After becoming the first American to successfully summit an 8,000-meter peak in winter, climber-photographer Cory Richards and his partners, veteran winter climbers Simone Moro of Italy and Denis Urubko of Kazakhstan, were hit by a massive wall of snow and ice churning down the flanks of Gasherbrum II in Pakistan. “Once the avalanche took us, there was no more fear,” says Richards, who documented the whole experience. “You’re dying. You are trying to swim in the snow, stay on top. All of a sudden we stopped and my face was on the surface.”
Taking advantage of a two-day weather window, the three men had started up the peak with the knowledge that they would be descending in dangerous conditions. They climbed without the aid of supplemental oxygen or porters. They struggled through hurricane-force winds, minus 50ºF temperatures, and unstable snow conditions that led to the massive Class 4 avalanche. Moro was able to dig himself free and quickly helped his partners dig themselves out in a matter of minutes.
Equipped with a small HD camera, Richards turned the camera on himself as he broke down, weeping with terror and relief. The raw, unfiltered images offer a rare glimpse into the perilous mental journeys that high-altitude climbers face.
The footage became the backbone of Cold, a film that provides both a glimpse into one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet and an honest reflection on the risks of climbing the world’s biggest peaks. “Seeing someone that scared makes it real for the viewer. I can’t actually watch the film anymore. It’s a little too much,” says Richards. “I thought I was dying. It’s too harsh to put yourself through over and over again. It was very much the defining moment in my life. Period.”