A couple of years ago, Renan Ozturk made a video documenting a day in his Boulder, Colorado-based life. It’s called “Living the Dream” and it starts, logically enough, with him waking up and preparing breakfast. Accompanied by his co-star, Roobix the dog, Ozturk used tripods and mounting systems to record his movements. One particular mount involved a pole that anchored to his body and held the camera up above his head, looking down in a wide-angle perspective that moved as he moved. The effect is both disorienting and mesmerizing, and when applied to his free-solo ascent of Swanson’s Arete (5.5) in Eldorado Canyon, offers a reasonable approximation of the feeling of a ropeless rock climb, where one is breathtakingly free, yet confined absolutely by the dictum, “No mistakes.”
Since “Living the Dream”, Renan has gone on to become one of rock climbing’s most recognized creators. He is an artist whose expressionistic mountainscapes are recognizable on posters and T-shirts and in the pages of many magazines. He is also a principle member of the Camp 4 Collective, a group of adventure filmmakers including Jimmy Chin and Tim Kemple. Infused with a strong aesthetic sense and informed by a life lived outside of the typical boundaries, Ozturk’s work stands out as thoughtful, almost poetic, amidst a digital sea of climbing pornography.
Recently, however, Ozturk’s life swerved into near-fatal territory. Filming on skis in Jackson, Wyoming, Ozturk caught an edge while skirting a cliff band. “What would have been a normal little fall turned into full on nightmare,” wrote Ozturk in a blog post. He took a long, cartwheeling fall and was knocked unconscious. The local ski patrol evacuated him in critical condition. Ozturk’s doctor later told him that three of the many injuries he’d sustained had average mortality rates up in the 80 to 90-percent range. These were: a severed vertebral artery, two fractured vertebrae in the neck, and a depressed skull fracture deep enough that surgeons had to remove bone fragments from the tough dura mater surrounding his brain.
Miraculously, Ozturk survived. Surrounded by a community of documentarians, footage of Ozturk in a neck brace, face cut and battered, surfaced shortly after the accident. More recently, he put together a new video entitled “Living the Dream 2”. At two and a half minutes, the video follows the same simple plot arc and utilizes similar camera tactics as the original. But it also features new imagery, like closeups of Ozturk’s chafing neck brace and a shot of him keeping fit on a stationary bike, a topo of his project, the Tooth Traverse, in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge, taped over the read-out panel as inspiration. In the end of “Living the Dream 2,” he solos up one of the Flatirons’ slanted planes of golden stone, rising climatically above the foothills of southwest Boulder.
“Living the Dream” smartly encapsulates a life of the sort many claim to envy, but few have the nerve or talent to actually live. The second installment mirrors the first but is more poignant, bathed in the complicating light of a close encounter with death’s specter. Just before he climbs the Flatiron, Ozturk removes his neck brace for the camera and once again embraces the freedom of movement over rock. This time, one can only imagine it’s with a deeper appreciation of what it means to have that freedom, and of how little time he — or any of us — have to enjoy it.