SOLR: The cinematic story of light in the backcountry

SOLR: The cinematic story of light in the backcountry

Adventure in the backcountry would be difficult without light. During the shortest days of the year we have limited hours of sunlight and when the darkness comes we rely on man made methods to create light. Whether that light comes from a fire, lantern, flashlight or headlamp we are so blessed with the ability to see in the dark. 

Headlamps are necessary for late nights and early mornings on the skin track

-photo by Eric Freckman

I wanted to portray how essential light is for us during expeditions through visual storytelling on a backcountry trip I went on in Montana. We spent 3 days and 2 nights at Downing Mountain Lodge near the small town of Hamilton and spent most of our time touring the mountains above the yurt in search of good snow.

Downing Mountain Lodge is a yurt nestled in the foothills above Hamilton, MT. With access to endless riding in the adjacent forest service lands.

-Photo by Eric Freckman

Even without bringing cameras to shoot a short film, backcountry touring is a time consuming process. In early January the sun rises at 8am and sets by 5pm, only giving us 9 hours to hike, ride and shoot everything we wanted. Of course we can augment that number by operating at night using headlamps. I have spent countless mornings waking up before 5am to pack, travel, hike and ride to make sure we hit the light just right. In mountaineering we call that an alpine start.

I decided to partner with Paleblue, a Park City Utah based brand who designs and develops lithium-ion USB rechargeable batteries.  I believe in their product and what they are trying to accomplish.

While touring and filming in the late hours of the night and pre-dawn hours in the morning we charged and used many of the Paleblue AAA and AA batteries for our headlamps and radios.

-Photo by Eric Freckman

Our first morning of the trip we spent driving up to the lodge (normally it's a 2 mile tour from the gate, but low snow allowed them to plow the road), unpacking gear and getting settled. By noon we were all unpacked and geared up for some riding. It was a 2500 ft vertical climb from the yurt to the fresh snow above us and we were all feeling it by the top. We were trying to beat the sun setting over the crest of the mountains and got one run in with a sliver of sunlight left.

Jess Neuhaus finishing her run down the face above the yurt. The 2500ft climb was well worth it for the powder above.

-Photo by Adi Sadeh

After the first tour we returned to the yurt for dinner. I had quickly realized that riding and filming for this project was going to be harder than I originally anticipated. I was hoping to be able to go out at night for some quick headlamp laps next to the yurt but the good snow was high above us. 

After dinner we geared up once again and took the long tour up. My legs and lungs were screaming at me while I tried to scuttle past the group to get some shots. Luckily we had almost a full moon and with the help of the headlamps I felt I could really capture the setting we were in. We reached the shoulder of the peak overlooking the yurt and took turns riding the cold surfy snow guided only by headlamps and moonlight. Pain in my thighs and the cold nipping at my fingers was quickly drowned out by the hoots and hollers of the crew ripping some midnight powder. We returned to the yurt after midnight and set our alarms for 5am, hoping to get an alpine start for some sunrise laps off the summit.

Adi taking some fresh turns under the moonlight guided by her headlamp

-Photo by Eric Freckman

The second day started much sooner to the first than I would have liked. We dragged our sleepy butts downstairs for some breakfast. We grabbed gear, snacks, water and headlamps and trudged out into the predawn darkness.

By the time I reached the base of the upper slopes there was a chilling breeze and blowing snow. While I waited for the crew to make the ridgeline I dug a pit next to my tripod to help shelter me from the wind. I longed for the sun to rise above the ridge so I could soak up some warming rays.  But by the time the crew dropped in I was still very cold and shivering. Luckily Willy had a fire starter kit and once he reached my film perch we got to work gathering sticks and logs for a nice backcountry fire. 

I filmed the rest of the crew drop one by one, riding the face looming over me. The stoke was high as the sun crested over the hills, especially as they were greeted by a warm fire and plenty of stoke at the bottom.

The fire was a lifesaver while operating the camera in the cold Montana weather.

-Photo by Chris Frignoca

After a few laps on the face high above the yurt, some of the crew decided to head back down and enjoy the hot tub and other amenities the yurt has to offer. The remaining crew opted to travel over the summit and explore some of the back bowls we heard such amazing things about.

The bowl was heavily featured with technical riding down most of the face. We had high hopes for some intense lines before the storm rolled in

-Photo by Lucas Gibbons

After hiking over the crest we were greeted with views of big cliffs, steep lines and amazing looking snow. We established a plan and the riders started making their way up the ridge while I set up the camera and tripod at the base of the bowl. As the crew made their way across the ridgeline a storm started rolling in and visibility quickly diminished. Snow started falling and the sunlight disappeared.

We decided against the original line choices we had picked out and everyone safely dropped into a chute on the mellower side of the bowl. After exiting the nozzle of the chute they were greeted by deep, fluffy, cold powder. I would have loved to fully capture their amazing runs in the deep snow but the lack of light and stormy weather lead to a rather flat picture quality. I guess this illustrates how finicky the weather and light can be while filming in the mountains.

As the weather worsened we quickly made our final descent down to the lodge. We all made full use of the hot tub, fireplace and comforts of the wonderful yurt. Jess taught us yoga poses and stretches to ease the tension in our sore bodies and we all chipped in to cook an amazing last dinner of steak and potatoes.

Even though I would say our trip to Downing Mountain Lodge had more amenities and comforts than most backcountry trips I have been on, the prerequisite is alway the same: light. Without fire, sunlight, electricity and our headlamps our adventures would be impossible. 

Light is crucial in the backcountry. Without it the tasks we do to stay comfortable and survive become difficult or impossible.

-Photo by Eric Freckman

Fire is natural but also man made. By creating and controlling fires we make light and heat, two things that make life in the Montana winter bearable and enjoyable.

-Photo by Eric Freckman


Watch the full story here.

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