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Member Profile: Dave Ohlson Discusses Filmmaking in the Himalayas

REI has nearly 4 million active members, but a comparative handful participate in some extraordinary adventures. Meet Dave Ohlson, a Seattle based filmmaker, high-altitude mountaineer, blogger, REI member (for 21 years!) and aspiring emergency room doctor whose filmmaking adventures have taken him to such mountaineering hotspots as K2, Ama Dablam and Pumori. Dave and I sat down to discuss some of his recent excursions and projects. 

Dave near Ama Dablam

How did you start filmmaking?
In 2001, I was in Nepal trying to climb Ama Dablam with some friends. I was really into photography and was lugging a big camera up the mountain. I was looking up at the ridgeline above me and saw these beautiful clouds blowing over. I realized then that there was no way a still photograph could capture what I loved about that scene. That got the ball rolling slowly. Later that year I ended up meeting a filmmaker in Kathmandu, and we travelled to Tibet that winter where I got my first experience filming.

How do you find the perfect shot? Do you have any tips for photographers or filmmakers so they can improve their work?

I think still (photos) and motion pictures need the same basic qualities of composition. The rule of thirds, the use of strong shapes; ideally, the viewer’s eye is drawn into and then around the frame. Of course, with video, you’re dealing with movements too: movement of the subjects and of the camera itself. There’s a lot of room to break the rules too, because you never know what kind of shot may evoke a response in the viewer. Some of the worst accidental shots can end up being compelling in the right circumstance. How to improve your work? That ends up being a bit contradictory. Use a tripod; steady video is great. Yet, at the same time, just go handheld and follow the action. The goal is to try as many things as possible and develop a style that suits your needs. I learn something every time I go out and shoot.

What about the Himalayas and Karakorums draw you in?
The Himalayas and Karakorums are the stuff of legends. So many of the classic mountaineering tales have taken place in these great ranges. Climbers of incredible skill and talent continue to push the limits of what is possible and inspire us all. Climbing in the big ranges is a combination of everything I love about climbing mixed up with culture, adventure and landscapes that are surreal in the grandeur. It’s amazing to sit at the base of a peak and realize the snow you see blowing off the summit is the jet stream, where airplanes fly!

What’s your ultimate destination and adventure?
I dream of returning to Tibet to just walk and hitchhike. I would like to walk around Mt. Kailash, the source of the four major rivers of South Asia and the most holy mountain to Tibetan Buddhists, the Bon religion and Hindus. Hundreds of people make the trip to gain spiritual merit by circumnavigating the mountain and its numerous holy sites. The idea of pilgrimage is one that intrigues me.

What experience stands out most in your head?

Without a doubt it is the sublime nature of the landscapes. Being up high on a mountain is like being on the moon sometimes. Towering above the valleys, below a sky that gets deeper blue the higher you go is not a normal place to be, and that’s what makes it so exhilarating and memorable. Even more than reaching a summit, I just love being out there and living in the moment.

Any mountaineering plans in the near future?

I have been lucky to have met some amazing alpinists in my travels. My good friend Fabrizio Zangrilli has been a companion on my last three expeditions to Nepal and Pakistan. Next summer, we hope to go to Nanga Parbat (8,126m) in Pakistan where Fabrizio will lead an expedition and then hopefully finish off a new route on the Rupal Face that he has pioneered. We hope to collaborate on a film about his attempt on this largest of mountain faces.

What film projects are you currently working on?

I am still over my head with footage from K2. Last summer was the 100th anniversary of the Duke Of Abruzzi’s 1909 expedition where they attempted to ascend what is now called the Abruzzi Spur (still the most common route to the summit). The Duke was a real explorer, mounting expeditions to Alaska, the Ruwenzoris in Africa and many more. He worked extensively with the mountain photographer Vittorio Sella who’s amazing photographs have inspired generations of climbers to visit these far-flung destinations. My intent with this film is to look at our expedition as a modern day parallel, and to explore the idea of the personal nature of exploration in an age of instant information and few blank spots on the map.

Favorite piece of gear?

A thin balaclava. A lightweight down jacket. Comfortable boots. Well-fit gloves. Ice tools. This is a hard question. I feel silly saying my cheap balaclava that I probably bought at REI. But it really is a lightweight and versatile piece of clothing. Better than a hat when the wind picks up.


Click to view Dave’s video about his trip to K2:

Below are some beautiful photos of Dave's

Watching his video, reading his blog and witnessing his passion for climbing, nature and filmmaking during our conversation has me itching to explore some far-off mountainous regions. What’s your ultimate adventure?

Posted on at 5:22 PM

Tagged: Climbing, Dave Ohlson, K2, Photography, REI member, filmmaking, himalayas and mountaineering

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High Altitude Mom

Breathtaking work! Good luck with all your film making endevours. Also in your hiking / climbing. I am sure you will capture the majestic, amazing scenes only found in such parts of our wonderful planet.

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Lynne C Staff Member

Thanks for sharing this. I love mountaineering stories, photos and films. They take me places I've never been and pour on the inspiration for my down-home brand of ultimate adventure - looking forward to going up Baker again soon and taking my first stab at Rainier.

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