© Higher Ground, Nov 2007
'Higher Ground' by filmmakers Chris Alstrin and Alex Lavigne. Higher Ground celebrates mountain culture through the eyes of world-class climbers, focusing on the drive to explore their passion for the mountains and the climbing lifestyle. From big wall first ascents in Zion, Utah and winter alpine ascents in the Canadian Rockies to big wall ski descents in coastal British Columbia.
The cinematography is breathtaking but the unifying theme is lifestyle, the common bond that unites climbers around the globe. It's a year in the life. What motivates these athletes to court danger? Higher Ground celebrates mountain culture through the eyes of world-class climbers. The film focuses on these climbers' drive to explore, their passion for the mountains and the climbing lifestyle. From big wall first ascents in Zion, Utah and winter alpine ascents in the Canadian Rockies to big wall ski descents in coastal British Columbia, Higher Ground spotlights some of the continent's most inaccessible terrain and the people who thrive there. A lens into their boundary-breaking passion illustrates what mountain culture is: an obsession.
Featuring: Mike Anderson, John Chilton, Audrey Gariepy, Phil Gruber, Shawn Huisman, Sean Isaac, Lisa Korthals, Guy Lacelle, Rob Owens, Ines Papert, Rob Pizem, Andrew Querner, Scott Semple, and Josh Wharton.
Appearances By: Barry Blanchard, Jimmy Dunn, Jeff Lowe.
Release Date: 2007
Running Time: 85 Minutes
This was one DVD I was really looking forward to watching so you can imagine how disappointed I was when my review copy went missing in the post. At one point it looked like I was going to have to fork out my own cash, well the money I'd earmarked for my Mums Birthday present, if I was going to get to watch it. Fortunately for familial harmony Posing Productions (https://www.posingproductions.com/homepage.php) sent me a new copy and I must say it was worth the wait. In fact, if my mum had received this instead of the Body Shop 'Top to Toe' gift set she actually got I'm sure she'd have been a lot happier.
The film opens with some vistas of some beautiful mountains and if a film can get a Malhamite such as me thinking 'Blimey I need to get out to the hills' then it's already done half its job. The film then launches into a series of chapters each with a renowned climber taking the viewer to a favourite area or climb and although some of these feature the odd bolt they are all multi-pitch adventures in remote settings.
The first action is some modern mixed climbing in the Canadian Rockies. Bolted dry tooling is an aspect of climbing I've never been able to fathom and should be of no interest to me but this is a spectacular looking line on a truly monstrous cliff ending on some pretty hairy looking icicles. The film makers are to be applauded for capturing the scale of the cliff and the emptiness of the Rockies. The same comment could apply to the next section; a multi-pitch 5.12c free climb in Black Canyon, Colorado. Again, this is a swaggering line up a stupendous cliff and the memories of climbs like these will have you weeping as you shiver beneath a damp grit boulder or queue up for your 100th ascent of Consenting Adults during the British winter – everywhere in the world, it seems, has better climbing and better weather than us here in the damp UK. Whilst the situations might be, the film itself is not quite perfect. The climbers are obviously very familiar with the Black Canyon route and so their ascent lacks real drama even if the some of the run outs are a bit hair raising.
© Higher Ground, Nov 2007
Next stop is British Columbia for some wilderness ice climbing and more lines to get anyone suffering the vagaries of Scottish conditions drooling, likewise the chapter featuring someone soloing the Ames Ice Hose. Again film quality and camera positions are top notch but these are very much 'guaranteed outcome' climbs for the protagonists and fail, slightly, to engage the viewer. Instead we get to sit back admire the view and the climbs. As I did so I was left wondering at the logistics that must have been required to make this film, this is true film making and deserves to succeed as it takes you to inspirational places other films can't reach.
Four more chapters complete film, all of which are of a very high standard and, whilst the action may not be edge of the seat stuff, it is of a very high standard and does a brilliant job of showcasing the diversity of adventure to be had in North America covering such things as a really funky looking route in Zion, extreme skiing and an interesting section about an actionadventure photographer. Each chapter is inspirational, as well filmed as anything you will have seen and will almost certainly leave you looking at the cost of transatlantic flights. Some of the chapters are padded out with interviews with climbers relevant to the action but as these are significant figures in the development of North American climbing such as Jeff Lowe, Sean Isaacs and Barry Blanchard (or is it Peter Stringfellow, I couldn't be sure?) these are worthwhile diversions.
I've not seen a better filmed or produced DVD on adventure climbing. If it lacks anything it's the element of uncertainty or danger surrounding the climbing but this is a reflection on the experience of the protagonists involved rather than the routes themselves which are breath taking and an order of difficulty beyond the ken of most of us. If multi-pitch climbing of any hue is your bag or if you are looking for something to maintain your psych for climbing over the winter then this is the DVD for you.
View the Higher Ground trailer at www.posingproductions.com
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Ashley Lewis: