“In the High Country” Film Review

In the High Country premiered on July 19 in Colorado. Just before 7:00 pm, the athletic crowd funneled into the dimly lit performance space and took their seats in front of a large screen.

The lights dimmed a bit more to signal the audience to lower their voices. Buzz Burrell, Ultimate Direction guru and the evening’s ringmaster, gave an introduction to the film and its maker, Joel Wolpert. The crowd was ready to see the 30-minute show. [Enjoy the In The High Country trailer:]

The film opened with a bang. The credits were actually enjoyable to watch. Beautiful scenes of Colorado mountainscapes filled the screen. The music was dramatic and loud, building hype for what was to follow.

The film was broken down into five parts. The first chapter, titled “Roots,” takes place where TK’s passion for running began, in the small, farming town of Niobrara, Nebraska. For several minutes, the camera follows a bronze, shirtless Tony running around Nebraska’s dirt roads while he narrates. Through visuals and narration, the audience gets an idea of where and how his love for the outdoors started. He narrates that, “Home is what defines us.” With that, the scenery changes to the mountains of Colorado. The camera follows Tony traversing the First Flatiron, then slowly zooms in close to his face as he scrambles up the rock. Squinting, he looks for his next move. The camera pans out and reveals a vast landscape before it transitions to the next chapter.

“The Search,” the second chapter of the movie, is all about Longs Peak. In this short chapter, the audience sees even more images of Tony running around the mountains. The obvious intent here to show the crowd how he is searching and cultivating a new home for himself in the wild Rockies.

The title of part three, “Vulnerability,” has the audience on the edge of their seat. Perhaps this is the part where things get dangerous. The camera follows Tony as he heads up Longs again, but this time he takes Alexander’s Chimney (which has technical sections rated 5.5 in the summertime) to the summit. Joel, with camera in tow, heads up first. Tony arrives at the crux and, searching for holds, he is visibly sketched out by the moves needed to continue on. Eventually he lands the move and proclaims that he, “hasn’t been that scared in a while, or ever maybe.”

Chapter four, “The Practice,” is intended to give a behind-the-scenes look into Tony’s life. The hardships of making the mountains your home. Black toenails. Scars! Going to physical therapy! Exercise-induced heartburn. Most ultrarunners can relate, but to those who haven’t seen these practices before were most certainly mortified.

The final chapter, “Chasing Muses,” follows Krupicka around on the First Flatiron and Longs Peak again. The music and black-and-white tones set a dramatic aura for the chapter. And, while the audience watches Tony bounce around on mountains, the narration continues to expand on the idea of “home is what defines us” by stating that when you begin to know the land and its moods, you eventually become part of the landscape. The line between self and place becomes “seamless” and the mountains become your home. With this line about coming full circle, the movie fades to credits.

L to r: Metzler, TK, Burrell, Wolpert, Chase, Lewis

From l-to-r: Metzler, Krupicka, Burrell, Wolpert, Chase, Lewis

The movie over, Buzz, microphone in hand, got the Q&A session underway. Buzz introduced the editor of Competitor Magazine, Brian Metzler; Tina Lewis, Leadville Trail 100 winner; and Adam Chase, Salomon athlete. They each were given a chance to talk about how much they enjoyed the film. It was clear that the audience was appreciative of their views, but everyone wanted to hear from the star. When it was time for tony to talk about the film and himself, the audience was ready to hear it. Specifically, they wanted to hear about the danger of the mountains and how fast it takes to go up the First Flatiron or Longs. Buzz spurred on this talk by asking about Krupicka’s times on the Kiener’s and the Cables Routes on Longs. Tony was more than happy to oblige to these requests. Eventually, the crowd ran out of questions and the night drew to an end.

Leaving their seats behind, the audience quickly scurried out to the lobby in hopes of talking with the stars. Maybe even getting a signed shoe or poster.

Overall, the movie was great. The music, filming, and narration were spot on. This film could easily find its way into something like the Banff Mountain Film Festival. The chapters were well thought out and it is clear that the audience is supposed to see and feel the evolution of Krupicka’s running that happens between the rolling fields of Nebraska and the high peaks of Colorado. The film’s producer and one-man film crew, Joel, does an excellent job with this. The fact that he was able to keep up with Krupicka while filming has him nearly stealing the show.

From this movie and others, it is obvious that there is a clear shift happening in trail running. The lines between trail running, mountaineering, and climbing are becoming blurred. Brian Metzler, Competitor Magazine Editor, stated that Tony is the “epitome of the change in trail running.” Whether or not that’s true, it is clear that Krupicka’s mountain pursuits are popular. He is probably the visual that people get when they think of hardcore ultrarunners. He embodies the ultrarunning look and the nomadic lifestyle nine-to-fivers yearn for. Rugged, unshaven, shirtless. Living the grunge life out of the back of a truck. Black toenails, yeah he’s got ’em. So whether he is catching a cold on a volcanic island, running up mountains shirtless in the snow, or scrambling up the First Flatiron, people love what he embodies: freedom and a seamless continuity with nature.

Resources

Call for Comments (from Reese and Meghan)

  • For those of you who’ve seen In The High Country, what did you think? What aspects of the film did you like the most? In what areas would you have like to have seen the film expanded?
  • If you’ve not seen the film, what are you looking forward to about this film? The mountainscapes? Tony’s thoughts on landscape and movement? Infusing some inspiration into your own running? Seeing the product of Joel running like he%l to keep up with Krupicka at high altitude?

In the High Country film poster
[Editor’s Note (7/22/13): This article has been edited to more focus more closely on the substance of In The High Country.]

There are 150 comments

  1. Carlos

    The good thing for all is that this wknd, he and other mythological human-mountain goats will be toeing the line at SG! I certainly hope TK and all the rest have a great race!

  2. Rob

    I have only seen the trailer and the film looks to be well done and worth watching. It is fun to see people doing cool stuff in beautiful places. I can't see any reason for Anthony Krupicka (I don't personally know him) to be criticized for participating in this project.

    If I could perhaps give my perspective on why this publicity has ruffled feathers, I would suggest looking at it from this angle: I think perhaps many in the ultrarunning community who know AK's great running accomplishments assume that he is rewriting the book on light and fast mountain climbing. It is misleading to compare him to Alex Honnold or Uli Steck as they are doing something completely different. But leaving them aside, there are many examples of people doing what AK is doing at just as high a level. Those who know some mountain climbing history understand that similar incredible accomplishments go back 60 or more years to a time that predates the internet and Strava.

    Smoke Blanchard's scrambles in the Buttermilks of the eastern Sierra from the 1940's are still held in great regard by modern climbers. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have third classed the flatirons in Boulder including several sub 29 minute 10,000m guys I know of who were doing their own little FKT thing back in the mid 80's. Kieners and Lamb Slide and the Cables on Longs have been third classed since the beginnings of mountaineering in RMNP. Charlie Fowler soloed the Diamond (on a route hundreds of times more sustained and exposed and insecure than Alexanders Chimney – no hyperbole!) in the 70's in shoes that compared to modern gear would be like doing Hardrock in Chuck Taylors. Outward Bound instructors, who've been blessed to have a base in Silverton, have been going into the San Juans on days off and linking peaks in big big days for 50 years. Wham Ridge and environs were their own private little secret for decades.

    Kilian's record on the Grand last summer was broken a few days later by someone most readers here have never heard of (Andy Anderson). The true crown jewel in light and fast peak bagging though is the Grand Traverse, tagging all 10 summits in the Teton Range. If AK could knock this out in a 24hr day, he would certainly earn some respect in the climbing community. The car to car record, probably one of the greatest endurance achievements of all time, is 6:45 by Rolo Garibotti (who?). That is something to really sit and contemplate if you ever happen to visit the area. You can see 6 of the 10 peaks, by the way, in the banner photo at the top of this page.

    Yes it is true that internet climbing forums can get quite negative. There are many reasons for this, some legit and others just examples of bad human nature. But consider that the climbing world is many times larger than the ultra world and folks have been out there pushing it for most of a century. Unless your name is John Muir or John Bachar, it is probably best to serve up your accomplishments with a large slice of humble pie.

    Again, this is no criticism of AK, but simply some perspective for those who might not understand the rich history of a sport that he has started to play.

    1. Adam

      Very nice. Perhaps the problem boils down to the fact that most runners don't know much about the history of climbing and mountaineering?

  3. Jill Homer

    I think one area where most running and other sports films fall short is focusing too much on accomplishments, not enough on characters. Storytelling is ultimately the end goal of compelling filmmaking, more so than simply documenting a particular event or feat. As such, I'm looking forward to an opportunity to see this film when it's digitally released.

    However, I'm among those readers who are puzzled why this review was so aggressively edited. I almost commented initially that it read like an inside joke that the masses weren't necessarily in on, and was fairly thick on snark. Still, it wasn't offensive in any way. Do you guys care to explain why it was edited?

  4. Patrick

    Three of my songs are featured in this film, including the score of the movie. If you would like to check out my other music, including two of these three songs, go to my website: cusique.bandcamp.com

    A listen would be much appreciated! Thank you!

  5. Erik

    Completely agree with buzz here. On all points. I cant speak for anton but after following his blog and pursuits for a while, i believe that even if he did not have the sponsors (knock on wood) and little financial help, he would still be doing what he is doing now. He is living his life the only way he knows how. While most of the people commenting here are stuck with the wish or thought of what would have happened had we thrown ourselves completely at our dreams. He had a choice to take this route and live differently and he deserves its minor monetary benefits and revels in the fact that he gets to spend his days pursuing his true passion and being an inspiration to some.

    Excited to see the movie, and will gladly wait until it is released.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinions

    haters gone hate.

    Antons running style and view on the outdoors/mnts really resonate with me and is very similar. So keep it real UD/NB, mad props to you guys!

    1. David

      Adam – as a longtime fan of TK's, I find it fairly humorous that you are puzzled by his "mythical status". Maybe you are newer to the sport or perhaps you are just missing something about human nature. He didn't just pop onto the scene 18 months ago, as some of the exceptional talent in the sport were seeing today has. TK has been steadily building a fan base for a decent number of years now – at least since his first Leadville 100 win in 2006 – and been documenting his efforts more consistently and in more detail than anyone else on the ultra scene. He won Leadville again, along with American River, Zane Grey, White River, Rocky Raccoon, Miwok, etc. And he put down some impressive CR's along the way. So I think many of his fans were inspired by these results, as well as or even more so, by his well documented, high mileage training weeks and mountain adventures. He's also had setbacks including a broken leg and other injuries, which I think made him more relatable as we've all gone through adversity and personal struggles. So in short, he's built up a tremendous amount of loyalty amongst his fans over a considerable length of time – people who aren't going to just forget about him because the last 12 months haven't been his best. Personally I don't care if he wins another race. He's already done more to inspire me and impact when, where, how and how much I run than anyone else in the sport, period. So don't discount the human loyalty factor, or the totality of his accomplishments in the world of ultra running.

      1. Adam

        David: It's true I've only been running ultras (very badly) for a little less than a year now. I do know something of Krupicka's history though, I know he has many years of exceptional results, and to be honest, I think it would be exciting to see him win Speedgoat on Saturday, far more exciting than the more likely and predictable Canaday triumph. Perhaps it's unkind (and unclear) to make an example of him. Thank you for helping me understand his appeal in coherent and minimally condescending terms.

  6. Scott

    This! How is criticism non-civil? Apparently when it puts your friends and sponsors in a bad light.. oh wait… This is beginning to sound like politics…hmmmmmmm

    1. Scott

      That's a good question. Paid-entry-races are interesting that way. Only a few people are actually capable of racing and winning these longer distance races, or even shorter distances for that matter, and the rest develop a strange sort of widely acknowledged and accepted level of denial. The reason to race changes from, "I want to win." to all sorts of personally acceptable sub-goals. These goals are all imaginary of course because that person has no hope of actually racing ..in the actual race that they are running in. Lets face it we claim ultra running is a place where men and woman are equals. Well if that was the case why do we still have separate races? Denial.

      You are paying to run along with the racers.

      You pay to enjoy the aid stations, the cheering fans, the supportive volunteers,etc.

      You pay to feel as though your personal run is important, and your personal goals are in need of support crews, aid stations,etc.

      You pay to run with a whole bunch of other people through an area you would most likely be afraid to traverse solo.

      You pay to run because you enjoy a level of affluence which drives you to seek artificial challenge for self gratification.

      In short, I think, the answer is that for most people ,outside of the top 10, the word, "race" is tossed around quite loosely. They are running in the race, they aren't racing.

      1. See The Light

        Depressing thoughts Scott,I'm never going to race again.Going to buy a case,bag of doritos,and watch all the fail runners wasting there time on Bryons livecasts.

      2. Adam

        "You pay to run because you enjoy a level of affluence which drives you to seek artificial challenge for self gratification."

        Much of this rings true, Scott, especially that last line. If I read you correctly, your arguments apply only to racing, not to running for personal joy and fitness. So the notion that the dichotomy is between "race or get fat" is a false one. I think another important motivation, which you allude to here, is the very American impulse that "someday we will all be rich." Mediocrity and self-exploitation are tolerable so long as the dream that you will one day join the one percent (whether its the richest or the fastest) in the clouds remains. Of course, running is a far simpler business than capitalism, and as a result it is more difficult to continually hide the zero-sum nature of the game behind theoretical obfuscations. But, in the end, the same rules apply: we cannot all be number one, indeed, on any given day, only one person can, and it is mathematically impossible for any but a tiny minority of ultrarunners to have a chance at the top ten.

        That said, I do enjoy running behind the racers, and for many of the reasons you stated. Most non-delusionally, it's the most efficient way to put together a long-distance route on unknown trails and not have to worry about carrying much of anything. But I'm sure that sooner or later I will either become genuinely competitive or give up on the activity. The latter is far more likely than the former, but for the moment I will continue to cling tenuously to my cherished delusions. Like a True American.

  7. AK

    Rob – Great post. I try to be an astute student of the sport so really appreciate your point here. I will forever be an extremely mediocre climber and will never be anywhere near even shouting-distance of anything stand-alone noteworthy in the climbing world.

    I simply like moving quickly over moderate terrain. And using my running legs to link together a lot of terrain in-a-day that would normally have to be backpacked. Period.

    The main reason I record all my outings in sometimes excruciating detail is because I'm always so excited to find this kind of historical information from the exploits of yesteryear's hardmen. For instance, Bill Briggs' splits on Flatiron link-ups or Roger Briggs' splits on his Boulder-Longs Triathlon solo of the Casual Route (not that I'll EVER solo the Casual…simply freeing it someday would make me ecstatic)…this kind of stuff gets me really fired up.

    It's super cool to hear about sub-29min 10k dudes scrambling the Flatties…who were these guys!? I would imagine that with that kind of running ability, the car-to-car times on the 1st and 3rd would be eye-opening, because let's be honest, at 5.2-5.6, time-trialing those slabs is very much a VO2 Max-type of effort (another thing that I am very mediocre at…I'll NEVER touch a sub-29min 10k!).

    Finally, just trying to keep info as accurate as possible…Garibotti's GT was 6:49. And to give an idea of just how far-advanced things are in Europe compared to North America (Mt Blanc was first scaled way back in 1786, afterall!), Rolo has been quoted as saying something to the affect of, "If the Grand Traverse were in the Alps, the record would be 5hr". There are a lot of amazing people in this world doing a lot of amazing things. At the end of the day, it's all just expressing passion for a landscape, which I like to think is a very egalitarian concept that anyone can identify with, regardless of skill-level or fitness.

    1. Tony

      Anton, it's great to see your enthusiasm for the mountains bubbling over in this reply. Keep us all posted once Joel has this movie up for distribution. Best of luck at Speedgoat this weekend, and UTMB in August :)

    2. Randy

      Peter Croft had the same way of thinking.He amassed a huge volumn of "moderate routes"(solo),every day,not to impress or even to get that much better(alot of rock climbers don't really like competition as part of there sport),but to just be on the rock as much as he could everyday,simple as that.

  8. Lstomsl

    There are some super fit folks in the climbing world. I remember when Alex Lowe would show up at the Bridger ridge run in the early 90s and blow everybody out of the water running almost a Boston qualifying pace off trail on steep loose scree at high elevation. It was impressive.

    For what it's worth Alex used to say "the best climber is the one having the most fun". Tony's having fun, more power to him.

  9. Lstomsl

    I think the point of Anton is that it's not just about racing. There are more ways to push the limits in the mountains then just raw speed on a smooth trail. He's finding ways to do what he loves and get paid for it. More power to him. He certainly shouldn't feel a need to race just to satisfy armchair runners who want him too. It's like football fans who complain when their fantasy team players don't put up massive numbers just cause they were unselfishly helping their team win.

    I think it's fascinating to see some runners like Killian, TK, Dakota, and others shifting focus to pushing their limits in more technical terrain while others with pure speed are winning the track meets. It's good for the sport to diversify and there is room for everybody.

    1. BeatCity

      If you read through the comments, there's no one that states that AK "needs to race" to satisfy anyone or prove anything to anyone. The debate on here, started by comments I made, was simply asking what is he up to, what's the point of all his running and why should we, as an audience, be interested. Though the criticism came quick and assumptions were made, I was asking it open endedly and with general interest. I don't care if he ever races again, and I don't care if he wins every race from this point out.

  10. Placer Racer

    The more interesting movie would be TK and GRs' spectacular flameouts in competitive ultraracing. Or the obvious use of PEDs in a certain NoCal race that has a policy against it but no enforcement.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Placer Racer,

      Unfounded drug-use accusations like yours, "the obvious use of PEDs in a certain NoCal [sic] race that has a policy against it but no enforcement.", are not tolerated on iRunFar.

      All,

      I hope that the rest of us will not feed the trolls. :)

  11. Courtney

    That is such a cool thing! Alex Lowe is also a very inspiring person in the mountain realm. Love hearing about who and what he was!

  12. Mntn tgr

    IF MOUNTAIN TIGERS ROAMED THIS COMMENT SECTION AS FREELY AS THEY DO THE HIHG SIERRA – A LOT OF YOU WOULD BE GETTING DIGESTED ROGHT NOW

  13. John

    The complete movie is available for streaming and download on Vimeo for $15. Well worth the money in my opinion. It contains nonlinear editing/narrative, beautiful photography and post production that I think takes a risk when compared to other films on running. It is a beautiful short film about the process of moving through mountains (and a homestead) as quickly and efficiently as possible. Although I think comparisons to "Unbreakable" is inevitable it is not a fair comparison. However viewing both films with discussion could be a fun group activity!

  14. mike

    I just finished watching this film and I have to I was disappointed. I would hesitate to call it a "film." The director seriously needs to step away from the visual effects and let the content SPEAK. Anton seems to be an interesting guy from the look of it but the visual effects were so distracting at times that I debated just turning it off. It felt more like an extended trailer! It reminded me of photos that have been overly Photoshopped, at the expense of the CONTENT. I saw glimpses of stuff that I thought would make a good movie…the scenes of Anton in b&w, or the shaky camera work when they are climbing together. The best scenes were when there was no music and Anton was narrating. I came away feeling that I had just watched the high school movie project completed by an ADHD sufferer. Go to the video store or library and take out every Werner Herzog documentary they have and then go to the library and take out a copy of the book Herzog on Herzog by Paul Cronin and Werner Herzog. You will thank me later.

    1. mike

      Edit:

      To clarify "Go to the video store or library and take out every Werner Herzog documentary they have and then go to the library and take out a copy of the book Herzog on Herzog by Paul Cronin and Werner Herzog. You will thank me later."

      That comment was for Joel W.

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