Reaching for the Summit

by Craig B.

I’ve never climbed a mountain. Not a real mountain, at any rate. Nothing that couldn’t be conquered with more than a whittled stick and a ham sandwich. I don’t know crampons from carabiners. I’m not soft or anything. I have bungee jumped, ziplined, and chucked myself out of airplanes; I just don’t fancy the notion of hanging off cliffs. Nevertheless, I’ve been on a mountaineering binge the last six months. It started when I serendipitously watched three simultaneous documentaries about the mountain-goating glitterati who frequent El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (for the curious, the films were, in order, Free Solo, The Dawn Wall, and Valley Uprising). As a result, I’ve watched just about every precipitous flick I could get my hands on. Anyway, following are some of the best panoramas I’ve discovered from the safety of my couch.

I Am Alive

In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes Mountains with 45 people on board. I Am Alive recounts the life and death struggle the survivors endure as they launch a blind survival expedition through one of nature’s most brutal environments. Personal interviews with the survivors drive home just how dire their circumstances were. If you like harrowing tales of survival, you’ll love this stark documentary. Also, check out the movie based on the true story.

The Dawn Wall

There’s a section of El Capitan that many climbers thought impossible to scale. Enter professional climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, whose tenacity leads them on a six-year sojourn to crack the Dawn Wall’s secrets. It’s hard to watch this film without admiring the tenacity and camaraderie it would take to even attempt seeing their goal through to the end, let alone achieve it.

Free Solo

Seasoned climber Alex Honnold, against the stringent wishes of his friends and family, attempts to climb El Capitan without the use of climbing gear. I have never seen a bolder example of sheer will and bravery. Insane bravery, in my honest opinion, but bravery nonetheless. This vertiginous epic will leave you spinning like a Hitchcock flick.


Three professional climbers return to the mountain that beat them by 100 meters a three years earlier. Meru is as much a reflection of personal inspiration as it is about overcoming physical hardships. Like most mountaineering films, Meru is chock full of lush cinematography, but the imagery in this film stands out above the crowd.

I hope you enjoy these titles! Be sure to comment with any additional titles you discover so I can add them to my list.

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4 responses to “Reaching for the Summit”

  1. Darlene Weber says:

    Craig–Welcome to my world! I recently had the opportunity to hear Jimmy Chin at the Mountaineers Gala. He had just earned an Academy Award for Free Solo. I became a huge fan after watching Jimmy in Meru. Mountaineering is definitely a world of it’s own. Of all the paths I take in life, my favorite are dirt, rock and snow.

  2. Leslie Franzen says:

    Hi Craig-I enjoyed your blog and as a former climber (70’s-2000’s) and continued hiker in our beautiful PNW (primarily the North Cascades), I would like to recommend you add a couple of titles that reflect the great area we have all around us here:
    Challenge of the North Cascades and the Cascade Alpine Guides (which are hard to find these days) and were the trail guides for the areas by Fred Beckey. I am sure there are more current trail guides by other authors too. Also, the DVD, Dirt Bag about Fred Beckey’s life -he was legendary in the climbing world here.

    Also, if you are doing all those other adventure seeking kind of activities, you really should give climbing a try-it is considered “hard fun” in our world and well worth the effort it takes!

    • Craig Burgess says:

      Hi Leslie! Thank you for the comments. I haven’t seen Dirt Bag, but it sounds like something worth adding to the list. I’ll scour our catalog for your recommendations. As for climbing…it’s the kind of “hard fun” I’ll probably never enjoy!

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