Scott Barber is one tough dude. And he won’t tell you about it. So allow me: Last spring, we were filming in the Sierra backcountry and I got a front-row seat to Scott’s manliness as he packed a red camera and tripod up thousands of vertical feet, or gingerly slipped down steep faces into compromising positions to get shots, without saying a word. He may as well have been discussing the sports teams in his native New England as he skinned with that ridiculously-heavy pack – he was that casual.
I remember reaching a summit one day, feeling quite accomplished, and looking over to see Scott setting up a fifty-pound camera rig. I stared into my empty pack and gulped. That toughness was born of the trail, as you can bear witness in his latest project, High Country Caravan, where he completed a 30-odd mile traverse with one of my favorite crews in snowboarding, Truckee locals Jeremy Jones, Danny Davis, and Nick Russell. They teamed up with Kevin Pearce, who you may recall suffered a debilitating brain injury more than a decade ago when he was at the top of the halfpipe game. Nick Schneider was along as well.
I love the way these guys ride and the type of riding they do: searching out descents way off the beaten path. And spring riding in the Sierra combined with snow camping is the classic backcountry aficionados’ dream. But these guys weren’t really riding the classics. Scott gave me a quick recap on the trip with the release of the film this spring.
So how’d the project come about?
It was a culmination of a few dream trips. I feel fortunate I sort of fell into it after doing a little backcountry filming and heavy pack lugging with Danny. Jeremy had been wanting to go on a split adventure with Kevin for quite some time after his injury. Second, Nick Russell and Jeremy had a lot of great adventures in the Sierras that winter and each time they topped a peak in the front range they got a look at all the possible lines. But to get back there it was either a single, massive day for one line or bringing all the gear and camping. There had been a lot of three-night missions but this was one of the first six-night missions to see if you could truly bring what you need for that much time in terrain that didn’t allow for sleds and without stashing (supplies) in advance.
Can you describe the actual logistics of the trip? The route?
To be honest I wasn’t really involved in the planning process all that much. We did about a 30-mile traverse into, up and out of the range and the guys summited and shredded many lines over the route. We had three camps, all of which were incredible. Our high camp, in particular, was so gorgeous, out and open to the mountains and stars.
Talk about the film equipment you were carrying. What did you have in your pack and how are you balancing that with carrying sleeping gear and food?
I brought a Sony a7sii on the trip and eight to 10 batteries. I didn’t bring any solar power charging but I slept with them every night to keep them from losing charge and conserved my shooting time on that camera to shoot the snowboarding. Ming Poon also shot video on the trip and he brought a similar Sony setup. I had a little point-and-shoot Sony rx1000iv that I could pull out of my pocket on the go. That camera comes with a built-in neutral density filter which is very handy. In making the film we relied on everyone’s iPhone clips pretty heavily as well. Everyone had a different line they road or a different interaction between friends they were able to capture and those were important in bringing the story together.
As far as packing I had no idea what I was getting into. I had been on an expedition to Everest in 2016 where I managed production for the expedition at base camp and stayed there for five weeks. I had a 50-liter backpack for that trip to carry all my gear to base camp but the porters carry all your sleeping gear. So I definitely had winter camping experience but not self-support, like this. I borrowed an 80-liter bag from Nick Russell. Rafe Robinson helped with my tripod on the way out to Camp 1 (I then took it the rest of the way after) and everyone separated up the food, pots, and fuel. I think everyone just stacked their bags as full as they would go. On most missions, I usually have the heavy pack but I think on this one we balanced things out pretty well. Ming had a full-on duffel for the trip that he rigged a swami belt waist strap and that thing was a monster in size. Nick also had a monster bag that he filled to the brim.
What was the shittiest moment of that trip? Or scariest? Or both…
I need more crampon experience. I could not get my crampons to fit well and as a result, had an ejection on the first route I ever did with them. Danny helped put it back on which was super helpful. I was pretty white-knuckled as I got more fatigued and hated the feeling of being completely reliant on gear I didn’t trust. Luckily I wasn’t in a super dangerous spot. It would have just been a bummer to fall down the face or lose my crampon half way up.
Last day of the trip it got worse for me and the crampons. Jeremy, Danny, and Nick were hiking this awesome face and I headed across the way to an angle that I needed to crampon up to. It was my first time choosing a route myself and being alone for a crampon climb. I was nervous but tried to be as attentive as I could with the proper route, making sure all my gear was tight. Not tight enough… I double ejected about halfway up this wall and held my full weight on my ice axe while I pulled off both crampons and dug out a ledge to rest on. I radioed the guys pretty frustrated with myself. Ming ended up coming across the way to me and led us up to the top. As a result, Ming got probably my favorite photo of the trip showcasing Jeremy shredding perfect turns down the face. Getting up there though was definitely the moment where I felt a little out of my element. I felt like I’d let down the crew a bit and was frustrated with myself that I wasn’t an expert with the gear.
How about the most glorious?
The whole trip was great. Any time you can go enjoy nature with your friends I feel really fortunate. A lot of time and energy goes into these trips so when it happens it’s really special. Also, the crew is just so good. I really enjoyed everyone’s company and it was so great spending time with everyone on a trip as unique as this.
All the camps were excellent. We found a good spot with water at Camp 1 and then harvested water from the snow melt at Camp 2 and then got water out of a lake at Camp 3. We slept in the open under the stars or more in the woods and under the lines the guys did. They were all different and all so great. We slept in tents the whole time except Nick, who just went bag and pad on the last night. Danny and I actually shared a super-small, two-person tent for a few of the nights and then I took over Kevin’s tent after he left. Sharing the small tent with Dan was hilarious. We had a lot of good laughs over that.
One notable tip I got was to sleep with your socks so they dry. I took it to heart and just slept with everything that was wet and it worked. As a result, my sleeping bag was full of stuff. Every night I think I had gloves, two pairs of socks, my boot liners (so they would dry but mostly so they wouldn’t freeze), my camera, my camera batteries. It was insane, definitely not comfortable but it worked well and I slept so that’s all that matters. I also brought foot powder which was super helpful for back-to-back days of slogging and everything getting wet.
One for the gear dorks, what split were you riding and what other tools did you have in your pack?
I was riding the Burton Custom split and had Black Diamond Neve strap crampons, although recently I got the Burton tourist boot with a little lip on the rear and would like to try out some other crampons. That or I’m going to try bending out the crampon toe and heel lips a bit so the bigger snowboard boot fits better. I used Ming’s split crampons one day and went out and got a pair of those when I got back. Definitely a good thing for heavy pack days splitting in the spring.