6 Below is the incredible true story of Eric LeMarque, the former pro hockey player and Olympian who survived for eight days after becoming lost in the High Sierra. He spoke to Scott Hocking about his experience.
On the sixth of February in 2004, 34-year-old Eric LeMarque was in a dark place. His NHL career was over; he was addicted to crystal meth, and facing a jail sentence. Unbeknownst to him, things were about to get a whole lot worse.
Making an impulsive, late snowboarding run on California’s Mammoth Mountain ski resort, LeMarque was disorientated in an oncoming blizzard and became lost in the freezing wilderness.
His incredible story of survival against the odds has been dramatised in 6 Below, adapted from his memoir Crystal Clear and starring Josh Hartnett, who gives an incredibly committed performance as the troubled athlete.
“There’s nothing you can’t overcome with the right attitude, determination, and faith”
“Josh was thrown into freezing water, thrown onto the ice to play hockey, on a mountain snowboarding, and subjected to extreme, freezing temperatures – he was a real trooper,” LeMarque agrees. “Additionally, he also reduced his calorie intake so he could lose a dramatic amount of weight, as you see in the film.
“We met several times through FaceTime,” he adds, “and spent time asking each other questions and getting to know each other so that he could pick up on my personality as well.”
During his eight-day ordeal, LeMarque endured sub-zero temperatures, a lack of food, the presence of hungry wolves, and a plunge into an icy river – all the while suffering from drug withdrawal. When asked how he felt during the experience, he offers the short version.
“There’s the loneliness as well as the exposure and worsening frostbite, knowing I was going to lose my feet, as well as the withdrawals I was facing that were making me sick,” he says. “I vowed that I was not going to let my parents find me this way. That was motivation for myself. I created a self-mantra and I vowed I would always have to take ten steps before I stopped to rest.”
He also reveals that certain aspects of his harrowing experience have not been dramatised in 6 Below.
“There was some divine intervention that happened that is in the book but not in the film, because I didn’t want people to think I was lying. Twice it happened. I had to cross a ravine, and I looked back and there were no footprints in the snow; I was confused how I had gotten there.
“I didn’t meet God on the mountain, or anything like that,” he continues. “What I did meet was the Spirit of Death – an entity that appeared to me many times, that was absolutely rank. It stunk, and was laughing and taunting me. I had nightmares from two things for years after 2004 – the Spirit of Death and the wind.”
Giving up was never an option. LeMarque attributes his survival to his physical fitness and staying off the snow as much as possible; digging insulating snow shelters lined with debris, pine needles and branches.
“I always knew I would make it,” he says. “I was more upset at myself, [because] this was the one and only time that I ever forgot my two-way radio and my altitude torch lighter. I would have been able to make a big fire, I would have been able to signal someone.”
LeMarque, now a motivational speaker and director of operations at an IT company, hopes that viewers will take away several inspiring messages from 6 Below. “If you never quit, you always win. There’s nothing you can’t overcome with the right attitude, determination and faith. And no matter how experienced you are at something, all it takes is just one time to be caught unprepared and have your life change forever.”
SURVIVAL IN THE SNOW
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