Human beings have stood on the moon, but the moon doesn’t care. Or maybe it does. If the moon didn’t care, why then would it puff itself up as crisp and full as it can, reflecting sunlight onto its course across the earthly sky? Why would it stare at the silhouette of a tiny little guy climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park?
It’s worth it to see the documentary “El Capitan” just to gape at this one motion picture image. But there’s also the scene of a guy, perpendicular to the valley floor way below, running across the face of 3000 vertical feet of granite. He’s dangling, no, he’s pendulumming on a hundred feet of rope. For the fun of it? Not exactly. He’s swinging back and forth below a dead end to reach an alternate crack toward the top of one of the most iconic walls on the planet.
There’s also the scene where three guys scrunch together on a meager ledge halfway between heaven and hey, dude, we gotta sleep sometime. It took them three days -- three days -- to climb “The Nose” of El Capitan in 1968. It took other guys seven days before them, and even though the current record 45 years later is under three hours – three hours – this remains a stellar film to see.
There’s the equipment, the food and water, the hauling, the jangling clanging inventory of metal that defined big wall climbing during those formative times. There’s tension in the sheer administrative commitment to the stuff of the climb, the orchestrated patience of the climb. There’s lightness in a bird flitting. There’s darkness in a dangerous crevice of the night. There’s the matter-of-fact manifestation of crazy.
The award winning 16mm film that Fred Padula made all those decades ago was sorely in need of salvaging. Padula digitally restored the 86,000 frames of “El Capitan” one frame at a time. Because of this, we can still moon over the accomplishment of Gary Colliver, Richard McCracken, Lito Tejada-Flores, and the unseen cameraman/climber, Glen Denny.