Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Baskis in Print

You can see Brian Mockenhaupt's article about Steve Baskis and their climb of Kilimanjaro in the November issue of Chicago Magazine, or online here. Happy reading.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Director Michael Brown spent last week in Los Angeles scoring High Ground. Michael says "Today a 33 piece orchestra played music that a composer created based on the story we edited from our trip to Nepal". I asked Michael how he is feeling about the progress of the film He says "Every day this project takes us in new and surprising directions. Coming home from war is not what I ever expected. I thought veterans would be happy to be home - they can now move on, get great jobs and get on with their lives better equipped than ever before, or so I thought. It turns out that war was the most amazing intense experience that anyone can have. Being home is boring, no job makes any sense...nothing back at home makes much sense once someone has been at war."

The challenge in scoring a film is to take those thoughts and feelings that Michael talks about and translating that into emotion on the screen. We're fortunate to have some Hollywood muscle in Executive Producer Don Hahn who has helped line up some big time musicians. In an email, Michael said "Yesterday a guy who has played guitar on more than 600 of our favorite films played music for our little film! Next week we will be in the land of Star Wars at Skywalker Ranch mixing sound".

Soon we will know if the committees in charge of film festivals see the value of this story

By John von Seeburg
Photos Courtesy of Serac Adventure Films

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Soldier Update: Steve Baskis

Climbing Lobuche was not Steve Baskis' first big summit, nor has it been his last. Since losing his eyesight in combat three years ago, Steve fell in love and is married, and has competed in half Ironman events. Prior to the Soldiers to the Summit Expedition a year ago, Steve climbed 17,126 foot tall Iztaccicuatl, the 7th highest peak in North America. This past summer, Steve was joined by journalist Brian Mockenhaupt on a climb of 19,341 foot high Kilimanjaro. With Brian ringing the bell for Steve together they reached the roof of Africa. Great job guys!

Photo Courtesy of Brian Mockenhaupt.
By John von Seeburg

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One Year Down the Road

If you could make a difference in the life of another by allowing a video camera to film you at a weak moment would you allow it?

What if part of the deal is talking on camera about secrets you hold tight, things about yourself that no one knows, other than you?
Be honest here, would you do it?

I have to say, I really don’t know if I have that kind of courage. But I’m proud to say that I know a group of war veterans who do.

It was a year ago that I sat in a tent at just over 17,000feet with fellow filmmakers Michael Brown and Rex Pemberton as they prepared to climb to the summit of 20,075 foot Lobuche Peak, along with Everest climbers and soldiers. Surrounded by down jackets, sleeping bags and Pelican cases we talked about our assignments and sorted camera gear. We’d left steamy Kathmandu about 10 days earlier and acclimatized our way up the Khumbu. Michael and Rex, (both Everest summiters themselves) would climb to the summit, shooting along the way. My job would be shooting the departure and return of the climbing team and meanwhile hold down the fort.

One of the beauties of an expedition is you’re together with your teammates day in and day out, passing the time along the trail chatting. My memories of this remain strong.
I shot some more formal conversations between our director,Michael Brown and the soldiers, and admit that there were times where I shot these intense interviews with tears in my eyes. These are humbling people to be around, and with that realization comes a responsibility as a filmmaker. Basically, don’t screw it up. Michael and the film team haven’t.

But it’s not so much what these veterans say (although as you watch the film you’ll be mesmerized by their words) it’s what they do, how they live their lives.

And that’s where another realization kicks in. I’ll never for one minute be the bad ass that these men and women have proven themselves to be. They’ve been shot at, blown up, and stressed out. And, they’ve come home and exposed themselves on camera for the benefit of other soldiers. Across the board I call that courageous.

It was a year ago today I looked through the viewfinder of my camera as I shot the radio call between the summit of Lobuche and high camp. It was a great moment. It feels like yesterday. And I’m ready to do it again.

By John von Seeburg
Photos Courtesy of Didrick Johnck

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hollywood Muscle

View from Lobuche high camp.  Photo Courtesy of John von Seeburg

It's hard to imagine that it's been a year now since a group of Everest climbers, wounded soldiers, and filmmakers landed at the foot of the Himalaya and set off through the Khumbu for Lobuche.  A trek and a climb that I personally still think about on a daily basis.  I'm sure the same is true for all the members of the Soldiers to the Summit Expedition.

Since returning last fall, director Michael Brown, editor Scott McElroy and a host of others have been hard at work on the documentary film High GroundJoining the film team is the Oscar nominated producer Don Hahn, who wields some serious Hollywood muscle.  He is the producer of blockbusters The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.  More recently he is the Executive Producer of Disneynatures Earth, Oceans, and African Cats.  As if that's not enough, his films have been nominated for 18 Academy Awards.  Yes, 18.

As Michael told me in an email: "This is the most important project I've ever been involved with".  Strong words from a guy who has been a part of some significant film making.

Read the latest on Don Hahn and Michael here.

By John von Seeburg. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Quandry Peak Ascent

Summit of Quandry Peak, 14, 265 Feet.  Courtesy of Serac Adventure Films.

While the snow softly fell (whoa it's nearly Memorial Day, how can that be!!) fifty-seven enthusiastic hikers attempted to snow shoe and ski the east ridge route to the top of Quandry Peak.  The occasion?  The tenth anniversary of Erik Weihenmayer's ascent of Mt. Everest, as well as another reunion of sorts.  Also present were five soldiers from last fall's Soldiers to the Summit expedition, a group of generous donors, as well as Michael Brown and his quiver of filmmakers to document the day.

The festivities began on Thursday evening with dinner and a partial screening of the Soldiers to the Summit film.   Erik Weihenmayer introduced climbers, soldiers, even filmmakers to the gathering.  Pizza and beer were consumed.  It was an early evening however due to 4 a.m. wake up calls.

Friday morning dawned clear and warm, with the threat of snow.  By mid-day when most were descending it was snowing.

All told, 55 of 57 people made the summit!
Chad Buttrick and Friend.  Courtesy of Serac Adventure Films.
Above Treeline on Quandry Peak.  Courtesy of John von Seeburg.

  By John von Seeburg

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Big Weekend Plans

Michael Brown with editor Scott McElroy

The Soldiers to the Summit fundraiser is upon us.  Soldiers and guests are arriving and Michael Brown is cracking the whip at Serac Adventure Films.  This evening we will gather at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco, Colorado for dinner and a private screening of portions of the film.

Tomorrow the entire operation heads into the hills for an ascent of 14,265 foot high Quandry Peak.
Rob Jackson Preps Cameras
 By John von Seeburg

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Film Production Continues

Filming continues for Soldiers to the Summit with director Michael Brown recently shooting in Arizona, Texas, California, Illinois and Washington D.C.  Joined by Outside Adventure Film School graduates Gale Browning and John von Seeburg, as well as Matt Murray, the crew are shooting follow up interviews and background for Soldiers to the Summit

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Every Photo Tells a Story

One of the most important lessons taught at the Outside Adventure Film School is that every shot should tell a story.  Film student, Gale Browning got the message.  She also applied the same lesson to her still photos.  One of the more outgoing of our soldiers is Chad Jukes, part mountain man, part goodwill ambassador.  Chad sustained serious injury to his right leg after his truck hit an anti-tank mine in Northern Iraq, eventually leading to his losing his leg below the knee. 

It was in the village of Namche Bazaar on the hike out that Chad encountered a small and very curious boy.  Gale Browning was nearby taking photos and she snapped one of my favorite photos from the expedition.

Gale says "...the boy was looking at Chad with bewildered eyes, Chad stopped and removed his prosthetic leg much to the surprise of the boy".  A wonderful photo.

Photo Courtesy of Gale Browning

By John von Seeburg

Monday, April 4, 2011

Inside the Outside Guy

Writer Brian Mockenhaupt above Lobuche Basecamp
A journalist on an expedition with a large group of mountaineers and soldiers faces a difficult task.  Just fitting in with a crowd like that can be a challenge, all are tough nuts to crack for outsiders.  Brian Mockenhaupt though had one thing in common with the subjects of his Outside Magazine story "The Other Side of the Mountain".  He was a former infantryman and had served two tours in Iraq.  When Brian walked the trails of the Khumbu and talked softly with the soldiers along the way, an important barrier was immediately broken.  He could be trusted.

I recently spoke with the journalist who writes for the New York Times and Esquire, in addition to Outside Magazine:

How did the fact that you're a veteran impact your ability to do your job?

I often write stories about topics on which I don't have a knowledge base or
prior experience. That's  one of the journalist's roles: step into unfamiliar
territory, make some sense of it, meet the people who inhabit that world, and
tell their story. But having served in the Army, including two combat tours in
Iraq, gave me a more immediate connection to the veterans on the climb, and a
deeper understanding of their experiences. I'd been through some of the same
emotions myself. The military is a tribe, and people within the same tribe often
have an easier time relating to each other. I've found the same thing while
embedding with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan since getting out of the
Army. But I was fortunate in that I didn't sustain the physical and
longer-lasting mental injuries that these veterans had. Being with them over
those three weeks, I was consistently inspired by their courage and
determination in overcoming limitations imposed by their injuries, and their
willingness to share very personal moments in their lives.

What was the highlight of the expedition for you?

The highlight for me was the time spent walking up the valley talking with the
guides and veterans, and hanging out with them at night. Of course, the climbing
was spectacular. Having never done an expedition like that, everything was new.
Walk around any bend, and you're confronted with another stunning view. And the
summit day, while challenging, was rewarding. But the trip was never about the
climb for me – except as seen through the eyes of the participants. So my main
interest was hearing about their lives, watching them take in the chaos of
Khatmandu and the beauty of the mountains and the challenge of the climb. As a
journalist, this was an ideal scenario. Nothing was rushed. The hours on the
trail and down time at the tea houses and at base camp gave me plenty of time
for casual conversation. If I wanted to explore something more deeply with a
veteran or a guide, I could walk with him on the trail the next day, or talk
about it over tea that night. And all of the guides and veterans were incredibly
open, willing to share their lives and talk about their experiences. That kind
of access is a luxury and a privilege.

By John von Seeburg

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Matt Nyman in the News

Lending a Hand
It may seem odd that a guy who grew up in Iowa has become a mountaineer.  After all, the highest point in the state is only 1,670 feet above sea level.  Matt Nyman however takes no shortcuts, and seeks out a challenge.  And 1,670 feet above sea level doesn't cut it.

An Army Ranger, Matt was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq.  In 2005, after only eight days in Baghdad Matt lost his right leg below the knee.  This is not a guy who is easily discouraged.  In fact, after spending three weeks in Nepal with Matt, I'd say he may be one of the toughest people I've ever met.

A competitive athlete much of his life, mountaineering is a way for Matt to challenge himself and inspire others.  He's made two attempts on Denali, reaching the summit on his second attempt.  Since his return from Nepal, Matt has been sharing his story.   His hometown newspaper did a story on him, and just recently he and expedition leader Jeff Evans were featured on NPR.

By John von Seeburg

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hike With These Guys!

2001 Everest team 10 years later

It's too late to climb Everest with blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, but you can go to the summit of Colorado's highest peak with Erik, his Everest climbing team and soldiers from the Soldiers to the Summit Expedition.  At 14,440 feet, a hike up Mt. Elbert is a good challenge for a great cause.  A thousand bucks gets you the opportunity to rub shoulders with world-class climbers, includes hotel and dinner in Leadville, a special reception and screening of the film Soldiers to the Summit.  Even a souvenir DVD of your climb produced by Michael Brown and his merry band at Serac Adventure Films.  You will even have your photo taken on the summit with Erik and a group of real heroes!  It's a heckuva bargain!   Join us!  Details here.

By John von Seeburg

Friday, March 11, 2011

Soldiers to the Summit in Outside Magazine

The April issue of Outside Magazine is available on news stands now, featuring the Soldiers to the Summit Expedition.  Check out "The Other Side of the Mountain" by Brian Mockenhaupt. 

An Army veteran himself, Brian was embedded with the expedition, and despite virtually no climbing experience, reached the 20,075 foot summit of Lobuche Peak.   Of his time in Nepal with the soldiers Brian says "...I was consistently inspired by their courage and determination in overcoming limitations imposed by their injuries, and their willingness to share very personal moments in their lives".

An outstanding and inspiring piece of work.  Read the article here and check out the Outside Adventure Film School video interview with Brian below.

By John von Seeburg

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flying High

Matt Murray high on Lobuche

Matt Murray is the kind of guy every expedition should have.  A First Officer with United Airlines, Matt got wind of the Soldiers to the Summit Expedition and immediately drank the Kool-Aid.  Then he set out to convince his colleagues in the Air Line Pilots Association to dig into their wallets to support the expedition.  To date they're donated approximately $18,000. 

And, on October 15, 2010 Matt reached the summit of 20,075 foot Lobuche Peak, along with our soldiers and Everest guides.  Great work Matt, and thanks!  You can read about it below:

By John von Seeburg

Friday, March 4, 2011

Expedition Photos

Chad Jukes - Amputee
Trekking above Pheriche

Ten years ago, photographer Didrik Johnck stood on the summit of Mt. Everest with Erik Weihenmayer.  One of Didrik's photographs of Erik from that expedition made the cover of TIME Magazine.  In fall 2010 Didrik returned to the Himalaya with his Everest teammates as expedition photographer for the Soldiers to the Summit ExpeditionWhat you see here is just a taste.  Head on over to our Flickr site to see more favorites.

Soldiers on Lobuche Summit
Kathryn Ragazzino

By John von Seeburg

Monday, February 28, 2011

Steve Baskis Reflects

Our friend Erik Weihenmayer recently caught up with Steve Baskis, one of the members of the Soldiers to the Summit expedition. Steve lost his eyesight in an explosion that killed his best friend. While he struggles to live in what he calls "The Black Abyss", Steve has been inspired by Erik and by a love and hunger for exploration.  Photo courtesy of Didrik Johnck.

By John von Seeburg

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Welcome to the Serac Adventure Films Soldiers to the Summit blog!  It was only a few short months ago we were in Nepal, shooting Soldiers to the Summit.  Our group of veterans, Everest guides and film makers from the Outside Adventure Film School spent three powerful weeks together.  We came home deeply influenced by the men and women of the expedition.  We think you will be too.

Directed by award-winning director Michael Brown, Soldiers to the Summit tells the story of eleven wounded veterans whose road to recovery takes them into the Khumbu Valley of Nepal, to one of the great mountains near Everest – the 20,075 foot Himalayan peak known as Lobuche.

Here, we’ll keep you up to date on the progress of the film, and introduce you again to this inspiring group of soldiers, climbers and film makers.

Enjoy the trailer!

Soldiers to the Summit Trailer from Serac Adventure Films on Vimeo.

By John von Seeburg