December 9, 2011
Recently, I returned from a unique adventure in Canada where we filmed a television commercial for Quaker Oats. I had spoken a couple times to the Quaker team, and told them that we religiously ate oatmeal at midnight in our tent before a big climb. It’s light to carry, easy to heat up, and fuels you for an amazing day ahead. So simulating this ritual was the plan for the ad.
I was joined in front of the camera by my friends Jeff “No Limits” Evans and Rob “Are You Going To Finish That?” Raker. Behind the camera, it seemed like dozens of people were involved over the two full days of shooting, from production managers and the awesome lady who coordinated our clothing and gear to the snow mobile drivers and caterers. Our safety rigger was famed ice-climber and wild-man adventurer Will Gadd, who holds records like paragliding 423 kilometers and ascending and descending a frozen waterfall for 24 hours non-stop as a fundraiser.
The shoot took place at a closed ski resort 70 miles west of Calgary called Fortress Mountain under some very brutal conditions. The weather was cold and the winds were absolutely howling—well over 100 miles per hour up high! I was really impressed at how hard working and hardy the entire production crew was in the face of this adversity: setting up shots with numb hands, cooking steaming pots of oatmeal with the wind almost taking down the tent, and carrying tons of equipment up and down the mountain.
The first day, we left before dawn and took snowmobiles up to the top of the resort where we set up “camp.” For the purposes of filming, both ends of our tent were wide open so the wind was gusting through and depositing several inches of snow inside. But the effort paid off because I’m told they got some spectacular sunrise scenes as we were eating oatmeal.
We sat around with our sleeping bags wrapped around us for much of the morning, about six hours, eating spoonful after spoonful of oatmeal. Jeff regaled us with stories from his randy bachelor days, which had Rob and me cracking up. But we had to do a bunch of reshoots because Jeff kept talking with his mouth open!
Rob, who is a cameraman himself, demonstrated his lack of acting skills with some corny overly-dramatic head-nodding as he looked out towards the rising sun, but he redeemed himself by teaching me a new skill. Since I can’t see, getting the perfect scoop of oatmeal that wasn’t too large proved quite a challenge; as I brought the spoon towards my mouth, oatmeal often dribbled onto my down parka, oops. Fortunately Rob taught me how to make the perfect spoonful on the edge of my cup so I could direct it into my mouth with no spillage.
That afternoon, we walked up and down a ridge while an amazing helicopter pilot hovered above us to blow wind and spindrift snow in our face for dramatic effect for the camera. It made us all a little nervous with the rotors spinning fifteen feet off the side of the ridge, and eventually the winds proved too fierce so we all retreated to the comforts of a nice hotel and awesome dinner.
The next day, the winds were at their full fury—one time Rob was picked up and thrown twelve feet, landing on his butt. Normally, we’d never climb in this kind of weather but it made for great filming! So we ended up changing plans and moving over to a nearby rock face.
The problem with alpine climbing from a filmmaker’s perspective is that it’s usually a very slow deliberate process, especially when you’re climbing a rock face with tons of huge loose rocks and you’re blind. Will came up with a solution by setting up some fixed lines on which we could use ascenders so that speeded things up and looked more exciting. Well sort of…Mountain Man Jeff had forgotten how to rig his ascenders properly and was having a mini-epic. He ultimately figured it out after some teasing from me of course, and they got some incredible shots with the helicopter coming around the mountain to see the three heroes ascending up three fixed lines, all nicely spaced, on a big rock face with a steep vast snowface below.
Eventually we retreated to the tent for more shots of us eating. Lucky thing I love oatmeal because I got another tent session, taking bite after bite for another hour. Sometime next year you may see our bearded mugs on your television.
In exchange for my participation in this commercial, Quaker Oats made a significant donation to No Barriers USA. Many thanks for supporting this organization that helps people with significant challenges shatter barriers to live more active and adventurous lives. Currently, we’re recruiting a team of disabled soldiers for a life-changing program called, Soldiers to the Summit. Learn more at www.nobarriersusa.org