The Pinnacle

The Pinnacle - DVD Cover  © Paul Diffley

This new video from Hot Aches is an excellent, traditional (in the very best sense of the word) documentary celebrating one of the great achievements of Scottish winter climbing.

It is superbly shot and well-researched with a fine sense of history. Featuring Dave Macleod and Andy Turner, director/producer Paul Diffley pays tribute to a famous week of climbing on Ben Nevis by Robin Smith and Jimmy Marshall. The title, The Pinnacle, was a description coined by Ken Crocket in the SMC book Ben Nevis of the week in 1960 when Smith and Marshall climbed six first winter ascents and made the first one-day ascent of the classic Point Five Gully. This has long been regarded as a stunning achievement, particularly as it was done in the days of 'step cutting' when winter climbing was a much slower and much more demanding and dangerous process than modern front pointing with drop head axes.

Macleod and Turner repeat all the routes that Smith and Marshall climbed, although with modern gear and techniques, and even recreate the 'day off' where the original climbers walked to Spean Bridge to catch a bus to Fort William to get fish and chips. They failed and instead spent the time in the pub, departing at the end of the evening with a dominos set belonging to the pub; this led to them being picked up by the police and being released after investigation. Their modern counterparts do not appear to repeat this part of the adventure.

Getting back to the video, the camerawork is really excellent, especially considering how hard it can be to shoot in winter and it is amazing how they managed to get what looks like,
a) great weather
b) great conditions
and c) seemingly nobody else on the mountain.
Macleod and Turner are clearly at the top of their game on these routes and nowhere do they look to be having great difficulty but they obviously have enormous appreciation of the magnitude of Smith and Marshall's efforts. In one short sequence the modern pair have a go at the old technique of 'step cutting' and one very minor criticism is that I would have liked to have seen that section extended and more detail of just how hard it was to climb using that method. The action is punctuated with interviews putting all this into context and adding important background and detailed assessment. The interviewees include Jimmy Marshall (Smith died in the Pamirs in 1962) and others such as Ken Crocket and Mick Tighe add much to the appreciation of the historical context and significance. Marshall is undoubtedly the star though, his recall is clear and concise and his gentle, understated delivery a fine counterpoint to the climbing action. Extras with the DVD include an extended interview and profile of Marshall and a Q&A with Marshall, Macleod and Turner recorded at the Fort William Mountain Film Festival.

The Pinnacle is well-edited and nicely paced, it never drags and my interest was sustained throughout which is great as, in my opinion, some climbing videos can be just too long. Diffley clearly has a great feel for the subject and the good discipline to get just the right amount of content to tell the story. Editing is a much underrated skill often overtaken by the drive to get spectacular and eye catching footage that will capture the audience's eye and Diffley shows great judgment. My only personal criticism on the production aspects of The Pinnacle is the music on the soundtrack, which stylistically is great, being of the folk/traditional genre which fits and is so much better than the 'electronic' stuff that gets used so often. But, I found that the fact that the music used often has lyrics very distracting at times and I don't know whether it's just me but at times the lyrics seemed to be in opposition to the visuals. However, that could be down to personal taste and does not really detract from what is an all-round excellent piece of work.

The Pinnacle - Dave MacLeod Climbing Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis  © Paul Diffley
The Pinnacle - Dave MacLeod Climbing Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis
© Paul Diffley

The Pinnacle - Andy Turner Climbing Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis  © Paul Diffley
The Pinnacle - Andy Turner Climbing Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis
© Paul Diffley
The Pinnacle - Dave MacLeod Climbing Minus Three Gully on Ben Nevis  © Paul Diffley
The Pinnacle - Dave MacLeod Climbing Minus Three Gully on Ben Nevis
© Paul Diffley

The Pinnacle - DVD Cover

The Pinnacle - A Film by Paul Diffley

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"The film is a rare jewel of climbing history and a visual treat for the guilty armchair mountaineer! ... it leaves me with a feeling of profound longing for those special mountaineering moments that become ever more rare and inaccessible."
- Stone Country

  • People's Choice Award:
    Kendal Mountain Film Festival
  • People's Choice Award:
    Dundee Mountain Film Festival
  • People's Choice Award:
    Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival
  • Best Film Award:
    Vitoria-Gasteiz Mendi Festival, Spain

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30 Jan, 2011
) 'The Pinnacle' is brilliant, but dont expect much more from 'The Architect', which is mostly re-used footage from the feature. 'Don't Die' is not as well filmed, though the commentary helped me work out what was going on. There were not enough angles/closeups to really see the moves, and its difficulty was implied in the commentary more than the footage. It was very entertaining regardless, and certainly worth including as an extra.
3 Feb, 2011
Well worth watching, an ace film. Really shows off Ben Nevis and the routes well.