Just in case you’ve been living under a rock lately, the Reel Rock tour is making the rounds around the country. Unlike previous years where the evening consists of several shorts of longer films, this year one film is featured in its entirety: Valley Uprising.
The fruition of over 7 years of filming, Valley Uprising is an epic film and one that I think will become a classic. If you watched or owned any of the Masters of Stone films on VHS back in the day, Valley Uprising will be the Masters of Stone for the new generation.
And it couldn’t come at a better time.
Our sport has changed drastically since the days of Royal Robbins and Warren Harding’s feud that fueled some of the most fabled stories of our culture. Back then, climbing was a fringe sport and the only way to get started was to know someone who climbed (high unlikely) or to grab some nautical rope, some sneakers and just give it a whirl- and hope you don’t die. Today, there are climbing gyms all over the place and most people can try climbing indoors, on plastic in a very-low risk environment. Many of today’s climbers are extremely talented athletes and yet have barely grasped real, actual rock.
This has all kinds of implications- both positive and negative, depending on your perspective. Today’s climbers are kind of like the Z-boys of Dogtown. Without knowing any better, without knowing how you are ‘supposed’ to do it, they figured out their own way, synthesizing something completely new without really intending to that completely and radically changed the sport. Modern climbers, without ready access to climbing mentors who teach how its ‘supposed’ to be done, are free to be more creative in how they engage in the dance with gravity. Before bolts and hang-dogging, who would have thought to climb a route like Realization or La Dura Dura? Such routes would have been impossible under the ground-up, traditional protection-style.
And yet, there is something about Royal Robbin’s original ethic on style that calls to all of us; that purest-ethic that dictates that a clean/minimal fixed gear, ground-up, single push ascent is more valuable, more respectable, more worthy than of any other means of ascent. I think this style calls to all of us because it is the pinnacle of achievement. In this style, it is just the climber and the rock. If you are strong enough, you succeed in ascending. If you are not, you come back stronger and try another time. The rock is the yardstick by which we measure ourselves. Anything less than ascent in the purest style indicates we may be lacking.
Now before you go there, dear reader, I understand the slippery slope this argument can be. “But what about crampons, or rock shoes, or even the rope itself? Aren’t these the trappings of less than ideal style? According to this style logic, we should all be attempting to free solo everything like Dean Potter or Alex Honnold.” Yes, the line of reasoning regarding ‘style’ dictated by Royal would logically end with all of us free soloing everything. Not only would that be downright ridiculous, it would be incredibly dangerous.
But this is what I thought was so incredibly well-done about the Valley Uprising film. By documenting the origins of this style-ethic in the Robbins-Harding feud, and then showing how this influenced and shaped the generations of climbers that came to Valley afterwards, we can see how this generation’s top climbers have pushed this style to it’s pinnacle- Dean Potter ‘free-basing’ on El Cap or Alex Honnold free soloing El Cap and Half Dome in a day. Could we truly appreciate such accomplishments without the understanding of where we have come from (Warren Harding’s first ascent of the Nose took almost 2 years) or without understanding why we would place so much value on an extremely risky activity (free soloing)? If we look at the non-climbing public’s reaction to Honnold’s 60 Minutes interview, (‘he’s crazy!’ ‘that’s ridiculous!’ ‘who would do such a stupid thing?’) the answer would be “no.”
Not only does the story told in Valley Uprising give context to the accomplishments of today’s top climbers, it will inform the future of our sport. Today’s climbers need to know where we come from as a culturally as a sport in order to forge the ground-breaking ascents of tomorrow. And hopefully it will inspire us normal folks to try a little harder as well 🙂