It’s an incredible tale of adventure, one told by a couple of Aussie larrikins, a battle against all the odds at the bottom of the world which has earned them the adventurer’s equivalent of an Oscar.
The no holds barred documentary of two best mates, Cas and Jonesy, and their desperate attempt to be the first to ski across Antarctica to the South Pole and back again unassisted is riveting footage — it resonated with the judges at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Canada so much last month, the pair took out not just the Adventure and Exploration category but the People’s Choice and the Grand Prize as well.
“In this genre it’s as big as you can get so it’s a massive honour to receive these awards,” James ‘Cas’ Castrission, 30, of Blackheath said.
“It completely blew us away, it’s a big part of what we do, we like to share our story with the public but at the end of the day it was very raw footage. We didn’t have producers and booms. We had a simple camera and a very small tripod and it was a completely hostile environment. We had to set up the camera for scenic landscape shots, it could take half an hour to get one shot and if we ever had to get height for a shot we had to cut snow blocks out — at times we thought what are we doing all this for? Every minute you are filming you are not working towards your goal or resting in the tent,” he said.
The pair were no strangers to adventure. In 2008, the duo became the first kayakers to cross the Tasman Sea — six months after the journey had claimed the life of Glenbrook’s Andrew McAuley.
Following in the footsteps of great polar explorers Robert Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen — one of the most tragic exploration stories of all times which saw Captain Scott lose the race and his life — this journey in 2011/2012 by James Castrission and Justin Jones also had the added drama of a Norwegian nemesis of their own, “the terminator” Aleksander Gamme, trying to beat them to the finish line.
“This isn’t a man, this is a terminator, his resume reads like a Rambo movie, he’s trekked across Greenland and the Nevada desert and cycled across the Sahara, he’s climbed three of the world’s highest mountains including Everest, he’s been a professional polar guide for the past 10 years and did I mention he’s Norwegian,” Jonesy tells the camera during the documentary.
Over 89 gruelling days they survive blizzards, crevasses, chafing, starvation, exhaustion, illness, injury, hypothermia and push themselves to the limits of human spirit, while dragging a sled of 160kgs piled high with food and shelter in incredibly hostile conditions.They had only learned to ski 16 months beforehand.
“We had faith in ourselves and each other . . .as humans we can often achieve a lot more than we take credit for. Down there we found we could always take one more step,” Mr Castrission said.
The movie has laugh out loud moments but plenty of tension and excitement too. You share every high and low with Cas and Jonesy.
On the return journey, they had 1140 kms to ski in 27 days — the journey there had taken more than two months — at the end between them they had lost 55 kilos in weight, were “absolutely buggered” and admitted at times had gone a little stir crazy.
“It got to the point where painkillers just didn’t do anything, it was a battle of the mind,” Mr Castrission said.
At the time Antarctic field operations manager Steve Jones said “they made this conscious decision that that were going to put themselves through hell, that in itself meant they had a reasonable chance to pull it off”.
Without spoiling the story too much, there’s a beautiful twist at the end that showed it wasn’t all about competing — Aleks Gamme showing incredible generosity of spirit towards the pair.
The next outdoors adventure for James Castrission however will have to wait - two weeks ago wife Mia gave birth to their first child, a boy called Jack.
The award-winning documentary and the accompanying book are available at casandjonesy.com.au.