Set against the mystery of who first summited the tallest peak in North America, Belmore Browne’s exploration of the Alaska Range is a Ken Burns meets Indiana Jones real life adventure.
Mountain Men is primarily a screenplay adaptation of the classic mountaineering adventure book, The Conquest of Mount McKinley, first published in 1913, a book the American Alpine Club describes as “an epic in the history of mountain exploration, wilderness travel, and arctic mountaineering, this is one of the great tales of all time.”
The screenplay centers on the life of Belmore Browne, explorer, hunter, artist, naturalist, writer, and principal figure in two great controversies of his time, both involving the explorer Dr. Frederick Cook and his questionable claims to be first to summit Denali and first to make it to the North Pole, that raised suspicion among fellow explorers.
Based on actual characters, the screenplay moves back and forth in time, between the years 1906 to 1912 during Belmore’s three attempts to summit Denali, and 1975, sixty years later, as the story follows Arthur, a college student looking for a place to pitch and live in his tent while attending the University of New Hampshire. He is fatefully directed to the home of Evelyn Browne, Belmore Browne’s daughter, a professor of outdoor studies at the University. She learns of Arthur’s interest in Alaska and agrees to let him pitch his tent in exchange for odd jobs around her property.
Evelyn invites him to meet two of her friends, Bradford Washburn (mountaineer, aerial photographer and director of the Boston Museum of Science) and Bob Bates (commander of the 1942 Denali high-altitude cold weather expedition). Brad Washburn has uncovered a trove of glass-plate photographs taken during Belmore’s three Denali expeditions and brings them to show Evelyn. Over the course of weekly dinners at Evelyn’s home, stories and characters from the glass-plate photographs come to life.
Around Evelyn’s dinner table, Arthur learns that close examination of Dr. Cook’s 1906 summit photos led Belmore to return to Alaska in 1910 and 1912 with fellow mountaineer, Hershel Parker, a physics professor at Columbia. Arthur learns that Belmore wrote a book called Guns and Hunting and with the proceeds, traveled to Paris and studied art at the same time as Picasso and Matisse. He learns how Belmore helped establish Denali National Park; how he wrote a series of young adult adventure novels set in the Yukon; and how he moved to Banff, Alberta with his family in 1921, built a small studio next to their cabin and made his living as a landscape artist. One of his paintings, “The Chief’s Canoe” (1926) is in the Smithsonian permanent collection.
One week at Evelyn’s table, they are joined by Terris Moore (president of University of Alaska,1949-53). Moore is writing a book, Pioneer Climbs of Mount McKinley, and describes the controversies surrounding the 1910 Sourdough expedition, a team of Fairbanks miners who also didn’t believe Dr. Cook’s claim and set out to prove it. The screenplay concludes as Arthur retires to his tent to finish reading the last chapter of Belmore’s book and, in a series of flash forwards, Belmore’s “spirit” guides Arthur on his own wild Alaskan adventures.
Catch Mountain Men at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar in downtown Talkeetna, AK for two nights only.