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Didier Berthod attempting Cobra Crack at Squamish
© First Ascent, Dec 2006
First Ascent is the newest offering by the American company Sender Films, following a wide range of motivated climbers on their various quests to seek out, and conquer new lines from Squamish to Thailand. The film takes an honest look into the driving factors behind new routing and centres itself on Didier Berthod's desire to be the first to climb the infamous Cobra Crack, Squamish, Canada.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the movie; hard (predominantly crack) climbing, professionally filmed with an equally good soundtrack and some big falls thrown in for good measure.
The film initially launches into impressive footage of attempts on the Cobra Crack followed by a move-by-move breakdown of the project which succeeds in conveying its difficulty. A brief insight is also given into Didier's motivation, as well as the way of life which accompanies such aspirations.
Next up is a brief introduction to first ascent history, guiding you from the 1960's to the present day. Whilst the idea for this section, and the information offered, are interesting, especially when accompanied by classic climbing imagery, the commentary provided is over-the-top and likely to wear thin after the first viewing.
The next scene follows Dean Potter to Moab, Utah and shows some good attempts on a new line, and some of the biggest falls the film has to offer concluding with a successful ascent.
After this its over to Thailand, where a talented group of young climbers, lead by David Lama, pursue a few of the many unclimbed lines available. This scene has some of the best, and most atmospheric, deep water soloing footage available to date, mainly focusing on one line, with a hard dyno right at the top making for some exciting spills!
The true spirit of adventure climbing is captured within the next section of the DVD - into the black (The Black Canyon, Colorado) with plenty of loose rock and an epic approach on show. The nature and exposure of the area is shown well, with good commentary by the current pioneers backing up yet more great climbing footage. However the dialogue between two locals which is interspersed amongst the footage comes across as unnecessary and ultimately detracts from the main event.
The Himalayas is the setting for the next first ascent before the film returns to Squamish, and the continued efforts of Didier Berthod on the Cobra Crack, after which attention shifts to the hardest crack climb in Europe - Greenspit. This section is one of the best on the DVD, capturing a rare hard first ascent on film.
The next section follows Timmy O'Neil buildering in Hollywood. Unfortunately this section does not fit very well with the rest of the DVD and the main focus seems to shift from the climbing to the climber. It ends in what can only be classed as a bizarre chase sequence and overall, this section should maybe have been banished to the extras area.
The Obscurists section of the DVD follows the first ascent of a hard crack in Yosemite and also features the only bouldering in the film. The DVD then concludes by returning once again to Squamish and the Cobra Crack, which finally sees a first ascent before an interview with Didier Berthod shows his realization of the driving factors behind his climbing.
Overall the quality of the footage and the climbing in First Ascent is outstanding, however at times the film seems to be unnecessarily long and I would be doubtful if anyone will watch it in its entirety more than a handful of times (I for one enjoyed it much more the second time around with a few strategically placed 'skips'). The lack of grades can also be frustrating as it's always nice to be able to relate to the difficulty of a route you are watching, even if it is just to know how much above your level it really is!
The extras on the DVD are also worthy of note, especially the bouldering short on Fred Rouhling and yet another first ascent of a hard crack - Iron Monkey.If trad is your thing then this is a must see film and despite its few flaws its quality makes it appealing even for the non die hard traditionalist. Overall 4/5