On Sight ? The Other Side Of The Lens

© Alastair Lee's Editor Jack Geldard is at an International Climbing Editors' Summit Meeting at the American Alpine Club in Golden, Colorado. Before he left he wrote a few words about his experiences helping and starring in Alastair Lee's On Sight film. This article is also at

Gravediggers E8 6c - An accidental on-sight attempt


James McHaffie onsighting Isis is Angry E7 6c, on Yellow Walls, Gogarth
© Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC
Climbing films have awkward similarities to snuff TV. Take the opening scene of Hard Grit; the heart beat, the tension, the fall, and then the crunch. Awesome. Unless it's you doing the crunching!

I first got in touch with Al Lee after watching his film Set in Stone, the wonderful profile of Cumbrian legend, Dave Birkett. I spoke to Al about my plans to go to Madagascar and asked him if he was interested in lending us some cameras for the trip.

A couple of years on and I've been in front of Al's camera, and dangling from his ab rope after being rescued, quite a few times. I've given my input as best I could to his film, and I've also climbed a fair few routes and made a few new friends along the way.

I'll never forget the first day out filming with Al. I was climbing with James 'Caff' McHaffie in Wales and Al drove down from Lancashire to meet us. We set off in to the Llanberis Pass on a cold October day, both James and myself had an E7 in mind.

I cruised my choice – Surgical Lust on Scimitar Ridge, (well as much as anyone can cruise an E7 onsight – that is to say, I got up it and didn't die) then we moved on to James' choice of route, Rumblefish on the Cromlech. It was cold and windy, and the route was hard and scary. I gave James some offensive encouragement in response to earlier in the day, when he had built me a gravestone underneath Surgical Lust, “To save me carrying you far when you fall off” he'd said.

“You've no hope on this Caff.” I told him, just as he stepped on to the lonely arête. I think he told me where I could stick my belay device. Al looked bemused at our snuff humour, and not knowing us that well, he wasn't sure what to make of it all. However he soon settled in to our way of dealing with dangerous routes, even managing to dish out a bit of abuse from his ab rope at appropriately scary moments.

Anyway, after around forty minutes, James got committed high on the route, above a terrible RP and a skyhook and looked set to blast to the top. Then disaster struck; James got chalk in his eye, and wiping it out he lost a contact lens.

“Everything's gone a bit psychedelic” he shouted.

Struggling to see and with a terminal fall quite possible, Caff still refused to give up and hung on the arête for around an hour, shuffling around and squinting as hard as he could, trying in vain to see some holds.

Occasionally I shouted up an abusive comment about him looking like Penfold, or complained about being cold. Eventually Caff reversed the hard 6b moves all the way to the ground and we left the crag.

I skipped down the scree back to the car. My spirits were high, and I was rubbing my hands together with glee. The only day of my life when I had managed to burn-off James McHaffie had been captured on film. You can't imagine my despair when Al later informed me that the footage wasn't good enough to make the final cut!



Read more On Sight articles by Jack Geldard, linked below:

Read the On Sight Review by Dave Pickford, Editor of planetFear.

Jack Geldard goes for the crimp on Strawberries, taken from the dvd 'On Sight'.
© Alastair Lee

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16 Oct, 2008
cool write up....interesting choice of route Rumblefish....i gather it doesn't get many ascents?
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