Over the Edge (Film)
Over the Edge is a short film that captures the moment when a 10-day bikepacking trip through Peru’s Cordillera Blanca goes terribly wrong. As three friends ride along a high singletrack trail, one loses control and falls 30 feet into a ravine below, miraculously surviving. Watch the film here, along with photos and an introduction from filmmaker Kyle Hughes…
Without a doubt, if you’ve pedaled along a perilous stretch of singletrack, you’ve had a moment when you could picture yourself careening off the trail and tumbling into the valley below. But what if you actually went over the edge? Kai Larsen was riding the Alpamayo Circuit in Peru when he did exactly that, losing control and falling 30 feet onto a ledge below.
Over the Edge documents that moment, along with the incredible rescue by local police. We asked filmmaker Kyle Hughes to share some details about the moment Kai lost control and to walk us through what he was feeling before and during the harrowing rescue process. Watch the film below, then continue on to read the backstory.
Note: This film contains a couple of gut-wrenching scenes and some foul language, so it may not be suitable for young viewers.
Words and photos by Kyle Hughes (@kylehughesphoto)
Sipping tea at the breakfast tables of the Estrellita Hostel in Cusco, we dreamt of different routes to tackle through the Peruvian Andes. With mixed emotions of trying the Huayhuash Circuit or tackling a different route on the Cordillera Blanca, we knew our next stop would be Huaraz, a small town that sits right in heart of the white glacial giants.
The idea was simple: head out as a group and try to document riding through a set of remote mountain passes that were barely (if ever) tackled by bicycle. With no experience of hiking any of the routes, we were all excited yet trepidatious about what lay ahead of us. After careful consideration, we decided the Alpamayo Circuit would be ideal for us to tackle. Three friends, two bikes, enough food for 10 days, fly fishing gear, and all the amateur camera gear required to document a unique part of the world.
The journey to the trailhead wasn’t as straightforward as we hoped. After loading the gear onto three different sets of colectivos (local buses) and finally offering a larger “tip” to the final driver, we were dropped of in the small mountain town of Hualcallan. We crossed the line into Huascaran National Park and knew we had 2,200 metres of climbing to reach the first pass. Without any knowledge of the route, we expected worse conditions, but were pleasantly surprised by how smooth the path was.
With Nathan and Kai pushing their bikes for a solid five hours, we found a beautiful plateau that was perfect for camping, with views into the valley. As the sun slowly set over our three tents, Kai prepared food to fill our empty bellies. It was the first day, a day to ease into the mission, and we were pumped about what was to come. We didn’t expect what was going to happen the next day, but who would?
As soon as the sun touched the foot of our tents, I could hear Nathan and Kai stirring awake. We ate some cold oats and sipped a warm coffee while soaking in the morning sun. We only had about 800m to climb to reach the first glacier bay, where we were expecting a calm lakeside camp spot at 4,900m. The morning went smooth as ever and after a few false summits we finally saw the glacier on the horizon.
Absorbing what was the first of many spectacular views, we moved forward, hoping for a stream of glacier water so we could take a breather and eat our lunch. The guys were having fun riding some short sections of singletrack towards the glacier, both handling the terrain confidently. Knowing we only had a kilometre to go to reach our bay, we took our time with lunch and laughed about how our fly fishing dreams in this section were ruined as the blue dots on the map actually sat about 500 feet below our current elevation.
Full of energy, Kai and Nathan effortlessly carried their bikes over the rocky terrain. We crossed an epic valley that had a short, smooth section of singletrack on the northern side. Kai was eager to ride it. So eager that he didn’t assess the area. None of us did.
I positioned myself five meters behind Kai. Equipped with my 80mm lens, I felt like I was right behind him. I told him I was ready to film and he pushed off, rocking from side to side, missing the highwall, and then losing his footing. Kai was gone, out of frame, over the edge, lost to the valley.
My body started moving as my brain froze. I heard his deafening screams and the crushing sounds of his body, then bike. I knew the valley was deep, I knew my friend was lost down there. The next minutes are a blur of me scrambling down loose rocks, searching for signs of life. Nathan’s voice ricocheted off the valley walls as he also tried to understand the situation. It’s hard to comprehend how you react in these situations.
I saw Kai’s body, his eyes looking over at me in utter confusion as he writhed about a metre from an endless drop into the valley. Another meter further and he would have truly been lost. I asked him not to move. I told him to relax, but the truth is I was the one who was panicked. He was surprisingly calm in his own confusion. Kai’s helmet and backpack were still on, his bike was mangled around the front tyre, but he could talk, he could move. He was alive.
Nathan reached us a few seconds later and took control of the situation briskly. Being a lot calmer than me, he eased into Kai’s confusion and gently got him to move away from the edge. In my own panic I opted to hike to higher ground with the Garmin inReach Mini to hit the SOS button for help. All we knew was our friend had landed feet first on his ankles. His knees were okay, but his ankles were already quite swollen. We wouldn’t be able to get him down alone; we knew we needed help.
The Garmin team responded quickly. We had a three-hour window to wait for help. We weren’t sure how they would get there in three hours as the hike to this point alone was five hours at a brisk pace and the town was at least a four-hour drive from Huaraz, or three hours from Caraz. However, we sat there, hopeful. Nathan asked Kai multiple questions about our past few days and weeks together, jogging and training his memory. His amnesia dissipated after two hours and we were relieved when he was back. He had knocked his head during the fall, but due to his helmet his concussion was minor.
Nathan had placed Kai’s feet above his mangled bike, elevating each foot and keeping them warm inside separate quilts. Kai lay there so calmly, joking, smiling, and laughing. I believe that without his calm demeanour, this whole situation would have been so much harder for all of us. The three hours passed slowly with no sign of help. We were informed we would have to wait out the night and they would arrive at 9:00 AM. The accident happened at 4:00 PM. We set up a bivvy, sharing gear to try stay as warm as possible at 4,800 meters. The night was long; it felt like day as we struggled to sleep under the full moon, the brightest I have ever witnessed.
Kai was alive. The rescue crew arrived the next morning at 10:00 AM and I escorted the six of them to the site. They put together their stretcher and methodically worked a safe way to get Kai out from the valley. Nathan and I hugged each other in relief as Kai carried down on the hiking trail, the worst of it over. He was in good hands and on his way to get the help he needed. Within five hours, we were all down from the valley, our buddy strapped with voile straps to the “ambulance’s” medical bed. We were now all able to laugh, maybe a bit manic in our fatigue, but joyful that our friend was there laughing with us.
Planning a backcountry trip of your own? Be sure to review our guide to putting together a first aid kit for bikepacking, written by our resident nurse, Virginia.