PHOTOS BY Blake McCord

The Wind River Project Documentary


Editor’s Note: On Sunday February 19, 2017 it will be screened at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival that focuses on cultural and outdoor-adventure documentary films. Beyond Type 1 is a proud sponsor of the film.

A short film, The Wind River Project, follows three climbers with type 1 diabetes (Matt Spohn, Steve Richert and Blake McCord) as they ascend the remote Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. The friends hail from different parts of the US: Oregon, Arizona and Massachusetts but share a passion for climbing and photography which is what brought them together. They also have in common a type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis in childhood—each have had type 1 for nearly twenty years.

When Beyond Type 1 gets to chat with director and producer Blake McCord, we want to know what inspired the project and what the three hoped for setting out.

“We had our own personal desires for gain and wanted to test ourselves with the climb,” says McCord. “The other intent was to do something inspiring to other people living with diabetes—to break down those perceived barriers of what you can or can’t do because of the disease.”

“Did you ever feel limited by type 1?”

“In the sense that there are a lot more considerations,” McCord explains. “You have to be so much more prepared. If we get caught and have to spend the night on the wall—it can be dangerous. If you have type 1, it’s a lot more serious. We have to evaluate that risk and decide whether or not to push on.”

McCord explains that the climbers typically pack just enough food for the day’s climb, so you don’t want to get stuck up there without sufficient food to treat a low blood sugar. Unexpected storms can blow in and halt climbing, causing an overnight stay on the mountain. “You don’t want to come down in the dark,” McCord says.

Luckily in the film, the climbers didn’t have to spend the night hanging off a cliff, however they did face unexpected challenges and due to these, had to change their itinerary.

The initial climb was a first-ascent attempt at the Titcomb Basin, which is difficult to reach and mostly untouched. The team had much of their gear transported by horse, a service they paid for to get their equipment into the first 12 miles of backcountry. The horses had to stop because of deep snow banks, so the final 4 miles were done on foot.

“In a trip like this, there’s all the risks that are associated with diabetes—high and low blood sugars—and that’s somewhat compounded by the fact that you’re out in the backcountry with limited access to help. You have to be selective about what you take,” says McCord. “Then there’s the risks of climbing—lose rock, slipping, or getting hit by falling rock.”

From the ground, the crew couldn’t see that the terrain was in fact crumbly and near impossible to climb until the second pitch (400-500 feet up). “When it breaks apart easily,” says McCord, “you can’t put your cams in.”

Cams are the essential mountaineering protection equipment that spring-loads and fixes into crevasses of the rock. Without them, you could fall to your death. At approximately every 200 feet, a “pitch” is made and an anchor secured.

“The person on the ground feeds out rope, and out of the rope you build the anchor, so the person below can come up,” explains McCord. “It’s like leap frogging your way up.”

They may not have finished the first ascent, but the team’s second climb in the Wind River Range was a whopping 1500 feet. The documentary follows the struggle and triumph of the squad while also taking an intimate look at what it’s like to live with type 1.

“None of us have really climbed with others who have type 1, certainly not in team of all diabetics,” says McCord. “In some ways it was nice, because we intimately understood what each of us was dealing with. You share that struggle.”

Apart from sharing the struggle what is type 1, the three climbers share the belief that the chronic illness shouldn’t hold you back from chasing your dreams and exploring the world. There are no current plans set for another climb, but as McCord says, “We’re always looking for the next ascent.”

Read Fear is the Mind-killer by Steve Richert and check out more of Blake McCord’s photography here.

WRITTEN BY Michelle Boise, POSTED 02/17/17, UPDATED 10/06/22

Michelle has a BA in English literature and Spanish and a MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco. As a writer, editor and content guru, she's worked on both literary magazines and e-commerce platforms. Before joining the Beyond Type 1 team, she developed health-conscious articles for Fitbit. When she's not writing, you can find her cooking or painting with acrylics (they dry faster). She is fond of wearing red shoes, it makes her feel snappy.