Eastern Rises is done — well, sort of…

We’ve been getting a lot of e-mails like this one due to Ben being the slowest editor EVER:

Dear Felt Soul Media,
When the hell is Eastern Rises going to be available for purchase? 
Thanks for the time, 

Josh

Well Josh, Eastern Rises is finally done – almost.  It has taken us a bit longer than planned, but the final film is our best to date and hopefully will be judged to be worth the wait. ER will premier at the 2010 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival (mountainfilm.org) at the end of May. The DVD will be released soon after the premier.  We thank you for your patience and continued interest.

In the meantime we started a mini-site for ER at www.easternrises.com, there’s not much to see there at the moment besides some Russian mosquitos doing pull ups and the ER trailer, but as we get closer to dropping the DVD we will get it fully dialed and worth a visit.  Stay tuned.

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Sage, Redington, & Rio’s “A Day for Bristol Bay”

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Sage, Redington and Rio step up big for Bristol Bay.

Sage, Redington and Rio have committed a day of production from their Bainbridge factory to help support our film Red Gold (which is nearing completion by the way) and TU AK’s continued grassroot efforts to combat the proposed Pebble Mine. The triumvirate is not messing around either. We are talking a donation in upwards of $100,000 and you can be a part of it too.

Here is the deal. By designating “A day for Bristol Bay” Sage in setting aside one day of production of its 9 foot 8 weight Z-Axis paired with a Redington CD 7/8 Reel and Rio’s new Gold Fly line. It is the complete package and one that both Ben and I fished with all summer while shooting Red Gold. The crazy thing is that they are donating all the proceeds from the day of production to help in the fight against Pebble Mine, but supplies are limited and the response has already been amazing. Folks are also going beyond merely purchasing the rods and donating on top of the sales price.

Help support Trout Unlimited’s work to save Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from proposed development of one of the largest open pit and underground mines in the world– purchase a limited edition Save Bristol Bay rod and reel set –there are less then 100 outfits left. Plus $200 of your purchase price will be donated by Sage, Redington & Rio to Trout Unlimited ‘s work in Alaska.

Mountain Home Exit

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God damn that’s one big hole – Travis shoots the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah – Photo by Ben Knight

If you ever need to get in touch with Ben and need an immediate or timely response – start texting. Here is a dated exchange of ours from September as we tried to catch up somewhere in Idaho. Ben had just put the finishing touches on the final version of the trailer and I was headed back to CO after floating the Rogue River…

Ben Knight (9/9 6:51pm): Call me
Me (9/10 11:07am): Headed into boise now. About 1 hour out. you?
Ben Knight (9/10 11:07am): Haven’t left town yet
Ben Knight (9/10 11:50 am): Let’s meet at green river i-70 maybe
Me (9/11 11:50am): Headed to highway 84 now from riv
Message Failed
Status Information:
(256) Unknown Cause Code
Original Sent at
9/11/07 10:47am

Ben Knight (9/11 9:17am): What up?
Ben Knight (9/11 9:32am): Left a dvd for you inside newspaper box @ jack in the box@mountainhome exit.
Ben Knight (9/11 9:34am):Undernearth-not inside actually…
Me (9/11 12:15pm): No u turn for us. Super bummed we missed each other. Can you overnight some dvds on the fsm amex?
Me (9/12 10:06am): Holy shit dude you have me all teared up. You killed it.
Ben Knight (9/11 10:10am): Glad you liked it buddy

The original DVD trailer still lies dormant underneath the newspaper box next to the Jack in Box at the Mountain Home, ID exit off of I-84. She is all yours for the taking.

True Wilderness

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Ben packin’ heat on bear patrol with a pipe full of slugs at camp on the Mulchatna river. It doesn’t take long in Alaska to get the feeling that you are the prey. Everything around you will do whatever it takes to survive. The salmon will swim until they literally rot and when the bears get tired of salmon and berries they’ll take down an animal three times their size. Whatever it takes. Long story short: big guns are cool and they make [Ben] happy. Screw the bear spray. Photo by Travis Rummel

Up until the past couple of weeks, our experiences in Bristol Bay were limited to small villages and towns that make up what little infrastructure there is in Bristol Bay. We had not had the true wilderness experience that was always surrounding us but just out of reach. This all changed with a drop off at the headwaters of the Nushagak River on the Koktuli River in the shadow of the proposed Pebble Mine Site. The Koktuli is one of two creeks (the other being Upper Talarik Creek) that would disappear if the mine were to go through. The water will be needed to quench the thirst of the mining activities.

aerial.jpgThe veins of Bristol Bay. Even from a thousand feet you can see the salmon if you look close. [PLUG] Especially with a fabulous pair of polarized Oakley sunglasses. [END PLUG] Photo by Ben Knight

The Koktuli is truly wild, especially once you get out of ear shot of the near continuous helicopter noise near the mine site. The river starts as a literal trickle barely wide enough to allow passage of our 14-foot raft, with each passing mile the creek slowly grew into a full-blown river. Starting high on the tundra before descending into a birch forest, we spent 6 days traveling 53 river miles from the mine site to the confluence with the Mulchatna River. Encountering brown bears on a daily basis and floating over spawning chum, sockeye and king salmon, the river teems with life. There were rainbows, grayling and dollies too.

This was my first experience in a true wilderness environment. After living in the west for close to 10 years, I like to think of myself as an experienced outdoorsman. The wild nature of this float dwarfed my prior outdoor experience. It felt intoxicatingly good to be awestruck by the size and scale of my surroundings. The float was epic even with the presence of near constant rain.

camille_trav.jpgCamille Egdorf, every Nushagak rainbow’s worst nightmare. Photo by Travis Rummel

The sun finally made an appearance as we were waiting for our pick up along the bank of the Mulchatna River by Dave Egdorf. Dave has one of the original camps on the upper Nushagak. His operation hasn’t changed much in its 18-year history. It is old school in the finest sense. If I were ever going to throw down some coin to hit up a destination this is what I would be looking for – raw wilderness and just enough amenities to keep it comfortable. The camp is amazing and was matched only by the Egdorf’s and their guides’ hospitality. Oh the fishing was pretty good too. Big healthy wild native bows sucking down mice on top and eating dead drifted flesh down below.

trav_wetsuit.jpgTravis, shivering as usual, waits for for the sun to dodge a cloud on the Kvichak river. Lauren declared that Ben’s ass, while rounder and more robust in the wetsuit, didn’t compare to Travis’s sleek, super tight, for business only ass. Photo by Ben Knight

It was a trip to be wading across the mighty Nushagak, 240 river miles from where we had previously been knee deep in the harvest of sockeyes just weeks before. Now, we were in the midst of thousands of brightly colored red sockeye getting ready to spawn. There were also tons of spawning kings, magnificently large in comparison to all the other fish in the river. There were no other people for 100 miles in any direction. It felt as if it was our river.

Thanks Dave, Camille, Kim, Kris, Ben and Tom for putting us up and sharing your camp with some hungry worn out filmmakers.

Also I wanted to give Lauren a shout out. Ben and I are now back to mono a mono as Lauren has made the decision that she has had enough of our “film” project and with us. She is back in Juneau enjoying greens from her garden and a mound of paper work on her desk. Thanks for all of your help Lauren; we couldn’t have done it without you.

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…”TU Girl…” Reporting In and Out…

illy_sunset.jpgThere are only a few sunsets in your life that you’ll remember, but it helps when they last for hours. Lydia Olympic, Illiamna Lake. Photo by Ben Knight

While watching another disco-tech download at Egdorf’s camp, Travis asked me “Are you sad it’s over?” And I pretty much replied —- Heck no, because we did it all, you’re set for the last pieces you need, and it just feels like a job well done. Back in October when we started mapping out our logistics, this was the dream, all of this. We’ve seen more and learned more and talked to more people in region than I ever could have imagined. I have so much to process and reflect on and consider for how our work moves forward. So many more people wanting to support our efforts… And I know you’ve got the footage and editing skills now to make the best damn film ever.” And well, I was ready for a new pair of clothes and a day without the never-ending despair of extreme shooting conditions.

Really people (holy geez 10,000 of them watching now!), I don’t hate Ben, I just really didn’t want to be that woman who barely made her 26th birthday found mauled beside a box of snickers, out in depths of the last great frontier state.
Travis and Ben, thank you for all that you are doing, for all that you are, for stepping forward and asking TU to join forces with you to make this happen. You guys are amazing. And back in civilization with a break from swatting and itching flies, I can clearly see we have already made a difference…. But these past 7 weeks were just the start of all that is to come…

the-team.jpgThere’s no “I” in team. Our last night on the Koktuli, thankfully a dry one. (L to R) Lauren, Ben and Travis. Photo by Ben Knight

Some highlights from my Journal on the Koktuli:

….My seasons of guiding rivers in the lower 48 allows me to deeply appreciate the push-off moment again — when boat leaves bank and adventure begins– those feelings of freedom and the unknown when all logistics and plans mean nothing anymore. What we have is what we have, and what we become are guests in wild territory. Those feelings intensify when the float planes takes off and our team of three is committed to the winding path ahead – to make it from headwaters in the heart of the proposed mine site to the confluence with the Mulchatna river. Koktuli to Mulchatna to Nushagak, the water we touch will eventually meet Ole and Dylan and Sarah and little Finn too at Nushagak point…

ben_trav_kok.jpgBen rows while Travis throws on the last mile of the Koktuli. Photo by Lauren Oakes

…Day 1: There’s a part of me that wants to float completely silent, quietly move with the girgling rio through the narrow green canopies of leaning spruce, eyes peeled in the thick grass for any wildlife that might appear, unaware of our presence. That’s the ever-curious piece of me, always searching and inquiring, wanting to fully experience… the let’s appreciate it all and do not disturb mindset. Then there’s the other side, okay let’s be honest, the much more dominant one that is hollering hello or offering a round of applause around every 180 oxbow turn. I’m a bit frustrated with this urge to warn the wild, as I’d really just like some quiet. But I deeply appreciate how in tune I am to the surroundings, the breeze through the trees, the sounds of current, the flap or a the wing of an arctic tern to the swoop of an eagle, to the unique slow clop of four grizzly paws, making way from bush to sand to water…

camp.jpg53 miles of river and only one sign of a previous campfire. Photo by Ben Knight

…Day 6: Silent appreciation prevails at last and I move quietly downriver simply looking and listening in the lead. I am floating around a big bend, unable to see much of anything at all, admiring the terns that squak above. (It seems as though they still cannot forgive us for our previous camping site. We appear to be continually disturbing their nesting grounds, and I feel bad about that.) The boys float behind me, Travis still on his unrelenting mission for rainbows. I hear an enormous clatter, the sound of something, big, really really big, charging up river at me. I have absolutely no visibility around the corner.. I just know it – what?- is coming right at me… I’m hollering “wooaaa woooaaaaaaaaaaa.” And standing tall, thinking I’m pretty damn sure bears don’t charge in herds. But after sleeping in a puddle of prints three times the size of my hands night after night after night, 10 encounters already, in this moment I am vividly picturing a wall of bears at full speed ahead….

…The clatter, to my relief and immediate, pure joy, is a herd of the Mulchatna Caribou, row after row of brown bodies stretching from one bank to another. It is the sound of hooves upon river bed, clogging their way straight for little me and little red. And to my amazement, in a split second they all come to a screeching halt, hooves settle still on rock and Koktuli water settles. And it’s at this point that I laugh, actually laugh out loud. I slowly pull back into sight of the boys, who are no longer fishing, but standing and looking intensely, surely wondering perhaps slightly fearing what raucous I’d run into around the bend. I beckon Travis and Ben downriver, hoping the herd remains for the cameras to run. And we simply watch and listen…

tundra_baby.jpgA mysterious and rare “Tundra Baby” found near the mine site. Another reason to save this place from open pit mining. Photo by Ben Knight

There are so many people to thank from these past few weeks. But I’m working on the credit list instead; it will be a massive. How can we truly thank you all? By making an amazing film, by making a difference, by keeping in touch and strengthening the fight for permanent protection of this magical place we have so deeply experienced. Dave, I will forever remember our flight back to the Dillingham big city, me trusting you and the plane and the fate of nature at some 200 feet in the fog, the first leg of my trip back home. It was a ride I will never forget, a realization that we had, indeed followed the fish all the way up into the watershed, and experienced the communities, the fishing, the wild all along the way. It was a moment of seeing we had come full circle as we soared above the Nushagak and moved downriver. Dave pointed out the camp where Tech Cominco first camped when exploring in the 80’s, and we talked of what is to come of this ever-developing, overpopulating world. I soaked in the miles and miles of the pristine land and water that sustains that last great salmon fishery remaining, and all these incredible people and lifestyles and wonders it supports.

B & T, I am thinking of you guys. Say hi to the Salmon for me. Over and out, Lauren

A Renewed Sense of Vigor

Jack Ross, our guide up to Lake Clark is an 82 year old fishing fanatic, he also is putting an addition on his house by himself using a chain saw to hand cut the wide cedar planks. He thought he might need some additional help with the roof. He makes me feel old, especially when we pulled up to check on one his creeks pouring into Lake Clark. “If you guys are going to be so god damn slow about it, I will get in there myself.” I looked up in time to see him to hook a grayling on his first cast, while I was still fumbling to free a rod from his rod rack on the side of the boat. The joy that comes with hooking a fish no matter what your age was evident in Jack’s face with every fish caught and every fish story told.

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Jack Continues to Slay ‘Em | Photo by Travis Rummel

He returned us to Nondalton – where we have been camped out for the past week, attempting to get to know the subsistence lifestyle enjoyed by our Athabascan hosts. The sockeye that have made it past the commercial fishermen of Bristol bay, past the sportsfisherman on the Kvichak River, still have one big seine and a couple of gill nets to avoid in the waters of Six Mile Lake and Nondalton before nosing into the friendly national park waters of Lake Clark. The ride up river and through the lakes only gets more beautiful with each passing mile.

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Ben humbly prepares to let a beast of a grayling swim away into the waters of Lake Clark | Photo by Travis Rummel

I feel like an old man – arthritic, worn down, and dirty. No showers in the last week and none on the forecast for next week. Today we head via float plane to the headwaters of the Koktuli River, this river flows directly from the intended mine site and her waters could vanish under the water intensive needs of the mine. We could not be more excited to finally experience some of the wilderness aspects of Bristol Bay and capture it for the film. 53 miles in 5 to 6 days.

Lauren is concerned about the bears – to put it mildly – and continually reminds us that we need to follow bear safety protocol to the “T.” Ben and I want to bring an extra cooler of food to compensate for the meager freeze dry rations she can squeeze into the bear proof containers. She is not happy about it. “This is how people die – green folks from the lower 48” at least we will die with full stomachs.

We will be back on the grid in early August, god willing. Please stay tuned….

Headed Back to the Bush

boats.jpgThe salmon commeth, and the drift-net boats waiteth | Photo by Travis Rummel [thanks for the lift Norm]

Dear Readers,

We have been eddied out in Anchorage for the past couple of days coming up with a game plan and enjoying the fruits of civilization, mainly the use of our cell phones and wireless Internet. With no home to return to in Dillingham (besides the red Ford F350 with a leaking cab) we decided to chill out, reflect on where we have been and where we are going. The project continues to growth in depth with each interview we get and in every new location we bust the camera out. It is going to be good and we have been spending a lot of time working the pro development side of things.

We are keeping our own politics out of the thread of the film and trying to have the pebble story tell itself. The Pro side has been difficult to get in with as most of our interviewees are very skeptical about our motives, which I don’t blame them for given our sponsors and interests.

We have managed to get a couple good interviews that bring light to the dark side and the more time you spend with the pro folks the more you realize these people really believe what they are telling you or they are getting paid really well or both. The passion just seems to be lacking, but maybe it is back to the money thing again.

Regardless we are doing our best to approach this holistically and keep it as neutral as possible. There seems to be strength in neutrality – just think of us as the Switzerland of documentary films. The story will tell itself, just wait and see…

Ground Zero and Back

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Caribou at the Pebble “Exploration” Site | photo of a photo by Ben Knight

Dear Reader,

Northern Dynasty has been kind to us, flying us from Anchorage to the “exploration site” in Iliamna, putting us up in a lake front condo, feeding us for the duration and taking us on a helicopter tour of the site in the pouring rain. They even allowed ben all the candy bars he could stomach – and that is saying a lot.

The deluge of rain didn’t make for the best shooting conditions while in the midst of our heli tour, but it was interesting plop down on the tundra and stand on top of what ndm’s geologists claim to be the largest porphyry gold/copper discovery ever in the history of digging up minerals from the subsurface of earth. They were a bit superstitious though and wouldn’t actually come out and say it was going to be the “biggest one,” but from the gleam in their eyes you knew it was getting pretty damn close.

We had always thought of the Pebble Mine as a gold mine, but it turns out it is now a copper mine that happens to also have billions of dollars in gold in it as a lucky byproduct. Pretty sweet huh? In our interviews with the NDM Public Relations folks and their site geologist manager the word gold was never once uttered. The focus was on the copper and the world’s insatiable hunger for it, oh and the national security benefit that a Canadian mining company could bring to the US once the mine goes through and billions of tons of copper, gold and molybdenum are extracted to sell in the global commodity markets. They did mention the fish though and promised the two could peacefully co-exist with “no-net loss,” which despite having this point clarified; is still a bit confusing to me.

We have had an extremely hard time tracking down folks who are avid supporters of the mine here in Iliamna, despite our greatest efforts and the town being “pro-mine.” It is not so much a town but a road with a few houses on it with an airport alive with the thunder of constant helicopter traffic over-head. Everything on the exploration site is delivered by helicopter; this means all 7 drill rigs (which penetrate down to 5000 feet), tons of environmental scientists doing private data collection studies, camp supplies, tents, trash, tundra pads (to put the drill rigs on), are flown in and out via helis. It is crazy, but the tundra is looked after and there are no roads on the site. It is all very orderly and well managed.

All the folks that we spoke with that are pro mine seem to have a far away look in their eyes or are talking about payday, whether it is their actual paycheck or the development of the mine site. They seem to lack the lust for life that other communities we have spent time in relish in. There seems to be a lack of soul, like they have sold out and can’t remember what it is like to be awed by their surroundings or nourished by their community. Some described it as only being about money and how can I get more than my neighbor.

The only passion we were able to evoke in our interviews was from the several geologists we spoke with who were blown away by the hugeness of the discovery and with their connection to what could be the biggest discovery of its kind – ever. All the geologists travel the international copper/gold mining circuit, helping mine the Tibetan Plateau, the highlands of Papua New Guinea, South Africa, and the Frasier River Valley of BC – you know all the shitty places out there with populations that lack political clout, I mean ahhh.

And now the headwaters of the Nushagak and Upper Talarik creek a mere 19 river miles from Alaska’s only great lake – Lake Iliamna. The geologists don’t seem to ponder the idea of the greater ecosystem or social impacts, only the grade of the ore and the economics necessary to make extraction a reality. It is all very theoretical to them or classified as not “their department.”

We were fortunate enough to find a local pilot to fly us around the site in his super cub – what an amazing experience. We followed Upper Talarik Creek to the mine site, did a bit more investigation of the drill rigs, and then descended down the South Fork of the Koktuli and in the process spotted a grizzly bear midstream and soon after a herd of over 600 caribou. The landscape is alive with life and with water. The hydrology is mind numbing. In every direction there are creeks, rivers, ponds and upwelling springs. The tundra is a like a giant sponge with an invisible lake below the surface. It will be challenging to contain tailings and not pollute the groundwater or surface water in perpetuity if a mine were to go through, but wait there will not be any “net loss” so I guess there is nothing to worry about. We can just wait and see.

Many of the locals in the area truly believe in the regulatory process and feel that there are just too many rivers and salmon for the mine to come in and fuck up. Again and again we hear from them that they need the jobs and they are thinking about it in terms of economic opportunity for their kids, right after they get done telling us the importance of salmon as the critical part of their cultural identity or complain about the cost of basketball sneakers in Anchorage. This will be a modern mine they say, just look at the Fraiser River in BC, 9 mines lining the river, clear cuts and a cement factory in town, but still the salmon come back…Wait and see they say. Wait and see. The regulatory process will work. We need the mine and we need the salmon. Wait and see…

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Ben is left eye dominant just so you know | Photo by Travis Rummel