Alison Hudson of Southwest Harbor is a filmmaker working to produce “Close to the Edge: Life in the Khumbu,” a film that will document what life as a Sherpa in the Nepal Himalaya is all about and what makes these hardy people want to take on the difficult and dangerous job of working for climbing expeditions to 29,029-foot Mount Everest. This is the first in a series of profiles on extraordinary Mainers making a difference in the outdoor world.
Over nearly 100 years of Himalayan mountaineering history, more than 200 people have died scaling the extraordinary heights of Mount Everest. High-altitude climbing is a dangerous endeavor like few others but the allure of reaching the highest point on Planet Earth at 29, 029 feet draws a throng of climbers from around the world to the rarified environment of Everest. Some 4,000 individuals have stood atop the peak over time, while many times that number have ended their quest short of the ultimate goal.
Death on Everest made a big splash in May 1996 when 12 climbers died in a single storm, perhaps the first time that professional guide services and their often inexperienced, cash-paying clients made real news. Many in mountaineering circles thought such greenhorns didn’t belong on the mountain, regardless of their ability to pay, claiming that these novices put everybody on Everest at risk, a controversy that rages on.
Most years a climber or two dies on Everest. It’s part of the game, if you will. Tragic, yes, but expected, calculated for. But 12 deaths at one time was new and different and unsettling. Then 11 climbers died on Everest two years ago.
In April 2014, a whopping 16 people died in an avalanche in the mountain’s notorious Khumbu Icefall. This time, however, the dead were all Sherpas, ethnic Nepalese from the Khumbu region in and around Mount Everest.
Many Sherpas are extraordinarily skilled and highly respected mountaineers who work as expert guides for climbing expeditions to the world’s highest peak. Such work often comes at a high price, though, as 40% of Everest fatalities involve Sherpas.
Alison Hudson, a young filmmaker from Southwest Harbor, Maine is on her way to Kathmandu, Nepal to spend five months in the Everest region exploring and documenting what life as a Sherpa is all about and what makes these hardy people want to take on the difficult and dangerous work of guiding and supporting major climbing expeditions seeking to ascend the harsh ice and snow slopes of Mount Everest.
Upon her return, Hudson will produce the film “Close to the Edge: Life in the Khumbu” and enter the finished work into the Banff Mountain Film Festival, the world-renowned international competition that showcases short films and documentaries on adventure sports, mountain culture and the environment.
Hudson’s first stop will be the Khumbu Climbing School, an organization established by the Alex Lowe Foundation that works “to increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program.”
“I’ll be there taking the various mountaineering training courses right along with the Sherpas,” said Hudson. “There I’ll figure out the one or two Sherpas who will be the main characters in the film.”
The typical Everest climbing season extends through the end of May, so Hudson will also get a chance to spend some time among the climbers at Everest Base Camp, which is situated at over 18,000 feet near the terminus of the Khumbu Glacier.
“National Geographic did a film highlighting Sherpa deaths on Everest,” Hudson said, noting that her storyline will take a different tack. “The tragedies brought global awareness to how many Sherpas work on Everest and what a large role they play in the climbing expeditions.”
While the technical aspects of Sherpa expedition work are important details, Hudson plans to focus more on the Sherpas themselves and their family life, to get an in-depth look at why these hardy people choose to work on Everest, essentially as high altitude guides.
Hudson has been to Nepal before, working for the outdoor school “Initiative Outdoor” and a man named Chandra Ale, who is from Nepal but lived for a time in Trenton, Maine (small world!).
A year or so ago, Hudson was honored by being accepted into the Banff Adventure Filmmaker’s Workshop, which she’ll attend this summer. And through a Kickstarter campaign last spring Hudson raised $9,000 to do the film.
“I’ll be there for nine days with 26 other filmmakers,” Hudson said. “I’ll be networking, going to films, meeting producers and visiting production houses, plus I’ll be in class learning techniques.”
Hudson grew up in Acadia “where hiking is mandatory.” In college at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, she found herself inside too much, and there were no mountains and no ocean.
“I missed being outdoors,” Hudson declared.
In her junior year at Lawrence, this longing to get outside more led Hudson to take a semester course with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Patagonia, a pretty darn good choice for a real outdoor fix.
After college, Hudson went on to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, a 2,180-mile journey from Georgia to Maine. She started on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—and finished August 20. Her trail name was “Rummy,” like the game.
No surprise then that this accomplished AT thru-hiker would go on work in the outdoors guiding sea kayaking trips for a while. After her first stint in Nepal in 2011, Hudson moved to Wyoming in 2012 to work for NOLS as an instructor for a year. She then returned to Maine to attend the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland as a student in the writing and multimedia programs.
Hudson’s primary tool while in Nepal will be a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a DSLR that “shoots high definition video.” Nice.
Good luck Alison and safe travels. We’ll look forward to seeing the finished product! Perhaps we’ll see it at the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival…