Friday, October 05, 2007

Routes less travelled

DVD REVIEW: First Ascent (Sender Films)


The quality of US director Peter Mortimer’s last climbing film was such that it virtually was the travelling 2005 Banff Film Festival.

Who could forget the beauty of Indian Creek as showcased in Parallelojams or the cuteness of the climbing Jack Russell dogs?

As a result the expectations for Mortimer’s new film First Ascent (Sender Films) were high. And so far repeated viewings of this 95-minute world-spanning feature have fulfilled those expectations.

With its self-explanatory title, the film sets out to document a variety of wild and impressive new routes.

They include the terrifying trad zone of Colorado’s crumbling Black Canyon – including the aftermath of a massive leader fall – as showcased by Jared Ogden and Topher Donahue.

Then there’s Swiss crack ace Didier Berthod’s amazing effort on “Europe’s hardest crack” Greenspit, as well as his determined efforts on the Canadian supercrack the Cobra. In the case of the latter it is one of the few non-first ascent, with Didier beaten to the ascent through a combination of injury and the equally determined efforts of the Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter.

The best of the bunch, however, would have to include the manic energy of Cedar Wright and Ivo Ninov as they work their project Cosa Nostra. Entitled The Obscurist, this part of the film might be set in Yosemite, but as the title indicates it’s about Wright and Ninov working an obscure line. This is not about a new towering, multi-pitch route, but a grunty, maddening roof crack. Gnarly stuff, dude.

For elegance and sheer daring the best of the lot is Dean Potter’s attempt on The Tombstone. This thin, long and strenuous dihedral in Moab, Utah showcases Potter’s superlative climbing style and his willingness to fall long distances on small gear. He even eschews the protection of large cam – and so is forced to run out the top of the climb – to help ensure he makes the first free ascent.

Less necessary, but certainly fashionable and entertaining, is the section on German wunderkind climber David Lama and his pals deepwater-soloing in Thailand and taking some big falls.

For Timmy O’Neill fans the weird, hairy guy is back this time soloing buildings in LA and trying to sell the concept as a TV show called Urban Ape to a bunch of bemused producer types.

Overall there’s enough climbing here to keep anyone satisfied. The camera work is, as always, superb and the soundtrack will have you seeking out the tunes that accompany the visuals.