The Sanctity of Space (2021) - full transcript

Climbers/filmmakers Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson retrace the steps of pioneering mountaineer and aerial photographer Bradford Washburn. Inspired by Washburn's iconic images of Alaska, Ozturk and Wilkinson attempt the unprecedented traverse of the Mooses Tooth massif. - stop by if you're interested in the nutritional composition of food
(footsteps rustling)

(gentle music)

(engine whirring)

(aircraft radio playing)

(music continues)

(aircraft radio continues intermittently)

(music intensifies)

(acoustic music)

- [Freddie] Most people
have never heard of

the Great Gorge in the Shadow of Denali,

but we keep coming back
here year after year.

(guitar music continues)

- [Renan] In the lower 48,
everything's really busy,

people moving around,

running off to their
jobs or responsibilities.

(guitar music continues)

You're in a world that's white and black,

sometimes golden rock.

And that's about it.

It's a pretty special place.

- [Zack] You know,
usually you go somewhere

and there's one, two truly
inspiring world-class peaks.

And this, this gorge is just full of them.

- [Freddie] It's always been
just kind of below the radar

because the climbs are
all really challenging.

It's not the place you come
to bag some easy ascents.

It's more of a place, you know,

for people who don't mind failing

and kind of like to
like to flog themselves.

Like the beat down.

- [Renan] 14 Hours in.

And yeah, there's a lot of rock up there.

(wind blowing)

- [Freddie] For young
climbers who are out there

seeking adventures,

and little swaths of mountain

to explore where nobody's been,

the big challenge is like finding

any blank spots that are left.

- [Renan] When you do
discover a big climb,

that's never been done,

it kind of feels like falling in love.

- [Freddie] Who knows why some
ideas spark into obsessions,

but this one took seven years,

and it all started with a
black and white photograph.

- [Renan] Anzel Adams wrote,
"you recognize the explorer

in Bradford Washburn at first sight.

There's something about the
eyes, the set of the chin,

not fierce, just determined.

He doesn't immediately remind
on of the vast bulk of Denali,

but he has in fact conquered
this extraordinary mountain

three times.

Not only Denali has
commanded his eye and heart,

the Grand Canyon, the great
peaks of the Western Yukon

and the Himalaya have all come under

his acquiring attention

and the well-directed eye of his camera."

- [David] Brad didn't
have many mentors himself.

He was too much his own
man, too self-taught.

But, photographically,
the great influence on him

was Vittorio Sella.

Sella's dictum was big
subjects need big photographs.

Brad would quote this all the time.

- [Bradford] Use big negatives
to take big subjects.

There's nothing like Mount
McKinley or any one of the great

peaks of Alaska when photographed
with a camera like this.

- [John] One of his favorite
cameras in the early days was a

Fairchild camera.

Something that was really
developed for flying over cities

and mapping them for wartime,
military reconnaissance.

And these large cameras
were very heavy,

very hard to use, all manual.

- [Bradford] The crank
would advance the film

and also set the shutter.

They would put it in and it would go.

And I want to show you
the size of the spool of

the film we've got in here.

Now this takes a 125 eight by ten

inch pictures in a single roll.

I will take this out and show you it

and look at that compared with
a little bit of an ordinary

roll that carries 36
35 millimeter pictures.

- [David] But what Brad
realized that almost no one

before had been able to figure
out how to solve was that

when you look at a big
mountain from the base, well,

it looks like four fifths of the way up is

actually only halfway up.

If you get up in an airplane
and see it from mid height,

you're getting a God's
eye view of the peak

as it really looks.

We all know Ansel Adams'
famous picture of Denali from

Wonder Lake,

but in Brad's pictures, you
see that same face from midair.

And it's so much more stunning.

(orchestral music)

- [Kurt] One year I got a
book of Bradford Washburn's,

and as I looked at it,

I had that sense of
beginning all over that

I didn't really know anything.

With Brad's pictures,
suddenly I saw mountains as

individuals that they stood
among other mountains.

Brad takes something
colossal and makes it human.

- [John] He's the greatest
aerial mountain photographer

of all time bar none.

- I can talk to the pilot and say,

get that left wing a little higher.

Now, pull back your stick.

And in that way, the pilot is framing

the picture of shoot me rather
than they trying to play

around with it, with the camera.

(orchestral music)

When I can I like to
get a little figure in

to give some idea of the
magnitude of the scene.

(orchestral music)

- [John] You look at this
colossal landscape and suddenly

you realize down in the corner,

there are two tiny little figures.

- [Mike] He knew that you
couldn't really appreciate this,

large landscape until you
had scale or to sort of give

people that just visceral feeling
of being in the middle of

this vast wilderness.

(orchestral music)

- [Brian] He knew the mountains
through a mountaineer's

eyes, a person who wasn't a
climber wouldn't photograph

in the same way he did.

- [John] But do you think
he devoted himself to the

printing, making beautiful prints?

No, he was happy with an eight
by 10 contact and he could

draw on it so he could show
climbers, Hey, try this.

This could be a first descent.

- [David] Before Brad got on
the scene in the early 1930s,

the Alaska range had had a
handful of monumental ascents

but all the other peaks were unclimbed.

He was like, my God,

let's go get them before
somebody else does.

- [Bradford] In a way, we were
lucky to be able to go into

that wilderness and be the
first people to see it.

Those were experiences that people

are very rare to have nowadays.

- [Freddie] I was going
up to Alaska every spring,

working as a guide on Denali.

And on days off in Talkeetna,

I'd go down to the ranger station
where they have this great

resource of old Brad Washburn photos.

Just looking for inspiration
for something new to climb.

And for some reason,

I kept on circling back
to the Moose's Tooth

in some of the shots of the range.

The Moose's Tooth is known
as this iconic complex peak

that's the centerpiece of the Great Gorge.

It's less of a singular mountain
and more like a jawbone of

many interconnected spiky teeth.

Most of the summits had been climbed,

but nobody had tried to traverse
all of them in a single go.

Spring of 2009,

I was traveling through Colorado
with a good friend of mine,

Micah Dash, and Micah and
I ended up in Boulder,

crashing on the couch of
his friends Renan and Zack.

They were heading to Alaska
that spring to the Ruth Gorge.

And one night after a few beers,

I let my secret slip
about the Tooth Traverse.

- It was certainly one of
the most creative lines

I'd ever seen.

It's a type of climb where you're

climbing on a skyline the entire time.

It's like you're always on a summit.

- [Freddie] Later that spring,

we all sort of went our separate ways.

I went home to New Hampshire.

Micah left on an expedition to China.

- [Micah] Probably
snowing at midnight or so.

It's about five now,
just kind of hanging out

in this pretty sick location.

- And Renan and Zack were
about to leave for Alaska.

When one day we got this phone call.

The bodies of our friends in
China and just been found.

- My life is completely
driven by the mountains.

And it's given me some
of the best experiences,

but also the worst and probably the time

where it hit hardest on that
negative side was when we got

the call that Johnny and Micah

had died in an avalanche in China.

Micah held my hand and brought me

into the climbing community.

And to lose someone that close to you

is something that affects you deeply.

But in the face of that,

Zack and I still decided
to go to the Ruth Gorge.

We left just a few days after
the memorial ceremony and went

into the mountains, not
knowing what we would do.

It's super counter intuitive
to have your best friends die

and then head straight into
the mountains and do something

equally as dangerous.

But after a certain amount of time

for us, it was just healthy to
go to a space that was quiet

and beautiful, where we could
process our own thoughts.

(acoustic music)

It took a few days,

but eventually the mountains
pulled us in and we were there

and we decided to go test ourselves.

We look over at the Tooth Traverse,

which our friend Freddie
had told us about.

And it became obvious that
that was the objective.

There was no planning.

Our head space was fucked.

We pretty much just tried it on a whim.

(stream trickling)

So the climb begins to express a gap.

Nice job, dude.

- [Zack] Pretty sweet, woo!

- [Renan] We were so unprepared
that we were extremely light

and the conditions were
really, really warm.

And that allowed us to make
it really far, really fast.

- [Zack] Anyone.

- [Renan] You're able to
make it past the big corner

sections of the eye tooth very quickly.

We made it all the way up
until that unknown unclimbed

section between the missing
tooth and the bear's tooth.


We hit that section after we
basically sat and shivered

the night on a small ledge.

- [Zack] It was a long night for a place

that doesn't get dark.

- [Renan] When we got up in the morning,

it was clear that neither one
of us was really feeling it.

What's the deal with that guy?

- [Zack] This guy right here
is off of Micah's chess set.

We spent a lot of time playing and

that chess set went to
China and came back.

Came back to us.

If you look, it kinda looks like him.

The big nose, beady
eyes full of attention.

So just a nice little
piece to bring along.

Little piece of Micah right there

looking after us.

It's perfect, huh?

- [Renan] I'm really glad we have it.

- Yeah!

- [Renan] We had just come from
the funeral with hundreds of

people in the community weeping,

and you have to push it
on some of those climbs.

It's just how it goes.

But for the sake of the
community and for the sake of our

friends and family,

it just wasn't the time to take
another one of those risks.

As soon as we got down,

we knew we had to contact Freddie

because he's the one who saw
the line on Washburn's photo

in the first place.

(acoustic music)

- At the end of 2009,

I was trying to simultaneously
be a climbing guide,

a freelance writer and
good partner to Janet.

We were living in this small
12 by 12 cabin we built.

We chose to live that way
without a flushing toilet or a

shower or even a closet.

But we did have this incredible
freedom to pack up and leave

for a three month expedition if we wanted.

Then one day I got an
email from Renan and Zack

and lo and behold, they had gone and tried

the Tooth Traverse.

(gentle music)

I wasn't upset or wronged.

Nobody owns these mountains.

But I would have been
disappointed if they had just

walked up to the climb and done it.

At the same time,

it didn't surprise me at
all that they had failed.

The Tooth Traverse is a big,
big route to piece together.

And it has a lot of snow climbing
and steep ridge traverses.

And that sort of climbing
suits my strengths.

So the more we talked about
it, the more it was obvious,

we should just go up
there the next spring and

give it a try as a team of three.

At the time, I didn't know
much about Brad Washburn

beyond the photos,

but the more I got psyched on the climb,

the more I became fascinated by his story.

And it began right here in the
mountains of New Hampshire.

- [Bradford] For the
first 10 years of my life,

I had perfectly terrible hay fever.

And I've had a cousin who
took me up to the top of Mount

Washington, the summer of 1921,

which got me immediately
interested in climbing.

Because every time I went
on a trail up a mountain,

there was no hay fever.

- [Mike] He had a loving family
that encouraged exploration

of the mind and the
physical exploration.

They came from some wealth.

So they had a summer home
up in the white mountains.

You had a mother who
gave to her young son,

a small little pocket
camera where he learned,

self-learned had to take photographs.

When he was in the white mountains,

he was making hand drawn
maps of Squam Lake.

So you have this affinity for cartography.

Years later, Alaska
combined all of his talents

with opportunities.

- [Bradford] My first
trip to Alaska was 1930,

we organized during my freshman year,

we wanted to climb Mount Fair weather.

- [David] He had the
tremendous fear of failure.

The only two failures among
his expeditions were his first

three, the Fair weather and Crillon.

Every time after that,
he got to the summit.

And those early failures really fueled

his perfectionism and his high achieving.

- [David] The map that
they had of the region

was woefully under
representing the landscape.

It almost told you nothing.

(adventurous music)

When I read the early
accounts of exploration,

all I can think about is a
circus act without a net.

There was no one to come save them.

- [Brian] Many of these
early exhibitions used horses

for packing your gear in.

The bugs were just eating
the men and horses alive.

The rivers were cold,
swift, full of glacier silt.

- [David] From a geographic standpoint,

Alaska was this unknown territory.

But Brad's use of the airplane
transformed it because

to be up in the air,

it allowed him to take the photographs,

but he'd also used those
photos to create maps.

- [Brian] He was able
to correlate with the

aerial photography, very
accurately the position of

everything in the range,
including the Ruth Gorge.

And the range comes alive in his map.

- [John] When you think about exploration,

it all comes down to logistics.

With the advent of the aircraft,

suddenly you had a perspective
where you could see

over that next hill, you could
see over that next range.

You can map out large
distances because you could see

hundreds of miles.

Brad was always looking at
aviation technology and how he

could leverage that to get a
better view of the mountains

and whether it was for route
finding or whether it was for

beauty or whether it was for cartography.

And he took advantage of the
next aircraft, the next camera.

- [Interviewer] When was
the first time you felt like

a real connection with the
device known as a camera?

- It was actually probably
pretty late in my life that |

first felt a connection to a camera.


- [Interviewer] You
can't say it like that.

That sounds like you have a-. (laughing)

- Okay.

- [Interviewer] Sexual
relationship with the camera.

(both laughing)

- I had the first-.

- [Interviewer] Did you see that?

- The first time I fondled a
camera was probably in 2005.

(acoustic music)

I was doing a lot of artwork.

And then there came this point
where I realized you could

reach a lot more people
shooting with cameras.

Brad's photography taught me
that you could use these tiny

human elements to convey the scale

of these massive landscapes.

(yelling in distance)

On the first trip with Zack,

we had cameras, but
they were pretty basic.

- Just another day off at the tent.



(acoustic music continues)

- [Renan] I think I shot 87% of the thing

on fish eye adapt or.

I've since learned that it's
not the most professional way

to shoot, but at the time
it looked pretty cool to me,

kind of like old school skate videos.

By the time of the second
attempt of the Tooth Traverse,

all of our lives had evolved.

Both Freddie and myself
had gained sponsors

and we became professional climbers.

Freddie was a budding writer
who had just finished his first

book and his work were starting
to get picked up by bigger

and bigger publications.

You want to grab the pot off
the stove for one sec, Zack?


Zack in my mind, he was a
much more talented climber

than we were,

but he just didn't have
that gene of self promotion.

And part of being a professional
climber in this day and age

is how you tell stories.

- [Zack] It seemed like overnight,

everybody I knew became
a professional climber.

It became harder for me to
find partners, ironically.

There was always like, you
know, there had to be a

photographer, there had to be, you know,

some kind of spin to going out climbing.

And I just wanted to keep going climbing.

- [Renan] What are you thinking, Zack?

- Why we've come here for
the second year in a row

to try this silly thing.

It's been cute about it.

Most days can get a little
obsessive like that,

looking at pictures way too long.

Maybe, maybe we'll get lucky.

(gentle orchestral music)

- [Freddie] The crux of the
traverse would be the South face

of the Moose's tooth.

It's right in the middle of the traverse.

And it's about a 2000 foot big wall.

And it had never been climbed before.

We decided to go and do a recon and try

that section as it's
own first ascent to see

if the full traverse was even possible.

- [Renan] People in town had said, oh,

that's a lost cause, it's been tried,

the rock just goes to shit
and it's hard to climb.

- [Zack] So is the anchor a sign that

someone's already tried this
way and failed? (laughs)

But whoever they were,
they weren't Zach Smith.

- [Renan] We saw some fixed gear where

people had bailed off of.

People had decided it
wasn't worth the risk.

Beautiful day in the gorge.

The rock is so bad.

You can just go like this with your hand

and a whole sheet will fall off.

(hammer banging against rock)

- [Freddie] There's
Zack and there's Renan.

This lead will probably
take a couple hours,

see how Renan does with it.

Rock fall, woohoo!


(gentle music continues)

They're okay.

I'm just going to chill
here and hope for the best.

Looking a little ugly,
turn that thing around.

- [Renan] Tried to hold this pin,

and I took a chunk out of my finger.

- [Freddie] How bad is it?

- It's not bad, it's just
like that whole right side.

You see?

(orchestral music)

- [Renan] Take it to the top, Freddie.

- Gonna try.


(dramatic orchestral music)

- Is this it?

- This is it.

- We did it?

- We did it!

Good day, got a summit.

It's always a good day
when you get to the top.

- Not a bad first rope up.

(all laughing)


(laughing continues)

She goes, she goes!


- [Renan] The big mystery is solved.

- [Zack] The mystery is solved!

- [Renan] When we get to
the top of the Moose's Tooth

and figured out that section,

we had the confidence that the
entire traverse was possible.

- Get the boys.

- Yeah!

- Climbed the South face
of the Moose's Tooth

a couple days ago.

And we're gonna go go try
the traverse tomorrow.

Weather's just been splitter,
so we're pretty psyched.

(orchestral music)

- [Renan] Getting the conditions right on

the Tooth Traverse is really, really hard.

If it's warm, like you
want for rock climbing,

the snow conditions could be out of whack

and totally shut you down.

But then if the snow conditions are right,

it's probably too cold for
the technical route climbing,

and any single storm
could wipe out the route

for the entire season.

Something's always going to be bad.

(dramatic music)

- [Freddie] Funky weather.

- [Renan] Lingering slowly.

- [Freddie] It is just fucking warm.

- [Zack] Warm temps.

It was splitter two hours ago.

- [Renan] Pressure's dropped as well.

We'll probably have a
restless night of sleep

and wake up at two and see
what the conditions are

and make a good decision.

(dramatic music)

- [David] The worst part of
any climb is the anticipation.

Every time you go up, you
know that you're committing to

a life or death situation.

So there's no way of avoiding that kind of

psychological stress.

We've all had close calls,
we've all lost friends.

So any climb is jinxed by
self-doubt and self-criticism.

Am I too soft, or is
the mountain too hard?

- [Jack] Often conditions aren't right.

Partner problems, or, you know,

the weather's bad or whatever.

You gotta live today to climb tomorrow.

- [Mike] Brad pushed, he took risks,

but these were always calculated risks.

When someone else said,
that's really stupid,

you shouldn't do that.

Brad would figure out a way to do it,

but it would be calculated.

- [David] In 1937, just
months before Amelia Earhart

tried to execute her
around the world flight,

Earhart and her husband, George Put man,

invited Brad down to
White Plains and asked

Brad's opinion about the logistics of it.

She needed a navigator.

- [Mike] Going to a place
unknown and doing something

that no one else had done before.

He very much wanted to do this.

- [Bradford] We chatted for a weekend.

I remember, and we were going map over map

and we got to How land Isle.

It's all by itself.

A mile and a quarter long
and a quarter of a mile wide,

just a sliver out in
the middle of nothing.

I said, Amelia, you've
absolutely got to have a noise

on a specific frequency
emanating from that island.

Could be duh, duh, duh,
dah, duh, duh, duh, dah,

duh, dit, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dit.

And you hone on that as
you're getting close to it.

- Putnam and Earhart looked
at each other in dismay and

Putnam, according to Brad said,

then the book won't come out in time

for the Christmas sales.

- [Bradford] And I said, I'm sorry,

I don't want any part of that.

I just don't think it makes sense.

(upbeat classical music)

- Amelia Earhart and her
navigator, Fred No on an,

have come to grief in their perilous

round the world flight.

The two intrepid fliers
missed the tiny dot that is

How land island in their 25
mile hop from New Guinea

and were forced down by lack of fuel.

(dramatic orchestral music)

- [David] The perfectionism
was a virtue and a fault.

Every story he ever told he was
in the right and the others,

the doubters were in the wrong.

It's another Brad I told you so story.

- [Interviewer] Kind of
the mother of all that.

(both laughing)

(gentle acoustic music)

- [David] In 1937, Brad
wanted to fly into the

Walsh Glacier to climb
Mount Lucania, the highest

unclimbed peak in North America.

- [Bradford] Lucania was a
very tempting morsel to take.

Walter Wood had made a
serious attempt on it

the preceding year,

he got to the top of
16,000 foot Mount Steel

and made the first ascent
of that and to his horror,

found that Lucania lay
10 miles away from that

in the direction of Mount Logan.

And he just said, I honestly
don't think that anybody's

ever gonna get to the top of that Mount.

Well, nobody should ever say that.

Particularly in Life magazine. (laughing)

(pleasant music)

I've been listening to tales
about a guy called Bob Bree.

And the way he was taking supplies up to

high altitude mines.

Taking off from the Valdez mudflats

in a ski equipped airplane
with skis that he'd

put underneath it, that
he'd got stainless steel

from an old abandoned cocktail bar.

So I wrote him a letter and
told him what we wanted to do,

to fly 250 miles in with no
place to land all the way,

and land on Walsh Glacier.

And we hoped to climb Lucania

and have him fly us back out.

(film projector ticking)

I got the telegram.

Anywhere you'll ride, I'll fly, Bob Bree.

(airplane propellers spin)

(orchestral music)

- [Paul] The flying back then, I mean,

every time you went out, you
didn't know whether you were

even going to make it back.

I mean, you might have to walk, you know,

two or three weeks to make
it back, 'cause planes,

I mean, they just weren't
as reliable back then.

It was a serious endeavor.

- [Bradford] If we cracked up there,

the chances are 50/50 that they'd

never even have found the airplane.

We landed at 8,500 feet in the
spot and exactly as planned,

but it decelerated very, very fast.

I jumped out the door when it stopped

and went to my waist in slush.

None of us expected that
at that altitude in Alaska,

even in mid June, it would be slush.

There was no way he'd be able
to take that airplane home.

We couldn't even taxi it up to camp,

and left it sitting
like that for the night.

We wondered would we
ever get it out of there.

- [David] It took five days
and stomping out of runways

and throwing everything out of the plane.

We've even took a ball-peen
hammer and changed the pitch of

the propeller with it so they
could get a sharper bite.

(airplane propeller spins)

- [Bradford] Bob said, the
only thing I'm telling you guys

now is, I wouldn't come
back to this God damn

place for a million bucks.

So he gave his airplane the
gun, headed down the glacier

and there was a little bulge
there and he completely

disappeared from sight.

But we could hear this
roar in the distance.

Finally, this little
mosquito appeared in the air

heading back to the
Valdez, 250 miles away.

And we felt like a long way off ourselves.

- [David] And he barely
wobbled into the air as he

took off, leaving Brad and Bob
Bates to their own devices.

No hope of picking them up later.

We've never even flew
back to check on the guys.

(stove top hissing)

- [Freddie] Okay, eggs.

Actually there's bacon,
right under the eggs.

- [Zack] It's getting pretty cold, huh?

- [Renan] Yeah.

- [Freddie] And it seems like

I would probably have
at least a thousand feet

of chains to Espresso Gap.

So, hopefully,

1500 feet above us, it would
be a good, hard cruise.

- [Renan] Oh yeah, this is
as good as it's gonna get.

- [Narrator] The first peak
step one is the Sugar Tooth.

It's a long convoluted rock climb

with small snow sections in between.

- Keep your helmets on and
your heads down on this.

(orchestral music)

- [Renan] Nice Zack, hauling.

When you're climbing on the Sugar Tooth,

you're constantly tip-toeing
across these knife blades of

rock that can bite you at any moment.

- [Freddie] As the day got warmer and

the conditions steadily got worse,

we were forced to choose between
slogging up deep wet snow

slopes or engaging in this
really ticky-tacky rock climbing

up and around steep
towers with sharp edges.

- [Renan] Sugar Tooth.

- Sugar Tooth!

- [Renan] Good old Sugie.

- Good old Sugie.

Kind of, there packing
a little bit of a punch.

How's it look?

(dramatic music)


Stupid idea.

Fuck you.

No slack.

(chains clinking)

- [Zack] Yeah just good
finger lock, a little higher.

- [Renan] That's a funny way to charge.

- Check fuckin' this donkey out.

- [Renan] I slipped following
Zack and the rope came

tight over a blade of rock
and nearly cut in half.

And then shortly after that,

I foolishly dropped my ice tool.

And that meant I was never
going to be secure on any of the

snow climbing from that point on.

(dramatic music)

- [Freddie] It's like this
mountain is going to kill you

because it's just going to
beat your equipment down

to the point where it fails.

- [Renan] Baking in the heat.

Instead of easily scampering
across the top of the snow,

we kept punching through to our waists,

expending tons of energy
way too early in the climb.

- [Zack] Sug' sunny!

- [Freddie] We're at the
summit of the Sugar Tooth.

Psyched about that,

but definitely a humbling
day, first day on route.

And we just slogged really hard, so.

Gotta talk to Renan and Zach
and see what they want to do.

(laughing) I think I kind of
want to like pitch the tent

and crawl in the man sack
and just try to reboot

tomorrow morning,
(laughing) but we'll see.

- [Renan] It's beautiful out.

- [Zack] That was like the main pitch

that I was worried about.

- [Renan] Yeah.


- [Renan] Man won and
the configuration tucked.

- [Freddie] My next.

- [Renan] So today was a
speeder or a crashed out early,

getting some good rest after
the 16 hour push from base camp

through the horrendous snow
conditions and wet rock.

So, we're gonna get up early and

get the second tooth in the morning,

hopefully continue on from there.

(energetic music)

- [Freddie] A little rock climb today

for most of like the morning.

We probably would want
to do like a siesta.

Alright, you ready for this guy?

Ah, it was so good for a while.

- [Renan] When we woke
up on that second day,

there was a lot of questions
that needed to be answered in

terms of if it was
going to be safe enough.

And if it was a responsible
decision to move on.

- [Freddie] It looks like about
20 meters of down climbing.

Does that sound good?

- [Renan] Yeah.

- [Zack] Sure.

- [Freddie] It's pretty funny.

We're like 20 hours into this mission.

- [Zack] Yeah.

- [Freddie] Renan and
I made it here in like

five or six hours.

- [Zack] Yeah.

- [Freddie] That's just the way, I mean,

I knew that was gonna be case.

- [Zack] Yeah.

- [Freddie] Yeah, I think
we can still make it happen,

but, you know.

- [Renan] We didn't use our
full reserve or anything, It's-.

- Yeah.

- [Renan] Anyway, we do it it's

definitely not going to be cas',

but there's a few factors.

- [Freddie] We can charge,

chances of pulling the whole
thing off, pretty small.

You know, that's just one more-.

- [Zack] We're a day be- we're
kind of a day behind, too.

- Almost, yeah.

- [Zack] I mean, we went with
it, we rolled it, it's cool.

- If the forecast was good.

- [Zack] I just feel like
the writing's on the wall.

- Yeah.

- It's not cut and dry to
call it, like it usually is.

- [Renan] That's the smart thing to do.

- [Freddie] Yeah.

- All right.

- [Renan] Earlier on in our
careers, we might've gone

kamikaze on it, but the more
you get out and you do these

things or lose friends to the mountains,

the more careful you are and
the better decisions you make.

So this is the way to play it safe.

Possibly have another go at it.

(somber piano music)

(upbeat piano music)

- [Freddie] The day after we
came down after that attempt,

we figured we should switch out

our equipment and try it again.

But then when we were down at base camp,

the temperatures remained
unseasonably warm.

Here comes one.

And it just was raining down
wet avalanches and rock fall

all over the lower Gorge.

Three, two, one.


(loud rumbling)

- [Renan] It's really unstable
right now, it's obvious.

- [Freddie] Yeah.

The party next to us when
to try a gullied climb.

And I got a really bad feeling about it.

By midday, they still hadn't come back.

And I finally decided to ski
over there a little closer and

have a look for them.

(somber music)

We found their bodies
buried in avalanche debris

at the bottom of the gully.

(helicopter whirs)

- [Zack] Now the Rangers are
in, so this is the recovery.

- [Bradford] I think it's
important to point out

that there is something
that happens to both

the brilliant climbers and the bum ones.

And that's tough luck.

I've never believed in

what I call Russian roulette climbing,

which is going into a place
where you have constant danger

over which you have no control at all.

I think one of the reasons that we're

still here and chatting
with you today is the fact

we refused to take that kind of challenge.

- [David] Brad in his whole
life never went on an expedition

led by anybody else.

He was a good guy and
he would consult you,

but he was the leader and
his decision finally stuck.

- [Bradford] On all these
trips, the trip was my idea,

and maybe I knew more about climbing.

So I was sort of the logical leader,

let's take Lucania where
Bob Bates and I were alone.

And we got along very, very well.

- [David] Brad and Bob Bates
were complete opposites.

Brad, the headstrong leader,
had to do it his way.

Bob was the nicest guy in
the world, the most generous.

Yet he had an incredible
talent to be in a ticklish

situation and to chill out and calm down.

- [John] They had all the gear,
all the food and supplies,

and they decided rather than
just hightailing it out,

that they would go ahead
and climb Mount Lucania.

- [Bradford] We could've
walked out two ways,

200 miles back into Alaska.

Or if we remembered that Walter
Wood who said Lucania was

impossible to climb had said
so from the top of Mount

Steel, and we figured
if we climbed Lucania,

we could get over the top of Mount Steel.

And we would be going back into Canada.

- [John] They'd pioneer a new style,

which I call fast and light.

Once they committed to going
over Lucania and Steel,

they stripped down radically,

they cut the floor out of their tent.

They threw away one sleeping
bag and slept head to toe.

The two of them in a single bag.

And they threw out a lot of food.

- [Bradford] We were out
for a hell of a long time.

We started at eight in the morning, it was

four in the afternoon
when we got to the top.

(orchestral music)

19,000 foot Mount Logan in one direction,

all the way down the coast to St. Elias.

The view was absolutely magnificent.

That was the first
ascent of Mount Lucania.

- [John] They were so sanguine
that Brad took what I argue

is the finest summit photo
yet taken in the far North.

It's just a stunning portrait of both

exhaustion and jubilation.

- [Bradford] But the biggest
problem we had on that trip was

not climbing Mount Lucania.

We figured that anything that
Walter Wood could get up,

we could get down.

And he told us exactly where we would find

a huge cache of food on the other side.

So we walked down for the longest set,

we were went from 14,000
feet to 16,000 feet

to get to the top of Steel.

And then from 16,000 feet,

all the way down to the head
of the Wolf Creek glacier

at 5,000 feet, all in one
day, it was an endless day.

And the next day we walked all the way

down to the cache of food.

The bears had been in the cache

and there was not one single thing left.

The bears had chewed every single can.

It was 19 miles from that
cache to the Donjeck river.

And we got to the Donjeck
river and it was in full flood.

- [John] In desperation,
they took the camera and the

notebooks and the film
and hung it on a bush

with a note saying, you know,

if you find these at least
you'll know what happened to us,

basically sort of recognizing
that their chance of survival

was getting pretty slim, perhaps none.

- [Bradford] We had two duffel
bags with all our clothing

and everything and we tied
them up real, really tight.

And we jumped into the river and

we went in as deep as we could on foot.

When we lost our footing,

we used them like life preservers.

And we swum to the other shore.

We were sitting down on a
bunch of tussocks and all of a

sudden we heard a tinkling sound.

I began to wonder if I was hearing

the bells of heaven or something.

And then all of a sudden,
a hundred yards away,

we saw a man and then another
man, and these guys said,

where in hell have you come from?

We said, we've come from Valdez, Alaska.

And they said, where were you going?

We said, we're going
any place you're going.

- [John] Fortunately,
they were able to go back

and get that camera.

But I think that Mount Lucania
expedition is one of the

most incredible stories
of drive and survival.

- [Mike] Brad and Bob Bates.

Both of those men had shrugged it off as,

well, you know, we just kinda walked out.

- [Interviewer] Did anybody
end up injured on that trip?

- [Bradford] Nobody.

Nobody got a skinned ankle
on it, everything went fine.

- [David] Brad was very proud of the fact

that in all his 13, 15 expeditions,

you know, they never lost a partner.

He never had a partner
suffer a serious accident.

But I discovered when I
wrote Brad's biography,

Brad himself had become
a pilot in his twenties.

And as far as I know, he
was a very good pilot.

- [Interviewer] Flying wasn't exactly safe

when you began flying, was it?

Ever have any narrow escapes?

- [Bradford] Well, I had one.

Way back in 1938.

- [David] 1938, he'd been
in Seattle on Lake Union.

And had taken out a float plane,

the wife of a climbing buddy
of his and another woman just

to do a routine sightseeing trip.

Perfect day in Seattle.

Brad came in, in the float plane

he'd only flown once before
and screwed up the landing.

The plane sank.

Brad and the guy,

punched out the windshield
and swam to safety.

And then dived back in to
try to rescue the two women.

They both drowned.

(somber orchestral music)

He never talked about this.

I only learned about this from extensive

research into newspaper clippings.

This was a dark, dark thing for,

especially for such a
perfectionist as Brad

to have really fucked
up and killed two women

who thought they were out on the

30 minute sightseeing flight.

He was terribly disturbed
by it the rest of his life.

It's why he never flew again.

- [Renan] Just two months
before we were supposed

to head back to Alaska,

Zack and I were in Colorado.

Spending most of our time
climbing and training together.

- [Zack] This climb means a lot to me.

I really, really want it bad.

I've never put this much time
and energy into one climb

before I've never tried
to climb this complicated.

And I made a lot of sacrifices
to try something like this.

Right now, I'm living in a good friend's

basement in Boulder, Colorado,

and I'm recently single after
an eight year relationship.

We had a really amazing
relationship for a long time.

And the stress of me traveling

and climbing became too
great on that relationship.

And the reality of really
close friends of ours

dying played a huge part of it I think,

because it made her worst
nightmares a reality.

And so the idea of something
like that happening to me

and you know, me putting
myself in those situations

was too much for her.

And I can't blame her for that.

(dramatic music)

- [Nurse] I want you to
squeeze my fingers, Okay?


- [Zack] Two months before we
were due to leave for Alaska,

for another attempt on the Moose's Tooth,

Renan was filming some
professional skiers in the Tetons.

- [Nurse] Open your mouth for me,

make sure you don't have
any broken teeth, good.

- [Zack] Catches an edge,
tumbles down the mountain,

over a cliff band and lands on his head.

(radio plays indistinctly)

We're lucky as partners
we're able to get them

down to the base of the mountain and

on a life flight to
advanced medical support.

- [Paramedic] One, two, three.

- [Zack] The way I
first heard about it was

an hysterical phone call
from Renan's girlfriend.

That was like basically
Renan's dead or is, you know,

going to be quadriplegic
for the rest of his life.

And I was at work and so
I just threw down whatever

I was doing and drove
over to their house and

tried to, you know, get the details.

- [Freddie] He had a
depressed skull fracture,

broken two vertebrae and
severed the one of the two

vertebral arteries that supply
blood flow to the brain.

(speaking indistinctly)

- Headed to the neurosurgeon,

realize that

this'll probably work out, but

it does hurt me pretty deeply
to not to be involved in

all the projects that
are going on, especially

the Tooth Traverse, because

that's something that you put,

it's something that we put
three years of time into.

And after everyone said
it couldn't be done,

(walkie talkie sounds intermediately)

We solved a few of the major
problems and showed that it was

possible last year and right now that's,

that was the one thing.

I really want it, so.

It's tough.

(somber piano music)

- [Freddie] When it happened
I figured the climb was over,

at least for that year.

I mean, the question was
were we gonna go without him?

- [Renan] We have loved ones back home

that I'm sure would be destroyed

if we lost our life in the mountains.

I can only imagine what
my funeral would be like.

It's about five months later,

technically I'm still healing
a broken neck in two places,

two vertebrae, like right
in my spinal column.

And I can touch my head
and feel where the skull is

still tender from having it
sliced open for brain surgery,

Getting injured just before
we had to leave on the trip

was really devastating.

And I knew it was going to be
really hard for them to deal

with the fact that I
was out of commission.

- [Freddie] Renan's at home
with his neck immobilized

in a brace and he's
Skyping with me every day,

talking about, you know,

we're going to go back to
the Tooth Traverse next year.

So, so we waited.

- [Chiropractor] And on
this side, you can see

the needle swing.


I gotta get down lower.

- [Renan] I've worked
really hard to recover

as fast as I have.

I just been sitting for so long.

I need to go out and push myself and be

in the mountains and create.

(gentle music)

As a professional climber,

I have these competing priorities.

First I wanted to climb in the
Himalaya with my North Face

team and then go back to the
Tooth Traverse in the spring.

When I thought the conditions
were gonna be pretty good.

This didn't sit well with Zack.

He wanted to get back to
Alaska as soon as possible.

- [Zack] Renan has made
an incredible recovery

and by some kind of miracle,

the guy was going to be able to climb.

You know, I said, let's
go try this thing again.

You know, like we've talked
about going in the fall before.

Let's, why not.

But he made another
choice, which is great.

You know, like his other
project is super rad

and I'm sure they'll succeed.

Those guys are professional climbers

who get to go on big trips.

So those guys have a different climbing

experience than I have.

My last Alpine climbing
trip was a two month trip.

It's the longest expedition
I've ever been on,

down in Argentina.

Two months,

pretty much spent all the money I had

and I climbed one day and with no summit.

So that was a bit hard, you know,

to sacrifice the time and
energy and money that I put

towards it, it is a big thing to me.

To me the filming has
just become a distraction

and taking away from the
actual experience of climbing.

I'm just at this tipping
point where the mountains are

taking more than they're giving.

Hanging Christmas lights,
painting out for a living.

Yeah. (laughs)

- [Camera Man] Pretty crazy.

- It's a weird way to make
a living, but it works.

So I made the decision
to bow out of the climb.

We created this monster (engine starts up)

And I just hope they
finish the fucking thing.

Even if I can't be there,

I just want it done.

- [Renan] I almost lost
everything in my accident.

People always ask me, why do you do it?

I just wanted to use the
chance that I was given

to show that there's this
joyous side of climbing.

(gentle piano music)

- [Bradford] We've added a
lot to opening people's eyes

towards the beauty of these places

and making it easier if you're
a climber to find new routes.

The things that you
remember about these trips

are people, not things.

Being with these wonderful people.

- Yeah, that was a sharp spin.


- [Freddie] When you're on an
expedition, most of the time,

it doesn't feel like
you're risking your life.

It feels like you're on
this incredible journey to

explore the landscape.

Hello, beautiful wife.

(dramatic orchestral music)

- [Janet] Yeah, you good?

- [Freddie] I'm actually good, what a day.

- I always say I don't care about summits,

but really does feel good.

- [Bradford] I'm going to tell
you the most important thing

in my whole life- Barbara.

That's the best step I ever
took from the day I was born

until this afternoon.

- [Barbara] Brad never talked
about mountain climbing

when we got engaged.

But when we were first married,
I found myself on my way to

Mount Birther in South Eastern Alaska.

- [Interviewer] Well,
why did you think Barbara

was up for this?

I mean most people would not-.

- Just because I think Barbara's terrific,

and she still is.

- [Barbara] I don't think he had any idea

whether I was up to it or
not, he just wanted me to go.

- [Bradford] That was the first
time Barbara had ever done

anything of this sort and she
rushed right up and did it

without the slightest difficult.

- [Interviewer] In '47,
you became the first woman

to climb McKinley.

- Yes.

- [Interviewer] And that
was a long, long expedition.

- Yes, three months.

- [Interviewer] Three months?

- [Barbara] Three months, because we were

making a map, making a movie.

(twangy guitar music)

When we got near the
top, I was in the middle,

Shorty Lang said, okay,
Barbara, now you go first.

And I said, oh no, no, no.

We just go in the order
we're in, of course.

And he said, don't you realize you're the

first woman to get to
the top of this place?

And I said, oh, heck,
who cares about that?

I didn't think the world cared about

a woman getting to the top.

Never done it if I knew it
was gonna be such a fuss.

Anyway, so I got to the top.

And then Brad came up and joined us.

(orchestral music)

- [Bradford] It's been wonderful for me

over the years to have a
wonderful partner like Barbara,

all the way through this stuff.

- [Mike] To sort of sum
Brad up is really hard.

He was an educator, a scientist, explorer.

But he would always land on the education

because no matter what
he did, he educated.

- [Bradford] The thing
that made the climb fun

was the fact we were
trying to create something

that would share the thrill of discovery.

This sharing doesn't just apply to climbing.

It also applies to our Museum of Science.

- [John] The Museum of Science.

When he took it over, it
was this derelict old attic

of a junk heap in South Boston.

Brad absolutely transformed it into the,

one of the great teaching
museums in the world.

And he actually had said
often that was the thing

he wanted to be remembered for,

above and beyond the
climbing and the photography.

- [Kurt] Photography was
always, I think in second place

to his idea of scientific adventure.

Not just adventure, but
scientific adventure.

- [John] There are parallels
amongst scientific exploration

and human exploration.

All of it comes down to
our drive to want to know

or want to see new places.

Flying on the Space Shuttle is just

an amazing place to do photography.

From space, you can
see thousands of miles.

2009, you know, Brad had just
passed away two years earlier.

The American Alpine club
offered to let me take Brad's

camera, bringing Brad's legacy
to the next generation of

aerial photography to space.

Truly incredible because

that's the camera that he took

on his Mount Lucania expedition.

- [Bradford] I had quite
a number of climbs,

sort of in my hip pocket that I began

parceling out one by one.

I just sort of sit and wait
and see how they did it.

And I've had a lot of fun out of that,

particularly after I got old enough.

So I wasn't doing these
wonderful climbs myself.

- [David] When I was a
undergraduate at Harvard,

you freely gave of all your

advice about Alaska, you let us-.

- [Bradford] Yeah.

- [David] You've played this
role with an extraordinary

number of young climbers.

You can take Brad's pictures and seek out

your next great expedition on them.

- [Jack] A mentor is a hero of generosity.

You know, Brad was a lot of things,

but he was super generous.

And I think, you know, it
wasn't just my experience

that was, you know, hundreds
of people's experience.

He would send us photograph,
you know, unsolicited.

What do you think about this?

- [Mike] I think his
photography will last a

really long time, but to us climbers,

I think what matters is not
that he did the hardest climbs

ever it's that he climbed remote,
arduous, exhausting peaks.

And he encouraged many other generations,

including mine, to seek out
the challenges that were beyond

him and people like Freddie and Renan

are still pursuing the
Washburn challenges.

- [Freddie] How did you describe
the snow conditions, man?

- [Man In Blue Coat] The
gorge, we got probably a foot.

- [Freddie] Uh huh.

- And at the mountain it looked like

there was at least two and a half.

- [Freddie] Yeah, yeah.

- Yeah, a foot in the last couple days.

And then we had a storm before
that too, then had a couple.

It's the eye deep to nipple
deep snow wallowing, yep,

unconsolidated wallowing.

- [Man In Blue Coat] Yeah,
every single aspect I'd been on

has been pretty miserable snow conditions.

- Yeah, cool.

They had just had the biggest
snow storm of the year

the week before we arrived.

The mountains were covered
in six feet of new snow.

And everyone we met in Talkeetna

warned us that it was a really bad time.

- [Renan] We'd waited for two
years for another crack at

the Traverse, but it wasn't
even about the climb anymore.

We wanted to do something
in the true spirit of Brad

to come back with something to share.

It's the 14th, three o'clock

and we're launching.

- [Freddie] And we're launching.

We get to do it with only (indistinct).

- [Paul] It's good to be a
part of something that has a

lot of pieces that you
have to connect together.

There are certain climbers,
like they have a plutonium rod,

you know, just burning inside of them.

It's not just going up and
getting something done.

They're tying their whole
life into the whole climb.

(phone ringing)


- [Renan] Can you breath
out a big cold breath here?

The rumors were correct and the conditions

were very snowy and the going was slow.

- [Freddie] The thing was, might've taken

15 or 20 minutes longer
working twice as hard.

But I still got to the top of the pitch.

It set a little light
off in my head, and I,

I realized like, maybe
we can do this thing.

We took it one pitch at a time.

And we went back to our old bivy from 2010

at the top of the Sugar Tooth.

- [Renan] We're at our
bivy overlooking Denali

and climbed for about 12 hours today.

And even though it's
still blazing sun out,

I'm going to try to get some rest.

That's the update.


- [Freddie] Ah!

- [Renan] What's going
on over there, Freddie?

- Digging for buried treasure.

We found a bag of snacks
left from the attempt

two years ago.

Not exactly a street legal maneuver, but

this buys us another two days of climbing,

which we may need.

Day two, we started up the
South Ridge of the eye tooth.

The climbing got a lot steeper

and the conditions are challenging enough.

We have to pitch it out and
stop and belay each other.

It takes us all day to get to
the summit of the eye tooth.

Day three, there was a
segment of unclimbed ridge

connecting the eye tooth
to the bear's tooth.

- [Renan] This is deep Alaskan
cornice ridge climbing,

huge waves that are 200 feet tall.

These waves of snow.

And you don't want to climb
on the top of the wave

because the wave could collapse.

And we've had friends die,

not knowing where the
point is on the wave,

where you can actually be.

You're tiptoeing on the
backside of the wave

for what seems like a mile.

That was pretty real.

We've been on the summit all day.

Now it's just a matter of weather,

but we're looking really good.

- [Freddie] We knew if we could
only make it to the summit

of the bear's tooth, we'd be halfway home.

(helicopter whirs)

(man indistinctly speaking on radio)

- [Renan] I think first you
see it from the ridge line.

And then you see Denali,

we can kind of just be
charging up the snow

towards the summit.

- [Paul] All right, we'll
see you in a little bit.

- [Renan] Okay, awesome.

Thanks Paul.

- [Paul] They're coming.

- There's a lot riding on the next hour.

(upbeat orchestral music)

(radio buzzes)

- [Bradford] Up the long
delirious burning blue,

I've topped the wind swept
heights with easy grace.

Where never Lark or even Eagle flew.

And while his silent lifting mind,

I've trod the high
under-trespassed sanctity of space.

Whip out my hand and
touch the face of God.

(orchestral music)

(radio buzzes)

- [Renan] Making it across
that final section of ridge

onto the summit of the
bear's tooth was like

unlocking the last piece of the puzzle.

We were on the center
of the Tooth Traverse

in the most beautiful part of it.

For us, it was just this fleeting moment

in our concept of how long we
were toiling on this climb.

(triumphant orchestral music)

- [Freddie] We figured when we reached the

South face of the Moose's
Tooth, we'd be on easy street

because we had already
climbed that section.

Nice, Renan!

Without Zack there, those pitches felt

way harder than we remembered.

There was a big snow field
that was dripping water

down on this five, 11 slab traverse.

And Renan had to tiptoe across
it doing really precise,

insecure climbing.

That was like the ultimate little.

- Yes, Zack, I almost died on the pitch

you pranced up in 20 minutes.


Once I got through the slab,

Freddie led us through the Bleeder pitch

towards the summit of the moose.

(heavy breathing)

- Denali looks cool.

Renan and I realized that, here we are,

and we're just about out of food and

we pretty much had no
choice, but to continue on.

It took us all night to get across the

summit ridge of the Moose's tooth.

- [Renan] Been going for almost 24 hours.

(yelling in distance)

We've done the entire Tooth Traverse.

Now we're just trying
to finish up the moose.

- [Freddie] Fuck yeah!

By 6:00 AM the next morning
we were stopping for another

quick rest on the West
summit of the Moose's tooth.

Before we began repelling
off the side of the mountain.

- [Renan] Hour 30 probably of the push.

It's kind of this unique feeling.

- [Freddie] Dreaming.

- Yeah, it's like a hallucination

without hallucinogens,

but you're doing things
where one wrong step,

you could die.

So it's even more trippy.

You just got to try to
keep yourself together.

Hour after hour.

And we probably have six hours to go.

- [Freddie] The last
challenge of the climb was

descending this gully down to the glacier

at the bottom of the gorge
and gully's are dangerous.

And we were going into this
one at the worst possible time.

It was 4:00 PM in the afternoon.

We had been on the go
for 30 some odd hours.

And all the circumstances were pointing to

this being a bad call,
but we had to get down.

We didn't think it'd take us too long.

And I realized how soft it was
at that hour of the day and

sat down and was seated past Renan

as he's really intensely
kicking steps down.

- [Renan] There could have
been this giant crevasse

down there to eat us both up.

But after he committed, of course,

I was going to do the same.

And we were just sliding like little kids.

(orchestral music)

(chains clinking)

- [Freddie] Nice job!

- [Renan] The first thing
we did was we called Zack.

He was excited for us.

- [Freddie] All right, man!

Hang loose.

- [Renan] And he knew that
he was this big driving force

for the Tooth Traverse overall.

- [Freddie] The thing I'll
remember more than any other

detail of the climb was how it felt

when we returned to base camp.

We just hung out in the
tent, listening to music,

the door wide open,

looking out on the skyline
we had just walked across.

By all rights, we should
have been exhausted

and should've fallen asleep immediately,

but we felt more energized than ever.

Those moments come so rarely.

We didn't want it to end.

(orchestral music)

(music ends suddenly)

- [David] Brad's favorite quotations,

which were touchstones for
him, one is from Aristotle-

quote, the search for truth-.

- [Brad And David Simultaneously]
Is in one way hard-.

- [Bradford] And in another easy,

for it is evident that
no one of us can ever-.

- [Renan] Master it fully.

- [Freddie] Or use it wholly.

Each one of us-.

- [Renan] Adds to our understanding-.

- [Bradford] Of the world around us.

- [All] And from all the facts assembled-.

- [Renan] Arises a certain grandeur.

- [Freddie] Arises a certain grandeur.

- [Bradford] Arises a certain grandeur.

(orchestral music)

(electronic music)

(twangy guitar music)