Sometimes climbing trips are all glorious locations, perfect weather and incredible ascents. Other times they’re less perfect: rental vans from hell, lunatics with axes to grind, a climber reviled for his past abuses of wallabies. These are just a few of the factors that contribute to the wacky misadventures recounted in Down and Out and Under, a wry tongue-in-cheek climbing film by Rob Frost. Into the mix, Frost manages to weave lovely images of incredible climbing with a story of high adventure gathered from an unforgettable trip to Australia and Tasmania with climbers Heidi Wirtz, Cedar Wright, Matt Segal and James Pearson. It’s a saga. But at the end of it, the climbers learn an important lesson: Even the biggest junk show can come out on top.
Amazing what wonders can lead from an unassuming hole in the ground: crystal spires, cathedrals of calcite, gypsum cascades. To access this magical cave, however, a certain suffering must be endured and one must overcome more than a little fear. For the cavers of Into Darkness, this means squeezing through impossibly constricted spaces, exhaling everything in their lungs to make their bodies improbably flat, feeling their heartbeats thud into intractable rock, or holding themselves up by nothing more than their armpits. The contortion and pain is worth it, though, as they emerge into a dazzling underworld chamber of secrets and experience one of our world’s few final frontiers.
Renan Ozturk (Mountainfilm 2009, Samsara, which won the Charlie Fowler Award) now heads to the remote and sun-flattened landscape of the Ennedi Desert in northeastern Chad. It’s a hot, sand-scoured and unfriendly place, but from its vast belly rise clusters of spires, towers and rock formations that are breathtakingly lovely. In Towers of the Ennedi, Ozturk and veteran climber Mark Synnott—known more for his far-flung adventures than his technical accomplishments—bring young climbing stars Alex Honnold and James Pearson to the Ennedi to explore its untouched landscapes. Together, Synnott, Honnold and Pearson endure a long, bumpy drive across the sand flats of a godforsaken country to reach an incredible destination: gardens of towers filled with graceful fingers of rock, bottle-shaped formations and lithe arches. With its stark and poetic footage of camels and rock, as well as jarring images of unpleasant travels, this film shows that sometimes you can have just as many adventures trying to reach your destination as you can have once you get there.
"Kadoma" was a nickname for Hendri Coetzee, a legendary South African kayaker who had explored some of Africa’s wildest rivers. In December of 2010, American pro kayakers Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesbury followed Coetzee into the Democratic Republic of Congo for a first descent of the dangerous Lukuga River. Seven weeks into the expedition, tragedy struck. Coetzee was paddling tip to tail in between the other two men when a fifteen-foot crocodile surfaced silently and swiftly pulled him underwater. He was never seen again. The cover story for Outside magazine in February, the horrific story is now recounted in this tense documentary that was directed by Stookesbury and premiered at Mountainfilm 2011. Korbulic’s photos of the ill-fated expedition were also featured at the festival.