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17 Down Under:
17 DOWN UNDER. "A celebration of moderate grade climbing in Victoria". 184 pages. 285 images. Father & son team, Steve & John Morris, embark on a journey to climb and photograph 50 of the best rock climbs in Victoria, grade 17 & under. Inc bookmark $50.00
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An Apline Rockumentary. Shipton Spire, Lotus Flower Tower, Cerro Poincenot.
|I’ve given “Splitter” a good rating not only because it was an entertaining doco, but because the style and locations appealed to me personally. Rather than watching super hard boulder problems being ticked effortlessly, or yet another forgettable sport route clipped and sent, finally here is something that fuels dreams. Trad climbing. And not just single pitch stuff in someone’s backyard quarry, or local choss pile, but off away to fantasy land in the far reaches of Pakistan, Argentina and far north America where the routes top out only after multi-day 20+ pitches of hard won vertical to overhanging terrain on continuous cliff faces in deep, remote, snow capped, storm ridden mountains that sore up and up till your neck cranes and your back hurts just looking at them. Places that take many days and dollars just to get to the base camp. Routes where “total commitment” and “epic” might mean not just leaving a couple of crabs and a nut or two, but maybe your life as well. Yes, this is the fantasy land of the weekend trad climber. Stemming up the local three star classic and back for lunch will seem small bananas after getting a dose of Splitter.
Be warned, however, there are some negatives and I’ll get these out of the way right now. Firstly the amount of actual climbing footage is a bit light, and what there is of it, has primarily been shot by the belayer, so we see the leader via the classic bum shot or the second in a nice top down perspective, but alas only jumaring. Let’s also be frank here, it’s not the work of a dedicated camera crew with unlimited time and production budget. There is a certain “home movie” feel to it. For this I’ve docked it one star. That said, however, I believe those people who are intrigued by the thought of free climbing, sometimes first ascents, thousands of feet off the deck in super remote locations will find this flick worthy of several views. And lets also be realistic, staying alive and getting up and down the route obviously needs to take priority of over filming.
So what have we got? We’ll essentially it’s three very entertaining trip reports, which happen to be presented on film. A big plus as I see it is the volume of build up and activity surrounding the actual climbs. Too often climbing documentaries show only the moves. Here we get the whole box and dice. Packing up, flying in, getting the supplies, hiring porters, doggy bus rides, treking in, scouting routes, getting up, getting down, the whole nine yards. Plus all the things that go wrong and the antics of the characters involved. Which brings me to another bonus – character development. Because it’s a trip report kind of thing we get a plot (in a non fiction sense) and thus get to know the people involved, or at least something about their climbing lives. It even goes back in time and introduces characters. Combine this with post climb interviews well edited into the footage, and the upshot is engaging. We know the climbers, what they are feeling, why the route is important to them, what their goals are, why one of them is continually throwing up, etc.
On to specifics. Okay, as I said three chapters…
Part One: Trango Towers in Pakistan. If you’ve ever wondered what might be involved, check this out. They estimate a couple of days to get there and spend 10 just trying to locate missing luggage! There’s a lot of footage here of the lead up. Things like buying a chicken in the town of “Skardu” on route to the Karakoram, villages, river crossings, porters singing and dancing, you get the idea? Actually I thought this section might even appeal to non-climbers with a serious passion for travel. Good stuff. Okay, shaky hand held camera and audio flooded by background noise, but do I need to be picky? I’m sitting here on the couch dreaming about getting to places like this to climb, while these dudes are living it. Who cares if the footage is raw. The editing is well done, so a lot of their audio problems are cleaned up.
Anyway, where was I? We see a little bouldering with a breathtaking backdrop. Then it’s up the Cat’s Ear Spire” (19,000 feet) for a first ascent they call “Freebird” 5.11d A1. Rapping all night in the dark to get off – scary! What else? “Hanibrakk Tower” second ascent “Tague It To The Top” 5.11, named after a climber friend of theirs who passes away. Scenery is amazing throughout, particularly the summit shots. Speaking of which, they’ve edited in a number of still shots which are really rewarding. Everything from close up of heavily lined faces of locals, to sweeping panoramas. Great shots. As I said before, the only real downer is the belayer cam, but unavoidable really. Inshalla second ascent 5.12 involved a bivy with only one sleeping bag shared between two and no ledge to sleep on. Post climb interview brings it home.
Part Two: Cirque of the Unclimbables in America’s Northwest Territories. Again, lots of lead up: the flight in, a helicopter ride, bad weather antics, some dude they meet in the back country who looks like father Christmas on skis (minus the beard) and won’t stop talking (funny stuff). They do get some climbing done though. Lotus Flower Tower accepts “Pecking Order” 5.11R and the FFA of “The Original Route” 5.12R.
Part Three: Patagonia Spires in Argentina. Pierre Giorgio, Domo Blanco, “Southern Cross” 5.11+ A1. (Not sure I got those names right). “Retreating Upwards” through a snow storm. Plus the usual campsite antics, like slack lining,etc. I won’t go on. That’s probably enough to give you an idea.
Conclusion: Yes, it’s hand held belayer footage and a certain “home movie” feel. Probably shot with one camera, taken along to document the trips. But you’ve got superb scenery, big climbs, first ascents, character development, good editing, interviews, and locations that can’t be beat. This is not a vid for sport climbing bolt clippers. There’s no heavy metal soundtrack and some young punk doing one finger chin ups, three foot off the ground. This is a vid for trad climbers, mountaineers, and craggers who dream. Those who can appreciate a trip report complete with epics and adventure. Shipton Spire, Lotus Flower Tower, Cerro Poincenot – big climbs, big commitment.
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