Factor Two - S3


Wil Treasure continues to share stories from the climbing world through interviews with both well-known and lesser-known characters. In-depth, personal accounts that aren't read from a page on a variety of themes. Settle down with a cuppa and have a listen...

Ep.8: Hard Grit

When it was released in 1998, the film Hard Grit gave us an insight into something we didn't often see - the actual ascents of the hardest, most dangerous lines on grit.

Hard Grit: arguably Britain's most iconic climbing film.
© Wil Treasure

In an era before everyone had a smartphone, before digital photography was even mainstream, many of the photos we saw in the magazines were staged. The hardest lines captured on video were often top-roped reconstructions.

Hard Grit changed that, by virtue of a few lucky coincidences and a lot of hard work. Director Rich Heap had helped Johnny Dawes with some of the editing on his film Best Forgotten Art. Johnny left for a roadtrip in America, and Rich was left with his camera. Without much of a plan he started filming some routes on the grit.

Seb Grieve repeating Gaia in 1989.  © Rich Heap
Seb Grieve repeating Gaia in 1989.
© Rich Heap

Being a talented climber himself and living with Seb Grieve, Rich had access to the grapevine of some of the boldest and best climbers around. He started to amass some interesting footage. Then one day at Black Rocks he captured the scenes that would bookend the film - Seb's first ascent of Meshuga and Jean-Minh Trin-Thieu's famous lob off Gaia - and he realised he had something special.

With a film on his hands, Rich enlisted the help of Mark Turnbull to act as producer. The pair set about building on his footage. They created a loose storyline around the history of gritstone climbing, presented by Niall Grimes. In the process a new mythology around these ascents was born, which had an international impact.

Rich Heap as Puttrell in Hard Grit.  © Rich Heap
Rich Heap as Puttrell in Hard Grit.
© Rich Heap

One of the central themes to the film was the madness of the whole thing. That madness was embodied by Seb Grieve, shouting and talking to himself on the most terrifying ascents. But Seb wasn't mad, he'd practised the routes carefully, he'd made detailed notes about the gear and, crucially, he'd actually looked closely at the "shipwreck" of a flake on Parthian Shot.

Seb is the film's have-a-go hero, but he had a healthy CV of hard ascents already, including early repeats of Braille Trail and Gaia.

1988: modifying the pegs for Braille Trail.  © Rich Heap
1988: modifying the pegs for Braille Trail.
© Rich Heap

In this episode Seb, Niall and Rich recall how Hard Grit came about and how it became a part of the climbing culture it reflected.

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