Author Archives: Saikaly Elia

Learning to fly

Learning to fly

In June 2013, I decided to face my greatest fear – flying. I feared not the uncertainty associated to the sportof PAragliding, but rather how much I would grow to love human flight and the infinite possibilities associated with combining with my passion for filmmaking, flight and mountaineering.

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Battling 90km/hr winds with a Canon5D and reaching Europe's highest peak

Battling 90km/hr winds with a Canon5D and reaching Europe's highest peak

Imagine being dressed in a down parka, ski goggles, thick gloves, plastic boots, crampons (spikes under your boots) and barely being able to stand on your own two feet because 90km/hr winds are attempting to blow you off the side of a 17, 000ft ridge. In that moment, you feel as though life is unfolding at 120 frames per second. Your team-mates, who are unrecognizable other than by the color of their jackets, are simply trying to survive and make it to the summit. As a filmmaker, you have half the level of oxygen that you would at sea level which hinders your ability to think and move. Snow is blowing in all directions and your job is to operate a Canon5d and capture every exciting moment. In the midst of the chaos of trying to determine whether to carry on or turn back, all of a sudden your Canon 24-70mm lens hood goes flying off the side of the mountain and disappears somewhere beneath the clouds. You freeze and think, “this is insane!” Then you quickly make a decision and point your camera in the direction of the next dramatic moment. “Think ‘story’ Saikaly, and make sure you get all the pieces you need for the final edit.  And don’t die in the process!” That is the dialogue I often have with myself at high altitude. This is the nature of my job as a high altitude filmmaker.

 

The greatest challenge I face in the mountains is the altitude, the exposure and the extreme cold. Combine survival with proper focus, exposure and framing (in addition to ensuring that your camera doesn’t flake out on you) is extremely difficult on the easiest of days. The best example I can illustrate in terms of how you feel at extreme altitude is this: MOST seasoned climbers can barely pull out a tiny consumer point and shoot camera to snap a photo during the moments that matter. This is consistent amongst most who dare to set foot above the clouds. So imagine working with a finicky DSLR with all of the add ons. It isn’t easy!
I was AMAZED that the Canon 5D ‘survived’ the conditions we faced. I was convinced that the 90km/hr winds, coupled with the sub-zero temperatures, would have surely shut the camera down. And if not, I was certain that my ‘live-view’ mode would cease to function. To my surprise, it functioned flawlessly throughout the entire climb. Way to go Canon! The following was my summit day set up.
MAIN CAMERA SET UP
-Canon 5d with a Canon 24-70mm lens
-Cowboy Studio rig
-Zacuto Z-Finder w/anti fog (Zacuto Z-Finder w/anti fog is brilliant btw!)
-Sennheiser MKE-400 (with a wind sock)
-Vari-ND Filter
-Kata bag
-10 batteries in a small pelican case (hand warmers kept them warm)
-ME-66 shotgun mic (with a Lithium battery)
-Zoom H4N and headphones (with 2 Lithium batteries)
-GoPro Hero 2
ADDITIONAL  EQUIPMENT
Canon T3i
Canon 70-200mm lens
Tokina 11-16mm
5 extra batteries
Small Manfrotto tripod
*I also had the sense to hire a local guide named Igor who helped me carry some of this gear.
It’s extremely difficult under these uncontrollable circumstances because as a one man show you need to:
A) Look out for your own health and safety which includes being able to navigate on steep slopes with crampons while ensuring you are strong enough mentally and physically to not succumb to altitude sickness.
B) Ensure you shoot as much of the action as possible without falling off the side of the mountain and dying!
I chose the cowboy studio rig because I knew I could leverage and lean on the  the icy slopes for added camera stability without worrying too much about wrecking the stabilizing rig. I also knew that the Cowboy studio rig could rest on my shoulder which would permit me to remain hands-free to use my ice axe while climbing. The downside to the rig is that because it rests on your chest, and because it’s very hard to breathe due to the minimal amount of oxygen, your heavy breathing sometimes translates into unnecessary camera movement. Hence why I leveraged the icy slopes for added stability. Needless to say, I shoot a ton of low angle shots as a result.
The biggest challenge I faced on summit day was the uncontrollable spindrift (blowing snow) and keeping up with the team’s pace. You have to remember that no one is willing to stop at any time (as climbing is a race against the weather) so I had to be stronger and faster than everyone else. This is a pure mental game because your body is literally shutting down the higher you climb. Every shot I take, I recalculate the time it will take me to catch up and the amount of energy required to do so. It’s a bit crazy and totally run and gun style, but it works if you’re fit and healthy, which I usually am. I have 15 years of bodybuilding and fitness training under my belt which gives me a huge advantage.
In terms of focus and exposure, that’s a whole other challenge in these extreme environments. Climbing above 17,000ft is definitely one of the instances where “there is more to life than shallow depth of field”. I used a vary ND filter and shot between f11- f22, often at higher shutter speeds for effect. When I was getting reactions or ISO’s of climbers I would open up to f4-5.6 if it made sense. We’re in the mountains, so the background is important. Being closed down also makes focusing easier. Remember, the snow is blowing in all directions and I’m wearing thick gloves. The Kata bag doesn’t help much in terms of being able to reach the focus assist or live mode button, but it does keep the camera intact. Somehow, I manage. Oh ya: The light meter was completely untrustworthy because everything is white, so I had to eye-ball it. Zebra’s would have been nice here.
As the drama escalated and the weather transitioned from bad to worse, I was constantly asking myself: Will we make it? Will we turn back? Can I feel my toes? How are my fingers? Selfishly, I wanted to stand on the summit, but I constantly reminded myself that I was there to follow the team, not to summit the mountain. There was a moment where I asked the team leader whether he thought we were going to make it. He replied “Inshallah.” I found that amusing considering Vern is originally from Alaska. It was truly a life or death scenario. Any mistakes by any of the fatigued climbers and they could have easily fallen into the abyss, just like my Canon lens hood! In our guide’s 25 ascents of this mountain, this was by far the worst conditions he had ever seen.
150m below the summit we decided to take one final rest stop just below an exposed ridge. Rather than shooting, I decided to look after myself. I devoured 3 Kit-Kat bars, 2 packs of GU energy gels and consumed a half litre of Gatorade under 90 seconds.Yummy! I was ready for the summit.
The last 150m were tough as we climbed directly into the wind towards the top of Mt. Elbrus. I pulled out my GoPro Hero 2 and captured some extreme close ups of the climbers’ feet as they marched towards the peak. I then continued to literally run ahead with barely enough time to shoot the first climbers standing on top of Europe. Most of the team members were huddled on the ground using their ice axes as leverage to avoid getting blown off the mountain. It was slightly chaotic as I tried to orchestrate (while yelling over the raging winds) isolated photographs of each climber and all of their respective summit flags. They lasted  minutes on the summit. I had hoped to use my H4N and ME-66 mic to get some quality clips, but no one had the stamina or patience to remain exposed except me. It was exceptionally emotional on the highest peak in Europe as many of these team members had never walked in crampons. It was an incredible achievement for them.The highlight was capturing a fiercely determined Saudi Arabian woman
named Raha Moharrak’s final steps towards the top. What she accomplished that day is unheard of in her society and it was a privilege to have been able to capture it forever on digital media.
The crazy part of all of this is that once everyone left and I took a few moments for myself on summit, I realized that I was only half way there. I still had to get down.
So here I sit in a small hotel in Russia waiting for my flight, using Plural Eyes to sync my interviews waiting for my flight home. A grand adventure, a meaningful story and an epic tale of survival of a team from the Middle East who went against the greatest of odds and triumphed in the end. Am I tired? Exhausted! I’m also extremely grateful. Time for a shot a vodka and Shashlik platter – Russian Style!
The take away message for all of you is that life should be exciting, adventure should exists in all that do, challenge should be embraced, your work should be your passion and your dreams should materialize constantly. Don’t ever settle for anything less! Because IT IS POSSIBLE if you believe it.
I’d like to thank Moe Althani and Reach Out to Asia for making me a part of this adventure! We’ve got a great little film on our hands.
Over and out.
Elia Saikaly
www.eliasaikaly.com
www.findinglife.ca
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How I became an adventure filmmaker

How I became an adventure filmmaker

7 years ago, life  decided to throw an unexpected curve ball my way and how I chose to respond forever altered my path. I was asked to shoot a documentary in the Himalayas about a man named Dr. Sean Egan who was attempting to become the oldest Canadian to summit the world’s tallest mountain. At the time, I was running a small video production company that specialized in corporate, weddings and training videos. The only problem was that I had never even slept in a tent!

I essentially grew up with a video camera in my hand making short films with my friends, shooting punk rock shows and producing skateboarding videos. That evolved into working as a news cameraman at the age of 19, entertainment journalist for Much Music (Canada’s MTV) then eventually an actor/model (please don’t ask!) followed by filmmaker of all things related to music videos and independent short films. I had a strong background in bodybuilding a(held a world record in powerlifting) and I had a reputation for being a jack of all trades in the video production business. I could shoot, cut, direct and produce. In the spring of 2005, I got a call out of the blue (with two weeks notice) to shoot a Mt. Everest documentary. Why me? Because not only could I do it all and I was incredibly strong and fit.

To make a very long and emotional story short (there is a film and tons of videos on youtube about FindingLife) my dear friend Sean, the subject of my documentary, tragically died during the production. He never made it home, n’or did he succeed in reaching the summit. Shattered, I felt incredibly lost and powerless. What made Sean so incredibly unique (apart from his charming Irish personality) was his purpose for climbing Everest and the message he carried with him about the importance of being fit, healthy and happy in life. I decided to trust my instincts, follow my heart and chose to retrace his footsteps up the world’s tallest peak to complete the documentary we started making together. For the next 5 years of my life, I climbed Everest three times, two of which I turned back 500ft from the summit and then eventually reached the top of the world with his spirit at 29, 035ft in May of 2012. It was the most difficult, emotional and life altering 5 years of my life.

 

 

What makes my path quite different from many others out there is that I use my expeditions and filmmaking to create positive change in the lives of communities across the world and in the lives of youth in Canada. For example: while most people are busy climbing in these incredibly harsh high altitude sub zero environments, I climb, shoot, cut, grade, score and broadcast in near-real time. Seldom is there power, internet or infrastructure. My edit suite is often comprised of a yellow tent, a headlamp and a -40c sleeping bag. I sleep with my batteries, battle exposure and potential frostbite while handling my cameras and continually increase my chances of high altitude edema by three fold by working so hard in low oxygen environments.

While most are resting and concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, I’m focused on creating moving pictures. It’s strenuous, incredibly taxing mentally, physically and emotionally and flat out dangerous! In the same (short) breath, it’s exhilarating, meaningful and nothing short of living a dream each and every time. The expedition I am most proud of was my final and successful Mt. Everest climb where my 2 man team and I (in addition to 4 Nepalese Sherpas) created a webisodic series which was produced on location in Nepal and broadcast it back via the web to 20 000 Canadian students while climbing to the top of the world.

 

Now imagine this: As a high altitude filmmaker, every time you decide to roll camera, you’re expending energy that you need for your summit climb. When you do decide to roll, you need to be conscious of how much time/energy it will require to catch up to the group or the subject you’re following. This is exhausting at altitude. If you manage to catch up to the subject(s), you’re likely out of breath and unable to stabilize the camera due to your breathing. If you’re ambitious and want to get ahead of the group to create a shot of the entire group coming towards you, you need to manage that energy as well. You’re carrying your heavy camera gear in addition to all of the gear that everyone else is carrying. You’re wearing crampons (spikes on the bottom of your boots) and you risk tripping and falling down the mountain while destroying your equipment.  In addition, you worry about storytelling, audio, interviews and the grandest of challenges, backing up all of your footage and recharging all of your batteries while everyone is sleeping peacefully after their arduous day. The lack of rest and exhaustion you experience hinders your body’s ability to properly acclimatize and lessons your chances of a) being safe and b) summiting the mountain. The beautiful part of the deal (sarcasm) is that the more you worry about all the things that can go wrong the greater the toll the altitude takes on you and again, the less chances you have to success. They say the worst thing to do is run around at altitude. That’s exactly what you do as a cameraman.

When it comes to shooting in low oxygen environments, it’s really a calculated science of fitness, mountaineering experience, technical knowledge and ability at sea level, your ability to adapt to what you can’t control and of course, mother nature’s mood! Oftentimes at altitude you’re barely able to walk 20 steps to relieve yourself after a day of climbing due to exhaustion, so imagine how much mental and physical strength it takes to get a simple shot on a tripod. And of course, it’s this hard when the weather is good, imagine when the weather is bad.  And then of course, that’s the best footage. Conflict, drama, man vs. self vs. nature is what it’s often about.

In 2010, after my successful climb to the summit of  Everest, I decided it was time to make the plunge into the world of DSLR filmmaking. I was quite nervous as my  Sony-HDV Z1U had served me incredibly well in cold and unpredictable environments. The Z1U was light enough and weatherproof enough that it could withstand the worst of conditions. (See article about burying it in the snow for 5 days at 17, 000ft on one of the coldest mountains on Earth). For the early part of my adventure filmmaking career I had 2 Sony Z1U’s and a small Sony A1U. Since 2010, I now carry an arsenal of cameras and toys which regularly go where I go including everything from a 5d, 7D, t3i, a mixed kit of primes, an array of 2.8 lenses all made by Canon, a Glidetrack, a Glidecam, multiple Go Pro’s, Zacuto add on’s… you know, everything we all use as DSLR filmmakers including an H4N and shotgun mic. I bring the 2 extra bodies as I am often time-lapsing at night and in the event that one falls into a crevasse!

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If someone was to ask me how to get into the adventure filmmaking business I’d tell them this: To be taken seriously, you need a successful track record as an adventurer first. I had a fair amount of filmmaking experience, but I had never even slept in a tent. I essentially had to prove myself as a climber. That included climbing 5 of the 7 summits of the world and 3 Mt. Everest expeditions. In the beginning most of it was self financed and I pretty much ruined my financial life. Few understood what I was doing as it made no financial sense at the time. I essentially used the money from selling my condo, car, personal belonging and small video production business, in addition to ridiculous loans in excess of 50K to develop my ‘resumee.’ It then became about creating pretty pictures and telling compelling stories with dramatic narratives in these environments. From there, I started trying to get my work out there through word of mouth (the circles are small) social media, media garnered from my expeditions and any television support I could get. Of course, in addition, your work always needs to speak for itself.

At the end of the day, I climb because it’s a platform I can use to make a difference. What started as a documentary shoot, evolved into a life changing experience and a non-profit organization that I run called www.findinglife.ca. My team of volunteers and I have run many successful expeditions around the world. Throughout the expeditions, Canadian kids has been so inspired that they’ve raised funds through school outreach campaigns during our expeditions and together we’ve built a well, a school and classrooms for disadvantaged communities in Kenya with charitable partners in different parts of the world. I recently established a production company called FindingLife Films and an Adventure Film School. Both of these businesses (I prefer social enterprises)  were essentially established as part of a sustainable model to support my non-profit activities. As a non-proft organization that doesn’t charge for its services, it’s incredibly difficult to make all of this happen year after year, but I do it because it matters, I do it because I am making a difference and I do it because… well, I love it and it’s my calling.

As filmmakers, we’re gifted with the ability to reach and touch people through our craft where it counts the most; by way of emotions. My hope is that more filmmakers out there realize the power of their craft and exercise the ability they have to affect people into action and create positive change.

I’m currently typing this out in London, England. I’m in transit on my way to Russia where I’ll be climbing the highest mountain in Europe and shooting an all Arab expedition up Mt. Elbrus. I’m 100% DSLR on this one and I’ve got wayyyyy too much gear with me. 75KG worth including my climbing equipment! I’m nervous, excited and I can’t wait to get above the clouds!

Elia Saikaly

www.eliasaikaly.com

 

 

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Mt. Elbrus – Off to climb Europe's highest peak

Mt. Elbrus – Off to climb Europe's highest peak

I’ll never forget the day I was sitting in the airport lounge in Atlanta in 2008, on my way to Russia to climb the highest mountain in Europe, when I looked up at the monitor and read the headline “War erupts between Russia and Georgia”. I could hardly believe what I was seeing on television.

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Peru and the sacred valley

Peru and the sacred valley

In July of 2012,  Elia Saikaly traveled to the Sacred Valley Valley in Peru to develop a FindingLife Charity project and FindingLife Film School Workshop. Below are some of the images from his adventure.

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Uncertainty is your friend

Uncertainty is your friend

We live in a world of certainty-dependency. We are dependent on knowing all of the answers, the outcome, the timelines and the return on our investments. Now, don’t get me wrong, certainty is a great thing, especially when it comes to family, children, money, investments, our health and so on. However, not everything in life needs to revolve around certainty. Not everything in life should be measured by what we can see and what we can scientifically or mathematically predict.

What I’ve learned is that if you feel the need to control everything in your life and you choose to play it safe at all times, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest teachers: Uncertainty. Because therein lies the field of all possibility. It’s where the magic happens and where your ultimate potential exists. What scares you the most is what will ultimately become your greatest teacher.

Last summer, I felt I needed to chase the unknown and the four letters that came to me were: P-E-R-U. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know how — I just knew. I also trusted that the answers would reveal themselves when I arrived. And that was enough for me.

I fired off an email to my travel agent, booked a flight that very same day and a few short weeks later found myself in Peru living one of the greatest experiences of my life.

2012-06-21-peru.png

I hired a local French-speaking Peruvian guide and visited temples and lost cities, walked and climbed amidst buried Inca civilizations, shot time lapse photography under an ocean of stars, spent evening after evening sipping wine and feasting on Lomo Saltado (a local delicacy), capturing life through my lens, wildlife extraordinaire, local community projects, historical ruins, visiting spiritual hotspots, developing friendships with local people, trekking in the Sacred Valley and of course, I visited the ruins of Machu Picchu.

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I could write for days about the energy I felt and the richness of every moment spent in the Sacred Valley. Imagining life before the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire is inevitable with such vibrant and genius architecture surrounding you at every turn. I can articulate every vibration of my soul as I walked upon the sacred sites of the Land of the Incas and experienced the splendor and stupor of Machu Picchu.

The inability to comprehend how or why this ancient city existed, while imagining what it must have been like for them to hide it during the Spanish invasion, leaves your imagination stimulated for a lifetime. I could attempt to spell out the beauty of this country, describe through words the emotions I experienced and the revelations I concluded, particularly as I climbed to the summit of an ancient Inca watch point before sunrise in the darkness of the night… but I won’t. I’ll leave it for you to experience for yourself so you too can feel the awesome power and energy that Peru has to offer.

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Today, nearly one year later I am returning to the beautiful land of the Incas to scout a new project for my not for profit youth organization FindingLife.  I will also be developing the June 2013, FindingLife Film School workshop and some of the exciting adventure based activities that we are offering. Of course, as always it will all be documented on video to share with all of you. From there, it’s unknown territory as my itinerary takes a 180 degree turn as I head towards the jungle city of Iquitos where I’ll be working on another special documentary project. And finally, I’ll be greeting 5 brave adventurers who will be joining me for a week in the Amazon. I am excited and somewhat nervous about the the unknown nature of this adventure, but as always, my  belief is that unknown and the uncertainty is what makes life so incredibly exciting. Not knowing the outcome keeps us open to all that is possible. Sometimes to possibilities we never even imagined.  Excited to see what happens next!

See you in PERU.

Elia

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Why People Die on Everest (And How I Didn't)

Why People Die on Everest (And How I Didn't)

When it comes to Everest, It is easy for all of us to judge and make conclusions at sea level, but without substantial evidence and a true understanding of the environment above the death zone, it’s extremely difficult to make a fair analysis of the situation. The story of the Canadian climber who died — Shriya Shah-Klorfine — has evolved. It now appears as though she was advised to turn around several times by the local sherpas and that she went against their advice and carried on going beyond her limit.

My perspective is that this type of decision making is no different than getting behind the wheel of a car, severely intoxicated and driving down a narrow road in a highly populated area. You are putting your life and everyone else’s life in serious danger. This is a situation that could have been avoided. Before continuing, I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to her loved ones for their loss. I in no way mean any disrespect to her family or loved ones and can attest to the heartbreaking feeling of losing someone you care about to the mountain.

The warning signs were there this year. On May 7, I re-posted a blog on my Facebook wall explaining that the most highly regarded expedition leader (Featured in Discovery Channel’s hit series Everest: Beyond the Limit) Russel Brice boldly cancelled his entire operation due to the hazards and dangers on the mountain. He said:

I had long and serious talks with the sherpas, the Icefall doctors and my guides and we have made the decision to cancel the expedition. We can no longer take the responsibility of sending you, the guides and the sherpas through the dangerous icefall and up the rock fall-ridden Lhotse Face.

The most experienced and qualified expedition leader on the mountain had spoken. He sent dozens of climbers and sherpas home. In the end, his climbers, who invested more than $60,000 trusted his judgment and ultimately left with their lives.

I am alive today because I had the humility to accept defeat on Everest, not once, but twice. The first time, I was 26 years old, driven, focused, determined and in the best shape of my life. Not only was I climbing, I was documenting and shooting a film which multiplies the effort required by threefold. By 8:30 a.m., after 10 hours of climbing, I reached a point beneath the south summit where my climbing leader and trusted friend presented me with an option, one that no one prepared me for. He said, “We will summit if we carry on, but we will die upon descent because of the changing weather.”

I didn’t want to die on Everest.

After all, my organization is called FindingLife. Devastated and destroyed beyond comprehension, I accepted that Everest had made her decision. As painful as it was, with sponsors on the line and my own financial investment of more than $40,000, I accepted defeat and emerged with my life. In time I understood that failure on Everest was the greatest gift I had ever received.

In 2009, the second time I tried to climb Everest, I experienced the dark and vicious side of the mountain. People died during that climb. Vicious weather forced all teams to abandon their climbs. By the final week of May, our small three-man team was the last on Everest. We attempted the peak without Sherpa support. By 1 a.m. on June 2, 2009, I was the last man standing on Everest.

I opened up a trail using only my ice axe and crampons, searching desperately for the safety lines, attempting to create a path for my team to follow in a foot and a half of fresh snow. My sixth sense was guiding me and intuitively, I was able to carve a safe path up the unbroken trail at 8400M. Never, did I feel fatigued, tired or anything but powerful, willing and able. If there had been one single doubt in my health or abilities I would have turned back. By 2 a.m., I decided that once again, Everest had won. It was too dangerous to carry on. We emerged with our lives.

So why are people dying?

When I climb, I have two simple rules. Do not endanger yourself and do not endanger the lives of others, EVER. The rest is strategy, luck and science. I often say that what I fear the most while climbing are the objective dangers that we cannot control such as avalanches, rock fall, the weather and other climbers. All too often, I’ve seen climbers climbing when they really should have been turning around. I understand that some people are climbing Everest to push themselves beyond the limit, but in doing so, those climbers are putting everyone’s lives at risk including themselves.

I recently read an article in the Ottawa Citizen about a local Ottawa woman climbing Everest, she tweeted the following:

In the middle of the ice fall, my body suddenly crashed. Blood pressure plummeted. Started shaking all over and lost my eyesight. Thought I was done … Put my head between my legs, ate sugar, and resumed going up at the slowest pace on the mountain.

Seriously? That’s like saying: “I was vomiting while driving because I was intoxicated, but I kept driving, slowly of course, to make it to the next off ramp.”

Climbers who are getting themselves into trouble are simply not listening to the signs. Sorry, but what the heck are you doing climbing when you’re experiencing those symptoms?

Altitude sickness isn’t just something that happens in an instant. The body sends us signals on the mountain, just as it does at sea level when we are not well. Headaches, nausea, irritation and insomnia are some of the early warning signs. Acute mountain sickness escalates if left untreated (descending to a lower altitude is the only solution) and can evolve into cerebral and pulmonary edema. From there, you enter into a coma and die shortly afterwards. With proper guidance, monitoring and/or experience, one can identify the onset of these symptoms and make responsible decisions about how to strategize and proceed.

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, the Canadian climber who died was advised numerous times to turn around. Just as I was advised my very first time climbing Everest. The trouble is, it sounds logical and easy to understand sitting here at sea level, but in a hypoxic environment when your brain is lacking oxygen and you’re unable to do simple math (try subtracting 20-10 + 3 x 2 at altitude) it’s nearly impossible to make logical and responsible decisions on your own.

What we see often on Everest are people who are masking or hiding their symptoms or worse, denying that they are not well. You’ve invested $60,000, trained for two years, sacrificed your personal life and put your pride and ego on the line… how could you possibly let a headache or a bit of insomnia stop you?

When I climbed in 2010, I was responsible for 20,000 Canadian students that were following my expedition via my website. Not only was I climbing, I was leading the expedition, shooting in HD, editing broadcast quality webisodes, video conferencing with students from as high as 22,000 feet, and carrying the ultimate responsibility of ensuring nothing went wrong.

The first thing I did was plan to fail. After all, I had plenty of experience in that department! I implemented every safety strategy possible. I climbed with a doctor, I hired four incredibly strong Sherpas, and I had a support system including veteran summiteers helping with strategy. I even had a friend who mapped the weather and provided daily updates.

I also ensured I was fitter than anyone else on that mountain. On my summit night, I climbed faster than anyone else and reached the summit in less than six hours. If I had had a single symptom or health issue, I would have abandoned my climb.

My heart sunk this morning as I read the following news in the Globe and Mail:

They tried to get her to go back but [she] did not listen. She wanted to go to the summit anyhow. It took a very long time. It was 22 hours to go on top of Everest for her. On the way back down, she lost her energy.

Sadly, she ignored the advice of the people surrounding her who advised her to turn around. When climbing Everest, we are all aware of the rules, the turn-around times, the history of the unforgivable nature of Mt. Everest and the countless stories of climbers who have died on her flanks.

So who is responsible here? The Nepalese government? Her teammates? The logistics company? In my opinion, Shriya Shah-Klorfine was responsible for her own life. Had she turned around and listened to the signs, listened to other climbers including her teammates (who had her sign a contract ahead of time) monitored her body’s signals and accepted that she should have turned around, perhaps she would be alive today.

I am deeply saddened by her death and my heart does go out to her family. I can only hope that other novice climbers who are chasing their wildest dream to tempt the summit of Mt. Everest in the coming future learn to manage and minimize the risks, learn from history and approach the mountain with the utmost respect as the sherpa people of Nepal do and the way many professional and responsible climbers do year after year.

May 22, 2012, was the second anniversary of my successful and safe summit of Everest. The celebration was not that of a successful summit, but rather a successful return to my family and loved ones.

Climb safe everyone.

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How to travel the world – It all begins with choices

How to travel the world – It all begins with choices

“Don’t you hate seeing posts on Facebook of THAT GUY posting all of his vacation pictures online? Like… How annoying? Is it because secretly you’re wishing that it was you?” Those were the words that came through my car’s FM radio last week. It was an ad for a travel company selling all inclusive packages to Mexico. They’re hitting us exactly where it hurts – On The Social Media Network – Facebook.

Yup, it certainly got my attention. Not because I wanted to go to Mexico for a week, but rather because I hoped that I wasn’t  THAT GUY! This blog is written for you everyone. The wanna-be traveler, the adventurer, the mom, the dad, the sister, the crazy young kid, student or soul searcher. Here are a few thoughts and ideas for you to keep in mind the next time you try to  convince yourself that you CAN’T travel the world and live the greatest adventures of your life.

 

First of all, I’ll start with my experience. And please keep in mind that 6 years ago I had never traveled or slept in a tent!  In the past 48 months I’ve traveled to Kenya 3 times, Tanzania, Peru, Tibet, India, all across the US, I’ve explored every UNESCO world heritage site in Canada including the incredibly remote Nahanni National Park by canoe, I’ve slept in a hammock under the stars on the Island of Zanzibar and climbed to the top of the world. On each journey I was doing something that mattered deeply to me that was extremely fulfilling. How you ask? I’m going to start by expelling a myth right away: I make a very modest income and by no stretch am I independently wealthy. In fact, because I’ve chosen to donate 80% of my time to running my charity (without pay) I likely make much less money than most people out there. The fact is this: It is all about choices.

 

Ask yourself the following questions: What kind of car do you drive? What kind of clothes do you wear? Where do you live? How many lattes do you drink a week? How do you socialize? What decisions have you made in your life when it comes to commitments? If you have children or are married how conventional is your way of life? If you’re a student or young adult, are you setting yourself up and making decisions so that you have the freedom to live a life of your dreams? The answer to some of these questions may very well be the very reason why you are not traveling and contributing the way your heart desires.

 

I guess for me, it started when I was 14. Yes, that’s me! I was introduced to punk rock music. On the surface level it was a bunch of guys with mohawks. Loud music, screaming guitars and raunchy vocals with a message of anarchy and rebellion. That’s what my parents heard anyway. Here is what I heard. Learn to think for yourself. Learn to form your own opinions. Learn to be your own individual. See the system of our society in the West for what it is. Don’t become a victim of mass marketing and trends. Don’t allow anyone to tell you how to live your life, what to become or most importantly WHO to become.

 

This changed everything for me.

Then in 2005, it all changed again.

I traveled to Nepal and it was as though I was reborn. I learned from some of the ‘poorest’ people in the world that richness is not about what we have, it’s about who we are. I learned the beauty of simplicity. I learned the value of inner peace. I understood that life was impermanent and could be gone in an instant. I learned to treasure the PRESENT, our greatest gift. And to LIVE it.

So how does all of this apply to traveling the world?

I’m suggesting you look at what may be holding you back.

1) Ask yourself – How simple is my life?

2) Have I forgotten how to dream?

3) How much emphasis am I  putting on what I wear, where I live, what I drive and how I’m perceived by others? Does this define who I am? Is it how I’ll be remembered?

4)  How much of how I live my life is based on other people’s beliefs and expectations? How I raise my family? Where I go to school? How I choose to spend my time? And if none of the above resonates, what is holding me back other than myself?

I’m not suggesting any of the above is unimportant. Because clearly it is in our society in the West. Family life, school, work, careers, fashion etc… Of course it’s important, but so is growth, personal exploration and happiness. What I’m suggesting is that the answer to how to do it, how to travel the world, live the life of your dreams and contribute and serve others at the highest level is hidden within yourself, your choices and what you choose to believe or NOT believe.

We are taught at a young age to have dreams, yet as we age and ‘grow up’ we forget those dreams and we certainly forget to forge new ones. We become very busy and lose sight of what truly makes us happy. MANY of us could be traveling the world and living the life of our dreams with a few simple adjustments.

Once you’ve asked yourself the above questions, ask yourself where you’d really like to be. Then ask, why am I not there now?

I’ve seen families traveling in the Himalayas with their young children giving their kids the greatest learning experience of their lives. I recently met a couple in Peru, 2 school teachers who make a very modest income, traveling with their teen-agers. Young adults in their 20′s traveling 8 countries on a few dollars a day learning more about themselves and the world than they ever could on Google or Facebook. I’ve even seen 60 year-old’s partying in Peru, exploring the world with a new found partner rediscovering what it is to be alive. How? They’ve made choices. Never too young, never too old and certainly never too late.

At the end of the day unless you’re independently wealthy you’ll likely never be able to frequently travel the world unless you make lifestyle decisions that enable you to have the freedom to live your greatest travel dreams. The sunrise over Machu Picchu, swimming with dolphins in the ocean, Yoga in Zanzibar, summiting Kilimanjaro, falling in love, connecting with other people, building a school in Africa and learning about the person you really are…. AWAITS.

Ad Astra everyone.

Elia

 

 

 

 

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Elia Saikaly

Elia Saikaly, founder of FindingLife Films, is a Canadian social entrepreneur whose award-winning films, global adventures and dynamic public engagement initiatives inspire others to FIND their most meaningful LIFE and spark positive change.

Whether he’s traveling with a nomadic tribe in the Sahara, climbing the world’s highest peaks, (4 Everest Expeditions + 5 of the Seven Summits) or communing with polar bears in the Far North—Elia has proven himself to have the determination, stamina, skill, resourcefulness and vision required to meet the greatest of challenges.

As an adventure filmmaker, he has successfully broadcast back webisodes to networks such as CTV, NBC, CBC and RDS from some of the most inhospitable environments on the planet including Mt. Everest where he successfully shot, edited and broadcast a web series from the top of the world to over 20 000 Canadian students.  The sequel to his award winning film “FindingLife” which earned him 2 prestigious awards at the Montreal International Adventure Film Festival.

When not behind the camera, as an inspirational speaker, Elia brings his intense passion for filmmaking and adventure to the stage bringing the audience to the most beautiful and treacherous places in the world.  Targeted for youth, public and corporate audiences, each presentation is rich with extraordinary humanity, inspiring messages, practical wisdom and jaw-dropping personal accounts.

Once an actor, model, musician, journalist and MuchMusic reporter, Elia is no stranger to being in front of the camera. He was recently featured as the adventurer in a new television adventure series featuring Canada’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites called « La part du monde ».  He can be seen on the Non-Profit Webchannel called WIGUP (While I grow Up), the Media Mentor for Kids as well as on www.findinglife.ca

Elia spends a lot of his time working with charitable organizations like the Ottawa Friends of Tibet, Childhaven International and Moving Mountains Trust. He recently led an initiative with FindingLife and The Moving Mountains Trust to build classrooms for a disadvantaged community in Kenya.

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Everest Base Camp

Everest Base Camp

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