Posing Productions On Sight Review

"On Sight climbing is everything really, it's just way harder, way scarier, way more pumpy ......... it's just more."

Pete Robins.

Alastair Lee of has made a film that we can all relate to.

Every weekend thousands of us go climbing and climb onsight, starting at the bottom of a climb without any knowledge of what is ahead, apart from what we can see with our eyes. Adventure climbing; where you don't know what is ahead, where you don't know the moves or whether you can even do them, where you have to select and place your own protection, the risk and the adventure is increased.

The difference of course is the level at which Alastair's subjects climb, the cutting edge of what is possible without any pre-inspection, the ultimate in climbing style. These climbs may not be E10 and above, but the ascents of them by talented climbers represent what is the pinnacle of climbing achievement, in the great British tradition of onsight climbing.

Dave Pickford, the editor of planetFear, one of the sponsors of this film along with Presenting Sponsor Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, The British Mountaineering Council and, was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of this film and kindly shares his thoughts.

To give an insiders perspective, the editor of, Jack Geldard, one of the subjects of the film, shares his thoughts in : On Sight – The Other Side Of The Lens (with VIDEO)

Mick Ryan

You can see a trailer of On Sight, presented by MARMOT, here at

On Sight reviewed by Dave Pickford, Editor of planetFear

Alastair Lee's new film, which premieres today in Sheffield, is the most eagerly awaited climbing movie since the release of King Lines by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer last year. On Sight is the fruition of an idea that many considered impossible: a film capturing the blood, sweat and mystery of onsight climbing as it happens. After over a year of concentrated work, the final result of Lee's ambitious project is a masterpiece of adventure filmmaking. On Sight is a tense, profound, and often hilariously funny portrait of climbing's most elusive realm, and a penetrating insight into what drives the climbers who explore it.

Neil Dickson on Margins of the Mind belayed by first ascentionist; John Redhead. Taken from the film 'On Sights'.
Alastair Lee, Jun 2008
© Alastair Lee/

The film opens with a gripping sequence of Pete Robins on Master's Edge (E7), Ron Fawcett's epoch-making arête at Millstone Edge. The camera is eerily still as Robins eyeballs the finishing jug, swapping feet and breathing hard. We soon discover he holds the jug - just - as both feet simultaneously fly off the rock, but not before we've been given a clear indication that On Sight is going to be a very different kind of film to the pseudo-documentaries which have predictably appeared on the shelves of climbing stores over recent years. There is no montage of well-rehearsed sequences on over-chalked holds set to soundtracks of relentless techno here, nor B-movie tribute footage of the rock star behind the wheel of his gleaming gas-guzzler as he speeds to the next mega-project.

Instead, we are quickly spellbound as Lee's camera pans out across the vast, wild coast of northern Iceland in late winter. In the left hand side of the frame, the low sun catches streaks of water-ice clinging to a huge cliff. A slow, heavy surf breaks on the empty beach as Ian Parnell swings his way up an unclimbed ice-fall. His partner, Neil Gresham, then takes on a thin, free-standing cigar to the left. The radio-microphone picks up the cracking of the ice as Gresham places a screw on the most dangerous section, and we feel the urgent concentration of the moment as the camera zooms in on his face, a few centimetres from fragile ice-chandeliers.

Premiere Tonight

The film then moves effortlessly from ice to rock, and we are given a front-seat ride with Leo Houlding on the technical arête of Balance It Is (E7) at Burbage South in the Peak District. Houlding falls on his first attempt, then manages to claw his way to the top on his second try. We are soon left in little doubt of the veracity of his statement that "onsight climbing is the ultimate form of ascent" as he presses on for the unchalked, sloping finishing holds, his left arm rapidly cramping up, above a hastily-placed, solitary microwire.

[Missing photo!]

Some of the central highlights of the film take place in the traditional forcing ground of North Wales. There is an extended episode shot over two days in the Llanberis Pass, in which Jack Geldard, Pete Robins, James McHaffie and Neil Dickson all attempt, fall off, and eventually succeed on Gravediggers (E8 6c). There is also some superb footage of Robins and Belgian ace Nico Favarese on Strawberries (E6 6b) at Tremadog. One of the most mesmerising scenes in the whole film takes place on North Stack Wall, where Neil Dickson's astonishingly bold onsight flash of The Hollow Man (E8) is captured as a near-gale blows huge eddies in the green water of Gogarth Bay. Lee's cinematography here is full of strong intuition into the mood of his subject, as it is throughout the entire film. The screen swaps seamlessly between several camera angles, and Dickson's quick breathing is just discernable above the wind as he makes steady progress up the virtually protectionless headwall. Watching this scene, I felt an urgent need to chalk up to retain grip on my cup of tea.

[Missing photo!]

Another major sea-cliff scene in the film takes place at Fair Head in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, where Irish pioneer Ricky Bell is seen attempting a new route requiring an outrageous sideways dyno at the end of a big runout. This climb is not a true onsight (it had been minimally inspected on abseil) but the adventurous spirit of Bell's ascent highlights the wide gap between defined ethics and raw experience. This dichotomy exists at every level of climbing, and On Sight acknowledges it with playful zest and irony.

Beyond its continuous visual drama, the film also offers a fascinating parallel account of the real experience of climbing, as it happens, through the words of climbers themselves. From Nico Favarese's light-hearted humour on Me (E6) on Gogarth's Red Walls as he searches for a piece of unavailable gear "I wish I had certain things that I don't have anymore", to Ian Parnell's understanding that "it's really about adventures", to John Redhead's conviction that "climbing isn't just a sport, it's a way of life", On Sight weaves a rich personal narrative around its astounding footage of some of Britain's most talented climbers on our island's most challenging routes. This is not just a film climbers will want to see; it's one they must see.

This review is also at

ON SIGHT a film by Alastair Lee:

On Sight is a gripping adventure into the world of cutting edge rock and ice climbing documenting what is possible with a ground up, no pre-practice approach resulting in raw, compelling and often frightening footage. The climbers in this film aren't necessarily the strongest but they have the biggest kahooners(!); willing to take a 30 foot fall for the ultimate on sight ascent.

In the age of indoor gym climbing and pre-practiced ascents, On Sight gets back to the basics of climbing, the simple game of getting to the top using only your strength, skill and bottle!

On Sight features an all star cast in spectacular locations on extraordinary routes produced in stunning High Definition.

Climbers Include; Pete Robins, James McHaffie, Leo Houlding, Adam Long, Ricky Bell, Dave Birkett, Ian Parnell, Neil Gresham, Jordan Buys, Gaz Parry, Ben Bransby, Jack Geldard, Jon Winters, Nick Bullock, Nico Faverese, Neil Dickson..... as well as insightful commentary by veterans of the game like John Redhead, Jerry Moffet, Ron Fawcett and Andy Perkins.

© Posing Productions

On Location In – Iceland (Ian Parnell and Neil Gresham ice climbing at Kaldakinn), Ireland (Ricky Bell amazing first ascent on the huge Fairhead seacliffs), Scotland (insane winter climbing with Ian Parnell and Jon Winters), North Wales; Gogarth E8 on sight attempts, grade myths are shattered in Llanberris Pass, first ground up ascents at Cloggy as well as the story of 'Strawberries' a notoriously un-on-sightable route! Gritstone ground up; Pete Robins, Jordan Buys and Leo Houlding.

Seeking true adventure, delving into the unknown, revelling in uncertainty; ON SIGHT, produced by multi-award winning film maker Alastair Lee.

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