Two CCKs capture and share their extraordinary global journeys on film.
Alex Harz’s Story
In part one of Fear, Faith and Film, I spoke of introducing two filmmakers whose stories were more alike than people may initially think. Augusto Valverde’s story was first, and now, meet Alex Harz and his muse, Mt. Everest.
Alex Harz was born in Malaga, Spain. His mom, an English teacher from the Midwest, had moved to a town near Frankfurt, Germany to teach. After meeting his dad (her first landlord), the two fell in love, had two kids, and then moved the family to Omaha, Nebraska when Alex was 6. He and his brother spent each school year in Omaha and each summer near Frankfurt. Aside from the extra travel, Harz’s life was pretty typical of a Midwestern boy.
Realizing a Childhood Dream
One afternoon when Alex was just 14, he was watching TV after soccer practice and saw something about Mount Everest. Of course, living in Nebraska, he had never seen anything like it — not even close. He was so captivated that he said to himself, “One day, I’m going to climb that mountain.”
As an adult, Harz left Omaha and moved to Denver, Colorado, where he spent most of his time working on a radio show he had created — the first ever interactive, live improv radio show. He was active and played sports, but wasn’t into climbing or mountaineering at that time, so when his childhood dream of ascending Mt. Everest popped back into his head, it seemed to come out of nowhere. Nevertheless, Harz began training for the journey the very next day, donning his old snowboarding gear and completing his first local 14er (14,000’ climb).
It was winter, and he was completely out of shape and unprepared — postholing through snow and sweating the entire way. As painful as that first attempt was, Harz continued taking mountaineering and climbing classes. He got certified in wilderness survival and challenged himself with higher and higher climbs: Mt. Rainier in Washington state, Aconcagua in Argentina, and Denali in Alaska. “I realized during that process that this is amazing and rewarding, but not enough to justify all of this effort only to experience a summit for five to 20 minutes,” Harz says. “I wanted to expose and reveal the rarely told stories in these amazing, fantastic places around the world.”
The Quest Begins
After building up his radio show to a cast of 24 and a reach of over 150 countries, Harz got the green light to begin his most important journey yet — THE QUEST: Nepal, which according to Alex Harz’s website, “is designed to be the 1st installment of a truly unique new TV / film series, showcasing an epic climb of legendary Mt. Everest and a cinematic journey to reveal the rarely seen stories, fascinating culture and breathtaking scenery of Nepal to a worldwide viewing audience.” Leaving his radio show to begin training three hours a day, seven days a week, Harz prepared to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
But, Harz’s goal went far beyond the climb itself. The aim was to film and produce the first-ever virtual reality video of the climb to the top and to uncover the rarely told stories of the people of Nepal. “In order to understand Mt. Everest, you need to understand Nepal and its significance from a cultural, economic, religious, and geopolitical standpoint,” Harz explains. “When we unravel all of that, we’re also telling you something about the mountain itself.” Harz spent 63 days filming in-country — 52 of those days were on Mt. Everest.
Photos courtesy of The Quest: Nepal
Lessons from the Mountaintop
“What Mt. Everest taught me, besides the technical mountaineering, is that there are two mental games you’re always battling on he climb,” Harz explains. “One is that in order to summit Everest and come back in one piece, you’re going to have to go 20% harder than you’ve ever gone in your whole life, and the margin of error [between achievement and getting yourself killed] is as thin as a strand of hair. But, if you take this 20% into your daily life, you know when times are tough, you can tap into something inside you that you didn’t know was there.” Harz continues: “Second, you’re going to be constantly inundated by two simple, powerful words we use every day: ‘and’ and ‘but.’ When you’re sitting on top of the Khumbu Icefall and about to cross a ladder and you’re afraid of heights, looking down a bottomless crevasse, do you say, ‘But this is too scary, but this is too dangerous, but I don’t want to go any further?’ Or do you say, ‘And I’ve made it this far, and I can do this, and I can go further?'”
Today, Harz wants to inspire people to summit their own Everest, whatever that might be. “The most important thing for me is purpose and passion. After traveling a decent amount [I believe] there are only two kinds of people on this earth,” Harz says. “It doesn’t matter what religion you believe in, what language you speak, or how much money you have. You’re either a good person or a bad person. If you’re a person who lives in the Upper Mustang of Nepal or the Yanomamo tribe in the Amazon and you only know 50 people in your whole life, that was your entire sphere of influence. By the time you died, did you have a positive or negative impact on those 50 people? That’s really all you can ask for. Maybe you’re a Mark Zuckerberg who has an impact on millions of people … So, if you have a purpose for what you believe you’re supposed to do in this life and you have a passion to go after that purpose, I think that can really simplify and bring sanity to [your 21st century life].”