Thursday, 10 March 2016

ShAFF review: A Line Across The Sky

Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell on the Fitz Traverse

Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold are the two most famous climbers in the world (I think I'm safe making that statement). Tommy is most well-known for climbing the Dawn Wall, a feat that resulted in a personal call of congratulations from Barrack Obama, catapulting him to worldwide fame while simultaneously being stuck into a two-week siege with the mega-climb. Alex Honnold is known for his solo-climbing, scaling El Cap multiple times in a day without any protection, certain death awaiting him should he make a mistake or a freak accident occur. Such derring-do has built a reputation that mass media have flocked around.

It's safe to assume the pair are comfortable with long days of multipitch climbing - fit as a butcher's dog, we'd say in the UK. But throw them into the winter wilderness of Patagonia and how would they fair? A Line Across The Sky follows their mission to collect a much sought after alpine prize, a single push traverse of the ridgeline of Cerro Fitz Roy, known as the "Fitz Traverse". Here's a clip...

The full 40-minute film stands out from most alpine or winter climbing films largely because of the two protagonists, who in Alex's case have absolutely zero experience climbing in the conditions presented in Patagonia. High winds, freezing temperatures, changeable weather and, of course, battling with snow covered pitches, Alex states on more than one occasion that he's far out of his comfort zone.

Tommy, on the other hand, does have some experience under his belt, but he's certainly not known for his winter climbing. So it appears an audacious move to partner with an unexperienced climber to conquer such a challenge - especially against stiff competition from hardened, grizzled, Patagonia experts who embarked on the same mission on the same day. Weather windows are hard to come by on the tip of South America, exposed to the elements sweeping in unhindered off the sea, so mountaineers wait and wait and then swarm to the mountains en masse.

The Fitz Traverse - source: Patagonia website

The film is yet another lesson in suffering, as many of these winter and expedition climbing films usually are, Alex having previously featured in two given the apt names of Sufferfest and, ingeniously, Sufferfest 2. Very little sleep, huge physical exertion, the wet and cold, and the toll of 4,000m of vertical climbing along a jagged 5km ridgeline batter the pair over the course of the ascent. Over the five days they spent on the stunning Fitz Traverse, and it really is a stunning feature, sharp teeth protruding 3,000ft from a glacial landscape, the pair maintain their high spirits, camaraderie and, most impressively, sense of humour.

Towards the end, Tommy can barely hold back a fit of laugher as Alex provides commentary over their bedraggled state; smelly, greasy, finger nails peeling away, feet destroyed, hands that will barely open, and eating polenta using a pair of broken sunglasses as spoons.

Rappelling on the Fitz Traverse - source: Patagonia website

What the pair achieved is nothing short of amazing - especially considering it was Alex's first EVER climb in Patagonia. It rightly received wide praise from the alpine community and landed them with the coveted Piolet D'or. The film covers the achievement spectacularly, with slow motion climbing scenes, wide-angle scenic shots and sweeping helicopter footage matched with handheld camcorder diaries as Tommy and Alex make their way through the brutal terrain. It is a hilariously funny, inspiring and impressive film and an absolute must watch at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF) this weekend.

A Line Across The Sky is being shown as part of the Mountain Films 1 session on Saturday and Sunday 11th and 12th March. For further details and to book tickets, visit the ShAFF website.

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