The work to put together the story about Billy Barr started long before a single second of video was shot. 9NEWS reporter Noel Brennan and photojournalist Anne Herbst arrived in Crested Butte a day before the shoot and embarked the next morning on an eight-mile roundtrip snowshoe hike to Billy’s cabin. They followed a snow-covered trail from Mt. Crested Butte to the abandoned mining town of Gothic. One of them had done something like this before. The other had not.
NOEL: Anne is the one who discovered Billy and was looking for a reporter to help her put a great story together. I later found out she was simply looking for a reporter willing and able to carry her camera gear eight miles in the snow without passing out.
ANNE: Totally true. I work alone a lot, but for this one, I knew my 38-year-old body could not carry 60 pounds worth of camera gear through deep snow. My manager Tim and I discussed who in the newsroom might be fit enough to make the trip. Only two people made the cut. My choices were slim. Noel fit the bill best, because he looks like he might be in shape, and his schedule worked out with the timing of the story. The criteria really wasn’t that stringent.
NOEL: Honestly, the morning of the hike, I wasn’t too worried until Anne started peppering in comments like, “this is going to suck.” In fact, that’s the only comment I can recall as we started the hike just after sunrise.
ANNE: I think I also told him to hurry up while he was eating breakfast.
NOEL: I also remember worrying about my feet. Anne is the winter hiking pro, and she brought along an extra pair of spikes and snowshoes for me. Thanks, Anne. Unfortunately, I don’t own a pair of winter hiking boots and had to wear low-top hiking shoes with two pairs of socks.
ANNE: He had a good attitude about not really having the right gear, so I decided that it wasn’t really my problem. If you guys want to chip in to get him a halfway decent pair of hiking boots, he told me he wears a twelve. His current pair suck. Anyway, the sunrise was pretty amazing walking into Gothic.
NOEL: My feet got cold and wet, but thankfully they didn’t fall off. What did fall off were my snowshoes. Multiple times. The rubber strap behind my foot kept sliding off, and I may have thrown a snowshoe in frustration at least once.
ANNE: I guess we should’ve asked my husband how his snowshoes work. At one point I looked back for Noel—he was nowhere in sight. I’m guessing this was about the time he had thrown his snowshoe into about 20 feet of snow (Crested Butte had been getting dumped on). I wish I had been there. Not to help him, but to get some video of him rescuing the snowshoe. It still makes me laugh, picturing him swimming through snow.
NOEL: We made it to Billy’s cabin drenched in sweat, but in good spirits. I’m sure it was a good first impression. For me, the most difficult part of the shoot was the thought of the return hike. Turns out, the most difficult part of the day was the return hike.
ANNE: When we made it, I was pretty stoked. That’s an accomplishment. Billy told us that most people who interview him, don’t actually make the trip out to Gothic. Know why? Because it’s tough. Now, I don’t know that we were on our A-game while interviewing him because we were ready to eat and then, perhaps, nap. But Billy was super delightful, and I can’t wait to do another story with him this summer, when I can DRIVE to his cabin. I didn’t dread the hike out as much as Noel did, because I was dreaming of the pizza I’d get once we got to town.
NOEL: At some point, I gave up on securing the snowshoe on my right foot. That was a bad decision because it allowed a ball of ice to develop between my foot and the base of the snowshoe. It felt like I was walking with a golf ball glued to the bottom of my foot.
ANNE: He complained about that a lot. Again, my snowshoeing experience was pretty lovely, except that it was uphill on the way back. I don’t know how we didn’t notice that on our hike in, but it was pretty noticeable on our way back. I may have felt like barfing. But the thoughts of pizza helped us persevere.
NOEL: Somehow, we made it back and in good time. I just tried to keep up with Anne, and am glad I wasn’t the reporter who passed out during an eight-mile snowshoe hike.
ANNE: Noel impressed me a lot. I understand that it’s sometimes hard to deal with my “journalistic adventures,” and he kicked some serious butt. He’s now in the category of hard-core reporter. What’s next, Noel? A 14-er with all of our gear? I’ll buy the pizza and beer after.