It was a perfectly normal day at a climbing gym in Colorado Springs when Chris Alstrin, then 22, began complaining about a pain in his neck.
Thankfully Ed Schmidt, a local surgeon and climber, was there and he inspected the back of Alstrin’s throat.
It looks like there is a piece of metal or something in there, Schmidt said. Hang on. It looks like a small piece of lead. Any idea how that got in there?
Oh, I got shot in the face when I was 12 years old, Alstrin said. Must be a piece of the bullet working its way out the doctor said it would take a while.
This would have been funny had Alstrin not been serious. In the kind of horrible accident you hear about on the nightly news, Chris’ friend picked up a .22 caliber gun, playfully pointed the gun at Chris’ face, and pulled the trigger.
He had no idea it was loaded and neither did I, says Alstrin. Guns probably are not the best things to play with.
Over the years, Alstrin, now 31, continued to stare down danger. In the last seven years, Alstrin has worked on making climbing films that capture the essence of traditional ice, alpine and big-wall adventures around the world. His latest film, The Continuum Project, took him from the perilous, ephemeral big-wall ice of Norway to the dangerous, loose walls of Zion to remote alpine cirques. Capturing these ascents requires a strong body and mind, not to mention the proficiency to operate heavy, cumbersome camera equipment in taxing situations.
It can get a little sketchy in the mountains, he says. While filming Higher Ground, Scott Semple, Rob Owens and I were hit by a small avalanche on a route in the Canadian Rockies. Scott broke his arm and some rockfall broke my camera as well. Rob and Scott hiked out immediately, while I broke down the gear and hiked an 85-pound pack out alone®10 grueling miles.
For the last five years, Alstrin has also taught filmmaking at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. One of the perks, outside of teaching what you love, is the access to the college’s state-of-the-art screening room where Alstrin edits his work. He showed the preview of one of his earlier works, Luxury Liner, a short film about the first ascent of Super Crack in Indian Creek, here. The screening room was packed.
Seeing [your films] on a big screen makes all the effort worth it, Alstrin says. It’s addicting.
Last winter, I shared a tent with Alstrin at Ice Brooke Falls in British Columbia. The tent was buckling under the pounding wind, and we both lay awake, too cold to sleep.
I have no idea why I keep making these films, Alstrin said. I hate the cold. I have Raynaud’s Syndrome, a circulation disorder that makes dealing with cold all the more miserable.
The following day the storm had cleared, and Alstrin and I were lashed to the side of a mountain, shooting Jon Walsh and Ian Welstead making a first ascent of a beautiful multi-pitch ice ribbon. Alstrin leaned over and said, I guess this is why I keep coming back. This is magnificent.