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180 South: Conquerors of the Useless
Dave McGuire checks the rigging aboard the Seabear halfway between Isla de Coco and the Galapagos Islands. [Photo] Jeff Johnson
The film and book suggest that simplifying is not just a healthy individual choice but also a healthy community choice. Why reach out to climbers and surfers with this message?
It's climbers and surfers we know the best—the communities we are most connected with. A big part of climbing and surfing is travel. We have an impact on these places we visit. And, because we all travel so much, we are sensitive to the world being connected, that everything we do affects someone else. Simplifying is easy to understand. Rather than a sacrifice, it adds to your life, makes life better, I believe.
180 South gathered like-minded adventurers for many months, and the book and film culminate with the first ascent of Cerro Geezer in Valle Chacabuco, Chile. Then the group disbanded. Did this final time together serve as a logical end or beginning?
Well, it's how it happened. Yvon and Doug were planning on climbing Cerro Geezer—they had tried it a year before. Having me along wasn't planned. Everyone else was leaving, and we thought the thing was over. Then, out of the blue, they invited me to come along. Because it was planned so last-minute, Chris didn't have this climb in mind, especially for the end of the film. But it worked.
There were so many times during the filming that were almost too perfect, and we'd look at each other in awe. Like dolphins and seals jumping up as soon as Keith and I went for a paddle, or the snow storm that hit us on El Capitan. It was like being in Universal Studios where someone on a megaphone was yelling, "Cue the dolphins! Cue the snow!" Cerro Geezer was one of those.
Where are you living now, and what are your future travel plans?
I live in Ventura, California right now. As far as travel, I'm listening to Ron Kauk's mantra: "Best not to have any plans, bro."
Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard near the top of the upper glacier on the first ascent of Cerro Geezer, Chilean Patagonia. [Photo] Jeff Johnson
What was your artistic vision for 180 South?
My aesthetic has always been informed by the mid- to late-1960s work of people like Fred Padula, Leto Tejata-Florez, John Severson and Albert Falzon. Most of them worked with a Bolex 16mm film camera. These guys were part of the adventures they documented—they had a different perspective than outside film crews, foreign to the places and experiences, would. These artists were so immersed in the experience itself that they could create a language that authentically spoke to other climbers and surfers. This shows in the small nuances that they took time to film, and that's what I've always looked for in my own work.
Mountain of Storms had a profound impact on your perspective on adventure. Did it also have an impact on your life trajectory?
Jeff Johnson and I had found a kindred spirit between climbing and surfing. Without any concrete reason, we spent months researching places in time where they had crossed paths. When we found Mountain of Storms it brought everything together. It was at that time we started talking about doing a trip loosely based on their route.
Timmy O'Neill and Keith Malloy two pitches from the summit on North America Wall. [Photo] Jeff Johnson
What was the most challenging part of filming this project?
Having money. I've always shot super stripped-down films, and couch surfing with a couple cameramen has been the norm. In the past, I always used 1970s-era Bolex cameras because you don't have to charge batteries. And if they break, you can usually fix them with a screwdriver. For 180 South, we shot HD, and we had budgets and schedules and a production team. That was odd for me. It was compromising.
What was most rewarding about being involved in 180 South?
The film is bringing light to what is happening in Chile. Dams are destroying the cultural and environmental resources, and coastal factories, like cellulose mills, are polluting the sea, air and land. Bringing that message to folks is important. Most climbing and surfing films go to far flung regions of the world, document the good, leave out the bad, paint a pretty picture and call it good. 180 South takes a different approach, one that might effect change, and that's rewarding.
Timmy O'Neill near high camp on Cerro Corcovado, Chile. [Photo] Jeff Johnson