First Ascent focuses on the energy, skill, luck and mental strength needed by a climber when attempting or wanting to be the first ascentionist. It looks into why climbers search out new lines and the drive that pushes them to succeed, to risk so much in what may eventually be failure.
First Ascent is the latest DVD from Sender Films, an American company who also made the highly acclaimed Return2Sender and like that film First Ascent focuses nearly exclusively on traditional climbing and in large parts - hard crack climbing.
The main focus of the film is Didier Berthod's 'quest' to climb the mythical Cobra Crack which is situated in Squamish, B.C, Canada. This climb is what starts and finishes the film. Around this, the film also has individual chapters that highlight both areas and climbers in relation to new ascents.
Many of the chapters are set in America and include Dean Potter climbing a stunning thin crack in Moab (with HUGE falls). Big walls in the loose, intimidating and adventurous Black Canyon in Colorado, and the search for the last first ascents in Yosemite.
Outside of the U.S., the film travels to Thailand and DWS with the young David Lama and fellow new generation (under 18) climbers. India provides a mountaineering first in the Himalaya and we return with Didier Berthod to Swizterland to see him climb 'Greenspit', at the time the hardest pure crack climb in the world.
All of the footage is excellent and all provide the 'wow' moments. With the mountaineering, it's the scale and the filmwork, in Thailand it's the huge falls into the sea and in Switzerland its Didier determination to move away from bolt protected routes and to return to traditional protected crack lines (which resulted at the time in Greenspit being the hardest crack climb in the world).
The highlights of the film for me where the Cobra Crack, Dean Potter in Utah and the Yosemite footage. Yosemite is about blood and grit, digging deep to climb a horrendous off-width, flared, awkward, brutal roof crack that literally drains the climbers Cedar Wright and Ivo Ninov. Moab is Dean Potters wish to push himself on the stunningly thin and technical Tombstone with a huge fall potential added in.
Cobra Crack is where the central soul of the film comes from and where the meaning of a First Ascent changes from being for the glory to the effect it has on the climber. The movie is built around this climb and we delve into it three times throughout and thus we get a superb understanding of the time and effort needed in achieving a first ascent. As the time passes we also see the effect the climb has on Didier mentally.
First Ascent shows the joy of being the first...but it also shows the pain, suffering and sometimes despair that goes into the possibility behind success. As watchers, we see the dirty work before the spotlight that First Ascents receive after success.
Its funny to say that one of the drawbacks of the film is its length but with First Ascent, less would have probably been more. Its a long film (around 85mins), with many chapters, and after its first viewing it probably will be watched in bits and pieces...but you will return to it. Another drawback is that the majority of the footage is North American based but again, it is a North American company and being in the right place at the right time for a first ascent is anything but easy.
The extras are worth noting as there is loads to choose from. The extras have more firsts from Matt Segal in Eldorado Canyon and a superb short film that follows French legend Fred Rouhling climbing near his home (including a possible 9a+/5.15). There's also a nice 'behind the scenes' chapter that shows you how the footage was filmed in the different locations. There's a lot more as well and you certainly wont be complaining about getting your money's worth with this DVD.
Overall, First Ascent is another cracking film from Sender films. It shows the hard work and talent needed to complete a new line but with Didier Berthod, it delves a little deeper, showing the Spartan lifestyle that a climber must lead and that success is never guaranteed.
If you like hard trad climbing and particularly crack climbing (it has the 2 hardest pure crack lines in the world), then First Ascent will be a quality addition to your collection.
Main Film Length: c.85mins
Type of Climbing: Mostly Trad, Mountaineering, DWS
Watch the First Ascent trailer here>>
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