When Mr Alex Honnold goes rock climbing, he wears his favourite red T-shirt, cut-off nylon pants and simple La Sportiva footwear. What he does not wear is a rope. In the vertigo-inducing opening sequence of new documentary Mountain, we see how high this renowned free solo rock climber is prepared to go without any safety equipment, the camera picking up Mr Honnold as a red speck on the side of El Toro, a 2,500ft-high pillar of rock in the El Potrero Chico climbing area of Mexico.
The sheer drops keep coming in a film that offers a dazzling exploration of our obsession with high places and the lengths we’ll go to experience them. It’s the work of documentary filmmaker Ms Jennifer Peedom in collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, whose classical scores and original music amplify the majesty of, and our madness on, the highest reaches.
Up to three centuries ago, mountains were considered no-go zones, places for the holy and untold horrors. The pursuit of great heights only really took hold in the 19th century, as explorers looked up for new places to conquer. It’s a spirit that has endured, as has alpinist style. In Mountain’s earliest archive footage, base-camp chambray shirts, robust beige shorts and ribbed woollen rollneck sweaters were accessorised with vest pocket cameras and enviably full beards. This pioneer spirit was marked by a certain Edwardian formality – Mr George Mallory wearing a Harris tweed three-piece suit and sheepskin boots on his 1924 Everest expedition.