Infinite Storm

Infinite Storm: the astounding real life rescue mission that inspired Naomi Watts’ survival thriller

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The trailer for Naomi Watts’ new survival thriller Infinite Storm depicts a brutal battle against the elements, and it’s inspired by a miraculous rescue mission of a suicidal stranger.

Last year, it was announced that Naomi Watts would be heading to snow-topped mountains for her latest role in survival thriller Infinite Storm. Inspired by a true story, the movie chronicles one woman’s journey for self-discovery, which turns into a harrowing fight for survival when a dangerous blizzard descends.

Like many a big-screen adaptation based on real-life events, the trailer for the forthcoming movie provides a glimpse at the strength of human spirit in times of adversity – something that seems all the more extraordinary when you know the legendary tale that saw one mountain hiker mount a daring rescue mission.

The woman at the heart of this story is Pam Bales, a mother, nurse and mountain guide who set out on a a solitary trek up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in October 2010. As Ty Gagne explains in his Reader’s Digest article High Places: Footprints In The Snow Lead To An Emotional Rescue, Bales was prepared for bad weather that day, packing extra layers, goggles and necessary supplies to guard against the elements.

It was smart thinking. What began as a sunny autumn day quickly descended into a major blizzard, and Bale found herself fighting against wind, heavy sleet and strong gusts of wind. Just as she resolved to turn back around and head back down the mountain, however, she spotted a single set of footprints in the snow leading off the trail. 

Alarmed by the idea that the tracks had been made by sneakers rather than sturdy hiking boots, Bales decided against turning around and continued following the prints. Soon, she came across an unresponsive man sitting staring out at the Great Gulf. Dressed in ordinary clothes that were soaked through with rain and frost, the man was near death from exposure and hypothermia. 

It was then that Bales’ medical training kicked in. As he sat propped up against large boulders, she stripped off his clothes and dressed him in the dry, spare layers she had brought along for her hike. She administered heat packs around his body and fed him warm cocoa from her thermos. And, since he couldn’t speak, she gave him a name: John.

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Naomi Watts stars as Pam Bales in Infinite Storm

But Bales’ challenges had only just begun. With the storm raging around them, Bales roused John, who had by this point begun to move his limbs and speak, and told him that they were going to descend the mountain together. Over the next six hours, Bales painstakingly retraced her steps, keeping John focused with firm commands and a medley of Elvis songs. At one point, John dropped into the snow and told her that he’d had enough, but Bales didn’t take no for an answer. Together, they arrived back at the car park at 6pm; exhausted, battered but alive.

Then, as Gagne recounts in his article, something baffling happened. After thawing John’s clothes on her car engine, he got dressed, thanked Bales, got into his car and simply drove off. Bales stood there alone, wondering what on earth had just happened.

Infinite Storm
Infinite Storm is based on the true story of Pam Bales' rescue mission

One week later, Bales got an answer when the president of her rescue group received an extraordinary letter in the post. It was from John, who wanted to pass along his heartfelt thanks to Bales for saving his life.

Explaining that he wanted to remain anonymous, John recalled how he hadn’t in fact got lost that day while hiking Mount Washington. Instead, he had headed there “to end my life”.

John wrote that he hadn’t expected to meet anyone on the path that day, and how, when Bales discovered him, she had tended to him with the utmost care and attention.

“The entire time she treated me with compassion, authority, confidence, and the impression that I mattered,” he wrote. 

“With all that has been going wrong in my life, I didn’t matter to me, but I did to Pam. She probably thought I was the stupidest hiker dressed like I was, but I was never put down in any way – chewed out, yes, in a kind way. Maybe I wasn’t meant to die yet. I somehow still mattered in life.”

John went on to explain that he left abruptly after the pair returned to the car park because he was embarrassed. But after spotting the name of Bales’ rescue group on her pack patch and bumper sticker, he resolved to write and express his sincere thanks. Alongside a donation between the pages of the letter, John concluded by explaining that he was seeking help for his mental health struggles.

“If she is an example of your organisation, you must be the best group around,” he added. 

Bales has since become a hiking legend, although, as Gagne explains, she remains deeply humble about the remarkable rescue. But as her story comes to the big screen in Infinite Storm, we’re reminded of the immense kindness of strangers, and how it is up to us as a society to help each other in times of need. For ultimately, love is the thing that connects us all.

Infinite Storm premieres in cinemas on 25 March.

Images: Bleecker Street

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.