For three years beginning in 1911 the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce sponsored a race to the peak of Mount Baker which involved a rugged car or train trip to the closest settlements, a night traverse of the lower slopes of the mountain and a dawn ascent of the snowy peak itself. The first race took about 12 hours and it’s almost miraculous that the participants returned in one piece what with primitive equipment, a train crash and very little information to go on. The first purse was a hundred dollars and the mountain runners were local farmers, loggers and miners. The race was conceived to bring tourism to the area and to push for the mountain to become a national park. The race was badly run though and after many mishaps it wound down after just three years.
The story is admirably told in this professional but basic documentary. There are a lot of interesting photographs and interviews and the recreated dramatic scenes are believable and don’t disrupt the flow of the story. The film does drag a bit towards the end as it relates every little detail of each year’s race.
Missing from this documentary is much social context at all. A little historical context is given by announcing who is president at the time and few things going on in the world. But the story could have been so much richer and deeper if the filmmakers had seriously considered issues arising from their source material. Why was mountaineering so popular at this time? They fail to address the fact that adventure enthusiasts were nearly all aristocrats or members of the upper-middle class. It’s rather disturbing that the elite of Bellingham invented this potentially fatal race to be run by their local labourers. What fueled the many crazy stunts and races at this particular time in history? The Mt Baker race occurred not too long after the advent of the Tour de France which was unbelievably arduous and bizarre in its early decades and also attracted young working men desperately trying to earn some extra funds.
So while this a neat story and I learned something from watching it, there is not a lot to this film.
Oct 06 06:15 pm Pacific Cinematheque
Oct 08 12:00 pm Empire Granville 4
Oct 11 10:45 am Pacific Cinematheque