Monday, 26 February 2007

A Day In Front of Camera

During the last week we had some filming work for a client in Scotland. The subject matter - a sport rather different to our usual thing, but good fun none-the-less, and always a revelation to see how much easier filming can be when you are not hanging off ropes and battling with the elements.

Then on Saturday we had a date with the BBC, or more accurately the BBC had a date with us. They wanted to do a 5 minute ‘magazine’ item about our business Hot Aches Productions, focusing particularly on the success of E11 and also our new film Committed due out later this year.

BBC Filming in our Haymarket Office, Diff editing the latest chapter from 'Committed'

So producer Margaret Wicks plus camera crew arrived early on Saturday. First shoot was at our Haymarket ‘studios’. Oh dear. We’re not used to being on this side of the camera, not quite sure what rubbish we came out with!
A video still from Commmitted, Dave MacLeod onsighting 'Gies A Squid' E7 6c

Some of the filming focussed on us editing up last week’s sea cliff climbing footage. The tense footage of MacLeod on-sighting his E7 with a broiling sea threatening to engulf the belay is really dramatic. This will be the first sneak preview from the new movie to be broadcast.

Another video still (Malcolm Kent belaying)

Next we headed across town to Leith for some more filming. The feature is scheduled to be broadcast on The Adventure Show, Sunday 25th March 7.00pm, BBC2 Scotland and Sky. Coincidently this program will also feature full coverage of the UK National Mixed Climbing Championship (see our blog 28th Jan). [note, these broadcast dates do sometimes get moved around]

It was an interesting exercise and reinforced what we always knew, namely that our rightful place is very strictly behind the lens.


E11 Wins 7th Award

E11 has just won it's 7th award. This time at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. The international jury awarded E11 The Katharine Anne Rae Award for Best Film on Rockclimbing.

I’m thrilled to win another major award for E11 , particularly at Vancouver as E11 was up against a lot of great films there this year, including films which have already won awards at other festivals.

All those days I spent hanging off the top of Dumbarton Rock after ringing in work sick, now seem more than worthwhile.


Monday, 19 February 2007

Crane Testing

Most of our previous work has been shot either from a tripod or handheld (usually while hanging off the end of a rope). We got some feedback from Canadian filmmaker Bill Noble, one of the jury members at Banff this year. One of the things he suggested was that we should invest in a crane to give our work more ‘dynamicism’.
A decent professional crane cost around £10,000 which puts it a little out of reach of the budget for a climbing film. So we commissioned a couple of local engineers to build one.

Steve Gourlay and Grant Nicoll at the Cut By Design Workshop.

Steven and Grant used a design taken from the excellent book : ‘Killer Camera Rigs That You Can Build’. Although they did make several modification to the design themselves.
The crane is 16 feet in length and is designed to break down into small seactions for ‘ease’ of carrying.

I’m not sure well be taking it up the Ben.
We took the crane for it’s first day out to Rothley Crag in Northumberland or ‘The County’ as the kids call it.
Dave MacLeod ‘nipped’ up the excellent line of Master Blaster Arête (E7 6c) so we could give the crane it’s first real test.

I think it will really come in to it’s own when filming bouldering; using it we’ll be able to follow the climber closely all the way through the problem. Although the major focus for our next climbing film, Committed, is Trad we’re planning to capture a few classic hard boulder problems for the film or at least to include as extras on the DVD.

Queuing for E8s in Scotland (!)

Climbing at Scottish sea-cliffs in mid February might not be the most obvious choice for a productive weekend. Don't expect sunbathing on golden beaches and a bit of deep water soloing to cool off. But the forecast promised good weather and so we headed North East with a couple of knarly Scottish climbers to seek out some of the east coast's hardest routes and another chapter for the new film Committed.

Long Haven, Aberdeenshire
Long Haven is situated 30 miles north of Aberdeen and is home to some hard routes including Tim Rankin's addition from last year 'Comfortably Numb' which he graded E8. Reputedly a excellent line, Tim reacted angrily at the time to the manner of report in the climbing press criticising the style of ascent. All his gear had been preplaced (rather than placed on the lead).

We arrived Saturday afternoon with Dave MacLeod and Kev Shields to find Gorden Lennox already on the route. How often do you get queue's for E8s in Scotland?

Gordon Lennox climbing 'Comfortably Numb'

So MacLeod got his onsighting head into gear and turned his attention to a good looking E7 on the front face. Already brushed and chalked up by the other party the route looked a good option to try and onsight.

Dave MacLeod onsighting 'Gies a Squid' E7 6c. Apparantly his first E7 onsight since 2001

Returning early on Sunday Gordon succeeded on 'Comfortably numb', repeating the route in the same style as Rankin. With all the gear now removed MacLeod was then able to attempt in more conventional style. After a second session of working the moves and testing the gear placements he then climbed it easily on his first attempt.

Dave MacLeod. The third ascent (and first placing gear on lead) of 'Comfortably Numb' E8 6c

Dave MacLeod. Cheesy grin at the top. (well, he was enjoying himself)

Over on the front face Kev Shields was in two minds over whether to attempt an E3 End Game. Without a normal left hand placing gear is difficult and Kev could only find one gear placement on the route. A fall at this point into the sea would be very serious. As it was beggining to get dark Kev decided to go for the lead, holding it together well.

Kev Shields leading 'End Game' E3 5c

So a good weekend for all, and we could begin the long drive south.


Monday, 12 February 2007

Ice Climbing World Cup - Romania

The small mountain town of Busteni in Romania is certainly not the easiest place to travel to from Scotland. Reaching the venue of the final round of the Ice Climbing World Cup took us a round trip total of 4 train journeys, 4 flights, 3 taxis, 1 mini-bus and plenty of walking.

The effort was worth it though. Busteni have invested 200,000 euros into an excellent ice climbing structure, 25m+ high with huge overhangs and roofs giving 30m+ ?? routes. It's a shame that a heatwave arrived two days before the comp and for a second time this year the ice routes had to be heavily modified with artificial holds.

Barbara Zwerger finishing 4th in the women's final

I headed out there with the two other British climbers, Fiona Murray and Kev Shields, again as a combination of photography trip and also competing myself. I hesitate to use the term "British Team" because unlike most competing nations, Britain does not provide any support for this form of climbing competition. Other countries have a team selection process, provide coaching and of course fund their climbers to compete. At the opening ceremony it always feels quite odd. The "teams" parade under their nation flag. Our country doesn't even know that we're there.

Evgeny Krivocheitsev

The competition series was very close in the men's, with Markus Bendler (Aust), Evgeny Krivocheitsev (UKR) and Alexei Tomilov (Russ) in contention for the title. In the women's event Jenny Lavarda (It) had won the prvious two events and needed only to finish top 8 to take the series.

Steph Maureau during the women's final

Isolation Hell.
I drew 44th starting position which meant I had to endure 7 hours in the isloation room waiting to go out and climb. The more seasoned competitors were clearly used to this and came prepared with sleeping bags and thermarests. Evgeny was out 49th and happily spent most of the time dozing away in his down coccoon. Being a long way down the starting list is also limits the opportunity for getting good photos, I missed both Fiona and Kev completely.

Andrea Copaescu (Romania) during qualifying

British Results
Fiona returned to collect her gear after climbing and was fuming (at her climbing). She'd being going well then messed up on one move and suddenly got really pumped. Ended up 9th missing the final by one place.

Women's route inspection

When I finally emerged from isolation I actually managed to climb quite well, really enjoyed it and got pretty high on the route. 23rd place is nothing special but it's not bad for me - just missed getting into the semi-finals. After watching the rest of the comp I learned what I did wrong at the point I came off. At certain points of a route you need to spot the solution quickly otherwise your energy drains away. Comp experience comes slowly but I'm psyched to do more and try and finish higher up.

Kev Shields (photo thanks to Fiona)

Kev Sheilds also had an ok-ish competition. He climbed well, 30th place from 49 is pretty good considering he has one hand missing, but again he's psyched to do better.

Comp Results
In the women's final Steph Maureau (Fr) climbed well reaching 2 holds from the top. Jenny Lavarda then followed and though tiring looked like she would reach the top but made a mistake 1 hold from the top. Last out was Petra Muller (Swiss) who dug deep on her competition experience and made no mistakes to top out and win. In a slightly different order the series went to Jenny 1st, Petra 2nd and Steph 3rd.

Jenny Lavarda

In the men's comp the final routes looked staggeringly hard.
Jack Muller (Swiss) hadn't reach the top in qualifying or the semis but he seemed to find an extra endurance gear and got really high. Tomilov then powered his was to the top, cutting loose plenty but hanging on for ever. Bendler who is one of the most asthetic climbers put on a flawless display and reached the top much faster. Then Evgeny followed and almost made it look too easy, 40 seconds faster again. So Evgeny took the title and the series, Bendler 2nd and second in the series and Tomilov 3rd and also 3rd in the series.

Alexei Tomilov

I've enjoyed the World Cup this year. Hopefully next year the comp will be 'spur-less', which is after all the way that most of us climb these days.


I almost forgot to mention my climber rescue!

Maria Shabalina (Russia)

I was up in a crane taking photos when Maria Shabalina managed to end up in serious trouble. As she came off her ice axe handle caught on a hold and the pick impalled her on the back of her kneck. As you can imagine, hanging free suspended just by the pick of an axe in your kneck is a bit painfull. So the crane driver zoomed me over to her and I lifted her off. Fortuately no serious damage done. Phew.


E11 wins two more awards in Slovenia

This weekend saw the first Domžale-Ljubljana Mountain Film Festival.
All Pics Dejan Ogrinec

The festival screened over forty mountain films from around the world. Included in that line up were three films from Hot Aches Productions…

Fools With Tools

I met the festival director Silvo Karo in the bar at Kendal this year and he told me about his plans for the festival and asked if we would enter E11.

Silvo Karo is man smiling in the middle of the picture
From what I see and hear the first festival was a great success, I hope we can make it over there to this festival in future years.

An international panel of judges awarded E11 the Best Mountains Sports and Adventure Film Award. This is how the award was announced:
The Judges: Daniela Cecchin, Julie Summers, Ines Božič Skok, Michael Pause, Igor Likar

"The award for this category goes to a film that explores the limits of personality beyond belief, pain, stamina and life goals. There is a clear idea by the film maker to follow this climber in all aspects of his life, both internal and external as he makes a commitment to a difficult route on a local rock. His is a small world but his aims are universal. Using modern film techniques, narration, music and editing the film is entirely successful in addressing issues bigger than the climb itself – that of personal achievement. The film is E11."

In addition to the awards presented by the judges, the Alpine Association of Slovenia awarded their Best Alpine Climbing Film Award to E11.

You can see the full list of award winners here


Dave Brown was in Eastern Europe over the weekend and adds that
I met some Slovenian climbers involved with the festival and E11 certainly seems to have made a big impression. It is probably no coincidence that the film has done well in a country that also has such a strong tradition of trad climbing. I'm psyched to get out there to get out there myself on a climbing trip soon.

E11 On Sale
A lot of climbers in eastern europe were unaware that E11 is on sale on DVD. We don't have any distribution in arrangements in this part of the world, however the DVD can be purchased on-line at many websites, including direct from Dave MacLeod's own webshop.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

MacLeod wins Golden Piton for Traditional Rock Climbing.

Climbing Magazine (USA) has named Dave MacLeod as the recipient of their prestigious annual Golden Piton Award for what they describe as “probably the hardest trad lead” on Rhapsody, E11 7a.

Dave MacLeod composing - prior to running it out on the upper section of Rhapsody E11 7a Photo Hot Aches Images

So huge congratulations to Dave. At Hot Aches we are obviously well acquainted with that route and very pleased that we could capture the whole process on film. The award is particularly pleasing because, in this slightly mixed up world of climbing, we, as film-makers, have won several awards for E11 but until now the most important person – the climber, received nothing.

Dave releasing his emotions after succeeding on Rhapsody. Screen grab from the film E11.

It was also a year in which there was certainly very strong competition for the award. Sonnie Trotter’s ascent of the striking Cobra Crack at Squamish was doubtless a strong contender.

Not since the release of Hard Grit a decade ago has anything put British climbing so much under the international spotlight. The increment of a clear grade is a rare occurrence in trad climbing; roughly once a decade. It will be an interesting year ahead with several other climbers eyeing up hard new routes (James Pearson already putting up the hardest route on grit) or setting their sights on significant repeats. Some strong overseas climbers should be heading to our shores too. Perhaps Rhapsody will even see a repeat and perhaps Dave MacLeod will succeed on his Ben Nevis super-route? Certainly the Hot Aches team are going to be busy capturing as much of the action as possible for their new film release “Committed” in October of this year.

Other recipients of this years Golden Piton awards were:
- Chris Sharma for El Pontas, his deep water solo in Majorca
- Dave Graham for Bouldering
- Paxti Usobiaga for Sports Climbing
For full awards see

Some interesting quotes from the Climbing article:

A direct finish to Dave Cuthberton's Requiem ( a heady E8 6b), Rhapsody features a 14-move V11 crux ending 30 feet above a micro wire, making for heart-stopping, 60-plus-foot whippers on a route 70 feet total in length. It is the only E11 on Earth. Historically, high end E-routes are headpointed only after extensive toprope rehearsal such that a fall is virtually eliminated. while falls have been taken on E10, the most catastrophic whippers on top-shelf E routes remained in the realm of pure speculation. MacLeod on the other hand, took the gigantic crux whipper numerous times, resulting in sprained ankles, twisted knees and countless cuts and bruises that left him hobbled home both physically and mentally.

Loosening the knot after another whipper. Photo Steve Gordon

Hats off for the ascent and for stepping into a new category." says Kevin Thaw, fellow UK climber, who adds that MacLeod's merging of trad tactics to a hard-5.14 face climb represents a huge cognitive leap. "E11 is a big fat number, certainly weighted toward being the stoutest gear route around!".

MacLeod's ascent, after 70-plus days of effort, became the focus of a UK movie, E11, which showcases the first ascent as well as several jaw-dropping falls onto the micro wire. In one of the first falls MacLeod takes in the film, the rope catches his leg and flips him upside down - he likely would have emptied the contents of his skull on the weathered basalt belay ledge below had the gear pulled, which, on a later fall, it did.

"Most of the time I was falling off and stopping just above the belay ledge" says MacLeod. "One time the micro wire snapped, and I bounced off the belay ledge on the rope stretch". A few falls like that later and he decided to wear a helmet.

Dumbarton Rock. The overhanging crack line of Rhapsody is visible on the main face. Hot Aches Images

"Style matter." says the Yosemite local Cedar Wright. "and that's why ascents like Rhapsody are a total inspiration. MacLeod climbed the line on its own terms, in spite of the real possibility that his obsession was going to land him in the emergency room."

Dave B