Just 11 degrees south of the North Pole, mountain bikers Darren Berrecloth, Carson Storch, Tom Van Steenbergen and Cam Zink cut through the ice to the glaciers of Axel Heiberg Island in Nunavut, Canada. Red Bull Media House’s recent film, “North of Nightfall,” follows their monumental journey through the quickly melting Arctic.
Around 2,000 glaciers have carved out massive slopes in the region. There is little to no vegetation; the area is particularly exciting— and dangerous— for mountain bikers with great peaks, long lines and essentially untouched terrain.
Home to polar bears, Arctic wolves, narwhals and blue whales, the land has not been inhabited by humans since the Thule people. Ancestors of the Inuit, the Thule lived on the island for over 200 years. By the 1960s, a remote research station was established on the island to observe glaciers and study the impacts of climate change. Now there are no permanent residents, except for a few researchers, wildlife surveyors and other explorers who visit during the summer months when there is a short window (only about a month) of permitting weather.
The island has one way in and one way out. Small planes use the tundra for take-off and landing; there is no formal airport. Pilots must use an off-strip landing place. A plane dropped the athletes off with enough equipment for three weeks— food, bikes, camera gear, and anything else they would need to survive and ride.
The filmmakers used drone footage to capture the scenery of the Arctic and the skill of the biking. Hiking up the mountain with the weight of their bikes, the athletes turn, speeding down rocky, thousand-foot cliffs. They fly through the air, twisting, turning and throwing tricks. The intensity of these tricks sends shivers down the spine. Seeing men suspended in mid-air, seemingly weightless, not even holding on to the handlebars, is awe-inspiring.
With a hospital more than 10 hours away, doctor Clark Lewish was in charge of safety and all things medical. He brought a fully-packed first-aid kit including a defibrillator, oxygen supply, syringes, equipment for IVs, gauze (of course), bandages and antiseptic. Thankfully, most of the equipment was never used. However, at one point, Lewish did have to pop Zink’s shoulder back into place.
Other members of the expedition were crew personnel including the expedition’s leader Françoise Gervais, guide and Inuit member Apak Taqtu, and glacial researcher Laura Thomson.
A Nunatsiaq Newspaper, ‘Nunatsiaq News,’ express concern with Red Bull filming in this location. The island is a rich fossil site and there are in fact archeology sites within 25 kilometers of the camp, but it is the expedition leaders duty to ensure that the group does not infringe on these sites. Though there is a guide leader, there is concern about garbage being left behind and disturbance of the land.
The film aims to increase awareness of climate change in the Northern Arctic by showing the audience the sensitive habitat. The hope is that when people see the vastness of the Arctic, they will be moved to protect and preserve it.
“The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will,” a quote from Chuck Palahniuk, begins the film. These words can be applied to the greater sport of mountain biking and achievement, as well as to the legacy humans leave behind.
Glacial retreat in this area has catalyzed over the last fifty years due to anthropogenic warming. Even if humans were to completely stop emissions today, our world would still heat by about 0.6 degrees Celsius, causing the glaciers to continue to retreat. In addition, the current ice melt in the region has opened alternate (and shorter) shipping routes for cargo ships that would have otherwise relied on the Panama Canal. This Northern Sea Route would create a shorter shipping passage between Japan and Northern Europe. Ship access and the continued ice melt threatens a variety of species that have evolved for tens of thousands of years in harsh Arctic climates.
By reflecting on the human influence on the region, the filmmakers shift the viewers’ attention inward to reflect upon individual actions and what can be done to preserve and protect this inspiring place. Allowing people to see the wonder of the Arctic and understand the sensitivity of the habitat, instills hope that humans will be more invested to protect it. Take a look at the film, and decide for yourself.