A Line Across The Sky – Two Go Mad in Patagonia….

A_Line_Across_TheSkyLet’s examine the standard mountaineering film template. Craggy heavily bearded types take months planning an assault on Parba Nangbat, drone on endlessly about the challenge and gather a mountain of gear that is finally, after a tedious build-up, carried to the foot of the mountain by some nice cheap native bearers. The next hour is the cinematic equivalent of Chinese water torture, endless shots of be-logoed fatties trudging up snow slopes while coughing and wheezing and complaining about the snow conditions. Eventually beaten back by a combination of bad weather/health/fitness, they fall back on the old saw that it’s not about the winning but the taking part.

Which is exactly what this film isn’t.

Tommy Caldwell has developed a bit of a Patagonia fixation. He’s completed some really significant first ascents and has an eye for the as yet uncompleted Fitzroy traverse taking in seven summit including the intimidating Fitzroy itself. Patagonian specialist Colin Haley has tried twice with little success. Bearing in mind the legendary instability of Patagonian weather such an enormous challenge is both alluring and horrifying. Caldwell has a young son and loving wife and is tussling with the notion that mountaineering is a selfish business, (no shit Sherlock, what was your first clue?!).

His solution to this problem? Persuade all round good guy fair weather Yosemite hardman Alex Honnold to join him for an attempt. Yep, that’s Alex ‘never used a crampon in his life before’ Honnold. Happier on sunnier climbs than scratching up ice filled cracks on friable Patagonian granite, he nevertheless agrees to give it a bash.

Logistics are basic in the extreme. One sleeping-bag between them, rock boots and Guide Tennies, barely enough food to see them through and a touching faith in each-other’s abilities seems to be sufficient for this quirky pair.

Honnold demonstrates his ingenue status by doing his impression of Bambi on ice walking in and discovering that his crampons don’t even fit the boots he’s wearing. However, once unleashed onto the soaring rock walls of this majestic chain, he turns into an utter tiger, leading 2000ft pitches at staggering speed. Caldwell takes over for iced up and snowy pitches and battles appalling conditions on the ascent of Fitzroy, soaked to the skin and climbing in the dark.

Throughout, their childish wonder at the majesty of their surroundings and sheer delight in each-other’s company makes for engaging and hilarious viewing. The weather holds, they overcome whatever the mountain throws at them and retain their sense of humour.

There’s so much to enjoy in this film. Caldwell and Honnold are great company and extraordinary climbers. The film is only forty minutes long, for once leaving me wanting more. All the climbing footage is shot by the two protagonists – no Red Bull helicopters, no long lenses.  Frankly, I wouldn’t know a Piolet d’Or if it slapped me in the face but these guys won it for this landmark ascent. Rightly so.

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