Sunday, 24 February 2013

Why I don't like white water kayaking... the Banff Mountain Film Festival

For footage of Antarctic crossings to 24 hours of climbing, the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour never disappoints.  For the fourth year running, the chilly, yet atmospheric Union Chapel in Islington hosted the film festival.

First up was a short about "off-width" crack climbing, which covers anything you can get your hand into but not your whole body!  It appears that bleeding hands and swearing are the norm and two Brits took the US off-width world by storm after training in their cellar for two years on their homemade "crack machine".

The Banff organisers are really trying to put people off white water kayaking.  At my first festival there was the sad tale of Andrew Mcauley who died attempting a solo crossing of the Tasman sea from Australia to New Zealand, on what would have been the final day of the crossing, almost in site of Milford Sound.  The next year a kayaker was taken by a crocodile, literally disappearing from in front of his companions.

This year's Flow Hunters made for uncomfortable viewing.  As the helicopter camerman kept filming, one kayaker became trapped partially under a rock with the river raging past him.  Two others with ropes couldn't keep him above water and it was horrific to watch the water coming over his head as he fought to breathe and then as he disappeared under the rock.  I thought that was it, but he reappeared downriver and somehow swam to shore to tell the tale.  It was enough to put me off trying white water kayaking though.

There followed the usual footage of skiing and bike skills, including a very fit dog called Lily keeping up with downhill mountain bikers and an on-piste reseating of a dislocated shoulder.

My favourite film was of the Australian friends Cas and Jonesey making a return journey from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole and backin Crossing the Ice.  This was a moving tale of friendship but unsupported polar crossings I just don't get.  They look like unrelenting pain with nothing to see.  Give me an all day run in the mountains any day.  These two were attempting the first unsupported return trip to the South Pole, only to discover that the Norwegian Aleksander Gamme had a headstart on them.  The highlight was when they crossed paths with Gamme, already on his return journey, wearing a Scream mask!  It looked like they would abort the trip at the South Pole, having dropped behind schedule and several days behind Gamme, but they pushed on, buoyed on by finding the buried caches of food they had deposited on the outward leg.  It appears Gamme waited a few days for them near the finish, so that they could all end the journey together.  While this was an outstanding achievement and a record, people have completed longer and tougher Antarctic crossing by going from one side on the continent to the other, which obviously doesn't allow them to drop food for the return journey.

Alex Honnold continues to amaze me with his superhuman climbing skills.  This man appears utterly fearless and makes the most imposing ascents look effortless. At least he managed to look exhausted at the end of climbing Mt Watkins, El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in under 19 hours.  All the films were inspirational but this one topped them all.

I'm already looking forward to returning to Union Chapel for next year's instalment.