5Point Film Festival: Mountain man’s best friend

Andrew Travers / The Aspen Times
Genghis Khan, subject of the short film "Ace and the Desert Dog," will be in Carbondale this weekend for the 5Point Film Festival and will go on a hike with attendees Saturday morning.
Forest Woodward/Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘Ace and the Desert Dog’ at 5Point Film Festival

Where: Carbondale Rec Center

When: Friday, April 22, 7 p.m. program



What: Group hike with Ace Kvale and Genghis, presented by 5Point Film Festival and Vasque

Where: Meet at Independence Run and Hike, Carbondale

How much: Free

More info:

Ace Kvale has spent decades, as a photographer, capturing transcendent moments on snow and rock with the outdoor adventure set. But as a photographer from a pre-digital generation that cut its teeth with film in darkrooms, he’s been reluctant to flog his shots and skills and adventures online.

“People say, ‘You’ve gotta have a blog, Facebook, Instagram, all this shit — it’s not just about climbing and skiing.’ So I started looking at blogs and found that way too many people take themselves way too seriously,” Kvale said from his home in Utah, where he also serves as a backcountry guide.

His solution about six years ago was to start posting from the perspective of his beloved Australian cattle dog, Genghis Khan. Thus the whimsical “Desert Dawg Adventure Blawg” was born.

“I don’t want to brag about how I got this or that shot. I said, ‘I’m going to do it from my dog’s point of view, and I’ll have some nice photos, but only for fun.’”

The erratic posts offer a refreshing alternative to the humble-bragging, earnest writing and photography that swirls around outdoor adventure. Kvale is referred to simply as “man” on the blog. A snippet from a February entry, accompanying a lovely shot of Genghis looking into the camera with canyons cascading far into a dusty dawn horizon, reads: “This is me telling him to get his lazy ass out of the tent and feed me. It’s time for breakfast!”

Kvale updates the blog sporadically, but it’s earned a cult following among outdoorspeople and dog lovers. Along with some silly and self-deprecating stuff from Genghis’s point of view, it includes practical advice about backpacking with a dog.

“The main feedback I get is I should be doing it weekly,” Kvale said.

Among the blog’s fans, it turns out, are filmmaker and founder Brendan Leonard and photographer/filmmaker Forest Woodward. The pair helped bring to the screen “Ace and the Desert Dog,” a short film about Ace and Genghis that has its world premiere today at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale.

Kvale met Leonard at the Outdoor Research trade show in Salt Lake City. He told him about the big backcountry trip that he’d spent the past seven years planning (the enthusiastic Kvale was telling just about everybody he met about the big trip): To celebrate his 60th birthday, he’d plotted an epic 60-day backpacking trek through the Utah canyon country with Genghis.

“I wasn’t thinking about a film at all,” he recalled. “I just told him about this idea and how I wanted to do something awesome for my 60th. Later on he came to me and said, ‘We’d like to film what you’re doing.”

Initially Kvale thought they wanted to do a film about the project — about this trek he’d spent years planning, doing reconnaissance trips into the desert for, and plotting in the trail-less wilderness. When Leonard and Woodward came to him and said they actually wanted to make a movie about his relationship with Genghis and how backpacking nurtured it, he was pleasantly surprised.

“I have no interest in blowing my own horn about what we’ve done, where we’ve been, how we’ve gotten there or where it is — all the places shall remain nameless, I’d rather keep them wild,” he said. “I don’t care how many miles we went, how much vertical, which canyons we crossed. I’m more interested in trying to raise consciousness and change people’s lives and make people look at backpacking and say, ‘I want to do that.’”

The film ended up serving as a dual love letter to human-dog relationships and to the quiet joys of backpacking. For the record, Ace and his desert dog ended up covering 400 miles, but the film mostly centers on the bond between the man and Genghis as it follows them through slot canyons, over slick rock and across the desert. Some friends joined Kvale for stints along the way, but Genghis was the only companion along for the whole 60 days.

“That’s over a year of his life in dog years,” Kvale notes in the film.

He got Genghis in 2005, arriving home from a year of travel and feeling sick and tired and worn out. A local newspaper advertised a litter of puppies abandoned under a trailer. He went to check them out. Genghis greeted him there.

“He put his head under my hand and we’ve done pretty much everything together since,” he says in the film.

Kvale is pleased with the film’s humble approach and its subtle portrait of the transcendent experience of a long backpacking trip. He loves films chronicling adventures by climbing supermen like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, said Kvale, but often comes awat feeling more intimidated than inspired.

“You leave those films knowing we’re not those people — they’re on a level that we’ll never reach,” he said.

His hope for “Ace and the Desert Dog” from the outset was that it might capture the simple joy of backpacking, of loving a dog and being loved back.

“Backpacking is transcendental,” he said. “It’s hard work, it’s sweaty, it’s smelly. But it’s not an adrenaline sport. It gets you to places that are transformative. So when I saw that what they wanted to do was about the deeper philosophy that I felt, that really was the green light to go. … I was like, ‘You guys get it!’”

This weekend marks Kvale and Genghis’s first trip to 5Point. But they have countless old friends among the 5Point tribe and the Roaring Fork Valley climbing and skiing community.

“My time will be spent catching up with my Colorado tribe,” he said. “We’ll go for some hikes, hang out with people, drink some beers.”

The public and 5Point attendees also are invited to hike along with Ace, Genghis and Brendan Leonard on Saturday morning, though Kvale warns it might be slow going: “It’s silly because hiking with dogs isn’t really a group exercise, with all the pooping and peeing and butt-sniffing.”