posted by dpm on 04/04/2013
Project American Fork is a just-released film from George Bruce Wilson and Three Peak Films that follows the historical timeline of the development of American Fork Canyon in Utah. Narrated by Boone Speed and other primary route developers, the movie discusses the importance of AF, from its humble beginning as a chossy untapped canyon, through AF's rise to the forefront of American sport climbing and its current status as a much-loved playground for locals and visitors alike.
It's a thoughtful, introspective film that breaks away from the mold of most modern, fast-paced climbing flicks. Instead, the focus is on the beauty of the place, the people that developed it, and the significance the canyon holds in the bigger picture of American sport climbing.
Filmmaker George Bruce Wilson shooting for Project American Fork.
In the earliest years of climbing in AF, there were only a handful of individuals putting up routes and boulder problems. Boone Speed, Jeff Pederson, Bill Boyle and others, all offer insight into the early exploration of the area. The interviews are mixed with climbing footage of the routes they speak of including Black Magic (5.12), the first sport route in the canyon. As their skills at climbing and finding good routes progressed, they pushed onto steeper terrain, establishing the steepest climbing in the country at the time at the Hell Cave.
While most of the footage from the film was shot recently, some of the most intriguing scenes are from archive footage, including the famous 1988 Snowbird Competition that was held near Salt Lake City. It was the first World Championship held on US soil and drew in the best climbers from around the world. These climbers, like J.B. Tribout and Didier Rabatou, are seen in the movie showboating out the roofs with ridiculous foot-dangling, one-arm lock-off clips. It's a look into the radness of late 80's sport climbing.
The early 90's were the boom years with the majority of the canyon's routes being filled in. These years saw the introduction of 5.14 to the canyon and American Fork sat firmly at the top of American sport climbing standards. As with any climbing area, AF's heyday was short-lived and the canyon now stands as a testament to what can be created through the work and vision of a few committed individuals.
The film wraps up with some great footage of some talented young folks, including the Hörst brothers, using the canyon to develop their own skills. James Litz is the final climber, demonstrating the moves on one of the hardest routes in the area. The route Fantasy Island (5.14b) saw its first ascent by mother-of-four Jacinda Hunter, a final showing of how the standards of climbing have changed over time.
James Litz on Fantasy Island (5.14b).
There is a ton of great climbing footage in Project American Fork, most of it being of today's locals that frequent the canyon. There are also perspectives offered by some of America's most well-known climbers like Joe Kinder, Eric Hörst, and the elusive James Litz who is always a pleasure to watch climb. Overall though, Project American Fork is not the movie for those looking for ballistic dynos on boulders and screaming pulls on monos. It's a look at the value we place on our local crags and how each one has shaped climbing today. The film is a must-have for Utah climbers or anyone planning a trip to AF as well as history buffs looking to learn more about the routes and areas that shaped climbing today.