How to climb up Mt Kilimanjaro and film at the same time
My climb up Mt Kilimanjaro as a camera man.
Early last year I was approached by a good friend of mine and asked if I would like to be involved in a Charity Climb to hike to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and to also film the experience as we went up. After a little explanation and info on the charities we would be raising money and awareness for my answer was of course; Yes! I then had a look online and see what exactly I had let myself in for and realised the scale of the challenge!!
After several months of planning ‘Team Endeavour’ was in place and ready to depart, heading to Tanzania in early May 2014. The team consisted of 11 members, quite a few of which were serving and ex-military members lead by Ben Hughes – The British Army’s and Inter Service’s most capped Rugby Player.
As well as preparing for the challenge physically, I also had to think about the equipment for filming as we went up the mountain. I’ve always tried to keep my equipment ‘light’ when I’m filming rugby so I can stay fairly mobile and get as close to the action as possible and that would also be the case on this trip. One main issue was batteries for the camera. Although there were facilities to charge phones and smaller devices I opted to purchase a few extra batteries as they would require more energy to charge. I was also concerned about the temperatures, especially at the very top, as I had read that they could fail due to the extreme cold – I kept a spare inside my jacket to keep warm just in case.
I decided not to take a tripod as I wanted to keep within my weight allowance and not have the hassle of carrying it up the mountain with me.
I was still able to improvise with some steady panning shots by crouching down and placing the camera on my knee as well as using the ground to get some simple but effective low level shots.
I did some research on YouTube and in particular watched the Comic Relief Kilimanjaro Climb from a few years ago to see how they filmed it. Of course they had much more equipment and several cameras at their disposal but it gave me a good idea of what to expect and the type of footage I could capture. I took my Canon Legria up with me, a UV Lens Filter, 2x 32GB SD Cards, lots of batteries and a cover to protect from rain, although we were very lucky to have pretty good weather throughout. Overall, I was light on equipment but I found it very easy as a result to take out my camera quickly when I needed to and get plenty of footage.
I basically wanted to capture as much as of the experience as possible and had my camera ready to film most of the time, either carrying it as we walked or at the top of my rucksack ready to take out if needed. I was a bit worried about how the altitude would effect us as we climbed but I felt pretty good throughout and although there were a few tricky and steep sections where I just focused on walking and reaching our goal for the day I was able to film and get some great shots of the surroundings and especially the clouds and landscape below.
Without a doubt the most difficult part of the climb was the final summit night. After several hours of walking earlier in the day to get to the summit base camp we then had to be ready to go at 2300 and then begin the summit climb at 0000.
The final leg would take about 6 hours to reach Gilman’s Point, the first of the three peaks before walking another 90 minutes to reach the highest point – Uhuru Peak – 5,985 amsl.
I only brought out the camera once on the way up, on one of our breaks, as it was too dark to get anything useful to use but it was also very tough to keep focused and keep climbing. It gradually got colder and windier as we slowly tracked up the edge, zig-zagging back on ourselves to help with the steep gradient. We had quick breaks every hour and I could feel my heart beating faster than I had experienced before, which was quite unnerving and not the most pleasant feeling.
As we reached Gilman’s Point on the edge of the volcanic crater I took out my camera to capture the first glimpses of sun from the horizon and kept it out for the rest of the way to Uhuru Peak. The guides actually took it off me for a time to get some group shots on the way, which helped me out a lot – they got some great footage as well!!
I was pretty tired as we headed along the crater edge and after stopping just short of our target to wait for a couple of members to catch us up I could have easily fallen asleep! I wasn’t feeling great but managed to eat a small energy bar and get a drink from my bottle after my CamelBak had frozen up and we all took off and reached the Peak a short while later.
It was an amazing experience to reach the top and the views were stunning and definitely made the challenge worthwhile. The relief of reaching the top seemed to drive away all of the tiredness as we all just took in the moment – one that I will never forget!
I started going through and editing the footage shortly after returning home. I had several hours worth of footage to sift through so it was quite a challenge to condense it down. I originally planned to put together a 40-50 minute Feature Film, however to cover the experience properly I extended the length and the final Film is 1 hour 45 minutes.
I used Final Cut Pro X to edit together the Film and as mentioned on previous blog posts I find it an excellent piece of software to edit with. You can purchase FCP on the Mac App Store for £199. After importing all of my footage I went through to pick out the clips I wanted to include and after going through it several times I added in titles, transitions, music, etc to build up the Film until I was happy with the Final edit.
Written By Jonathan Fowke of JPF Sports Media