At the Reel Rock 15 Film Festival, Flagstaff climbers had the opportunity to connect with peers and watch four new films about their sport. Playing at Orpheum Theater on Sept. 10, the movies encompassed a sense of inspiration for climbers of any level, and featured several first-hand stories of determination and self-discovery. 

The first film shown, “Black Ice,” was about a group of Black climbers from the Memphis Rox gym, who travel to Hyalite Canyon, Montana for an ice-climbing expedition. Their group was accompanied by three mentors who had experience as winter climbers. The story is emotional and inspiring, as the climbers from Memphis had never visited a mountain range or attempted ice climbing.

This movie displayed themes of community and connection within climbing circles. These individuals were willing to enter an unfamiliar environment and find comfort in the unknown, while also learning alongside their trusted climbing partners. 

As the film played, the audience watched attentively. There was the occasional comment or laugh, but the crowd was focused on the story playing in front of them.

Senior Alec Garcia has been involved in the local climbing community for several years. After viewing the film “Black Ice,” Garcia said he hopes to see more individuals advocating for diversity in the climbing community.

“I love seeing people of different cultures, backgrounds and gender identities in the climbing community,” Garcia said. “It makes it a richer experience for everyone involved.”

Garcia emphasized the importance of encouraging new climbers to challenge themselves. The film reminded him that, as a climber, it is important to create spaces that are inclusive to all people. He said climbing has taught him so much about himself and his strengths, and everyone should have access to such an opportunity. 

The second film shown was “Action Directe,” a 16-minute film about French climber Melissa Le Nevé and her experience with one of the hardest sport climbing routes in the world in Germany. The film detailed her trials and experiences as she attempted to become the first woman to complete the ascent, called Action Directe

The film displayed Nevé’s struggle with a route that was set and only previously completed by men. This history made the project especially difficult, because certain jumps and holds required more tenacity and athleticism for a woman to complete. She trained for years on end, retraced her steps and memorized different moves. 

Sport climber and junior Sydney Turnell has climbed for over two years. Since starting at NAU, it has been an important hobby for her. 

“I do find on occasion that because of my height and size, as climbs get harder you have to find intermediates to aid your climbing,” Turnell said. “Some of the moves were set by men that are taller, which makes it harder to figure out. I find it makes it even more fulfilling when you do figure it out.”

Turnell views situations, like the one faced by Le Nevé, as opportunities to push herself even more. She said the only way to fight against such gender-based assumptions is to continue to send as many climbs as possible.

To Turnell and other climbers, the sport is a simple way to safely experience adrenaline. Some climbers, such as Alex Honnold, of “Free Solo” fame, or those from “Black Ice,” seek routes that are considered extremely dangerous. These professionals all started somewhere, and at one point didn’t pursue routes that would endanger their lives. What connects all climbers, despite skill level, is their commitment to chasing discomfort — as Turnell said she does.

The story of Le Nevé showed the separation between men and women in climbing. Nevé was one of 26 climbers and the first woman to complete Action Directe.

Turnell said her takeaway from the film wasn’t negative. She said being supportive of female sport climbers is a great segue to conversations about overall inclusivity. 

The third film shown was “First Ascent/Last Ascent,” covering the story of close friends Hazel Findlay and Maddy Cope, who traveled to Mongolia to search for new traditional climbing routes. This story focused on themes of friendship and perseverance, as the pair spent weeks learning about themselves and pushing their physical limits as professional climbers. 

Turnell said climbing relies on consistency to improve.

“As you get better, it becomes harder to improve as much as when you began climbing,” Turnell said.

The program illustrated there are always new boundaries to push and pursue as a rock climber. If there aren’t harder climbs to send, there are routes to find and set yourself. 

The last film, “Deep Routes,” told the story of Lonnie Kauks and his long journey to climb, just as his dad did. He spent years climbing in Yosemite, where his Indigenous family is from, to reconnect with his roots and follow in his father’s footsteps. 

The featured program showed that rock climbing has functions beyond simple exercise. To some, rock climbing is a way to feel connected with ancestors, as it was for Kauks. It allows them to form bonds with climbing partners and also learn so much about themselves. 

Whether individuals climb to exercise, push their physical boundaries or spend time outside, the Reel Rock 15 Festival showed the many possibilities that can result from beginning to climb.

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