By Lynn Martel
What is it really like for two adventurous American men to travel to Nepal, trek to Mount Everest base camp, and then attempt to climb the tallest mountain on Earth, even if they have never climbed a mountain before?
And, if their adventure were to be filmed for TV every step of the way, what would it be like for the audience following their blogs posts, watching online webisodes and, for one lucky audience member, visiting the team at Everest Base Camp in person?
That is the exact premise of Canmore filmmaker Tracy Jacobson’s new project, The Everest Journey, which follows two native Texans and lifelong best friends, Ryan Youngblood and Alex Hughes, as they embark on their dream adventure. As warm-climate dwellers – Hughes lives in Texas while Youngblood currently lives in Africa – the two men will learn to live in the glacial temperatures of base camp, and as they climb higher onto the mountain in the thin air of extreme altitudes.
But before they begin climbing, they will experience the challenges of landing in Kathmandu, trekking through Nepali villages and all the cultural adventures that are part of such a journey.
Then, at the mountain they’ll pitch camp next door to the Everest ER Clinic tent, where western medical professionals care for the ill and injured, and where the drama is real and not all endings are happy ones.
“Unlike many mountaineering shows that focus strictly on the climbers’ expedition, The Everest Journey examines what happens when things go wrong,” Jacobson explained. “The storylines describe the drama and carnage when disaster strikes.”
While the successes and failures of the season’s climbs will play a part in Jacobson’s story, the focus will be on what it takes, physically, mentally and emotionally, not only to climb, but just to survive in the Everest arena, particularly from the perspective of two men who have no climbing experience.
Jacobson also feels strongly about incorporating the culture and the customs of the Sherpa people as her two main characters interact with locals throughout their journey.
“Essentially, I want to bring the audience in from the moment we land in Kathmandu,” Jacobson said. “I want to capture the interaction as we go through the valley, stop in the villages, meet the locals, experience their lifestyle. I want to capture the culture and the feeling so we can really get a sense of who these people are.”
Jacobson’s first encounter with the Everest region came in the spring of 2008 while working as operations manager for Canmore-based Berg Adventures International. Following a 10-year acting career in Vancouver, Jacobson relocated to Canmore in 2007 to pursue a new path in creative writing, documentary, TV and feature filmmaking. On that trip she was involved in organizing a large-scale film project on Pumori, a 7,000-metre peak, and at base camp on neighbouring Everest. Once back in Canmore, she embraced filmmaking full time; one project involved producing a documentary for CPAWS.
For The Everest Journey, Jacobson plans to travel with the two novice climbers all the way to base camp, and potentially as high as Camp II, which is their objective for this season as part of their training for a potential summit attempt in 2015, if they’re up to it. But before they strap on crampons for the first time – to navigate Everest’s notorious Khumbu Icefall – Youngblood and Hughes will be examined by a specialized high-altitude science team to monitor how their bodies adapt to the harsh environment.
“They’re ready to be Guinea pigs,” Jacobson said.
For the actual climbing, the duo will be shown the ropes by two experienced Sherpas with multiple Everest summits behind them. As part of their training, they hope to climb 6,119-metre Lobuche, all undertaken with an aim to avoid sickness, accidents or the very real possibility of death in the unforgiving, isolated Himalaya.
“I really want the audience to feel the journey,” Jacobson said. “There are lots of egos, tensions, cultural differences. These diverse stories are the entry point into a unique component of mountain survival that has not yet been showcased on television.”
Along with the requisite equipment and warm clothing, Youngblood and Hughes will wear GoPro cameras to capture their experiences from a first-person perspective. Jacobson also plans to equip the Sherpas setting the fixed line through the Khumbu Icefall with GoPros as they carry out the most important and dangerous job on the mountain.
From the production end, Jacobson plans to produce at least three, possibly as many as six, one-hour television episodes, as well as a series of webisode updates the audience can follow while the team is on the mountain. The project will also include an interactive blog so audience members can not only follow the adventurers, but contribute to the conversation by asking questions and sharing their own dreams and adventure stories.
And, as one more component of audience participation, Jacobson has taken to Kickstarter to fund the enterprise. Anyone donating $500 or more will have their names entered into a draw for a trip to Everest Base Camp to visit with the cast and crew and participate in a training session with Youngblood and Hughes.
“We really wanted to involve the audience from the start, and make them part of it,” Jacobson said. “We’ll have some behind-the-scenes footage of what goes on with the production crew so people can see where their money went. And we’ll bring an audience member in to be part of the series.”
Planning for the project has taken more than two years, she said, including hiring a professional film crew and also hiring Berg Adventures to look after permits, rescues, illnesses, food, equipment, support crew, transportation, lodging, flights, insurance, guides and much more.
And with her Kickstarter goal set at $550,000 by Friday, Dec. 20, Jacobson said she hoped everyone would be as inspired to participate in the making of The Everest Journey as her two main characters are.
“Alex and Ryan are like brothers, but opposite,” Jacobson said. “They spent 14 days living with the Massai in Africa. Ryan’s personality is very confident, comedic and professional. And not only that, he’s game for anything.”