Dec. 6 update from Bill Manny: “Into the Pioneers” is now online. Watch it here. The entire 56-minute show is worth a look. The section on climbing Old Hyndman begins about 21:10.
Hiking with Jay Krajic put me in mind of what fans say of Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire.
She had to do everything Astaire did — but backwards, and in heels.
In Jay’s case, he backpacks just the same as everybody else on an “Outdoor Idaho” video shoot, but he also packs the camera, batteries, tapes and mics, and has to scamper ahead and around and aside as the rest of us just keep walking.
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He’s the videographer for “Outdoor Idaho” who gets the assignment when the assignment is backpacking or climbing a mountain.
Or in the case of our August trip, both.
I got to watch Jay in action on a three-day trip for “Into the Pioneers,” an hour-long show exploring the many aspects of the mountain range east of Sun Valley that debuts at 7 p.m. Sunday. Idaho Public Television reporter/host Melissa Davlin invited me and my daughter, Helen, along to climb 11,775-foot Old Hyndman Peak. We joined her, Jay, “Outdoor Idaho” volunteer “mule” Terry Lee (another unsung hero, packing Jay’s tripod) and Mat Erpelding who, along with being the minority leader in the Idaho House of Representatives, is a professional climbing guide and instructor.
It was a great group and a fun trip, more fun still because we got to get up into the magnificent, wild, little-visited Big Basin and climb Old Hyndman, the shorter but more challenging sibling of 12,009-foot Hyndman Peak.
And more fun still to get to know Jay and watch the master at work.
He made me realize how little we actually see or understand about what goes into one of these remarkable shows. You never see the crew, who have to hide or maneuver to stay out of every shot. We get to hear host Bruce Reichert’s lilting voice-over, introducing gorgeous aerial footage and view after view of mountains and rivers and hikers and wildlife.
Behind the camera, never seen by their audiences, Jay and his fellow videographers make it look effortless. Smooth. Seamless.
I’m here to tell you, that’s not reality.
Jay’s preference is a 17-pound video camera. He carries that behemoth because it gives him more manual control than do newer, smaller, lighter cameras. It’s big enough, and he needs it often enough, that he carries it at his side, like a mountain-man briefcase. Up trails, over rocks, across boulder fields, wading through creeks and spidering up crevices that require two free hands for the rest of us.
“The focus, the aperture, you’re in charge of everything you need to be in charge of,” he told me. “Those little cameras, they want to be in control.”
A LOVE OF LANDSCAPES
Jay grew up in Chicago and moved to Utah to study to be a meteorologist. But he fell in love with landscape photography.
“I bought a camera, and the rest is history.”
He got a degree in photography from Utah State, and a skier friend suggested he try TV. He went back to school for a degree in broadcast journalism. He did brief stints at stations in Utah and Twin Falls before landing in Boise 30 years ago, where he worked for news stations and as a freelancer before joining Idaho Public Television full time in 2007.
He’ll do six or eight or more “Outdoor Idaho” trips a year, and it’s hard to mention somewhere in Idaho he hasn’t explored.
“That’s why I live here,” he said. “I can’t leave, because it’s the perfect setup.
“I’m two and a half or three hours from so many wilderness areas. And there’s nobody there! You can have the whole area to yourself.”
One of his most memorable assignments was exploring the headwaters of the Snake (a 60-mile horseback trip into the farthest reaches of Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Wilderness) and Selway (40 miles into the northernmost part of the Frank Church) rivers for the “Idaho Headwaters” show.
“Both of them were really cool because .001 percent of the population even goes there. Nobody ever goes to these places, because they’re so remote,” he said.
‘YOU GET THESE MOMENTS...’
And as he talked, I realized that he doesn’t get to just work outdoors. His job takes him to the most beautiful, most remote parts of one of the most beautiful, most remote states in the entire country.
So it’s a great job. But it also can stink. Long, dusty trails; hours and hours on a pack string; bad food; cold, wet shoots; lots of travel on really slow, rocky roads. Oh, and leaving the camera’s memory cards six miles back in the car at the trailhead.
So, not always glamorous.
“It’s not. But — how to put this into words? — it’s brutal, and it’s hot, but you get these moments where you just get to relax and capture what’s there, and kinda forget momentarily about how horrible it was.”
At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, he’s light and lean, his long strides moving him as fast or faster than those of us not weighted down with 25 pounds of extra documentary gear. He says he goes slightly slower at age 58 than he did a decade or two ago, but that’s not apparent to fellow hikers.
“I sometimes think we’re one sprained ankle away from being out of the game,” Reichert said. “Thank God Jay keeps himself in shape. He’s an unstoppable artist, always willing to do what has to be done to get us a great show.”
He’s sort of a legend at Idaho Public TV, for his strength, stamina and commitment to getting just … one … more … shot. And yes, perhaps, from the perspective of his fellow hikers, he can be a little too exacting. But for viewers of “Into the Pioneers” and other “Outdoor Idaho” episodes, it’s one more breathtaking view of Idaho landscape that looks, like Ginger and Fred on the silver screen, effortless.
Jay’s Idaho favorites
Most remote place he’s visited: The headwaters of the Snake River, some 60 miles on horseback into the backcountry of Yellowstone and the Tetons. Regarded as one of the most remote areas in the continental U.S.
Favorite place: Mallard-Larkin area, northeast of Orofino in the St. Joe National Forest.
Place he wants to explore: Magruder corridor, the 120-mile road trip through wild north-central Idaho.
River he wants to run: Selway.
See the show
“Into the Pioneers” airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on Idaho Public Television.