Mount Washington rescue story hits the big screen, but not the mountain

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Mount Washington in New Hampshire will be the star of a big movie coming out later this month, but be warned: it’s not just any Mount Washington we know of.

“I told my friends who pointed it out: Roll with it!” said Pam Bales, a backcountry specialist whose rescue of a potential suicide victim from the mountain amid vicious weather in 2010 was turned into “Infinite Storm,” with Naomi Watts playing Bales.

The film was shot in Slovenia at the southeastern end of the Alps, a country with a long history of mountaineering and mountaineering filmmaking, where filming is cheaper than in the United States. The rugged peaks near the capital, Ljubljana, replace the less steep White Mountains and have been used in many outdoor scenes.

That means people familiar with the Jewell Trail to the summit of Mount Washington, which Bales took on the October 2010 solo hike that kicks off the film, will have to indulge in the willful suspension of disbelief that is often essential for audiences to appreciate a true story. which is suitable for the big screen.

Despite missing New Hampshire’s tallest peak, Bales said in an interview this week that the film gives a good sense of the dangers you can face on the mountain that claims the world’s worst weather, even if it takes a few freedoms. .

“I’ve been through all of those things, but not all of them on the same day — maybe not 20-foot spruce traps,” she said, referring to a well-known peril in which low branches on spruce trees collect snow to form a false bridge. , tricking hikers into falling into deep holes.

“Infinite Storm” will open in multiple New Hampshire theaters on March 25, including Red River Theaters in Concord, Apple Cinemas Hooksett IMAX and Gilford Cinemas.

Bales grew up in Lincoln. In 2010 she was a member of the Pemigewasset Valley Volunteer Search and Rescue Team – Namoi Watts wears gear like the team in the film, down to a jacket patch – which gave her skills who came to her aid when she met the only known man. like John. Dressed in light clothing and sneakers, he was freezing to death halfway up Mount Washington.

The bales carried enough extra clothing to protect another person, a necessity for any winter hike in the White Mountains. She warmed him up and was able to help and coax John back down the trail in a grueling ordeal through the snow and binding winds that Mount Washington is famous for, only to have him get in his car and drive off without a word of more.

It was only when the man, whom Bales never saw again, wrote a letter to the rescue team weeks later that she learned he had come up so ill-prepared because he wanted pass away. He credited her efforts and words for giving her new hope in life.

This story was revealed in 2018 by New Hampshire outdoor writer Ty Gagne in Appalachian Mountain Club magazine and even more so when it was printed in the union leader, with the headline “Footprints in the Snow Lead to an Emotional Rescue”, becoming one of the most widely read stories the paper has posted online. The diary story caught the attention of screenwriters and began the long process of becoming a major movie that industry sources said had a production budget of between $10 million and $20 million.

Filming for “Infinite Storm” took place in 2021 amid COVID-19 restrictions that complicated everything.

Bales wasn’t part of the set — “No, unfortunately,” she sighed — but she often spoke, messaged and emailed with Watts and the writers.

“I saw a rough cut of it in January. It kind of blew me away,” she said.

Both the story and the film emphasize the need for compassion and empathy when dealing with people who are having suicidal thoughts. Overcoming them requires as much strength and determination as overcoming the weather conditions of Mount Washington.

“Especially during the pandemic, people are so angry and frustrated. Just be a little nicer,” Bales said.

Now 70, Bales volunteers for backcountry patrols in national parks, mostly in the west. There she sees the same problem she saw in the Pemigewasset search and rescue team: inexperienced hikers getting in trouble because they didn’t take the conditions seriously. The difference is that there, it’s the heat and dehydration that kills people rather than the cold and hypothermia.

“I hope they come out (of seeing ‘Infinite Storm’) with the idea of ​​being prepared — by checking that weather report, especially on Mount Washington,” she said. “First and foremost you need to know yourself, then know your gear.”

The biggest problem in the White Mountains, she says, is its accessibility.

“They can see the ridge, they drive across. They say let’s go for a hike, with flip flops and a 12 ounce bottle of water…thinking ‘I’m going to conquer the mountain’, and it gets them in the most trouble every time,” she said. declared.

Bales hasn’t returned to New Hampshire since 2019 but hopes to return for a visit soon.

“Maybe I’ll come back this summer,” she said. “I think I need to come back and maybe I point my feet at Los Blancos again.”

(David Brooks can be reached at (603) 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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