A change in careers for a longtime Delta County coal miner took an unexpected twist when Dennis Harriman and his crew were selected for a new documentary series called "Rock Stars."
The show airs Tuesday nights on the National Geographic Channel.
The website www.watchrockstars.com sets the tone for the series:
"Follow this tight-knit company of rock technicians who plant explosives, manhandle 300-pound hydraulic jacks, and set anchors into sheer rock, all while hanging hundreds of feet above the ground. Working with the constant threat of boulders the size of trucks falling around them, these men risk life and limb to protect us from the threat of massive avalanches and landslides all across North America. When a mountain falls, this crew of rock stars puts it back together."
"Rock Stars" is produced by Echo Entertainment for the National Geographic Channel. Hugh Arian and Justin Ward are the executive producers. The documentary is directed by Justin Ward and produced by Erik Swanson and Tracy Thomas.
In the series' first season, the film crew followed Dennis and his crew of rock scalers to two locations — NiagaraFalls and White Pass along U.S. Route 12 in the state of Washington.
Dennis attended school in Cedaredge and married his high school sweetheart, Luann Kissner. Dennis was a coal miner at Blue Ribbon, Mid Continent and then West Elk. He worked with his father-in-law in his well drilling business, then operated his own rig under Harriman Drilling for five years. He sold the business in 2006, about the time he and Luann decided to escape the cold and snow of Cedaredge. They'd visited Gulfport, Miss., when their son was married and fell in love with the area. They packed up and moved to the Deep South.
Son Nate had joined a firm called Janod, which specializes in rock stabilization and rock remediation, and he was excited about the money he was making. Although it meant he would be on the road for weeks at a time, Dennis decided to join Janod as well. The timing was great, as Luann and their daughter Sydney had both enrolled in nursing school and were wrapped up in their studies.
Dennis was introduced to rope work as a member of the mine rescue team, and used to love dropping down into the Black Canyon to fish the Gunnison River, but his training with Janod took his rope work to a new level.
"When you're new, it can be pretty scary," he said. "You have got to learn to trust the rope, to trust your knots, to feel comfortable. And you can't be scared of heights."
Dennis soon learned to love scaling rocks — sweeping up and down steep hillsides to bring down the loose rocks. Installing wire mesh and bolting rocks is challenging, he said, but scaling is the fun part of the job.
About two years ago, Dennis was named crew foreman, which means he supervises between 14 and 47 rock remediation technicians. Suspended from the sides of cliffs that are anywhere from 25 to 200 feet high, they remove unstable rocks and boulders that could pose a threat to drivers or hikers.
From its offices in Hawaii, New York and Canada, Janod dispatches its highly trained technicians to locations across the country. They employ a combination of innovative mechanized equipment and an intimate knowledge of climate and geology to reduce the risk of rock falls.
"This show is all about capturing the wild, destructive and intense aspects of these guys' job," Justin Ward says on the show's website. "The only way to get those up-close, visceral shots of the guys on the mountain working was to have a camera right next to them. This meant our camera operators and sometimes other crew had to be on ropes as well."
In the weeks leading up to the shoot, the entire film crew went through special ropes access training to become SPRAT (Society of Professional Ropes Access Training) certified, which allowed each member of the crew to hold his own up on the mountain. A helicopter is used to get aerial perspective on the job site, but the chopper couldn't safely get close to the guys on the slopes, Ward notes on the show's website. "I really wanted that up close and personal aerial that would provide a sense of vertigo. Therefore, we brought in a remote control helicopter with a camera mounted on it, which allowed us to get a lot of great close up aerial shots that would otherwise be unobtainable. We also used point-of-view cameras mounted to the helmets and to the podium seats of the workers, which puts the viewer right on the rock face, and offers the perspective of their crew, as they drop the big rocks."
Dennis says the film crew outnumbered his rock scalers two-to-one, which was aggravating at times. They also expected Dennis and his crew to wear cameras and mikes on their hard hats.
"We had guys hanging on ropes all around us," he said. "If we said something good and they missed it, they would want us to repeat it until they got it on tape.
"It was a pain, but now that they're gone we kind of miss them," Dennis said, after traveling with the film crew for six months. "They were a good bunch of guys."
A total of 10 episodes were created; the first aired on Nov. 22. "If the first season goes well, the producer plans to do more," Dennis said.
Nate Harriman is also featured on "Rock Stars" and is the youngest scaler on the crew. Right out of high school, Nate went to explore life in Alaska. A few years later, he moved back home to Colorado and eventually landed a job as a scaler. Despite his young age, Nate is a seasoned scaler now with five years of experience. He once scaled a quarry in Massachusetts with a 1,300-foot vertical face, which is 50 feet higher than the Empire State Building.
Both Dennis and Nate spend months at the job site, coming home a week or two between projects. After finishing up a job in Sand Point, Idaho, both are looking forward to spending the holidays with family members in Colorado and Mississippi.
"Where I'm headed next I don't know yet," Dennis said. "I just know I've seen more of the United States in the last five years than I'd seen in my life before."
And although he loves his new career as a rock scaler, he says to be sure to mention that he misses his coal mining buddies in Delta County.blog comments powered by Disqus