Hardcore rock climbing can be a lonely sport, given that most of it happens in remote wilderness areas where nobody else goes. It's also tremendously dangerous, especially when you get up in the big leagues. Enter Alex Honnold, a wiry, tanned 23-year-old from Sacramento, who is now well-established as one of the best free solo rock climbers in the world. Honnold began scaling rocks in Yosemite as a teenager and kept pushing himself to do harder and higher climbs without a rope. Last year, he decided to try two extremely risky stunts without warning anyone. The first, a ropeless ascent of Moonlight Buttress in Utah's Zion National Park, had Honnold hoisting himself up 1,200 feet of sharp, precipitous rock in 83 minutes, with only a few tiny cracks in which to place his fingers. The second was even more compelling. That September, Honnold braved Yosemite's Half Dome, a free climb about twice as long and only slightly less steep than Moonlight Buttress. Then he repeated both climbs for a film crew.
The resulting footage comprises one half of Peter Mortimer's film First Ascent, a profile of two exceptional climbers made in collaboration with National Geographic Adventure Series. (Mortimer runs a small Colorado-based film company with fellow climber Nick Rosen.) The other half focuses on Sean "Stanley" Leary, who was known for climbing steep Alpine slopes with this Brazilian girlfriend Roberta Nunes, until she died three years ago in a car accident. Last year, Leary and two friends traveled to the southern tip of Argentina to spread Nunes' ashes. (Nunes had said that should she ever die on a climb, she wanted her remains scattered in Patagonia.) Leary decided to base-jump from El Mocho Mountain, carrying his deceased lover in a parachute. He landed on a glacier 3,000 feet below. To Mortimer, it was an extremely moving performance. It's also just plain extreme.
First Ascent screens at the 2009 Reel Rock Film Tour, which also features Josh Lowell's film Progression (Big Up Productions), about climbers getting right to the edge of their limits. Kevin Jorgeson scales the vertical wall of a 45-foot boulder in the California Buttermilks. Tommy Caldwell takes on the east face of El Capitan, Yosemite, completing several routes — one of which might be the hardest free ascent in the world. Santa Cruz-born climber Chris Sharma climbs what might be the world's hardest "sport route," a 250-foot behemoth on Clark Mountain, called Jumbo Love. The climbers in Progression take extreme measures to accomplish such feats, from jumping several feet to the next hold, to hanging off one little finger. As Mortimer assures, "the level of difficulty is really astounding." The 2009 Reel Rock Film Tour graces Albany Twin Theatre (1115 Solano Ave.) on Thursday, Oct. 1. Also featuring the winners from last year's Reel Rock filmmaking competition, the event kicks off at 8 p.m. $12. Purchase tickets at Bridges Rock Gym or Ironworks. ReelRockTour.com
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