‘The Weight of Water’ chronicles Erik Weihenmayer’s adventure kayaking Grand Canyon
IF YOU GO...
What: “The Weight of Water” at 5Point Film Festival
When: Sunday, April 28, 3 p.m.
Where: Carbondale Rec Center
Tickets: Pass access or individual tickets for $25
More at: 5pointfilm.org
While freezing his butt off while on an ice-climbing trip with Rob Raker in Nepal sometime in 2007 or 2008, Erik Weihenmayer got excited about the prospect of kayaking.
The two men were bivied on a mountainside with substandard gear and really suffering in the cold. They relied on conversation to ease their misery. Raker told Weihenmayer about the joys of being on the water — the sun, the beer, the ability to hang out with your family. Weihenmayer, who is totally blind, was sold and asked his longtime friend and climbing partner to teach him how to roll a kayak once they were back in the States.
In the next few years, Weihenmayer steadily graduated to more difficult rivers after lots and lots of practice.
“I think the secret was going to the Whitewater Center, which is in Charlotte,” Weihenmayer said. “It’s a man-made channel and you could just do the same channel over and over and over. I think honestly, not to make generalizations, for me and for blind people, repetition is really good. You just have to get comfortable with things.”
That led to Weihenmayer’s solo kayaking trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 2014 with guide Harlan Taney and a team he selected. His practice and patience paid off.
“I wanted to smile going through some of this stuff,” he said. “There are big rapids in the Grand Canyon. It’s sort of like (skiing) the (Highland) Bowl. I don’t ski anything that steep, ever. The Grand Canyon was like that. You go kayaking in Shoshone and stuff, but you never to kayaking that big.
“The first rapid on the Grand Canyon was bigger than anything I had ever kayaked, just because it’s so much volume.”
He calls Taney his River Yoda because he has a way of getting and keeping Weihenmayer calm. Taney guided him through the rapids much like Aspen Highlands ski instructor Rob Leavitt guides Weihenmayer on the hike and descent of Highland Bowl (see related story).
Filmmaker and former Aspen resident Michael Brown captured the adventure for a documentary. He also made a documentary of Weihenmayer’s ascent of Mount Everest in 2001.
Four years after the trip through the Grand Canyon was completed, the documentary “The Weight of Water” was finally ready for release.
“We thought at first we’d just capture some of the rapids and then, like always, it blows up into a bigger idea,” Weihenmayer said. “When we finished the river we didn’t know what the story was or if there was a story.”
It’s obviously a compelling story. It took the top prize at the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival 2018.
“That first audience was cheering and laughing and crying,” Weihenmayer said. “That’s when you realize, ‘Oh, OK, people are responding to this story.’”
The documentary goes well beyond kayak adventure porn, Weihenmayer promised. It will be presented at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival in Carbondale on Sunday, April 28, with a special appearance by Weihenmayer.
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On Thursday, the Wheeler Opera House will host its first virtual event since the novel coronavirus pandemic shut the theater five months ago.