OUTSIDE: Throughout your films, you don’t use mechanized support, instead trekking and riding horses into the mountains. It looks exciting—and treacherous.
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WAGGONER: When you do this sort of thing, your perspective on what’s dangerous starts to shift. In Peru, we crossed a glacier by jumping over crevasses on a rope team. The guy in front of me had to jump to yank me across the gap, and the guy behind me had to jump forward to give me slack. Part of you thinks, This is terrifying. And it was. But the rest of you is exhilarated. I wouldn’t say that if it kills me, I’m happy to go out that way. But it does make me feel more alive than anything else.
Two of your partners, Arne Backstrom and Kip Garre, did go out that way—Backstrom before you began filming and Garre afterward.
It was my first experience seeing death. I had just landed in Lima on the first day of shooting, and I was going to meet three of our guys in the Cordillera Blanca. As we headed up, we got word that an American skier had died. Half an hour later, we got confirmation that it was one of our guys. Without knowing which one, we hiked through the night at 15,000 feet. I went to the tent where the guys were sleeping and found Kip and Dave [Rosenbarger]. That meant Arne was gone. There was a lot of emotion around that—bringing Arne’s body off of the glacier to be flown to his family in California. Then, a few months later, after Kip had gone back to the States, I reached out to him by e-mail to talk about it. Before I got a response, he was killed in an avalanche.
How do you deal with that?
It became part of the fiber of the film—what makes Solitaire intense and dark. It’s a strange feeling, but there’s some beauty in someone passing. There’s a sense of reverence for what they were about.
Solitaire is showing at film festivals and is available on DVD at sweetwaterproductions.com.