In November 2016 Pete Whittaker became the first person to solo, all free, Freerider on El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley in less than 24 hours. The route is 3000 feet high, has 37 pitches and an overall grade of 5.13a. He climbed the route in 20 hours and six minutes. Pete free climbed each pitch, abseiled each pitch and then jumared and cleaned each pitch. He travelled over the 3000 feet of granite three times. In 20 hours he had free climbed the length of El Cap, abseiled the length of El Cap and Jumared the length of El Cap.
That is ridiculously impressive. Even for the man who made the first ascent of Dynamics of Change E9 7a (Johnny Dawes thinks it’s E10) at 17, and the first ascents of Baron Greenback and Sleepy Hollow both E9/10. Pete then trained for two years on a off-width crack made of a discarded kitchen unit in a grotty Sheffield cellar before travelling to America to make the first on-sight flash ascent of Brad Jackson’s masterpiece Belly Full of Bad Berries and then with Tom Randall making the first ascent of the worlds hardest off-width, the now legendary Century Crack.
The film is directed by Adam Bailes, Pete’s long-ago climbing partner. Adam was and now is again a very good climber but somewhere in-between he went off and became a war reporter. Adam had been filming, editing and selling short climbing films and a bout of restless disillusionment with climbing led Adam to London to study International Journalism. After six months he got bored, bought a ticket to Sierra Leone, borrowed a motorbike and rode around the country as the horror of ebola began to terrify the world. Finding his film making skills in demand from the international media he began documenting humanitarian catastrophe and conflict, working for extended periods in Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen.
Last year Adam rediscovered his love of climbing and inspired by Pete’s plan to rope solo a route on El Cap they decided to make a film together.
Four days before the films premiere, I sat down to watch the finished feature, feeling really quite nervous. It’s a film about a friend, made by a friend and all the people in the film are friends. What if it was shit? Would I have the balls to be honest.
But I was transfixed.
It’s a simple film. It tells a story and the story it tells is in itself simple. Pete learns how to rope solo, goes to Yosemite and solos Freerider in 20 hours. That’s it. There is Go-Pro footage taken by Pete while on the ascent and there is footage taken on the last few pitches by American filmmaker Dustin Moore. However in between the moments of action and the interviews with Tom Randall and Andy Kirkpatrick I was constantly aware of and awed by the mind boggling amount of physical and mental effort Pete’s ascent required.
Andy is as eloquent as ever and you sense his genuine admiration and even bemusement at the difficulty of Pete’s ascent. Tom admits that for the first time Pete has found a challenge he himself could not conceive of achieving.
And the usually reserved Pete himself talks with a new passion and enthusiasm. Subtlety you sense him not so much excited about what he has just achieved but excited about what he realises he is now capable of.
The premiere of Without a Partner, a film about climbing alone, is showing at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival on Saturday 18th March at the Showroom cinema. Tickets available here – https://shaff.co.uk/shaff17/pete-whittaker-talk-film-premiere