It’s hard to miss the Three Penguins.
The rock formation resembling a group of everyone’s favorite tuxedoed birds towers over the entrance to Arches National Park in eastern Utah (only 8 kilometers from Moab). But while most of us would stop, snap a photo and continue on our way, serious adventurers work to earn the bird’s-eye view of the park.
Renowned climber Conrad Anker is one of those adventurers.
He – along with his stepson, Max Lowe, and fellow climber Rachel Pohl – are working with MacGillivray Freeman Films to offer a new outlook on Arches National Park for the upcoming film, America Wild: National Parks Adventure: Presented by Expedia and Subaru.
But this was no ordinary climb. An activity that Anker would usually approach in a way he describes as “slow and measured” was constrained by the rising sun and the need to nab the perfect shot. The climbers hung their ropes the night before and then hustled their way to the top of the penguins just in time for the film crew to capture their summit with the light on their side.
“It was full of adventure,” Anker said. “We were up there on what was about the size of a card table with 500-foot [roughly 150-meter] cliffs on each side and this helicopter flying around. … It was good fun!”
To capture the view Anker, Lowe and Pohl had from the Three Penguins’ heads, the MacGillivray Freeman Film crew needed a little help from above: a camera attached to the front of a helicopter.
“To have [a helicopter] that was as close as it was — feeling the presence of those big blades — is not something you encounter normally,” Anker said. “But it’s a great way to share that exposure of the tower with everyone that’s out there.”
While the challenge for the climbers was finishing the climb before sunrise, the challenge for the film crew was ensuring that the helicopter would not disturb visitors to Arches National Park. The team worked closely with the U.S. National Park Service to guarantee that the scene was filmed safely and without disturbing park visitors. Ensuring that the most was made of the limited time the crew had with the helicopter took expert coordination from America Wild: National Parks Adventure’s director, Greg MacGillivray.
“Working with Greg and the film crew here is a real treat,” Anker said. “He’s a pro, he’s been doing this for decades, he’s the master of IMAX. We all had to be in position at the right time, and then do it just at the right time, and when that happens you’re making art.”
The hard work paid off. The camera affixed to the helicopter was able to film the climbers celebrating their successful ascent, not to mention the heart-stopping moment when Anker leaped from one penguin head to another. You can see the gripping stunt for yourself in 2016 when America Wild: National Parks Adventure comes to a theater near you.
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