Project: Ghost Ice Climbing with Sarah Hueniken

Client: Spolight Productions & Telus Optic
Role: Director & Field Producer

2016 was a year of mixed emotions for Ice Climbing Champion Sarah Hueniken. In this intimate portrait Hueniken bravely shares how her love of ice climbing has been tested by personal tragedy.

Finalist ~ Sheffield Adventure FIlm Festival 2017

Official Selection ~ Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, 2017

Finalist ~ Kendal Mountain FIlm Festival, 2016

Finalist ~ Banff Mountain Film Festival 2016

Ghost Ice Climbing: Behind The Scenes

This story is the most nerve-wracking and emotional shoot I’ve directed to date. It began life as a relatively simple piece on female ice climbers in the Bow Valley. However, as I started talking with some of the leading climbers in the area, Sarah Hueniken, who had recently won the prestigious North American Ice Climbing Champion (Lead),  let me know that she’d recently lost her mother and had been strongly affected by her sudden death. As a friend and filmmaker, I asked if it would be a topic she would be willing to discuss on camera. And as you can see from the above, Sarah was very gracious to open up about the difficult subjects of personal loss and mortality. We discussed a number of routes but we both had a strong gut feeling that Rainbow Serpent in the Ghost River Wilderness would be stunning setting for her story. And when we first spoke, Rainbow Serpent was in relatively good shape, though definitely not as fat as previous years – especially the photo by John Price that had inspired the project.

While I’ve rock climbed for years, I have only just started ice climbing and knew that I would need some help from local guides and shooters. Our deliverable was 4k and had to meet broadcast specs of 50mbps at 10-bit 4:2:2, which meant we’d have to haul proper cameras in and would not get away with DSLRs – as such, the Sony FS7 shooting in Ultra High Definition became the weapon of choice. There were plans for rigging, tentative thoughts about drones until we realized they were illegal in the Banff National Park, and a constant checking in with anyone who’d been into the amphitheatre and climbed Rainbow Serpent.

As we neared the date, schedules began to clash and worse still, I came down with the worst case of stomach flu while shooting a dog sledding race in Saskatchewan. 48 hours before the shoot, I could barely make it up a flight of stairs let alone climb grade 4 ice with a backpack and the jug two pitches of grade 6+ ice to shoot.  I called Sarah to cancel. Now one thing I admire about her and many of the top level athletes in Canmore is their tenacity and ‘git-er-done’ attitude. She convinced me to let her go in with two camera operators, no riggers, and shoot the story. Somewhere between running to the bathroom and passing out I agreed.

What had I done? What on earth had I set in motion? There were my only thoughts while I waited in my studio in Canmore for a phone call to say the shoot was done and they were heading home. With no cell reception in the Ghost River Wilderness, it was a long and stressful wait but at 7pm I finally heard that everything went well. And when the footage showed up in the suite, what I witnessed was pure documentary adventure action at its finest. Sarah was completely free to be herself and the climb, with a horrendous fracture some 30′ up, gave her enough concern to bring up the emotions for her story. All solid visual narrative that Sarah and I explored in her interview the next day. It was a tough interview for all of us, but given enough space, Sarah provides us with an insight into how extreme sports force participants to be acutely present with themselves, and how to push through a present situation that was honestly quite sad.

Huge thanks to Michael Klekamp and John Price for their efforts with the gear, and also to Sarah and Magda for going for it.

Directed by Craig Hall


Schubert's String Quintet in C Major, performed by The Afiara Quartet with Joel Krosnick.

'Take It Slowly' by Xani Kolac


Professonal equipment for adventure documentary shoots


Best lightweight 4k camera for
adventure video production.

Sony As7 II

Great second camera and
shoot 50mbps XAVC-S in 4k

GoPro Hero 4 Black

Essential tool for all adventure
video production shoots.

GoPro Session

Great Lightweight
POV Camera


Stay safe and dry while shooting adventure climbing shoots.

Arc’teryx Beta AR Glove

Incredible glove for getting
to your shoot location.

Sterling Velocity Rope

If you want to shoot climbing,
you’ll eventually need a rope.

Petzl Ascender

Get yourself and your camera
into position for the best shot.

Petzl Pro Podium

Keep the blood flowing to your
legs while shooting climbing.

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