Even the trailer for Free Solo is viscerally panic inducing. After watching it northward of 20 times, I still get sweaty palms from seeing Alex Honnold exposed on a rock face thousands of feet above the ground without a rope. The film chronicles Honnold’s incredible free solo—ropeless—ascent of Freerider, the 3,000 foot climb up Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan. The climb is being considered perhaps the greatest sporting achievement in history, equated to the moon landing for Honnold’s requisite audacious vision and immaculate execution, and Free Solo grants audiences access to a world that to most is as foreign as the lunar surface.
Honnold and Free Solo thoroughly deserve the lion’s share of climbing’s mainstream attention, but we’re living in a golden age of boundary-pushing ascents, daring athletes and talented filmmakers who are helping us engage with these adventures without leaving the ground. Mind-blowing climbing films are taking over Utah this fall. See what these heroic conquistadors of the useless have been up to, and maybe even get a little inspiration to feel some air beneath your feet.
I’ve spilled more than enough digital ink heaping praise on Free Solo above, but in case you need any more reason to check out the film it’s directed by awarding winning filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi of Meru—the gripping 2015 Sundance climbing documentary—fame. You can find screenings of Free Solo here or by visiting the websites for Century 16 Cinema in Salt Lake City, the Larry H. Miller Megaplex in Ogden and Metropolitan Redstone 8 Theaters in Park City among others.
Relive Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen’s legendary, arduous ascent of the Dawn Wall, the most difficult route ever climbed up El Capitan. The Dawn Wall was long considered impossible for a free ascent—which means ropes and gear were used only for protection, not for assistance in climbing—until Caldwell and Jorgensen relentlessly battled up thin, polished granite edges and cracks for 3,000 feet. The film recently had a one-day-only showing in Salt Lake City on October 8th, but keep an eye out for future local screenings on the film’s website.
Reel Rock 13
Age of Ondra follows Czech wunderkind Adam Ondra as he establishes new benchmarks in difficulty by completing the most difficult rock climb ever, Silence, a 5.15d in Norway. Ondra also made headlines by making the first repeat of the Dawn Wall ascent as well as by climbing a 5.15 on his first try.
Up to Speed highlights the seldom-practiced discipline of speed climbing before its inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. During competition, speed-obsessed climbers race up a 15-meter wall in less than six seconds. Witness these incredible feats of athleticism as the sports prepares to take center stage.
Queen Maud Land chronicles Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold, Conrad Anker and others as they battle the elements and challenge the unclimbed, frozen towers of Antarctica. The icy region, named Queen Maud Land, tests the resolve of some of the world’s best athletes as they pioneer new lines in a remote wilderness.
Valley of the Moon traces the steps of two Israeli climbers and a Bedouin guide as they attempt to establish a new 1,800 foot climb on desert sandstone walls in Jordan’s Wadi Rum. The film is about more than athletic achievement and highlights how adventure can cross cultural barriers and build important personal relationships.