RIDGWAY, Colo. — Renan Ozturk has a stunning mountainous area for a backyard. When he's home, he likes to go for hikes with his dog Baloo in Uncompaghre National Forest in southwest Colorado.
He's a world-class climber and filmmaker who's famous for his mountaineering documentaries. His most recent is called "The Sanctity of Space," distributed by Greenwich Entertainment. It's a film where he and his friends traverse some of Alaska's most challenging peaks.
“You're living on 4,000-foot-thick glaciers of snow and ice, and you have walls rising out of those glaciers that are twice the size of El Capitan in Yosemite," Ozturk said.
While these big expeditions put Ozturk in the spotlight, he comes from humble beginnings.
“I was traveling around, living in national parks, often in a rock cave, hitchhiking with friends, learning the art of climbing,” Ozturk said.
Eight years into his climbing career is when he fell in love with filmmaking.
"There's this whole world of storytelling that was opening up,” Ozturk said.
That storytelling became the fuel that sparked a giant boom in climbing popularity.
“I think just recently in the last three or four years, as you have all of these feature climbing films coming out," Ozturk said. "The film that we made, 'Meru,' was the big one that went to Sundance and won an Audience Choice Award, which was pretty surprising for us because we thought climbing was really hard to relate with.”
There’s something about climbing that continues to attract more people. American Alpine Club’s Shane Johnson says there’s been a proliferation of indoor climbing gyms across the country causing a surge in communities without mountains or cliffs.
“So in the last ten years you've seen the number of climbing gyms grow from about 300 to 600 across the country," Johnson said. "So just provides a lot more people with access to the activity and in an approachable way that kind of removes the number of barriers that typically present themselves outside.”
Johnson found a passion for climbing after visiting a gym in Ohio.
“It's taught me hard work, vulnerability, humility," Johnson said.
He says he loves watching documentaries with world-class climbers like Ozturk.
“Watching them achieve things that I'll never, despite my obsession with climbing, be able to achieve, is inspiring,” Ozturk said.
“I think even climbing in a gym when you're starting to climb is something that can be really beneficial for building a community, doing something that's mentally and physically engaging," Ozturk said. "And as you go through that process, you might want to climb outside.”
Ozturk says climbing is so much more beyond stamina and physical strength. He says it’s about sharing.
“We need to keep bringing back this inspiring imagery so that people will care," Ozturk said. "And there's empathy towards these wild places.”
Ozturk wants to connect people to the outdoors, and he says the growth in climbing is a beautiful thing to witness.
“Climbing has always been a really open community of people sharing time together at the crag, at the campfire," Ozturk said. "And I think we can use it as a tool for positive change, which we desperately need in this day and age.”