Thursday, April 29, 2010

CORE by Chuck Fryberger: The Full Review

As promised, I am posting a full review of the new film CORE by Chuck Fryberger. As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of Chuck's work. His visual sense is extraordinary and his idea of what makes an interesting scene is uniquely his own. I thought his previous film, PURE, to be one of the best recent climbing films made, and went to the premiere of CORE with a great sense of anticipation.

I was not disappointed at the Boulder Theater and upon viewing the film again several times, I am still very impressed. The primary reason for this is Chuck's clear commitment to creating something very out of the ordinary. The routes and problems are often under the radar, the climbers not necessarily the most well-known, and the settings and situations are explored for their potential to disrupt our expectations.

This is clear from the outset as a young and very talented climber, Shawn Erbesfield-Raboutou, is shown exploring a murky warehouse interior somewhere in Denver Colorado and coming upon an arcade game that consists of a mechanical claw reaching into a pile of stuffed animals and figures. Spine-tingling music eerily accompanies this scene. Each item that the gleaming metal claw grabs relates to the next segment in the film. The first is South Africa.

Chuck captures perfectly the environment of sculpted sandstone spires, cliff,and pinnacles that is Rocklands. Jamie Emerson's tenacity, expressed in words and climbing, anchors this segment nicely followed by some comic relief and a short segment with the only extensive depiction of women climbing in the film. A fair criticism of the movie is certainly its lack of female climbers.

Breathtakingly exposed solos by Kevin Jorgeson reveal the extent of Rocklands as well as Jorgeson's own cool under pressure. As he explains, "for a moment you can be a part of this landscape on that feature," revealing that the aesthetics of the position of the climb and climber have taken precedence over sheer difficulty. When he states, " I'm becoming more and more aware that I make people uncomfortable," you can readily believe it but his sense of control is convincing, wedded as it is to genuine humility.

The segment on BJ Tilden, hammering away as both climber and carpenter in Lander is inspiring as BJ stands in for all the serious climbers who pull really hard yet don't want to be called "professional". Tackling a heinous line of one-finger pockets on the Rodeo Wall at Wild Iris, the route Genetic Drifter exemplifies ferocity on limestone. Fryberger's affinity for the wide open spaces of Wyoming is readily seen in the sweeping landscape shots devoted to the surroundings of Lander.

A radical change in scene follows as we encounter Nalle Hukketaival in the urban setting of Helsinki, Finland. Cruising through the modern streamlined Euro-ambiance of the city on his longboard, Nalle exudes the new breed of climber, at ease in an ocean of electronic media, living in the new age of the "professional" climber. However, if you were not already aware of Nalle's incredible record, you might be deceived into thinking of him as a local hero, not an international star. The Finnish boulder problem he is shown on, The Globalist, is an exemplary illustration of the new paradigm; huge reaches, terrible holds, and tenuous compression.

From here we meet up with Matt Wilder and his epic struggle with a new problem called the Bandersnatch. Given his track record on V13 and up, I find it hard to believe that this super-steep arete is only V12, but that is Matt's style. Chuck films Matt leaving the problem for the day and focuses on the rock beneath it and shows a heart-shaped impression. It's a subtle and evocative detail, the kind that Chuck's eye readily scoops up when the camera is rolling.

The next segment is quite a bit more lifestyle oriented, the lifestyle of that curious beast, the professional climber. Lucas Preti pilots his bright yellow Ferrari to his house, apparently evidence of the wealth to be obtained as a pro climber. Things have indeed changed. Here we see some relatively obscure (for US viewers) bouldering areas in Tuscany set in a beautiful forest.Maybe it's just me, but this type of environment truly plays to Fryberger's strength as a cinematographer. The colors and textures of the sandstone boulders in an autumnal forest restore the primacy of the natural in the sport of climbing. The contradictory pull of media glitz, the dolce vita, and the primal urge of the season's turning emerge elegantly in this segment.

A radically different turn is taken back as we head to Boulder and the Devil's Thumb high up in the Flatirons. Here is Matt Wilder's bold and difficult "Cheating Reality" a stunning 5.14 R line in a stunning setting. Wilder's matter-of-fact rendering of this route belies its real difficulty and danger. The movie lays it all out for any would-be repeaters, though I doubt that will happen for a long while.

Then it's off to Rocklands for what is, in many ways, the focus of the film, Nalle's project, a problem that would become Livin' Large. A tall bald arete with hard climbing right to the end, its remote location and cryptic climbing banished any thought of an easy tick. By day 12 (remember Nalle has done several V15s in a few days or less) things are looking pretty touch-and-go. It is therefore with considerable relief that we witness Nalle's triumphant ascent. Truly, it doesn't get much better than this. So we wonder what is next and find out in a truly remarkable segment, one of the best pieces of climbing video I have seen recently.

In the warehouse Shawn snags a small stuffed elephant and we are back in Switzerland, in the workshop of the master of modern bouldering, Fred Nicole. A simple evocative piano sonata plays in the background as he finishes up a shoe resole. He recalls a time when the idea of a professional climber was impossible to conceive. Nicole reveals that he did not begin to climb with the idea of being a leader. In careful English, this humble giant in the world of bouldering difficulty, he says, "It was my own way, I was looking for something new..." and he pauses, remembering the history of the sport, reflecting on his predecessors. We follow him into the forest to a longstanding yet obscure project, a hybrid boulder problem/sport route deep in a cave.

"Discovering, still it's one of the last adventures in climbing, which makes it not just like a sport... it's a bit more than just a physical activity." At 39, Fred cannot count on being at the cutting edge of climbing difficulty but he reveals in this segment why he is a true artist rather than solely a climber. His route, L'Isola che non c'e' (literally, the island that isn't there, i.e. Neverland) is more than just a sequence of holds and moves, it's a creation, a representation of his ideas about climbing, a distillation of experience, experience that the young boy Shawn scoops up from the floor and runs away with, yet is unaware of, as it should be, the weight of the legacy he may inherit as he grows as a climber.

Chuck Fryberger is clearly growing as a film-maker. His sense of visual style and impact is at an unsurpassed level. The next step as I see it is for him to start exploring the human side of climbing in the intimate and low-key way that the Nicole segment clearly displays. I will echo Nalle in saying that it doesn't get better than this, but also bring out its double meaning, an implication that a new direction is in order, an exploration away from the arena aspects of hard climbing and towards the true core of climbing. By this I mean climbing's soul, however you want to define it, and the effects on our spirits of these strange voyages of discovery made by humans as we sojourn on earth a while. This film goes there from time to time, make no mistake, but should Fryberger decide to dwell there a while, well I can think of no other film-maker who will do the job better.

I will be posting a short email interview with Chuck in the near future. In the meantime, make sure to read this interview with him by Dave McAllister.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bouldering Tour at Flagstaff Mountain May 1

I have been posting this announcement at various local websites.

Join local climber/OSMP Trail Guide Peter Beal and Ranger/Naturalist Geoff Jasper for an introductory program for Flagstaff Mountain, one of the most important urban bouldering areas in the country. Get the beta from Peter on Flagstaff's major formations, dozens of problems, and information on environmentally sound bouldering practices. Geoff will answer questions about park resources and policies. We will also be joined by Chip Phillips, Flagstaff Mountain bouldering guru, for any questions about specific problems or other climbing-related info. Meet at the First Overhang Parking Area at 10:30 on Saturday, May 1. This hike will last approximately one hour. The tour will not provide technical instruction or safety advice related to bouldering or climbing.

After a fair amount of wrangling with OSMP procedural matters, I will be leading a tour of Flagstaff Mountain's bouldering areas, intended to help people understand more precisely where things are, what they are called and how hard they are. I want to try to promote more environmentally friendly bouldering practices as well as acquaint people with OSMP policies regarding dogs, etc. From my conversations with the rangers at OSMP, it looks like they would like to have a closer relationship with area climbers and it's my feeling that activities like this can help maintain untrammeled access to public lands.

Feel free to contact me via this blog or email, petergbeal at hotmail if you have questions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eldorado Canyon Exploration

Sunday, I drove out to Eldorado to meet up with Bobbi Bensman who has recently taken a liking to Eldorado Canyon for bouldering. She was running late so I started heading up the Eldorado Canyon Trail to check out some of the boulders. I warmed up at the Pony Kegs which was fun and then headed up the trail after getting some beta from Bobbi and her crew. A fairly strenuous hike led to the East Egg where I did the Walrus, a classic V3 that felt much easier than the regular "V0" route on the Pinnacle Colada at Flag, a very comparable line. I continued up the hill to the Musical Boulders, checking out Midnight Frightening,an amazing problem, and continued on to the Eldorado Boulder and the Lost Boulder. I was hoping that Lost was relatively safe to work solo, but as with most of the boulders in Eldorado West, the sloping landing and rocks make it a risky proposition. Elegant Universe looks great but the last throw seems really far. While Lost and Elegant Universe are classics, it's a long way out there, even for the aerobically fit. If it was free to visit Eldo, I'd definitely be back. We'll see.

I made a video of my ascent of the Eggman:

Eggman V3 from peter beal on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nook's Rock: A Few Moderates

I made a short video of some of the easier problems at Nook's Rock. While very easy, the first two shown here offer really great climbing, on some of the best rock on the mountain. That Flakes It Direct is very different, short, steep, and thuggish; basically a good benchmark for how the session will go.

Nook's Rock Moderates from peter beal on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Much Longer for

I have been wandering the Internets a lot for the past three years while writing this blog, seeing a lot of websites come and go. Yet in the climbing world, the gold standard for keeping up with developments in sport-climbing and bouldering has long been Reviled by many and visited by many more, this site has provided visitors and users with a handy and comprehensive platform for keeping track of new developments and recording their own. It has proved a winning formula and the numbers that Jens shows on the site's home page echo this.

And yet. Maybe it's just me,but am I the only one who is feeling the whole 8a proposition is getting a bit repetitious, perhaps even a dead-end? The concept for which the site is best-known, world-wide rankings according to points awarded for climbs, aroused ire and disgust from many climbers. Others participated but argued that the ranking system led to grade inflation. Some just used it as a log of ascents. I myself saw and used it as a motivational tool.

However more and more, and this is not a criticism of Jens (for that go here) I wonder how much longer climbers will remain enthusiastic about continuing to participate in the 8a community. I have a feeling that the site must initiate some kind of major change to avoid becoming a relic. The two-dimensionality I mentioned above, the textureless reporting of news that isn't really new at this point, the monotony of recorded ascents, the sheer volume of them has left me increasingly uninterested. I visit the site, though less often than before, have even contributed to the site, even still have its news feed on my blog, but the sense that something important is missing from it is growing stronger.

Others may chime in and say of course the site is trivial and shallow but I would say not so fast. No other climbing media enterprise has the global reach or member base that has attracted. Others routinely criticize its founder as idiosyncratic and temperamental. Who isn't,myself included, at some point? My argument reaches farther than those criticisms. Eventually must retool its brand, its concept, and its editorial focus or face obsolescence. The question is what shape will that transformation take?

I don't have answers or even useful recommendations myself. I would not presume to prescribe what should do next. But I would say that at some point soon a re-evaluation is in store.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Core by Chuck Fryberger: First Impressions

Last night, I went to the Boulder Theater to join an enthusiastic crowd to see the premiere of CORE, the new climbing film by Chuck Fryberger. As I think about it, this was the first time I had seen a climbing film in a theater (I know, weird, but really I don't go out much). The energy level was high and I ran into a few people I hadn't seen in a while so it was worth the trip into Boulder right there.

But back to the movie. I should preface my comment by saying that I had to duck out to get back for my daughter's bedtime and that I will post a full review of the movie when I get the DVD. This is a first impression. But certainly the view on the big screen was stunning. The crispness, clarity and quality of the images was unparalleled. The editing was first-class and the soundtrack excellent.

If I was going to home in on portions that particularly stood out, certainly the opening segment where Sean Raboutou is wandering alone through an eerily lit and empty warehouse full of arcade games was one. Innovative and peculiarly effective, it set an edgy and almost macabre tone to what follows, maybe unintentionally so(?). I was very impressed by the Cheating Reality and Bandersnatch segments featuring Matt Wilder as well. Again more later when I can watch this film in more detail.

As ever, the film bears the hallmarks of Fryberger's other work. Obsessive attention to getting the right angle on the climb and climber, framing the scene to squeeze the most visual impact from it, flawless filming technique, lots of color, texture, and an everpresent sense of locale and pace. Great work, more later when I can replay and pause and think a bit more about it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Core Premiere

Looking forward to visiting the Boulder Theater tonight to see Chuck Fryberger's film Core. I will be posting a review soon after.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Grade Debate (Again)

My good friend and fellow blogger Jamie Emerson has written a lengthy piece about the legitimacy of the V16 grade, a post that has garnered much response and debate. In essence, Jamie is pushing back against Paul Robinson's view that “We need to progress the sport of bouldering and not get stuck in this v15 rut and never move forward.”

While Jamie's reputation as the grading sheriff of the Front Range might prejudice any informed reader towards his remarks, they have some merit but also some potential flaws. I have also (and in a completely hypothetical fashion) proposed that Jade will be downgraded to V14 and am well aware of Paul's struggle to do Suspension in Eldo. However I am not convinced that these comparisons with past boulder problems are really relevant anymore to the discussion at hand. I am generally more impressed by the finished product as it stands more or less in the present in comparison with other things done in the present, i.e. Daniel on the Game. The reason I say this is that climbs have a peculiar way of getting much easier without their justifying a lower grade. Climbers are now onsighting legitimate 5.14b and possible 14c. Adam Ondra flashed hard V13 in SA and he is not a superhuman strength mutant.

Noah Kaufman in his comments to Jamie's post quoted/paraphrased Tony Lamiche saying "Tony believes that individual moves are maxing out at about V13 and that there are probably not moves much harder than this since they are limited by span/Ultimate Human Potential Strength (UHPS) and hold size (ie. there needs to be a hold.)" This is an interesting thought but also problematical, the concept of UHPS. This is because yes, strength does matter but in climbing it matters in a peculiar way, in an often subtle and hard to read manner, where small changes in its application make a huge difference in terms of success. It is not about raw strength or other "objective" measures. Bouldering could be made objective but only by forcing it indoors on uniform holds but even there, differences in the body size, type etc. make it impossible to say for sure. So if Paul says he thinks Lucid is V16, why not try it out, kick it around a bit? If it goes down because,as Noah proposes, everyone repeats it quickly, no harm done. There are leaders and there are followers and Paul will already be on to another project.

Dave Graham's fear that grades are being diluted is overblown in my view and the proposal that the media and sponsored climbers are somehow cashing in on all this is risible by any measure. The naysayers and commentators should, as they usually do anyway, sit back and see what happens next.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Mystique of the Red Tag

Anyone following the sportclimbing scene on the Internets these days has probably encountered the red tag controversy discussion here, here, here, here, and now of course here.

Now the first impression I have is that this is a perfect example of pseudo-news on the web. Chris Sharma is feeling possessive about his project, a younger rising star wanted to have a go at it, then you stir in some video, a few blog posts and now there is news. However it does raise the interesting question of to what extent would a media-hungry climber "reserve" a route in order to make sure that video and photography was exclusively of him or her on it, branding it in a sense. While I don't think that's what Chris is doing, is it a possibility?

My 2 cents, if you're still reading this, is that Chris should let this one go. He has too much invested in the route based on this interview and would benefit from the competition and potential cooperation with other climbers. Speaking as someone who has benefited from other people's bolted projects, I feel that there are times when it is right to recognize the right of other people to try a project. While it is a lot of effort to bolt a climb, in the end, the route is what counts, not the FFA. And if you're getting bogged down in the project, leaving it alone for a while and letting others try it may give the incentive for eventual success. The equipper has the right to a period of active work on the route, for sure, but it may ultimately be in Chris' (or anyone else's) best interest to see what happens if others try it.

Update: Big Up has posted a lengthy and to my mind reasonable reply to the "controversy." One of the sad side affects of this fruitless debate is its overshadowing of Paul Robinson's success on Lucid Dreaming (V16?)Bishop, also nicely described at Big Up.

But wait, there's more here!

Finally, this topic is also addressed here. When will the Internet foolness stop?