Photographer: Drew Smith

I connected climber and documentarian Drew Smith about his latest project in the Andes. Jirishanca clocks in at 19,993 ft and is well known for being difficult with very few successful ascents. While Drew didn’t summit with the team, the skill needed to both photograph and keep pace with the athletes never ceases to impress me.

Heidi: You went to hell and back with your health on this one, how did that inform your images, if at all?
Drew: Yeah I was sick on and off the entire 6 weeks I was in Peru. HAPE, Pneumonia, and a couple of episodes of food poisoning really did a number on me. It was really terrible and stressful at times knowing I had a job to do. But then in a strange way it shifted my eyes and mind into just being present and taking it one day at a time. Everything slowed down and I looked at things more closely and as a result, captured the little moments that documented a more intimate story.

I know you trained for this, what tools did you employ to keep your head in the game?
At some point, we surrender control and let things unfold.
I was already in Peru and I knew that I would still have an experience even if it wasn’t the one I expected. In general, I tend to hold expectations lightly because things are always changing. I knew that I got lucky and it could have been much worse so there was a sense of gratitude that carried me through.

Considering this was another go at a first ascent, what pressure comes with this invitation?
This mountain was big and beautiful, something you would imagine in a dream or draw when you think of a mountain. I remember the first photo I saw of this mountain was in a book I was reading about Nick Bullock’s attempt. His account with Jirishanca was full on, cold, scary, difficult and something I was strangely looking forward to. Knowing I’d be with Josh and Vince, two people I’d heard of since I first started climbing, I was honored to be invited on a trip as part of the team.How did you get awarded the invite?
I had hung out with Josh Wharton at crags on and off over the years and we were always trying to make a bigger mission happen. I always appreciated his motivation and humble demeanor. One day I got a text saying he wanted to go back to Jirishanca and invited me along. I was stoked and we actually bought tickets in the summer of 2021 but had to cancel because of Covid issues in Peru. But made it happen in 2022.

How has your commitment to climbing served you over the years?
It’s brought me to some beautiful places and introduced me to some of the most amazing people in my life, including my wife.

You’re both creative and an athlete, did one take precedence over the other during this trip or how do you balance that dualism?
Usually both sides feed off of each other. A lot of my creative inspiration comes from long days in the mountains. I love attempting to tell these powerful stories through my eyes. In Peru, I was held back physically so I had to depend on my creative side to carry me through.

What humbled you about this mountain?
The mountains in general are humbling every time I’m in them. The route Josh and Vince climbed on Jirishanca is complex needing a wide range of skill. From free climbing 5.13 to hard mixed and steep snow climbing. I got a glimpse of the challenges Josh and Vince had on Jirishanca through my lens and that in itself was humbling.

What emotions were you trying to capture between Josh and Vince?
I just try to capture what’s real. Being a fly on the wall and waiting for those genuine moments to happen. Piecing together the story as it unfolds in real time.

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