Monday, March 3, 2008

The Alps in IMAX - vertiginous and awe inspiring

Not necessarily in that order either!

I found out about this movie a month ago and had meant to see it much sooner but have been busy on the weekends. I checked movie times yesterday at the Udvar-Hazy center and saw that it's leaving this very week! Well, no time like the present. Off I went!

This movie is the story of John Harlan III, whose father, John Harlan II, died while attempting a new climbing track up the Eiger. The vertical drop from the top of the Eiger is one mile, I'm not sure where he was when he fell but he was a few days into the climb so pretty far up. John wanted to exorcise the ghosts of his Dad's death by doing the exact same climb, and thereby honor him.

The photos I've posted here are of the Matterhorn (not the Eiger) which I took in June 2004. The first one is also of Bernie and Minnie, two large St. Bernards - a little known True Beth Fact: I grew up with St. Bernards as my Mom raised and showed them until I was about 9 years old - they are wonderful, gentle dogs. At any rate, the Matterhorn is also an unforgiving mountain. Near the base of it in the town of Zermatt there is a climber's cemetery. Mostly, the demographic is men between the ages of 18-24, although I did note a few women's names here and there. The "Horn" of Matterhorn means "peak".

Spoiler Alert: John did make it up the mountain with his team of two (and the IMAX crew). We saw them settle in to sleep each night, clipped to the mountain and each other. There were utterly breathtaking views of the Eiger and various other Alps, both close up while they were climbing (and I do mean close up - the crew was along side them for certain) and some panoramic shots as well. IMAX movies have the tendency to make you feel you are right there with them and you get a bit of vertigo watching all of this.

I want to make a special note here of the IMAX crew. My theory is that photographers/videographers as a group suffer from the Ginger Roger's syndrome: Fred Astaire gets all the credit, but Ginger did it backwards and in heels. In this movie there was no piercing of the fourth wall - the climbers did not acknowledge the camera in any way - but they were not only climbing along side them, they were also carrying all that camera gear!

The last Matterhorn photo I took from the balcony of my hotel room, room 56 at the Hotel Allalin (in case you wanted to stay there). That's just fine by me - enjoy the beauty from afar. I enjoyed hiking around Zermatt though. Another note - they showed John doing chin ups. I haven't seen such biceps/triceps on this side of Schwarzenegger! They were HUGE. Considering your arms are pulling your body weight up the mountain, they have to be.

Here is the movie link:

EDIT:  Here is a photo of the Eiger, taken during my trip with my parents in 2010.

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