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Climbing

Nov 07, 2017

Reel Rock 12 is Flat-Out Awesome

Want to win free tickets to Reel Rock 12? Read our review of the film, the best installment in several years, and check out the details at the bottom for your chance to win free tickets to a Reel Rock 12 showing near you.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

The Reel Rock Film Tour is a major event in climbing each year. It is more than just a movie: it is both a barometer to gauge the general feelings of the climbing community and a yardstick by which to measure the progress (in more than just grades) that has been made.

Here are our thoughts on the four mini-features that comprise Reel Rock 12.

Chris Sharma, Malloca, Spain. Photo: Adam Clark.

Above the Sea

Sharma is the quintessential climber for a whole generation who grew up with his amazing first ascents of sport routes like Biographie and Dreamcatcher. Compared to the gangly Adam Ondra’s and Dave Graham’s of the climbing world, Sharma was muscled, his climbing as dynamic as could be.

It’s been a few years since Sharma graced the Reel Rock screen with his own mini-feature. In Reel Rock 7, he and Ondra faced off in “La Dura Dura,” a chronicle of their attempts to establish the first 9b+ (5.15c); and then in Reel Rock 8 there was “La Dura Complete,” a cut of both of their eventual sends. The story from these two shorts signaled a passing of the torch: Ondra’s rise has since continued unabated, while Sharma has seemed content to focus on personal projects like opening a climbing gym and settled into his role as a representative of the new old-guard. He still makes headlines and graces covers and cranks out impressive first ascents, but his role has changed.

Chris Sharma, Malloca, Spain. Photo: Adam Clark.

So when Reel Rock 12 opens with “Above the Sea,” a feature about Chris Sharma’s years deep water soloing on the coastlines of Mallorca and climbs he’s established there, it’s straight out of yesteryear.  The absurd number of psats that issue from his mouth, the needless feet-cuts and campus moves tens of feet above the crashing waves evoke a warm nostalgia. You can’t help but smile.

The cinematography and shots are stunning. The story is innocuous and nice: Sharma has settled down and has a family now, but is still driven to explore the cliffs above the thunderous ocean. It is a delight to watch, through and through.

Yet the story is tired. Has little enough happened in climbing in the past five years that Sharma is still the biggest draw around just because of his pseudo-bodybuilder physique and golden locks? This is nothing against Chris Sharma; rather it’s a question about the climbing community.

And to answer that question for us, Reel Rock 12 film turns up the volume, the stakes and and awesomeness full-tilt with the second mini-feature.

Margo Hayes on La Rambla. Photo: Greg Mionske.

Break on Through

The narrative move here is perfect: we transition from Chris Sharma to the first woman to climb his standard-setting route, Biographie, and even get some interview footage with him. Just as La Dura Dura represented Ondra taking over center stage from Sharma, “Break on Through” does the same for women. In this Reel Rock, Chris Sharma is merely prelude. (Reel Rock has had features about women before, notably the excellent Spice Girl about British crusher Hazel Findlay, but “Break on Through” feels different.)

“Break on Through” profiles American climber Margo Hayes and her quest to become the first woman to climb 9a+ (5.15a). Hayes is portrayed as having a laser-focus, but also as a kook who will have fun no matter how serious the objective. In between tries on several of the hardest climbs in the world, she makes goofy faces at the camera.

Margo Hayes. Photo: Greg Mionske.

First up is Hayes’ battle with La Rambla (9a+), in Siurana, Spain. The line is one of the most storied in hard sport-climbing, with ascents by Ramon Julian Puigblanque, Sharma, Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, and roughly a dozen other crushers.

The best moment in “Break on Through” (and in our opinion the best in all of Reel Rock 12), happens when Hayes is working La Rambla. In interview voiceovers as she climbs, American climbers Matty Hong and Jon Cardwell talk about how flexible Hayes is and how she is capable of doing moves and sequences that they would probably never even consider. Next we see Hayes with an improbably high foot, virtually next to her head, before cutting to a gaggle of onlooking male climbers, mouths agape, in awe. The comedy is self-deprecating on behalf of the men behind the camera and on screen, but their reverence for Hayes’ skill is dead-serious and mirrors that of the audience; Hayes is absolutely mind-blowing to watch on the rock.   

The film later follows her attempts on Chris Sharma’s Biographie (9a+), in Céüse, France. We won’t give anything else away except to say that “Break on Through” ends with  descriptions splashed across the screen of other massive barriers shattered by women in climbing this year. The audience howled with approval.

Brad Gobright. Photo: Dan Krauss.

Safety Third

“Safety Third” is wildly entertaining and offers the biggest laughs of all four films in Reel Rock 12. Directed by Cedar Wright, “Safety Third” follows Brad Gobright, an American climber dubbed “the next great free soloist” by Outside. Gobright is not what you would expect out of a preeminent free soloist: no rippling Sharma muscles, no Dean Potter platitudes about the beauty and art of ropeless climbing. The short-in-stature Gobright is decidedly ridiculous. In one scene, he shows up to try one of Eldorado Canyon’s hardest and boldest traditional lines (with a rope), but realizes he forgot his shorts. So he climbs it in his skivvies. At another point, the nails-hard climbing above him is the furthest thing from his mind; instead he is preoccupied with where he left his glazed croissant that morning.

Brad Gobright. Photo: Cedar Wright.

Of course, these moments are all played up for comedic effect. In between laughs, are sequences of super-uncomfortable-to-watch and simultaneously brilliant free soloing. The feature builds up to Gobright’s solo of Hairstyles and Attitudes, an insecure pitch of face climbing high up on the north face of the Bastille, a tower in Eldorado Canyon.

2017 was a big year for free soloists. While we love watching Gobright “wow”on the big screen, we hope he tones it down a bit and bumps safety up to second, at least sometimes.

 

Maureen Beck. Photo: Cedar Wright.

Stumped

A great finale for the best slate of Reel Rock films in a few years. Another Cedar Wright flick, “Stumped” follows one-armed American climber Maureen Beck.

Beck wants to climb 5.12. As she says, she doesn’t want to be seen as a good one-armed climber; she wants to be seen as just a good climber. Full stop. From the description on the Reel Rock website: Beck “is not here to be your inspiration. ‘People say, ‘Look, a one-armed climber, now I have no excuses.’ I’m like, dude, you never had any excuses in the first place.’”

The candor is refreshing and Beck’s journey towards 5.12 is familiar to anyone who has aspired to the grade. Failure, failure, failure. And then bits of progress. Glimmers of possibility.

Beck is a perfect character with which to end Reel Rock 12. Her stoke, determination, ability and goofiness remind us of the best qualities of all the prior segments, and bring them together in one short feature. 

Check out the trailer below and read on for more details about how to win free tickets to a Reel Rock showing near you!

LOVE THE OUTDOORS? LOVE GOOD CINEMA? WE’RE GIVING YOU AND A FRIEND THE CHANCE TO GET FREE TICKETS!*

Step 1: Subscribe to our newsletter here.

Step 2: Share this Facebook post from The Outdoor Journal!

Step 3 – Join The Outdoor Voyagers Facebook group.

Step 4 – Like the REEL ROCK Facebook page

Good Luck!

*Competition Rules & Guidelines:

  • Entrants must follow The Outdoor Journal’s Facebook Page and publicly share the competition post on their profile. Entrants must also subscribe to The Outdoor Journal’s email newsletter, and request access to the Facebook group “The Outdoor Voyagers,” and like the REEL ROCK Facebook page.
  • Entrants must clearly enter their complete name and email address on the subscription form. Incomplete or inaccurate entries will be rejected.
  • Only one entry per person. All eligible competition entrants must be at least 18 years of age.
  • The winners will be randomly selected. Two attempts will be made within 24-hours to contact the selected winners via the provided email. If at the end of the 24-hour period the winner has not replied, another winner will be contacted and the process will repeat until winners are selected.
  • The winner must present a valid form of identification in order to collect the passes at the screening of their choice.
  • Winners may choose from any of the following shows:
  • San Francisco, CA, 11/10, Castro Theatre
  • Los Angeles, CA, 11/10, LA Live
  • Santa Cruz, CA, 11/10, The Rio Theater
  • Austin, TX, 11/11, Crux Climbing Center
  • Mountain View, CA, 11/13, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
  • Durango, CO, 11/13, Fort Lewis College
  • Nashville, TN, 11/16, Climb Nashville
  • Nashville, TN, 11/16, Climb Nashville
  • Anchorage, AK, 11/28, Bear Tooth Theatrepub
  • Anchorage, AK, 11/29, Bear Tooth Theatrepub
  • Anchorage, AK, 11/30, Bear Tooth Theatrepub
  • Portland, OR, 12/13, Revolution Hall
  • Portland, OR, 12/14, Revolution Hall
  • The Outdoor Journal does not accept liability for any lost, stolen, unclaimed or expired prizes. Any unclaimed or expired prizes will be retained by The Outdoor Journal. The winner agrees to allow The Outdoor Journal to publicly use their name and likeness in association with the competition and agrees to present The Outdoor Journal, REEL ROCK and any other partners in a positive light in any interviews, social media posts or other public communication now and in perpetuity.

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Adventure Travel

Jul 11, 2018

The Mountain Monks of Montserrat – Exploring History, Legends, and Great Climbing

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WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

Apoorva Prasad, The Outdoor Journal Editor-in-Chief, recounts a climbing trip to Montserrat in 2009, where he followed in the footsteps of the mountain monks of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.

A small boy scrambled up the rough rocks, yanking at tough brown shrubs and grabbing the pebbled conglomerate of the rocky Catalan spires. His sure-footed goats had already reached a large clear ledge above. He gasped with the effort and tried not to look down. It was late afternoon and he had to gather his flock and drive them homewards soon. He mantled up to level ground and looked around. There they were, near a large, dark-mouthed cave. He yelled at them, the stupid creatures. He spoke only Catalan, a language native to these wild, mountainous parts between France and Spain. And then, the woman emerged.

She was dark and luminous. She was haloed by light, a strange sort of energy exuding from her, illuminating the entrance to the cave. He felt something touch him, a sort of blessedness. And then he fainted.
So was born the legend of the black Madonna.
Fast forward three hundred years. A large monastery and church stand on that ledge, surrounded by thousand-foot high spires of rock. There are two ways to the monastery – a winding mountain road, or a cable car. Today, like most days, the road is closed due to rockfall. The cable car has limited running hours – and we barely catch the last one up, with the lone operator holding it for us.
Montserrat – Jagged Mountain in English  – is a four-thousand-foot high plateau composed of reddish pebbly sedimentary rock needles that reach up into the sky, with holds that seem like they’ll pop out the moment you pull on them. Pinnacles emerge from the jumbled matrix, cliffs, and aretes that soar over the surrounding countryside.

More than a thousand routes spider the mountain. There are barely enough climbers here. When I was there, it seemed possible to spend a whole day climbing thousand foot classics without ever meeting another party – in near-perfect temps, even in February, the month of my first trip here. This is the warm, beating heart of Catalan mountaineering.

It was a warm late February day, and we had been completely alone so far. The only other people we’d seen was a small group of climbers hiking ahead of us on the trail before they disappeared into the brush as we detoured towards the base of our route. Even though we were barely a 40-minute drive from Barcelona, it felt like wilderness climbing. The overgrown brush covered everything. It is an incredible sensation, to know that there is real adventure all around us, so close to established urban centres. There are ibex and wild boars in the forests in and around the mountain, and we walk carefully to not disturb the peace and natural beauty of this place.

The base of the route appears suddenly from the green brush. Vegetation ends and rock begins. The sensation is familiar and reassuring. The first part is not-yet-vertical, but real climbing nonetheless. I like to lead first pitches, since I haven’t yet had the time to feel scared and I can bluster my way through, while the ground seems reassuringly close – which in reality makes no difference to any real or perceived danger, of course. The route is mostly bolted or marked with old pitons, there is little scope for natural protection.

Climbing slowly, we reached halfway up. I was belaying my partner Gilles, a Franco-Australian climber I had met some years ago in India. The route is considered the area’s classic and most popular climb – the 5.10a+, 11-pitch, 1033 foot (315m) Aresta Ribas. The Aresta – “arete” – first climbed by a certain Ribas in 1979, is the prominent spur of rock on the sunnier, south-facing side of the mountain – perfect for a winter climb. Despite its ranking, there is literally no-one else on the climb. For comparison, a 3-star multi-pitch classic like this one nearly anywhere in the United States or even in the French Alps would literally have a queue of climbing parties on it.

Suddenly, an old man in a blue sweater appeared to my right, climbing in what looked like sneakers. As I watched, their party of three appeared one after the other, traversing to our belay station, moving much faster than us. The leader was a younger man, the only one who spoke English. That was how I met Josep Castellnou, a local who told me stories of this amazing history of Montserrat. Josep, a vet from a nearby town, also managed rocktopo.com – a climbing site extolling the virtues of the natural park of Montserrat, with downloadable guides for each part of the mountain. [Ed: unfortunately the site is no longer online, but some topos are still available elsewhere].

“You are visiting here?” said Josep, casually while on lead. I was well secured in my belay anchors.
“Yes”, I replied, shielding my eyes from the sun while paying out rope to Gilles.

“Good!” he said, smiling. “But you will not know how to find the trail down. We will wait for you!” he exclaimed, before setting off again.

Their party was doing a route just adjacent to ours, and flying on it. I cherished such encounters in the mountains – in every way a normal social interaction, but between two strangers clinging spider-like to a vertiginous mountain wall. These meetings sometimes lead to lifelong friendships, and one can meet again decades later with the same sense of warmth and gratitude.

The climbing was unexpectedly difficult. The holds were rounded cobblestones emerging from a matrix of hard sediment, requiring you to balance your toes on rounded surfaces, with no real edges. I needed to think about footwork before making each move, which meant our progress was very slow. The route was series of spires stacked one upon the other. An immense panorama behind us gave me a massive sense of exposure, a feeling of stomach-churning, calf-tightening vertigo that kicks in when you can only see the air above, below and behind you. Eagles rode rising thermals, balancing motionless with outstretched wings on waves of invisible air. They nested on the cliff walls, and climbers were under strict instructions to leave certain areas and routes alone in this protected Park Natural de la Muntanya de Montserrat.

A young fresh faced Editor-in-Chief, Apoorva Prasad

The climbing took nearly the whole day. We reached the top as the sun began to set. Gilles and I quickly began to coil the ropes and switch out our rock climbing shoes for hiking footwear – wearing rock shoes the whole day is an incredibly painful experience, for those who haven’t yet tried it. Josep and his party were patiently waiting for us at the top, just beyond and below the ‘summit’ of the arete. I was warmly surprised, they must have reached at least an hour before us. They smiled and greeted us again, and rather quickly now, given the fading light, led us towards climber’s left, towards whatever path there was. Within some minutes it became clear to me that we would have never found it on our own, especially in the dark. The trail down was a complex, hours-long scramble over water-worn rock and incredibly dense brush, and not really a proper ‘trail’. If we hadn’t run into Josep’s party, we’d have probably spent the entire night cautiously hunting for the way down, having heard enough stories of climbing parties lost on descents upon being cliffed out, or going over an edge in the haze of fatigue, in darkness.

A little while later Josep pointed out a cave.
“You see these caves? Monks used to live here and meditate. Now climbers use them. They spend the year just living here and climbing”.
So medieval Benedictine monks had faded away, replaced in this new age by climbers, similarly meditating on paths to salvation amongst spires reaching up to the sky. Who were these 21st century rock-climbing monks? I was eager to find out, but tracking these unknown climbing hermits, seekers after greater truths… was not going to be easy or feasible.
The sun had already set below the horizon, we were hiking down in the twilight, and could barely see the trail. Yet I paused to look inside the cave. It was a small nook in the rook, just enough to serve as a passable campsite sheltered from the rain, to lay a sleeping bag on the uneven ground, a mendicant’s bowl on a rock ledge, perhaps a worn book. For a second, I closed my eyes and imagined that life. Then I heard the group outside, patiently waiting for us to follow that hidden trail, and I stepped back into the fading winter light.
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