responded, doing what they could – mostly focusing on the living who were lucky enough to have wound up on the surface. “Let’s deal with those that are still living,” was the team’s decision – and with lots of time passed and only one shovel to go around, there wasn’t much else to be done.
The videos Hill presented are hard to watch. People lay dying – rescue was hours away and little could be done other than comfort them. Helplessness doesn’t adequately describe it.
Hill said he reflected on the nature of risk: “Obviously I’m an adventurer and everybody knows … it involves risk. I like taking risks, it’s part of what gets me going, but I also try to take a certain percentage of risk.
“Most of the people I met on the way up weren’t mountain people,” Hill said. “For me, I’m a mountain person. I’ve been taking risks for years and I’ve thought about the consequences. As much as I don’t want to talk to my wife about them, it’s a reality of what we do.
“Death is very, very possible. Some of these people looked like they hadn’t been up more than three mountains, and they’re just out there.
“For me, I couldn’t decide if they had actually gone through the process of accepting the consequences,” he said. “That morning when I saw all these dead bodies, I was just like, God, do these people really understand that this was the consequence for their actions?”
Hill filmed himself breaking down after the incident. Their team then regrouped to reflect and talk about next steps. “[There was] Lots of discussion on the fact that we were not prepared. You’re supposed to be able to take care of yourself out there,” he said.
Two Million Reasons
[Warning: some plot spoilers.]
Two Million Reasons is a solid, well-composed look at Hill’s 2010 exploits.
Hill narrates the film from a rooftop on Mackenzie Avenue over the course of a day, explaining the highs and lows of his year-long quest to ski two-million vertical feet.
The roughly 30-minute documentary was produced and edited locally by Frank Desrosiers; many of the production credits feature local talent, including lots of cameos from Revelstokians reflecting on their friend’s exploits.
It’s a clean, up-tempo production that rollercoasters through the highs and lows of the year. The narration seemed appropriate; balancing a simple retelling of the story with a voice that was punchy and a bit keyed up.
Likewise, the visuals are a good blend of great footage interspersed with detours into oral and visual anecdotes from the year. It covers lots of ground without over-relying on montage and also takes some chances with some unconventional sidebars.
After the euphoria of the first weeks, Hill had a scare right here on Mount Mackenzie. While doing some night laps, he skied into a winch cat cable, but escaped serious injury. The thick cables used by the grooming machines whip across the slope with deadly force. It was a moment to reflect: “Any little mistake and it’s over.”
Two Million Reasons shows the already exceptional journey wasn’t a trick – such as spending the year lapping a ski hill.
There’s a sketchy winter climb in the Rogers Pass area to reach a snow-field that’s punctuated with a 1,000-foot cliff at the bottom.
The documentary highlights many peaks climbed during the year.
A trip to St. Elias in the Yukon took Hill off-pace for the record as he lost time travelling there, then didn’t find the easy slopes he was hoping for. “Instead there’s these huge seracs and deep, dark yawning crevasses,” he said. “It’s intimidating terrain that not even me – with all my confidence – I don’t even want to go out into. And the elevation at the same time is just crushing us – headaches, nausea, all sorts of things.”
Hill emphasizes the importance of family as a counterbalance to his extreme adventure; he notes the strain it put on finances, and the ever-present risk of disaster. His parents, wife and kids are all featured, and the adults encourage him to go for it.
His son, however, gave him pause when they were parting ways in South America. “I said, ‘Aiden, do you understand what’s happening here? He looks up at me [with] his innocent three-year-old eyes and he says, ‘Yeah, daddy, I understand. You’re here, you’re going to ski for another three weeks and then you’re going to die.’
“That has echoed in my head ever since,” Hill said. He carried the words as a reminder to be safe along the way.
“If it’s a dream, go for it,” Hill says at the conclusion of the film. “You’ve got to at least try to attempt something to make it happen. In the end, trying is the important part. If you achieve it, that’s even better. Attempting your dreams is a scary thing, but it’s something that we should all do.”
Here’s the trailer: