Where did this idea of spending a year climbing peaks come from?
To be honest the whole thing was a little bit of an unplanned adventure. I’ve never before experienced so much pleasure with so much pain over an extended period – it was incredible. The idea for 52Peaks arose after being disappointed with my running motivation and training since moving to New Zealand. As Austin Powers would probably say, “I’d lost my running mojo”.
It was one of those rare occasions, especially on a new year’s eve, when an actually interesting resolution floated into my mind. Why not run ‘a peak a week’? Obviously the name needed a bit of work, but it was a cracking idea and one that was achievable as New Zealand is jam packed full of mountains when you think about it. There were some rules that I’d set though, it wasn’t just any mountain that I had to climb. Each peak had to be named on a topomap, each had to be over 1000m in altitude and every single one had to be different… no one likes hill repeats, especially when these are mountains we’re talking about! So that was it really, what stemmed from a new year’s resolution turned into an obsession, a personal challenge and a brutal battle told by my camera, my legs and my pain.
What sort of gear did you use for filming?
My film (and also the individual peak films) were all taken on an old GoPro camera, as I found that it was the easiest method I could find to get to best shots whilst running up and down these rugged summits. For the majority of my time in the mountains I was also going solo, meaning that I didn’t really have the time to set anything up while I was out there. If that wasn’t enough, I also didn’t really know what I was filming on the mountain; by that I mean if the shot was good, if I’d caught the right angle, the light was ok or if I was even in the frame. The GoPro was my perfect tool being lightweight and easy to use on the run, but it also frustrating since it didn’t have a screen or any kind of playback mechanism and there were some peaks when I got home and ended up with a lot of blurry footage, or even condensation in the lens for what I thought was going to be my best and most prominent shot for the peak… I spent many nights screaming at the laptop screen, and more so at my inability to notice that it had fogged up whilst on the side of the mountain… but you can only work with what you have, and for me that was the GoPro.
My filming style was quite comical to anyone watching from afar. To get the best shots or any shots in a ‘3rd person’ viewpoint, I would have to succumb to a dreaded hill repeats session every time. I would run up the mountain, put the camera down and press record, run back down, run back up again past the camera, then run back down to pick it up and then carry on up to the summit. By the time I’d run over 40 peaks, this trick was getting very old indeed (and I’d estimated that I’d also run at least 60 peaks’ worth of distance!), but looking back on those moments, I totally wouldn’t change a thing as this was part of my challenge, and would always look forward to what footage I’d created high above the clouds.
Did you already have an idea for the film in your head or was it all developing as you went along?
My main goal with 52 peaks was to keep a track of what I was doing on a weekly basis and document the whole journey by a series of individual films, one per peak. The plan was also to blog about the route and how it went on my website. With all the creating and editing I was getting totally obsessed along the way slaving away every Sunday evening after getting back from a mad mountain weekend. I didn’t for the life of me ever think that I could even complete my challenge, let alone sum it up after 365 days of adventure.
However, with a bit of inspiration help, I sat down and watched a movie previously featured at The Banff Mountain Film Festival (Cold) and the pin dropped. I was going to put my big film into action, making one heck of a story to be told including my 52nd peak, that I had yet to run.
Have you always been interested in making movies?
I can’t say that making movies has been something that I’ve ever really thought about before my 52Peaks. To be honest, it was a very steep learning curve getting to grips with the different software packages and producing something that connects with the audience. I started out, and actually made the majority of the individual peak videos with the classic piece of software, Windows Movie Maker. Yes, that’s right… that means there’s hope for everyone on the movie making front! Obviously the final product was on a piece of software that’s a lot more sophisticated, but we’ve all got to start somewhere and sometimes the best way is to use what you have right in front of you. It might not be the best, but if it pushes you forwards towards your goal, it can’t be a bad thing.
I also didn’t realise how much time it would actually take to capture, create, edit and produce all of my videos let alone writing all of the blog entries and keeping up with my weekly schedule. Some nights I really didn’t have the passion to edit them anymore. However, as this was a challenge that I’d set myself, personal competitiveness kicked in, and I knew I had to put the long yards in and finish the writing, editing and upload this big film, ready for the world to see.
As for the future, film is so powerful in this day and age and you can capture so much to inspire and desire. This will definitely not be my last dabble into the world of moving pictures.
What other films influence you?
Over recent years I’ve always kept a keen eye on Kilian Jornet. If you don’t know the name, then please type him into Google, sit back and watch some incredible superhuman adventures. He’s managed, along with many others, to put trail running back on the map, mixing alpinism with the trails to make people gasp in wonder. I’m no Kilian by any stretch of the imagination, but ‘Kilian’s Quest’ and his current ‘Summits of My Life’ definitely inspire me.
Can you share with us a particularly special memory from your 52 Peaks adventure?
There are so many to mention but one that I can remember vividly is my first real ‘taste’ of snow.
As I’d decided on my challenge in the middle of Summer, it had never really crossed my mind about the fact that New Zealand has seasons, especially the wintery ones which could be quite dangerous and yet awe inspiring in the mountains. Winter arrived pretty abruptly that year and so me and a gang of friends decided it would be a great idea for a Peak in epic conditions. We set off early one morning to Mt Somers in South Canterbury for an especially wintery adventure. The twist for me was that they were all in ski touring gear and I was in running/alpine gear. Little did I know what fresh powder really looked like. When we arrived, we had to ditch the cars on the access track as the snow was coming over the bonnet, I got out of the 4×4 and the snow came up to my armpits… What the heck had I got myself into? To cut a long story short, it was a pretty unsuccessful attempt for a summit (putting me further behind in my 52 Peak tally) but the footage of me swimming in the white stuff, attempting to walk is just priceless!
Have you got any other filmmaking/running projects in the pipeline?
I’ve always dreamed about tackling other adventures around the world as well as some mini-adventures here in New Zealand. Some that spring to mind are to complete the Bob Graham Round in the UK’s Lake District, the Appalachian Trail in the US, but I also want to make my mark on never-before completed challenges. I’ve got a few in the pipeline in our own backyard, so keep your eyes peeled for adventures coming up in the near future!
We will be screening Matthew Dickinson’s 52 Peaks at Reel Wild – The Kiwi Trail Running Film Festival on April 18th.