Jul 1

Taghia is not for Interns

Alex Honnold doesn’t say things lightly, so when he said this thing to me about this place Taghia we were talking about, it should indicate something to you, our audience—who knows what he’s done and how he talks about stuff—should indicate something to you about the nature of this place where he had been and where I was about to go.

"Don’t send any interns," he said. "It’s kind of burly."

We were eating breakfast in a plushly rustic cafe in a plushly post-industrial neighborhood in lower Manhattan and we were talking about a tiny village in the High Atlas Mountains of central Morocco called Taghia, where I was due to shoot with Hazel Findlay and Emily Harrington as they explored the huge limestone walls in the area. 

We chuckled because interns are funny. I sipped my plush foamy latte and listened as he went on. Yes, “it’s kind of burly,” yes, “the food is, like, kind of repetitive,” yes, “Hazel is, like, kind of a bad ass,” etc. etc. Yes, I knew Honnold was prone to this “kind of” understatement, but now, you know, I know it. 

A couple months after our plush conversation in lower Manhattan I was in Morocco. Learning.


Taghia sits at the bottom of a cirque, just downstream from a place heftily called The Source, where thousands of gallons of potable water spring directly out of a cliff, starting the river that drains the whole region. The river valley is a green jewel in an otherwise mountainous desert. Geologically, water has done a number on the place, carving huge, steep limestone walls that don’t bottom out on a talus slope, as big walls frequently do, but instead drop into slot canyons hundreds of feet deep that are littered with huge boulders. The canyons below add to the crazy sense of exposure. “Like, the topography is kind of extreme,” Honnold had said.

Emily had never climbed a wall nearly as big as the ones around the village, and Hazel had been in the area last year with Honnold, so they didn’t waste any time in getting acclimated to each other as partners, to the stone and to the style of climbing—long days, lots of steep, chalkless slabs with dusty rock and well spaced protection. They raged around the valley, climbing huge routes as hard as 5.12c. 

While they raged, we ferried loads of fixed rope and gear to the top of their main objective, a 2800-foot route up a limestone extremity that calls out from above the village. It proved to be a lot of work. The mule that helped us get the rope and gear up made terrible noises and the foam that accumulated around its mouth was green and there was a lot of it. I thought it might die. We split up loads and took over for the mule when the terrain got 5th class, sketching over gendarmes and improvised, miraculous Berber ladders (a frame of cammed juniper branches crammed with stones to make steps or a bridge—you kind of have to see them). It took us days and days and one severe case of shock from dehydration/heat exhaustion/extreme intestinal distress to get the route prepped for shooting. 

We stayed at Said’s gitte. It’s the Miguel’s of Taghia, just less debauched. Climbers, mostly French with some Spanish, congregate there. The village is tiny and the people are proud of the beauty of the place they’re from. There’s no road in. You walk six miles from the end of the road to get there. And get this—they got electricity from the grid for the first time while we were there, in May. Residents, perhaps 250 of them, subsist on what they can farm and the monthly sacks of flour from the king (Morocco is a de facto absolute monarchy, one of eight or nine left on the planet). You sleep on a thin mattress on a palette and a bare lightbulb rounds out the amenities. Breakfast is bread. Dinner is tagine, except when it’s plain pasta. The tagine, a sort of stew with potatoes, carrots and a protein of alternating animals (chicken, sheep, goat) is good. For a while. After a few rotations it’s a little bit grim. “Bring spices,” Honnold had said. We had, and if you go, you should too. Plus some granola and many Clif bars. 

After a few days of rest the girls were psyched and ready to throw down. The list of unknowns about the route was approximately 2800 feet long, but the idea of an adventure—of getting to the top of the mountain and back down, no matter what, seemed to light a fire under the pair. It was a suitably audacious objective, they thought. Why not just go for it? 


Frosty, the director of photography, and Kris Erickson, our local fixer, rigger and photographer, slept on top of the wall the night before, ready to rap down at first light. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning with the girls. They were anxious. Hazel stewed silently with her tea. Emily quietly peanut buttered her bread. They braided their hair and brushed their teeth and left through the darkness for the wall. 

"12c slab warm up, in the da-ark. Get psy-yched," Hazel said, before setting off by headlamp. The possibility of a full-route onsight was foiled on the first pitch that morning. Hazel fell victim to a dusty 12c slab warmup in the dark, basically. She bounced off a small ledge below her and spun upside down in a whipper that visibly shook her. But she gathered herself, checked out the moves, lowered to a ledge and climbed through, only to get rebuffed again by a broken hold over a roof. It was clear this route wasn’t in the same league as the others. "I think we’re in for a long day," Emily said with a nervous laugh. 

Stacked with difficulty, almost every pitch is 5.12, and those that aren’t are x-ratedly run out. Later, Hazel compared it to trying to go ground up on the Free Rider or Golden Gate on El-Cap, in a day. “It’s not quite as tall, but there’s at least as much, if not more difficulty,” she said. “There isn’t an easy pitch on the route.” The girls flowed for some pitches, Hazel onsighting a dangerously run out 12c slab and a cruxy 12b pitch. After a long, vicious battle with an overhanging pitch rated 13a, which it looked like she was going to send first try, Emily was stymied by the slab crux that guarded the anchors. Then, Hazel had the same flake in a roof break on her three times. “There’s going to be no holds left soon,” she said. 

They were freezing cold, exhausted. Hazel was getting cramps in her hands so bad she had to open her fingers on her leg before crimping down again on the next hold. Emily was bleeding from a dozen places on her hands. They sat on a ledge high on the wall, dejected but determined. It was getting dark. They’d stopped being in a hurry. But they needed some psyche. They had maybe 700 feet of route left to climb in the dark. So what do they do? The answer seems obvious now. Dance party. A full on iPhone dance party on the ledge. Shakira. That terrible Flo Rida feat. Ke$ha song that samples Boy George. Hazel does a dance called the Meat Spin (involves pretending to have a large package between the legs, which you try to rotate in a circle, the package). Emily does one called the Boxer (involves rapidfire punching with crazy face grimace to ornament). It’s sunset in the High Atlas on a backcountry limestone version of El Cap and these girls are having a slumber party caliber disco more than 2000 feet up. 

Sufficiently warm and psyched, Hazel climbed carefully past pitches of technical 5.12 and past pitches of 5.11 with three bolts in 60 meters above pure blackness. They topped out, elated. They got brutally lost on their way back down to the village, and they settled in their beds almost exactly 24 hours after they’d got out of them. And they were psyched. Battered, but psyched.

"That was one of the biggest climbing days I’ve ever had," said Hazel. "And I think it was the biggest Emily’s had by a long way."

Emily chimed in. “Biggest day of rock climbing. FOR SURE.”

It was, like, kind of an adventure.

-Alex Lowther, Big UP Productions Producer

unREEL: Konichiwa Bitches

By Sender Films Producer, Nick Rosen

“DANIEW ROOOOODS,” the PA system echoes through the massive arched walls at Yuji Hirayama’s BASE CAMP, the largest climbing gym in Asia.

Daniel Woods is a long way from home. On the invitation of his childhood hero, Yuji Hirayama, Daniel grabbed the REEL ROCK crew and headed over to Japan to test himself against the local competition and explore the rock in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Like many of us, Daniel grew up with posters of Yuji on his wall – the 44-year old Japanese climber is one of the great living legends of rock climbing. So it was a rare treat to visit him in his home country, a place where seemingly everything –raw fish, vintage clothing, alien tentacles, dance machines, and, yes, rock climbing – are the subject of obsessive devotion.


Yuji Hirayama at the sea cliffs of Jyogasaki

This was easy to see at the 2013 North Face Cup in Japan, a series of comps that Yuji has organized which culminate in the big invitational championship at Yuji’s mega gym outside Tokyo. Normally, when an international climber of Daniel’s caliber is invited to a regional comp, he can feel confident about winning. But when Daniel walked into Yuji’s Base Camp for qualifiers, he immediately noted the stiff competition. Indeed, Japan has some of the most dedicated and talented climbers on the planet.  Yuji, and fellow Japanese stars Hidetaka Suzuki, Dai Koyamada, Akiyo Noguchi, and Sachi Amma, are names we know, but at this comp alone, there were dozens of other male and female elite crushers that we’ve never heard of. Shaking his head in awe, Daniel pounded a Red Bull and went into focus mode.

(Although the comp results are readily available, we won’t spoil the surprise – check it out on REEL ROCK 8!)


photo credit: Eddie Gianelloni

After the comp, Yuji invited Daniel and the film crew for a tour of some amazing climbing areas within a few hours of Tokyo: The picturesque sea cliffs of Jyogasaki, the snowy limestone of Futugoyama (home of Yuji’s test-piece Flat Mountain ( and the even more frigid riverside boulders of Shiobara, where Daniel had an epic, 0-degree wind chill showdown with the Koyamada test-piece Hydrangea (V15). Watching Daniel climb, Yuji’s eyes lit up; he was shaking his head in awe, trying the holds, spraying beta, and cheering, “Yes, Daniel-San, wait for the moment!”


Daniel Woods on Hydrangea - (V15) photo credit: Eddie Gianelloni

At 46 years old, Yuji is at a pivot in his storied career, which includes multiple world cup titles, several early free ascents of El Capitan, and the Nose speed record at least twice. These days, Yuji has largely transitioned out of climbing at his limit (with the mind-blowing exception of his Borneo project, which you can also catch on REEL ROCK 8), and settled comfortably into the role of Dai Sensei, organizing comps and mentoring the promising new crop of young Japanese climbers.

22-year old Daniel Woods appears to be his new project. “He is so unbelievably strong, and so talented, and yet he has a lot of ways he can learn and improve,” Yuji said.

Anyone who has spent time with Daniel knows that, aside from being one of the strongest and most graceful climbers on the scene today, Daniel Woods is a tremendous goof. Blithe, forgetful, and grinning like your kid brother on Robitussin, he will invariably leave behind his shoes or harness, take a wrong turn, and be forced to send something astoundingly hard with borrowed gear, in the dark.


Daniel found a twin! 

 “What I see most of all in Daniel is potential. Like an unpolished gemstone.” Looks like Daniel-San has found his Mr. Miyagi.

Oh, and remember that Borneo project we mentioned earlier? Turns out Yuji needs a partner for it. To find out what happens when these two amazing talents team up to establish cutting edge grades in the high-altitude jungles of Mt. Kinabalu, tune in to REEL ROCK 8, coming this fall to a theater near you.

And many thanks to Yuji, TNF Japan, Jazzy Sport and Eddie Gianelloni for making our trip to Japan amazing. 

Apr 1

UNREEL: Dura Dura, The End

Reel Rock 7 introduced the world to a route in Spain called Dura Dura—literally, the hardest of the hard. Originally bolted some four years ago by Chris Sharma, Dura Dura was one of the last remaining projects at Oliana, a cliff where there are more 5.15’s and 5.14d’s than in all of North America combined. Oliana is to sport climbing what Mavericks is to surfing—not just a big fearsome wave that chews people up and spits them out, but the center stage for the sport’s biggest stars to test and prove themselves.

Our 30-minute segment “Dura Dura” told a familiar story: a monster route at the cutting-edge of difficulty; the intrepid climber battling doubt and weakness to prove that the impossible is possible after all. Only this segment had an interesting twist: Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra, the two best sport climbers in the world, were facing off against each other to be the first one to climb Dura Dura


Chris Sharma, 31, has been at the top of the climbing game for the last 15 years, consistently pushing standards to new levels. Of all the prior 5.15’s he has climbed, only one has been a repeat; all the others were first ascents. He established the grade 5.15a with Biographie, then 5.15b with Jumbo Love.

But in the last couple of years, things have been changing. It would be hard to argue that Adam Ondra, 20, isn’t the world’s next, best climber. Having flashed 5.14d and completed the first ascent of Change (5.15c) in Norway, Ondra has positioned himself to grab the torch and take climbing to new atmospheric levels.

But who would do Dura Dura first? The old guy or the young gun? Suddenly, Dura Dura had become an unprecedented arena for the sport’s most high-stakes competition. A lot was on the line—not just the glory and recognition of doing the first ascent of the most difficult rock climb, but also the title of being the world’s best sport climber.

 Originally, Sharma had written off Dura Dura as being too difficult; the holds too small. But then Ondra, looking for something to really sink his teeth into, began working Dura Dura with Sharma’s blessing. Ondra showed Sharma that the moves were, in fact, doable and soon Sharma got sucked in, too. Now, they were both working the route together.

 In climbing, there is no Super Bowl or World Series. Climbers prove themselves on the rock. Dura Dura was so exciting and unique because never before had two climbers of such high calibers joined forces to work on completing a rock climb together.


 Previously, no other route had given Ondra as much trouble as Dura Dura. Soon he was calling iteven harder than Change—that is it say, hard 5.15c. Ondra looked close to doing Dura Dura first, but then he had to leave Oliana. In December 2011, Sharma almost stuck the end of the crux 15-move sequence, and it actually seemed like he might be the one to get the coveted first ascent.

 By all accounts, it could’ve gone either way. Both climbers’ determination to do the route—first or second, it didn’t matter—soared.


 But ultimately, on February 8, two days after his 20th birthday, Ondra succeeded in doing the first ascent. It was a great moment not just for Ondra, but for sport climbing. The new generation is without a doubt here. And with Ondra at the helm, it will surely take the sport to new, incredible levels.

 With the pressure of doing the first ascent, of holding onto that torch, now lifted, Sharma suddenly found himself in a curious position. The so-called “competition” to be first to climb Dura Dura had never actually been a motivating force, he realized. Sharma was happy to discover that, even after Ondra had gotten the first ascent, he was actually more stoked than ever do Dura Dura. For himself. For all the reasons that most of us enjoy climbing. The passion just to go out and try hard and have fun grew for Sharma, and that was an affirmative thing for him to experience.

On March 23, Sharma clipped the chains for the second ascent. And so now that the saga of Dura Dura has come to a happy ending, we should take a moment to reflect on what this route has meant for climbing. We think it has revealed something core, something universal, about our sport. The strength of the climbing partnership. The genuine soulfulness we feel to get out and try a route at our personal limits. The simple pleasure of trying really hard. Hard hard. But above all, Dura Dura has been an amazing collaboration between the two best rock climbers of our time. And that was a motivating thing for the rest of us to watch. Thank you, Chris and Adam.



Apr 1

Ueli Steck - A New Vision

RR8 Shoot in Japan - Athlete post by Daniel Woods

The last 13 days have involved a brief trip to Japan to compete at The North Face Cup, try Hydrangea (unrepeated), and film for Reel Rock Tour 8 with Brett Lowell (Big Up Productions) and Nick Rosen (Sender Films). I had taken a previous trip to Japan last year to compete in the TNF Cup and try Hydrangea. The outcome was first place at the comp and falling on the last move of Hydrangea. This failure staggered around in my head for the next year. Now I had my chance to return and finish it off.


The TNF Cup is the largest competition in Japan. It is organized by legendary climber, Yuji Hirayama. The set up involves multiple qualifying competitions throughout the fall/winter season, in various regions of Japan. The qualifying competitors then move to the final event at Yuji’s home gym, Base Camp, in Iruma. There were 50+ of Japan’s strongest male and female climbers, awaiting their chance at the final. 

Day 1 involved the qualifying round. There were 8 set boulders that we had to try and complete within an hour. I was able to send 6 out of the 8, putting me in 8th, and a spot in semi-finals (they take 20).

Day 2 was the semi-final round. There were 8 set problems that we had to complete within an hour. I was able to send all 8, tieing for first with Japanese climber Ray Sugimoto. The final was going to be difficult. Top Japanese climbers Ray Sugimoto (podium result at multiple World Cups), Tsukuru Hori (1st place at World Cup in Canmore, Canada), and Keita Mogaki were in. I felt strong from semis’ and ready for the final round.

The Final round was a couple hours after semi-finals. The format was 3 problems, 2 minutes, and point per hold scoring. It was process of elimination meaning that we started with six climbers on problem one, four went to two, and the final two battled it out on the last problem. I managed the only ascent of problem one. Problem two was different. There was a heinous first move intro dyno, leading to a tenuous traverse and into a finishing dyno. I knew the first two climbers did not stick the dyno, based off of crowd reaction (it went quiet for a while). I knew all that I had to do was stick the dyno and I was in for the last problem. The dyno ended up being very difficult. After a few tries, I stuck it and then fell on the traverse. Ray flashed the dyno and made it a couple moves further than me on the traverse. We advanced to the last problem. This one was powerful down low on pinches and finished with delicate tension moves on giant sloping volumes. I was able to keep it together and flash the problem. If Ray were to send it, we would go into a super final. He got far on the problem, but was unable to complete it. It was a good battle. Ray is a very talented climber. Podium: 1st Daniel Woods, 2nd Ray Sugimoto, 3rd Tsukuru Hori


One objective was out of the way, but I still had Hydrangea on my mind. This boulder was established by Japanese climber Dai Koyomada. It went unrepeated for 8 years. The climbing style is viscious, ascending a 40 foot, near horizontal ceiling on two finger pockets and small incut crimps. In total, there are 17 moves. The beginning is 6 moves of v12 on two finger micro pockets. The remaining 11 moves are v13 with powerful spans between small crimps. The finish involves a strenuous double toe hook position, which allows you to compress these two, non positive flat edges together. After, you keep the tension, go to a left hand quarter pad edge, and cross through right hand to a jug hueco. I fell on this end section 7+ times from the beginning. This trip I felt stronger than last year, but the conditions were miserable. Horizontal snow blew the 25 degree F air around us, turning everything numb. This was the first time I felt hindered by the cold. My hands were numb and not working. I would start cramping half way through the climb, before everything shut down, and I became frozen in place. I spent tons of time just getting warm enough to try, and then it became a race of defeating paralyzation. 

I only had two days to try Hydrangea. Beside the competition and Hydrangea, the main objective of the trip was to film Yuji Hirayama and I’s segment in Reel Rock Tour 8. This limited our time in Shiobara. I felt so much pressure to complete this line. After thinking about something for a year, you really want to return back and do it. Impossible conditions or not, I wanted to do this rock climb. 

On day 1, I got close, but fell on the last move a few times. The conditions were just too bad to function. My muscles failed, skin failed, and energy diminished. I knew tomorrow was my last day. If I really wanted it, I would have to overcome this situation. Day 2 began with perfect conditions. Things were already looking good. I arrived to the boulder, warmed up, and began trying. My skin was wrecked from the previous day. I rapid fired out tries, but was unable to get through the beginning. Fatique started to set in. I decided to rest for an hour and wait for the moment. The sun went down and a breeze started blowing through the valley. I felt the adrenaline enter my system and got psyched. I knew that this was my window to do the climb. I went back into the cave and climbed the moves as I had rehearsed in my head during my rest period. It felt cold and sticky. I got to the final toe hook section and felt good. I was able to maintain tension and climb through to the jug. I just completed the 2nd ascent of Hydrangea (v15). Relief settled in, my purple hands soon turned red, and now I could mentally relax. I love getting this feeling in climbing. How everything adds up to one moment, then the process starts all over again. The feeling is addictive, which makes climbing so exhilarating. Rollfilm captured the ascent on video and same with the Reel Rock crew.


The rest of the trip involved hanging out with one of my icons, Yuji Hirayama. This guy does it all and at a very high level. He has positive energy and is always psyched. We completed the filming, then headed home. I learned a lot this trip in Japan. The culture is very organized, respectful, and motivated. 

To encompass failure, accept it, and learn from it, will open your world to what is possible.

Thanks to The North Face, Sanuk, La Sportiva, Petzl, Organic Bouldering Mats, and The REEL ROCK Tour.

 -Daniel Woods

Photo credit:

After seven years of running the REEL ROCK Film Tour with our partners at Big UP Productions, we’re proud to announce the launch of the REEL ROCK TV SERIES, with 9 half-hour episodes for 2013.

Tomorrow, Wednesday Jan 23, REEL ROCK drops in the US on OUTSIDE TV at 9:30 Eastern. The first episode is La Dura Dura, featuring Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra’s battle to climb the world’ first 5.15c.

REEL ROCK 7 Soundtrack

We’ve had many inquiries regarding the songs featured in this year’s REEL ROCK Film Tour. As requested, here is the line up of talented artists we’ve worked with on the RR7 films.

La Dura Dura

1. Places by Bedrockk 

2. Timelapse Tower by Abel Okugawa

3. Then Up and Shore by Causeyoufair

4. Into the Sunlight by Cinematique

5. Into the Sun by Powerlust is Everything

6. Step Lively by Okai Musik

7. Illusion of Choice by Gramatik

8. Cross Country by Abel Okugawa

9. Ringtone #3 by Emil Hewitt

10. Symphony by Alexandre Gardic

11. Temana by Uncle Rafa

12. Shanti by Break Science

13. Japanese Parisian by Aria Rostami

14. Believe in Yourself by Brown Rice Family

15. Choices by Abel Okugawa

16. Winds by Abel Okugawa

17. Rhodes Repeat by Andreas Beats

18 Burn Down by Powerlust is Everything

19. A Rural Place by Talvihorros

20. Greatest by The Truthseekers

21 Runnaway by Abel Okugawa


Honnold 3.0

1. Crime Pays by Bear Hands

2. I Turn On by Slam Donahue

3. L&R by Alexandre Gardic

4. How to be Cool by Slam Donahue

5. Marzo by The OO-Ray

6. Body Without Organs by Swimming

7. Menenlik by Maximilian DeArmon

8. Tall Trees by Bear Hands

9. Son by Ludwig Persik

10. Milk by Abel Okugawa

11. Nylon by Wil Bolton

12. Deepr by M. Ostermeier 

13. This is All by Slam Donahue

14. Palimpsests by The OO-Ray

15. High Definition by Fort Lean

16. Approaching Sumeru by Abel Okugawa

17. Pretending to Have a Heart Attack by Swimming 

18. Con Song by Slam Donahu


The Shark’s Fin

1. This Way Comes by Ki: Theory

2. Ares by Emancipator

3. Broken Mirrors by Chromatics

4. Pulse Again by Philip Sheppard

5. Moon by Little People

6. Mission by Beats Antique

7. The Daydream by Tycho

8. Every Single Prayer by UNKLE

9. Make it Good by Fink

10. Heikki by Tor

11. Conversations At The End of The World by Kishi Bashi

12. Iceland by Philip Sheppard


Wide Boyz

1. Bad Boys by Luke Reynolds

2. Slow Grind by Jett Craze

3. Little Yiddish by Being Hero

4. Offwidth by O-Dub

5. Jerusalem by Donnie Mortimer

6. Under the Sun by The Paper Stars

7. Super Long Smash by Chris Hall

 8. Cliff Love by Jett Craze

9. Just Another Love Song by Jett Craze

10. Being Hero by Being Hero


Teaser clip from REEL ROCK 7’s film “La Dura Dura” featuring Chris Sharma, Adam Ondra, Sasha DiGiulian and Daila Ojeda. 

Don’t miss this year’s tour! Get your tickets now. For shows near you, ticketing information, and all things REEL ROCK, check out our calendar. 

It’s going to be rad.

Check it out! Here is some raw footage of Brad Jackson on Life Without Parole (V4-/V5) in Vedauwoo, WY not making the cut for “Wide Boys” premiering in REEL ROCK 7 this fall.

This is raw footage from Alex Honnold’s climb on Mt. Watkins. Check out REEL ROCK 7 this fall for the entire film featuring one of the biggest climbing achievements to date. Read below for the an exclusive insider’s perspective, written by filmmaker Pete Mortimer.