Mount Washington in New Hampshire is a brutal climb. It’s not so much the height — at 6,288 feet it’s the largest peak east of the Mississippi, but only the 59th most prominent peak in the country. The real problem is the weather. Any New Englander will tell you things change on a dime around here, and Mt. Washington’s weather patterns are notoriously erratic. Temperatures plunge to -50 °F (-46 °C). It holds the world record for the highest recorded windspeed (231mph, 372 km/h) not associated with a tornado or cyclone. It gets a lot of precipitation, particularly for such a cold environment, and many winters include more than 10 feet of snowfall. It’s little wonder the mountain has killed at least 161 people since 1849. Many of them were daytrippers, expecting the more temperate weather found further east and woefully unprepared for sudden shifts in temperature and precipitation.
So when experienced climber and Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue volunteer Pam Bales set out on an October 2010 climb to Washington’s peak she knew she was possibly in for some weather. She packed extra layers, goggles, and the necessary supplies for a trip that may turn bad. What began as a sunny autumn day rapidly turned into a major snowstorm. Her plans to turn around and head back down the mountain were stymied, however, when she came across sneaker tracks in the snow 5,500 feet up. She soon found an unresponsive stranger dressed in street clothes whom she called John, near death from exposure and hypothermia. What little he spoke were demands to leave him there, but Pam refused. She got him down the mountain through sheer grit and determination. When they reached the bottom and warmed up he left without a word, leaving Pam to wonder what exactly had just happened. From that story comes Naomi Watts’s new movie, Infinite Storm.
While writer Joshua Rollins and director Malgorzata Szumowska have no doubt dramatized the tale for the silver screen, this true story comes with plenty of its own. If you’re looking for a story of human resilience with a built-in happy ending, this might be the movie for you. Infinite Storm is in theaters March 25.