SEPTEMBER 2022 EDITION
Hello Walter, thank you for sharing your compelling, groundbreaking story with the world. Did you have in mind to make a film of it as soon as you started documenting your journey?
A documentary never crossed my mind. My objective was to ensure I captured all the beautiful vistas, people, life in Kathmandu and in the Himalayas. It was insurance for the years ahead when my memory would begin to fade. For the present, the images have been the foundation of my presentations to companies, churches, revivals, and a group of more than 6,000 young students attending church camp one summer.
However, as the Covid situation begins to fade enough, I pray to take Climb High, Pray Higher into Texas prisons to share hope and forgiveness with inmates.
In this spirit, what role do you think your film can play in society?
The awe and wonder of Mt. Everest is as alive today as it was in the early 1900s when George Mallory first answered why he wanted to summit Mt. Everest with this
famous quote, “Because it is there”. Audiences I’ve spoken to seem almost captivated with the images I brought back. I expect they will be on the edge of their seats even more when they view the film of Climb High, Pray Higher.
What can you tell us of the Nepalese people’s – whether your teammates, or people you randomly met along the journey– appreciation of your endeavor?
The image of someone on crutches using leg braces was for some, the first time they had ever witnessed such a sight. People would stop and watch as we passed out of view. Others would ask if they could get their picture taken with me. One person from India told me “I’ll keep this picture in my office forever.”
Others wanted to film me walking up a hill, and I was glad to do it.
It was not unusual when we left a tea house for everyone inside to rush to the windows, press their faces against the windows and watch us disappear into clouds that engulfed the trail.
Once a trekker from Russia just wanted to share a cup of milk tea, as we exchanged where we were from. We sat next to the Tengbouche Monastery with Annapurna rising majestically behind us. Politics never entered the conversation, only the beauty that surrounded us.
The Sherpas and Porters that assisted me didn’t quite know what to think at first. But the higher we climbed, we became brothers, and they would have done anything to ensure our quest was successful.
I’ve been stared at all my life. But this time it was different. The trekkers that watched were in awe. I felt the people we met would never forget that Texan sitting in a basket on the back of a porter.
How did you and Shane Scholwinski proceed in terms of “building” the story?
Shane and I communicated by phone and computer the entire time. I was amazed how he put this story together using photographs I’d forgotten I even had. There were hundreds of photos and hours of footage. Shane’s talent as an editor made it seem like he was right there with me on the trek.
While there were many discussions and decisions regarding the regarding the scope of my story, it was ultimately decided that the focus should be on overcoming obstacles with faith being my guide and the trek to Everest being the metaphor. It was also agreed that the people, culture and natural beauty of Nepal needed to be adequately illustrated. I believe the body language and facial expressions of the sherpas, porters, and Nepalese families demonstrates their exceptional warmth and gentle grace. And of course, the setting is breathtaking.
We also agreed that an original music soundtrack would be critical in setting the tone and pace of the journey. We were fortunate to have my longtime friend and master guitarist Chris Wermund as the music producer. His collaborator Emily Adamson on fiddle added the perfect touch. Shane did exceptional work in editing the music into sequences creating the energy and mood we were looking for.
You mention prisons/prisoners you visit. Did you show the film in prisons? If so, what type of reactions did you get there?
We haven’t been able to show the film in prisons yet due to Covid. I hope to show this film in Texas prisons when the Covid situation improves. A friend who lives just a few streets from me built a number of chapels in prisons. The chapels are an ideal place to view the film. Based upon my presentations in the past, I expect the reactions to be very positive.
Do you have any favorite movies, which ones, and why?
I never get tired of watching The Magnificent Seven and Predator. I’m a sucker for the good guy always winning over the bad guy while facing overwhelming odds. What more could you ask for than Yul Brynner with his unique accent, Steve McQueen and their other five compadres sending Eli Wallach and his 40-some-odd banditos into the hills never to return to a Mexican village on the Texas border after pillaging it for years. Predator was a great flick to watch when facing challenging projects at work. Somehow, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s one-liners stimulated me to overcome mental roadblocks and move on.
Three books you would recommend to young people?
The first one is The Man He Became. It’s about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his battle with polio. Roosevelt overcame polio and was elected to four terms as President. During that time, he led our country through the Great Depression, World War Two and established a hospital to treat people from around the world with polio, whether they could afford the treatments or not, like me.
The second book is Alone on the Ice. It’s considered the greatest survival story in the history of exploration. I could barely put it down in the two nights it took me to read it.
My third choice is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a classic read on the adventures of growing up, just like me and my friends did in Overton, a little town in East Texas.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
Definitely! And we need look no further than the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, for the answer... “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” We already have seen changes in cinema and performers being more available in the new post-covid environment. Artists of all types now perform and share their talents as if we have front-row seats but from the comfort of our living rooms whether artists are in San Francisco or London.
As technology continues to develop so will the options of taking that trip to Levon Helm Studios in Historic Woodstock home of the Midnight Ramble or a tour of the Louvre in Paris with closeup views and insights of some of the world’s masterpieces. Covid definitely delayed the production of “Climb High, Pray Higher”. But it didn’t kill our story. If we had not believed in “Climb High Pray Higher” it may have been a victim of the pandemic. In one respect our several-year delay was an ally, not the enemy. It strengthened our resolve to carry on.
So far as producing gems of creativity and making them available to others, technology will play a large role in discovering more ways, better ways for people to enjoy them from our living rooms, local theaters or in person. And while for some, there may be nothing better than hearing Willie Nelson in person singing “On the Road Again”, enjoying films and artists of all types from a distance may be the choice of many. Either way it may encourage others to look within, share their talents, their lives, and their creativity.
Walter Patterson was born in 1950 and grew up in New London, Texas. He lived in a humble (Exxon) oil camp built for employees to have an affordable place to live and raise a family. Just after his first birthday, he contracted polio as the disease spread worldwide.
Even though the Salk vaccine was approved for use in 1955, polio continues to ravage parts of some third-world countries to this day.
Patterson in his early life received operations and therapy at the Warm Springs Foundation in Georgia created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help all people combat this crippling disease. Patterson’s surgeries were successful and enabled him to begin kindergarten with other children his age, but with the aid of leg braces, crutches, and back supports. While in high school he learned to play bass guitar in a rock band.
He graduated in 1972 from Sam Houston State University. As a member of the gymnastics team at Sam Houston, he placed first in every competition on the parallel bars except for one second-place finish. After graduation Patterson played music in Austin, Texas, during the birth of progressive country music bolstered by artists such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Patterson continues to play music primarily for residents in nursing homes and at church functions.
Patterson began working for SBC (now AT&T) in 1974. He retired from the company after 27 years of service and as the vice president of corporate communications for its wireless subsidiary now known as AT&T Wireless. He was responsible for the company’s employee information, news relations, marketing, and research programs.
Patterson received national awards while at SBC. These include the wireless phone industry’s Citizenship Award for promoting cellular phones to fight neighborhood crime and the President’s Award for using cellular phone technology to improve learning in America’s classrooms. He led the company’s efforts to launch the first wireless school in the United States.
Patterson has supported efforts to help inmates in Texas prisons through ministry programs and playing music. He also worked at the United Way and served as the board president of a United Way agency that primarily employed people with disabilities.
Patterson currently is writing his memoir that focuses on growing up in East Texas, overcoming polio, and trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Other highlights include driving a car in President Reagan’s motorcade when Reagan was the first president to visit Dallas since President Kennedy’s assassination. Years earlier at Warm Springs, Patterson shook hands with Kennedy when he was running for President. Patterson has spoken to groups as small as 15 and as large as 6,000 sharing his Mt. Everest adventure.
Climb High, Pray Higher is the first documentary Patterson produced. He has, however, been responsible for managing video programs at SBC to promote wireless service.
He is married to Rosalinda, and they have a son, Bo.