Weekend Warm-Up: Force: The story of Mikey Schaefer

“So definitely the most f***** up thing I’ve ever done in the Alpine. I just used my ice axe as a cheater stick to place a camelot around a bunch of super loose f***** up blocks, it’s kinda sketchy. I think this whole thing right here could fall off and all those things are moving around. F**********” — Mikey Schaefer

Our introduction to foul-mouthed American climber and photographer Mikey Schaefer comes by way of a gritty opening scene where Schaefer is pondering the quality of some delicately placed protection, while balanced precariously on a dizzying knife blade of Patagonian granite.

In this short film, directors Fitz Cahall & Aidan Haley take viewers on a journey through 10 years of Schaefer’s climbs and shenanigans around the Fitzroy skyline of Patagonia. Narrated by Schaeffer, the footage blends shaky first-person scenes with big-hitting panoramas.

First arriving in Patagonia at the age of 21, Schaefer had no experience with glacier travel or big mountains, but he did have the skills on rock. And so somehow, this first-timer pulled off a new route on Guilaumet. Following this early success, Schaeffer wondered if it was possible to climb a new route on all seven of the peaks in the Fitzroy skyline. Over the next decade, he ticked off each one in turn – a first in the range. Along the way, he develops a love for the place, culture and mountains of Patagonia, which is a narrative that forms the backbone of this film.

Around the half-way mark there is a clear shift in focus from climbing to photography. Seriously ill with bacterial pneumonia at Fitzroy-esque Shipton Spire in Pakistan, and staring up at an approaching evacuation helicopter, Schaefer snapped the photos that were to start his career behind the lens.

As with climbing, Schaefer has had notable success in the photography world.  He has gone on to became a staff photographer at Patagonia, and his work has featured on the cover of prestigious publications such as National Geographic. His modus operandi, as he nicely describes in the film, is to communicate his experiences in the mountains and to inspire others to visit the same places and climbs: “I want people to look at my photos and be like woooow, I wonna go do that, I wonna be there, I wonna be in those clouds, I wonna be as cold as those people, I wonna do the same thing. If I make photos like that and get people to do that, it’s like I win.”

Force is an apt name for this less than 20 minute mini-biopic. Set among the notoriously volatile and spectacular Fitzroy massif, you get a real sense of the raging aggression and occasional passive beauty of these mountains, and the growth that Schaeffer underwent here to become a force in both climbing and photography.