Friday, December 17, 2010

The Asgard Project - review for The Climber Magazine

We all know that Leo Houlding is crazier than a sack of howler monkeys. This British uber climber/adventurer takes things as far as seems humanly appropriate, and then a fair chunk further just to see how it feels.
Take one of the scenes from the 2009 adventure documentary The Asgard Project. It’s not even on the ‘project’ itself, but rather a training climb/base-jump combination. Leo and fellow Berghaus sponsored nut-bar Carlos Suarez decide to simul-climb two of the main towers of Riglos in Spain. The towers are conglomerate, around 300 metres high and overhanging. The guys set themselves an hour to monkey up each route and jump off. So, a tick over two hours later, Leo and Carlos are poised at the top of the second tower preparing to jump. Only the cloud has come in and they can’t get a handle on their bearings. All the time, the camera operator keeps filming away as the two adventurers stand on this nose of rock, peering out into the murky abyss. It all seems pretty atmospheric to say the least. Carlos encourages Leo to go for it, but Leo doesn’t appear to keen – not surprising given the conditions. But then he says something like ‘bugger it’ and jumps into the cloud. Carlos is left standing there, looking decidedly uncomfortable all of a sudden, before he too jumps. My palms worked themselves into quite a sweaty lather – a theme they would stick with through most of the film.
So, the overall premise: Asgard is a remote, 2000 metre high granite monolith on Baffin Island in the Arctic Circle. The ‘project’ is to make the first free ascent of its daunting looking north face and then base-jump off the summit using wing suits. To access the area, Leo, Carlos and another team member Sean Leary do a fly-by, attach mini-parachutes to their kit and then shove it out of the door of the plane, and skydive after it into the middle of nowhere. The rest of the team, including film makers Ian Burton and Alastair Lee, hike in 90km from the nearest town to reach the base of Asgard.
In all, they spend 10 days on the wall, dealing with the usual vagaries that weather in the Arctic Circle is likely to throw at them. From go to whoa, this is adrenal gland popping stuff. The location is hardcore, the climbing extreme and the filming top notch. Sure, some of the theme music and voiceovers are a tad overkill for my liking. The climbing is so obviously severe and the conditions bleak enough that I don’t need reminding. But, along with the drive to attract big time sponsors to fund something like this, comes the necessary hype I suspect. And that would be my only gripe on what is an enthralling and entertaining film.