‘Islands’ – The inspiration behind the film. Article and photos.

Its funny you know, I grew up under the shadow of these mountains for so many years, but I never really noticed them. I had other things to do, trees to climb, dens to build and so much mischief to get into. I left school early and moved to the Alps with a group of solid mates, determined to ski and snowboard every day, and spend as much of ours lives as possible, travelling as fast as we could. I remember one day looking out of over a mind blowing alpine panorama and thinking, ‘wow this is truly stunning……but it doesn’t mean as much to me as the place I grew up’. It wasn’t long before I moved home.

‘Islands’ is a film about people and places, it has climbing in it, but it is not in my eyes, a climbing film. The project began when I happened to meet an intriguing guy at the bottom of Shepherd’s crag one day. He didn’t fail to make an impression as he spoke openly about his life, new lines and big challenges. The vision was his and his alone, not a quest for high grades or a pat on the back from the rest of the community; it was evident that climbing for him was a personal journey to find some peace, light and clarity. How strange to find safety in a place of such danger.

I knew after filming with Mike that I wanted to carry the project on and make something that I would be proud to show. A film can only be as good as the sum of its parts, so I chose my subjects carefully, and to an extent, followed my heart and my gut.

My hope was to explain, promote and maintain the heritage and tradition within the climbing community in the Lake District, of which I am now a part. To celebrate some of its modern pioneers and their very individual qualities, and to readdress the balance, by placing equal importance on the person, the landscape, and the activity. After all, they may be people doing extraordinary things and believe me, they are inspiring to watch, but they are only a dot on the landscape.

I want to thank my wing man Matt Pycroft and Mike, Stu, Caff and Adam for being involved in this project. They shaped it just as I did, and I’m very grateful for their contribution. Thanks to all the belayers and extra cameraman too, Harry McGie, Duncan Sperry, Mike Norbury, Ben Scraggs, Sophie, Ali Keech and Dan McCann . And thanks to my girlfriend Hel for putting up with my poverty-stricken lifestyle and resistance to getting ‘a proper job’. And last of all, the sponsors of this film, who have shown their support all the way through, as well as providing valuable bits of kit for this and future projects. Wild Country, Red Chilli, The Epicentre and Alpkit.

Photos Matt Pycroft and Dom Bush.

You can watch the individual parts of the film below, or the full thing on my Vimeo here – http://vimeo.com/33874208

Hocking hits Scafell………………

Hock working the route, Photo Matt Pycroft

Hock working the route, Photo Matt Pycroft

The summer project is full steam ahead and close to completion. I have blogged about 2 of the 3 sections of the film, the third is almost done but at the mercy of the foul Cumbrian weather.

On the 25th July we set our sights on Scafell, and one of Dave Birkett’s E9’s on the imposing East Buttress. ‘Return of the King’ is another steep, crimpy and poorly protected test piece that has been left unrepeated for five years.

Embarking on a day cragging on Scafell is challenging, it requires much commitment and dedication to the cause. Setting off for Scafell with an E9 in your sights is another thing all together, so, much respect to Adam for getting the route ticked so professionally when he was clearly not feeling very psyched. When the climber to our left, who was cleaning and inspecting a line, turned and said, “do you really think those little wires are going to hold you when you fall off Hock?” I thought the game was up, and we were gonna pack up and go home. But he stepped up and made it look easy, which we all know it isn’t. RESPECT!

With the footage in the bag me and Matt couldn’t resist a cooked meal on the Summit of Scafell, which is only 20 minutes walk away. I had some pasta and Matt ate a big tin of    MAN-THE-F-UP     so that he could walk down the mountain with his sore legs🙂

Screenshot, Hock on the second ascent of 'Return of the King' E9 6c


Sunset on the summit, photo Dom Bush


The man himself

‘The Big Link’ E6 6b, 6b. First Ascent in Hodge Close Quarry.

Having waited patiently for the ‘summer’ weather to sort itself out, we headed through to Hodge Close again to get The Big Link ticked.

Around two years ago I directed and shot a short film in Hodge Close, it followed George Ullrich, a young and bold trad climber from Kendal up a route on the main wall called Stage Fright. Stage Fright was established in the early 80’s by Pete Whillance, who gave us a great interview for the film. Pete and his friends were the first people to look to the walls and slabs of Hodge Close for new routes, and between 1980 and 84 they put up many bold and committing lines in the quarry. Since making this film I have been keen to return to Hodge Close with a camera.

Having climbed in there a number of times since, I scanned the quarry for possible new lines, hoping to find an inspiring route to film. ‘The Big Link’ is a huge traverse of the main wall, starting up the retro-bolted line of ‘First Night Nerves’, it traverses right into the groove of ‘Stage Fright’ to reach some double pegs. From here it cuts up and right again with no gear to belay on the ledge of ‘The Main Event’. From the ledge it traverses right for around twenty feet to reach the only gear on the second pitch, a peg, then right again and straight up on tiny scary smears for a run-out top section.

Stew Wood and Ben Scraggs

Stew Wood stood out as a perfect candidate to tick ‘The Big Link’. A well known face round the Lakes, Stew has climbed every route in Hodge Close and put up many of his own, Ben Scraggs stepped up to face the massive swings and second Stew on the route.

Ben Scraggs practicing the first pitch. Photo Ali Keech

Me filming Woody on the first pitch. Photo Matt Pycroft

Matt Filming above the huge run-out on the first pitch. Photo Ali Keech

Woody practicing the last moves prior to the ascent. Photo Dom Bush

Ben Scraggs facing a huge swing as he jumps for the final dyno. Photo Dom Bush

Screen shot from the first ascent, Woody run-out on the second pitch. Ali Keech

A very successful day and a great new line put up, which is still waiting for a full ground-up ascent if anyone wants to come and take on the challenge!!!!??????

This ascent was filmed as part of Land and Sky Media’s summer project which will debut at Kendal Mountain Film Festival in November, Keep checking back!

Thanks to Matt Pycroft, Ali Keech, Harry McGie, Stew Wood, Ben Scraggs and The Epicentre.