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Let the adventure begin

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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What the Vail Symposium should call this year’s Unlimited Adventure series is: Cool people doing way cooler stuff than you’re likely doing.

Essentially, everyone speaking during the series is a modern day Shackleton, and we get to sit back and listen to their tales of adventure and risk for the next six weeks at the Donovan Pavilion in Vail.

The Magnificent Eight of 2008: The Unlimited Adventurers is a series of six presentations featuring eight separate speakers on topics ranging from space exploration to spelunking to extreme mountain climbing.

The purpose of the program is to present adventurers on a mission.

“It’s our most popular program of the whole year, it’s a massive program,” said Fraidy Aber, executive director of the Vail Symposium.

Thrill-seeking filmmaker Michael Brown kicks off the series tonight. Brown is a bull in the adventure film industry, having won awards for his films in more than 30 film festivals, and three coveted Emmys. His travels have taken him all over the globe in search of adventure angles in human interest stories. One of Brown’s recent films, “Farther Than The Eye Can See,” documents blind climber Erik Weihenmayer’s ascent of Mount Everest, a historic and emotional feat of courage that makes all of the challenges of filmmaking worthwhile to Brown.

“I’m giving a lecture … looking at why I ended up doing the kind of films that I do, which are mostly films related to non-profit organizations and the work they’re doing around the world,” Brown said.

Sound boring? Not even close; working with those non-profits has taken Brown to Nepal and Africa, allowed him to climb massive peaks and help raise money to fight AIDS and HIV in poverty stricken countries, all while making documentaries of his exploits and work with charities and individuals.

Having grown up in the Eagle Valley, Brown is not stranger to mountain climbing and picturesque beauty. Combining his passion for mountaineering and changing the world through film, Brown has been able to bring to light topics and charities that would other wise go unnoticed by many people.

Film is a very powerful medium, one that Brown hopes he can use to affect a positive change in the world starting right here in Vail. And although his films have captured some pretty incredible moments in his life and others, it’s been at a price.

“I’ve been really lucky to see the world but also have had to deal with expeditions where avalanches killed members of the team,” Brown recalled with a slight shake in his voice.

Brown’s presentation will include clips from some of his films while relating his personal path to becoming an adventure filmmaker.

Following on the heels of Brown’s presentation is speakers Paul and Mark Devlin, stars of the film “BLAST.” “BLAST” is the story of the two brothers’ quest to launch the BLAST telescope (Balloon-borne, Large Aperture, Submillimeter Telescope), which they hope will answer the question of the origins of the universe.

Not a fan of sci-fi? Chris Davenport will be speaking Feb. 14 about his new book, “Ski the 14ers,” a photo journal of his adventures while skiing all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains with peaks 14,000 ft. or higher) in one year.

Mountain climbing couple Susan and Phil Ershler wrote a book titled “Together At The Top Of The World” about their journey to become the first couple in history to climb the highest peak on each continent. The will talk about the trials and tribulations they had to overcome during their presentation on Feb. 21.

The bottom of a dark and creepy cave is probably the last place most people would look to find a cure for disease, but Hazel Barton has a different take on the subject. Her caving experience has taken her deep into the earth to find the cure for antibiotic-resistant superbugs as well as made her the star of the IMAX movie “Journey Into Amazing Caves.” She’ll share her story on March 6.

And then there’s Matthew Cull, a real-life Lone Ranger.

Cull, 46, is a part-time Vail resident from Sydney, Australia who is no stranger to adventure and hardship. Cull traveled to Asia with nothing but a bike and a backpack, his eventual goal to bike through Tibet ” all the while laughing in the face of international restrictions and possible arrest and deportation.

“A lot of regions are restricted and you have to have an alien travel permit, and it’s kind of a complicated process. To get a permit you have to have a guide and a vehicle and all that kind of stuff. I’m not into that kind of travel or scenario,” Cull said.

Instead, Cull snuck in under the radar and stayed off the grid, biking through the day and camping at night to try to stay one step ahead of the authorities and avoid deportation. He biked through parts of China, the Himalayas, Tibet, Nepal and India, biking up and down paved and unpaved sections of road and violent vertical changes. His mountain bike and spirit was put to the test during the trip, which took about four-and-a-half months to complete and covered over 3,100 miles and 300,000 vertical feet.

“I think it’s just an extension of my other journeys in seeing the world and experiencing the world and seeing other cultures and seeing what’s out there on the planet and learning about ones own capability. You can basically do anything you set your mind to,” Cull said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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