Sunday, 25 March 2012

An evening of rock climbing - Life on Hold review

Last night I attended the world premier of Life on Hold at the Climbing Works. It was the perfect end to an afternoon of impromptu climbing in the sunshine at Stanage. Shattered, aching, and ready for bed at 8pm, I decided to drag my weary body from the sofa and head on over to the Works for the film showing. At only £5, the cost included two lectures, from Chris Webb-parsons and Dan Varian, and the film itself. Bargain. Plus the event's profits were donated to the Edale Mountain Rescue Team, so there was the added bonus of feeling like I was contributing to a rock climbing community I feel very much a part of.


A small gazebo had been placed over the entrance to the climbing centre, with a pull up banner of Ned Feehally sat beside the doorway. The actual reason for Ned's 2D effigy being placed so prominently can only be guessed, but I would assume it has something to do with the fact that he is, undeniably, the protagonist in Life on Hold. This is apparent from watching the teasers the film's creators, Outcrop Films, had previously released. And the film itself didn't do anything to contradict this. He was the star of the show. But more on that very shortly. First, have a watch of the trailer for Life on Hold. 



Inside, the Works staff had placed over a hundred plastic garden chairs in rows along the matting under the competition wall. I was relieved to discover we wouldn't be stood up or sat on the floor for the duration. Sitting on a chair on foam cushioning, however, does have the odd effect of feeling as though on a boat during a choppy channel crossing. Anyway, after gaining my bearings and relaxing into my garden furniture, I was ready for the show.

Chris Webb-parsons, the gregarious Aussie crusher who has numerous V14/15 ascents to his name, began proceedings with a slide-show of his life. He seemed nervous - bless him - but he began with a joke that had the crowd roaring and he kept it going with a series of self-mocking anecdotes and photos. 

He was born in England, but his parents moved to Australia when he was two, meaning Chris definitely defines himself as Australian. He grew up in the nation's capital, Canberra, and found climbing shortly after getting expelled from school for setting off chlorine bombs, causing the police to close his entire neighbourhood as a precaution.

He seemed to have a natural talent for the sport - or he skimmed ahead in the story - because shortly after he mentioned his start in climbing he was talking about his first FA of a sport climb near Sydney (unfortunately, I can't remember the name) which, at 8C+, became Australia's hardest. He then took up bouldering, and began squashing every problem he could get his hands on. This culminated in a dream-come-true ascent of The Wheel of Life, the epically long V16.

Chris Webb-parsons on Wheel of Life (V16)

A break from climbing, to set up a rope access company, followed. This was jacked-in a short while later in favour of the nomadic life of a professional rock climber, when Chris began traveling the globe, collecting hard ascents in some of the most iconic bouldering destinations the world has to offer. Serious shoulder injury forced a year of recovery and rest, however. This didn't seem to dampen any talent as, when he was ready to climb again, he jumped on Mandala at Hueco Tanks, Texas, an iconic V12, and managed to crush it. (Talent, much?) Since then he has lived in Austria and competed in last year's World Cup circuit, before moving to England (Sheffield, to be precise) to train for this season and climb on "God's Own Rock", the wonderful grit stone of the Peak District.

The presentation went down well. The roar of applause filled the Climbing Works for a short while, before the microphone was handed over to Dan Varian, who took a different approach entirely to his presentation. He wanted to set the scene for the main feature of the evening, Life on Hold, as well as give his take on the British bouldering scene, what direction he saw it heading in, and talk a little about his own recent, and very hard, ascents - of both the repetitious and pioneering kinds.

Dan has become known for both high-balls and high numbers in these parts. He seems to find beautiful lines where none had been found before and send them in impeccable style - ground up, above a thick floor of mats. An opening and very bold statement, "trad climbing is dead, at least under eight metres", preceded proof as to why this is the case. This set the scene perfectly for the film, as a great deal of the boulders were indeed approaching the double figure metre mark. He seems to have nothing but contempt for any "squalid" little boulders, but prefers seeking out bold and beautiful lines that follow a obvious path up the face of a cliff band or large bloc. He also name dropped a few of the UK's strongest boulderers both in affection and antipathy - but I won't mention those he cited here. 

Dan Varian on a Beastmaker finger board - his creation

After a short, amateur film from Dan, of his recent work on the rock from the week, it was time for the main show. A short break and then it kicked off. The opening scene of Life on Hold was a jaw dropper, one that most climbers will have seen already. Ned Feehally cruising up Careless Torque at Stanage really is something to behold. This led into a series of very impressive, mostly high-ball, ascents of problems from all over. The Beastmaker boys - Ned and Dan - really were the stars, with Ned just about snipping the limelight with the hardest and highest ground up ascents of classic grit-stone trad routes, with only a few mats as protection. Historically hard lines, including the renowned Samson (E9 7B), were dispatched in nerve-wrangling fashion, the crowd occasionally exhaling a sigh of relief when he finally found the top, or a sigh of pain when contorting into awfully uncomfortable looking positions or falling from great height.

There were also laughs aplenty throughout the film, following delightful understatements after making historic ascents and strange noises emanating from mollified climbers. But my favourite was a superbly edited sequence of contradictory statements from Ned, who explained that the advancement of bouldering in this country had come about because climbers had learned to expel their ample strength more efficiently on the rock, before showing the most sketchy and brutish ascent of a thin looking problem from the man himself. 

From a technical point of view, the film was superb. The music selection was fantastic, changing tempo and genre to fit the nature of the scenes, and the shots themselves were sumptuous and gorgeous. You can't find a more beautiful scene than the UK's Peak District in the midst of Autumn, or when snow covered during the cold wintery months, or during the basking heat of summer. And the Outcrop Films boys made the most of their surroundings. 

My only gripe - and it is a small gripe - is when the music cut out and all we could hear was the wind battering the microphone. I understand this was an attempt to create suspense during some of the most frightening scenes - the most notable being Ned's Samson ascent - but it became annoyingly loud and abrasive, and, in my opinion, detracted from what was happening on screen. Silence would have been preferable in these instances. But then again, others may feel differently.

So, in conclusion, an excellent evening was had at the Climbing Works. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well worth a fiver. And if you get the chance to see Life on Hold, I would highly recommend it.