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IMAX 'Alps' a cold adventure

The film chronicles a real mountain-climbing adventure in Switzerland.

By Jessica Worful / April 10, 2008

On top: John Harlin III stars in the real-life mountaineering adventure 'The Alps,' showing in IMAX theaters around the US.

Courtesy of John Canning/Macgillivray Freeman Films

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Do you love outdoor adventure? Do you like hiking? Have you ever climbed a mountain? The IMAX film, "The Alps," has them all.

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The movie chronicles the experience of renowned American climber John Harlin III, as he journeys to the Swiss Alps and prepares to climb the Eiger, a peak famous for its treacherous north face, a vertical rock wall that juts more than a mile into the air.

A group of four German and Austrian men were the first to successfully ascend the Eiger from the north side in 1938. Since then, many courageous climbers have attempted to do the same. And while many have made it to the top, others perished because of severe weather or climbing equipment that malfunctioned.

The film explains that Mr. Harlin's father, John Harlin II, was one who never made it. He died in 1966 as he and a team of four other men tried to be the first to scale the north face by its most direct route.

As an adult, Mr. Harlin got serious about climbing, too. His favorite part of mountaineering is the exploration, he said after a special screening of "The Alps" at Boston's Museum of Science.

Unlike some climbers, he doesn't look for the most difficult or dangerous climbs. Instead, he loves the beauty of the outdoors and discovering new things about the mountains he summits. And safety is always at the top of his list.

Still, Mr. Harlin wanted to make the difficult climb up the north face of the Eiger, in part as a way to honor his father. So he made sure he had the right equipment and that his climbing partners had plenty of experience.

They were a husband and wife team who had both ascended the north face several times. And they live in the Swiss Alps, so they practiced climbing cliffs with Mr. Harlin right in their backyard!

Mr. Harlin's family doesn't usually accompany him on mountaineering trips. But his wife, Adele, and 9-year-old daughter, Siena, traveled to Switzerland to take in the scenery and to be with him as he got ready for his most important climb. They even spent some time watching through a special telescope in the foothills of the Eiger as he made his way up.

Mr. Harlin won't climb the Eiger again, he said after "The Alps" screening, because he wouldn't want his family to be concerned about his safety.

As a dad, he wouldn't encourage his daughter to climb it, either. But he's not worried about that. "She has no interest in climbing," he said. "[She] doesn't see the point of it." Instead, Siena shares one of her mom's passions: riding horses.

Besides chronicling Mr. Harlin's ascent of the Eiger, "The Alps" treats viewers to stunning footage of the jagged peaks and lush valleys that make up the mountain range. Some scenes are literally breathtaking as the movie camera travels up and over some of the mountains' sheer drop-offs.

The movie even contains a geology lesson about how the Alps came to be and about the wind and weather that are wearing them away into ever-sharper points. And it features music by the rock band Queen.

If you and your family can't travel to these gorgeous peaks, then seeing "The Alps" is definitely the next best thing.

"The Alps" is now playing in select IMAX theaters across the United States. For more information, visit www.alpsfilm.com.

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