The Woods Hole Film Festival’s Film Falmouth series will present “Return to Mount Kennedy,” a documentary by Eric Becker, on Saturday, December 8, at 7 PM at Falmouth Academy’s Morse Hall.
In 1965, mountaineer and later REI founder Jim Whittaker led Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a small group of climbers on the first ascent of the highest unclimbed peak in the remote Canadian Yukon. The peak was named a year earlier in honor of the late President John F. Kennedy. Climbing Mt. Kennedy was a singular event in a unique period of time. The expedition had been organized originally by the Boston Museum of Science and the National Geographic Society to survey the mountain. Sen. Kennedy had been invited by the National Geographic Society to place a survey marker at the peak.
At that time, the 13,944-foot peak was the highest unclimbed peak in North America. Jim Whittaker, a renowned climber, was the first American to summit Mt. Everest two years earlier on May 1, 1963. Sen. Kennedy had never climbed a mountain, let alone a peak that required technical climbing skills. The climb was supposed to be kept secret; Sen. Kennedy’s gear was purchased in Seattle under a pseudonym.
Word got out anyhow, and the climbers were greeted at their arrival in Whitehorse, Yukon, by hordes of people to see them off before the climb. From Whitehorse, a Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter flew them to the beginning of the climb at 9,000 feet. On the night before the ascent, guides taught Sen. Kennedy how to tie in to a rope and ascend a glacier in crampons, and how to self-arrest a fall with an ice ax. By their accounts he was a quick learner and competent climber.
Fifty years later their sons, Bob Whittaker and Chris Kennedy, revisit the iconic climb to learn more about the endeavor that shaped their families.
Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Eric Becker’s work—both short and feature length— focuses on human rights, peace and the environment. His approach to storytelling seeks to reaffirm our shared humanity, reminding us that there are tangible solutions to issues of social justice. “A Life Well Lived” (2014) profiles the life of Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest. Mr. Becker also created “Honor the Treaties” (2013), which features photographer Aaron Huey.
Tickets are $14 per person; $12 for members; $10 for students and veterans; and are on sale in advance at www.woodsholefilmfestival.org or at the door of Falmouth Academy. Doors open at 6:30 PM.
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