SHAFF2015 – Valley Uprising

Valley-UprisingValley Uprising is to Yosemite climbing what Stacey Peralta’s Riding Giants was to big wave surfing. Using a similar mix of first person testimony, original footage, photos and reconstructions, it weaves a picaresque tale of the dirtbags, heroes, villains, dope fiends and climbing superstars who contributed to the development of the big walls of Yosemite Valley.

It’s a story of big balls and even bigger egos, of purists like Royal Robbins and John Bachar and rebels like Warren Harding and Jim Bridwell, of petty rivalries, ethical battles between the protagonists and cultural wars between climbers and pretty much everyone else.

I haven’t been as engaged by a climbing film for a long time, which is all the more remarkable since Yosemite hype leaves me cold. Perhaps it was watching too many Masters of Stone videos when I was younger, but Yank climbers holding forth about how damn great they are is guaranteed to have me reaching for the off button. Valley Uprising by contrast is generally understated and while not ignoring the big mouths like Kauk, Harding and Bridwell gives equal prominence to the thinkers, Royal Robbins, Bachar and Honnold.

Tightly edited and constantly fascinating in spite of a ninety minute run-time, it packs a real punch both in terms of sheer climbing porn and as an in depth examination of the Valley’s disparate characters, their disagreements, alliances and triumphs. It examines in some detail the endless battle between disolute climbers and the authorities that didn’t understand them and wanted to control them. The ongoing cultural shift that has seen the Camp 4 scene all but extinguished now extends to rangers catching and, in some cases, tazering base jumpers. The 70’s and 80’s end up looking very much like a golden age.

Thankfully, a new generation of climbers have dealt in their own way with the changes and keep the valley at the very cutting edge of climbing, not least in the shape of bush-baby-eyed Alex Honnold. His outrageous solo ascents are a fitting progression from the anything goes excesses of the sixties and seventies, the evolution of free climbing in the eighties, Lynn Hill’s free ascent of the nose and Bachar and Potter’s ropeless ascents of the nineties.

This is a damn good film. If you only see one film at SHAFF, make it Valley Uprising.

See the SHAFF2015 website here