" I don't work out. I don't diet. I don't prepare before climbing," confessed 23-year old mountain climber and artist Rachel Pohl. " Why can I (climb up a near vertical rock face) do it? Thank my mother and father for their DNA!"
The modest adventurer is starring in "America Wild: National Parks Adventure". She doesn't simply climb mountains, she preternaturally finds pinkie sized breaks in sheer rock faces. One foot on one side of a stone crevice, the other on a different rock face altogether. And between her legs? The great abyss.
Rachel Pohl - photograph George Socka
America Wild, a new Imax movie narrated by Robert Redford, recently had its Canadian premiere in Toronto. It has begun showing at museums, galleries and Science Centres all across North America. The 50-minute movie, funded in part by the American Government, is a homage to the 100 year anniversary of the US Park Services in the US. The 70mm large format cameras follow Rachel and two male companions as they have climbing and biking adventures in parks from Alaska, to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to Utah's Arches National Park and onto the everglades in Florida.
It was at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto that I talked to the hat-on-backwards rock climber about the experience of making death defying crack climbs in front of the uber-sized film cameras.
Devil's Tower - Publicity Picture
Crack-climbing, according to the film, is described as being a more "physically dramatic art form than rock face-climbing -climbers use their body parts as levers, jamming hands and feet at jig-saw tilts into the fissures until cliff, skin and bone meld together."
It makes for exciting visual action -- but took Rachel Pohl to her physical edge. "That climb would still have been hard if I could have felt my hands, but not only were my legs maxed out ... my fingers were completely numb."
"The big difference between simply climbing rocks and doing it for the camera is the amount of time it takes to climb for the cameras. The Imax camera for the ground shots is 300 lbs and close to 100 lbs for shots of me climbing. For example when I was crack climbing Devil's Tower we had to get that camera 300 ft off the ground (to look down on me as I climbed)."
Devil's Tower is an igneous rock horn that sticks 900 feet up into the air in the badlands of northeastern Wyoming. It looks like a cross between the stem of a pumpkin and Richard Dreyfus' mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which in fact showed Devil's Tower as a UFO magnet!)
Rachel and her companions on top of the Three Penguins.
There are about 400 parks in the United States, protecting a staggering diversity of landscapes, creatures and out door adventures. This movie shows the best of the best.
"In the making of this film, we visited more than 30 national parks, looking for things we'd never seen before and images that blew us away. Physically challenging? Of course." said Rachel "There were days where it was really cold. We had snow. We had rain. We had all sorts of adventures not only climbing at that temperature but also we needed the patience to wait hours and hours and hours to wait for the light to be just right for the shots to manifest!"
The movie is being heavily marketed across North America. One of the most imposing and frightening images being used is the young climber and her buds on top of Arches National Park's Three Penguins, a trio of sculpture-like 130-foot towers that sit atop a 100-foot pedestal. They stand unwavering atop of the cocktail-table-sized summit with jaw-dropping, 360-degree vistas of the entire park at their boots.
"I think the whole experience of climbing in US Parks is unique because of the variety of rocks and the variety of elevation ," she continued. "I went from climbing Three Penguin's sandstone cracks in southern Utah to driving ½ a day away and then ski mountaineering in California. That is what makes it so special. I didn't have to cross (international) borders to go from one type of climbing to a completely different experience."
"This is my first film and through this process I have somehow become comfortable with public speaking- like here with you! I also became used to filming so that process of rock climbing with the camera watching and thinking about how millions of people were going to see that shot was very intimidating but at the same time it allowed me to rise to the occasion and perform better than I thought I could."
Never mind the minor PR aspects of the 50-minute movie. The makers had to pay the piper with sponsorship from Subaru and Expedia, and the product placement scenes (the three stars singing while they drive the back country in their Subaru) flash by in an instant. What gives this movie a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating is spectacular Imax images of the forest, the streams, the mountains and a young woman kick-ass conquering it all.
Toronto videographer George Socka (Canadian Art Channel) interviewed Rachel Pohl at the Toronto premiere of America Wild: National Parks Adventure. His short video -- Rachel Pohl, her role in America Wild: National Parks Adventure --is on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/1zmF8CAvIMo