Friday, March 22, 2013

Chasing Winter: A Review (Plus a chance to win a free download!)

Mr Postman V12

In recent times, it seems that the idea of paying for climbing video is obsolete. Outside of marquee franchises such as Big Up and the Reel Rock Tour, climbers have grown accustomed to keeping up with the latest new routes, problems and personalities via free video on the Internet. As the bigger companies have seized on the value of this media, increasingly sophisticated productions have emerged though not necessarily more compelling or more interesting. The position of an independent operator in this climate is a tricky one, yet some of the most innovative video is coming from this source. Whether it was Andrew Kornylak's A Fine Line Unclesombody's films about Font or Haroun Souriji with his Better Than Chocolate, or the makers of Chasing Winter, Paul Robinson and Alex Kahn, known as PRAK media, with The Schengen Files, I found these productions more personal, less commercial yet not amateurish in their conception or their look.

Chasing Winter is another excellent film in this category, focusing on the bouldering close to Cape Town as well as Rocklands. The film could have focused entirely on the gorgeous setting and unusual shapes, colors, and textures of Topside, a sandstone area close to the city. It seems the area is one with sensitive access issues so hopefully this film will not exacerbate them. I would have preferred a bit more background on the history of the area and more words from the locals on the scene and its history. This truly looks like one of the best urban bouldering areas around.

Things shift gear with the introduction of Ashima Shirashi, the 11 year-old girl wonder from NYC. Working the V14 crimps of Amandla is one thing, but crushing the near-horizontal V13 roof of Fragile Steps is another. Very impressive climbing but more interesting is the clean and straightforward style she brings to the ascent of this problem and the closing problem, Steady Plums Direct, also V13. Her interviews show a modest yet focused young girl with no hint of the incredible ticklist that she has made so far. It's kind of cool to see climbers that I see as young mentoring someone even younger on a trip like this.

Carlo Traversi gets some quality screen time on three really good looking problems, Paranormal Activity V14, a sloper traverse, Groundswell V13, a truly unique diagonalling crimp rail (Carlo's FA) and the problem I would love to do, Mirta V14, a brilliant crimpy roof. All of these are on immaculate bone-white sandstone that looks more like limestone. Carlo has power to waste and each of these problems bring that out.

Throughout the hour-long film, Paul remains the focus of things and the narrator. I think he does a great job with this, keeping things moving but letting the viewer absorb the gorgeous setting and remarkable problems. For some reason, I found his ascent of No Church in the Wild V13 the most interesting. A stark white panel of stone, spattered with grafitti, its five or so moves illustrate the essence of crimpy bouldering. There is nothing extraneous, just pure technique and power on an overhanging wall.

Now alpinists may scoff at the title and there is certainly no snow or ice in sight. But for bouldering, winter is more a set of conditions or state of mind. Crisp edges, sticky slopers, and low humidity are at the heart of it and as Paul says in the beginning of the film, this is what dedicated boulderers spend the year chasing. I think that anyone looking for a video to inspire them to find their own winter will not do better than this subtle and understated film.

You can find it on sale for a limited time at and as a bonus, win a free download by liking Mountains and Water on Facebook and messaging the answer to this question "Name the bay that can be seen from many of the topside areas? This bay is the link between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean." A winner will be drawn at random from the answers I receive. (If you don't do Facebook, you can also post the answer as a comment to this review, though it will not be published) Good luck!

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