Thursday, March 4, 2010
Standing on a foot-wide ledge, 1,800 feet high up above the Yosemite Valley on the rock face of Half Dome, Alex Honnold began to have some serious doubts while attempting to make the first free solo climb of the towering landmark. The extreme sport involves climbing without ropes or belay; falls usually result in a quick and crunchy death.
In the exhilarating 24-minute documentary First Ascent: Alone on the Wall, which is being screened this Friday at Golden State Theatre as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, the cameras capture Honnold’s uncharacteristic moment of hesitation.
“Just come back if you are not feeling it,” a cameraman says to the 24-year-old climber, who has his back pinned against the massive white hood of granite as the wind starts to pick up.
Later in the film, Honnold reflects on what he calls a “mini nervous breakdown.”
“Basically, when I’m soloing, normally I have an almost mental armor,” he says. “You could say I’m in the zone. I have something that’s protecting my head from thinking too much. And, for whatever reason, on Half Dome, I ran out of whatever armor I had.”
Despite its short length, First Ascent does not just deliver heart-pounding free solo climbing, but also a quick sketch of the individual behind the climbs. Viewers will be surprised to learn that Honnold is not a hip, studly adrenaline addict but rather a gangly, big-eared, Dostoyevsky-reading geek who pines for a girlfriend.
Fellow professional climber Cedar Wright marvels at the disconnect between the Honnold on the ground and the Honnold who scurries like a spider up some of the world’s most difficult climbing routes.
“When you meet Alex Honnold, you are going to be like, ‘Huh?’” Wright says. “This guy is a bumbling, dorky, awkward kind of goofball. When he steps on the rock, he’s literally a whole other person. He becomes this poised, graceful, calculated badass dude doing the hardest, biggest free solos in the world.”
First Ascent is one of eight films coming to Monterey as part of this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. Sponsored by REI Marina, proceeds from the Monterey screening will be donated to the local community and school-based environmental education program Return of the Natives. Other selections in the film festival, which highlights mountain subjects: a documentary on a group that attempts to white-water kayak a handful of African rivers (the 20-minute long Africa Revolutions Tour), and a poetic short showing a skier plowing through pillows of snow on a powder day (the three-minute Deep/Shinsetsu).
Another film that will be screened here and the winner of a “Special Jury Mention” at the Banff International Film Festival, the 46-minute Take a Seat follows a young British man’s attempt to ride a tandem bike with an assortment of strangers from the northern coast of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. Along with wince-inducing anecdotes about the rider’s sore backside are scenes that illustrate the diversity of the Americas, from palm-tree-dotted Mexican beaches to the chill-inducing, snow-covered region of Patagonia.