The Top 5 Classic Climbing Films
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Unlike traditional sports like hockey or football, climbing's big moments aren't televised. There's no network that broadcasts first ascents or hard free solos as they happen. Instead, climbing filmmakers fill that role. They follow athletes into some of the world's deepest corners and crevices to capture the sport's progression on tape. Over the years, climbing films have evolved from crude home videos to visually slick documentaries. Here are my picks for five classics that set the standards. Watch them to understand the evolution.
5. El Capitan (1978)
The name says it all. El Capitan follows climbers Gary Tolliver, Richard McCracken, and Lito Tejada-Flores for three days as they aid their way up the Nose. Poetic at times, the film has a certain amount of rawness too. Cameraman Glen Denny had to shoot a portion of the film in total darkness after sunset caught the climbers mid-pitch.
4. Mountain of Storms (1968)
If there's such a thing as a perfect climbing film, this is it. Hard Grit documents a season in northern England's infamous gritstone climbing scene, as a cast of bold climbers like Ben Moon, Seb Grieve, and Leo Houlding send routes with barely-there handholds and even-less-there protection. This film was many American climbers' introduction to the very British concept of headpointing–getting a dangerous route dialed on toprope before attempting it on lead.
Among the movie's many highlights is a cheeky reenactment of the history of British climbing, presided over by Niall Grimes.