North Face (Nordwand) Film . . . go see it

7:48 p.m. on March 22, 2010 (EDT)
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This is hands down the best climbing film I have seen. It is a German film in subtitles and is screening only in certain theaters. It is based on the true story of two German climbers attempting the Eiger in the 1930s. Beats the heck out of vertical limit. Anyone else seen this yet? If not, you need to.

http://www.northfacethemovie.com/

8:15 a.m. on March 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Oh, I really want to see it, but unfortuantely I missed it at the nearest movie house to me last week. Bummer.

http://www.musicboxfilms.com/north-face#playdates

I have it saved in my Netflix queue for when it becomes available there.

10:29 a.m. on March 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Looks like it's playing at my local indie theater on April 16th. Not sure if that's a full week engagement or what, but I'm making a note of it. Thanks for the heads up.

10:41 a.m. on March 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Ah hah! I thought the date shown was a one-night engagement, but I just checked my local indie cinema's website and it's playing now through April 1.

Now I can see it on the big (well, not that big) screen. Excellent.

8:22 p.m. on March 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Saw this movie last week, nice movie. As I discussed with some experienced climbers, I realized that there were some flaws at the end.

9:00 p.m. on March 23, 2010 (EDT)
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My first encounter with the Nordwand was in 1964, during my first summer climbing in the Alps. I had met John Harlin II in the Biolet campground in Chamonix during his preparations for one of his early attempts to put up a new route on the Nordwand (he and some of his partners were training in the French Alps). After I left Cham and had climbed the Matterhorn, I went to Grindelwald and helped schlep some of the gear to the base of the climb. Harlin was killed a few years later when the rope he was jugging was cut on a sharp edge. Years later, I met his son, John Harlin III, who eventually climbed the Nordwand. He made an IMAX movie about the climb and a tribute to his father, plus wrote a book, The Eiger Obsession:Facing the Mountain that Killed My Father. I have both a DVD version of the movie and a copy of the book, inscribed to me by John. John is currently editor in chief of the American Alpine Journal.

A number of years ago, I also met Heinrich Harrer, one of the first ascent team. How that team got formed is an interesting story in itself. Harrer wrote several books, the most famous of which are Die Weisse Spinne (The White Spider, named for a famous section of the Nordwand that often appears to be in motion because of the continual snow avalanches running over it) and Seven Years in Tibet. Although Harrer's ascent of the Diamir Face of Nanga Parbat was sponsored by the Nazi Government and he was a member of the SS, he was cleared after WWII of any pre-war crimes with the support of Simon Weisenthal.

Both Harlin's book and the two Harrer books are excellent reads, if you have an interest in the history of mountaineering. The movie 7 Years in Tibet, with Brad Pitt as Harrer, is, well, a Hollywood movie. It was pretty interesting, though, and fairly accurate in terms of the gear and climbing style of the times.

2:33 p.m. on March 24, 2010 (EDT)
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I saw the Nordwand last a few weeks ago when the movie was playing in Minneapolis. I thought the movie was very well done; loved the contrast of the climbers versus the wealthy people in the lodge. The climbing scenes are about as real as you'll find in a non-documentary. I knew the ending of the story so that part didn't shock me.

10:19 a.m. on March 25, 2010 (EDT)
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Bill, thanks for sharing your experiences. I always love to read your posts. I actually just started reading "The Eiger Obsession" a few days ago, my interest spurred by the film "North Face," so that is very cool to know that you had connections with the climbers in that book. I was actually looking for The White Spider, and they didn't have it at the bookstore, but they did have Harlin's book, which I had never heard of, so I just picked it up instead. I also did not realize 7 Years in Tibet was about Heinrich, as I hadn't seen that film in many years. I remember the climbing scene vaguely . . . I own it though, so guess I should rewatch it.


And Shash, it is a movie, so of course the accuracy isn't perfect . . . but as far as non-documentary films go, nothing I have seen comes as close to the real thing as this film when it comes to climbing technique. Also it is good to see another Nashvillian interested in alpinism. You can share my pain in our lack of near mountaineering destinations.

1:21 p.m. on March 25, 2010 (EDT)
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. . . but as far as non-documentary films go, nothing I have seen comes as close to the real thing as this film when it comes to climbing technique. ...

What?? You don't think that Vertical Limit and Cliffhanger are "the real thing"? You probably even think Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner in "The Mountain" (from Hemingway's book of that name) does not show real climbing technique. You probably don't believe guides hold falls with their bare hands either, like Tracy does in that film (the blood running down the sliding rope was a bit stomach-wrenching, especially since I saw The Mountain as part of a double feature with Spencer Tracy in "The Old Man and the Sea", in which the fishing line runs through Tracy's hands, again with blood pouring onto the line as it runs through his hands).

I understand that Clint Eastwood did a fair amount of the climbing in Eiger Sanction, rather than using doubles (unlike Stallone in Cliffhanger - according to a friend who worked as a stunt double in Cliffhanger, Stallone has a strong fear of heights).

Barb and I have our tickets for Nordwand for Saturday night. Then on Sunday, I am teaching a Climbing Instructor workshop.

5:51 p.m. on March 25, 2010 (EDT)
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Barb and I have our tickets for Nordwand for Saturday night. Then on Sunday, I am teaching a Climbing Instructor workshop.

Yes, Bill will be sufficiently instructed by the movie to teach climbing instructors the real deal the next morning. Just kidding! It was kind of funny timing.

7:05 p.m. on March 25, 2010 (EDT)
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I love the Eiger Sanction, one of my favorite Eastwood movies. One of the more realistic climbing movies, but then again Cliffhanger and K2 and the like are so very unrealistic the bar is not exactly high.

11:50 p.m. on March 25, 2010 (EDT)
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I just got the Eiger Sanction in the mail today from netflix. Gonna watch it when I get back from the smokies this weekend. I heard K2 was actually decent compared to cliffhanger and vertical limit . . . but I am having a hard time finding a copy. Vertical limit is ridiculous though . . . those bottles of nitroglycerin they were toting around . . . that conveniently combust when they touch sunlight . . . well only sometimes. Apparently I need to invest in some nitroglycerin for crevasse rescue . . . Bill do you remember what page that technique is detailed in Freedom of the Hills?

1:05 a.m. on March 29, 2010 (EDT)
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I agree wtih you Josh and thats the reason, we have to look for some good courses to get started with alpine climbing.

I have replied to your 'mountain madness course' post and provided the details of the course that I am planning to do this summer. Let me know if you are interested.

1:32 p.m. on March 29, 2010 (EDT)
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As indicated, Barb and I saw Nordwand Saturday afternoon - not the best preparation for the Climbing Instructor workshop I taught yesterday. It was not the part of the Eiger's climbing history I expected - probably didn't read all the description. I had expected it to be about the first successful ascent, but it was about the earlier Hinterstoisser attempt. For the most part, it was historically accurate, at least as far as possible, since there is no record of what the 4 climbers actually said to each other up there on the face (they all died, after all, with no one to tell the tale).

I will say, it was pretty grim, even though I know the story very well and knew the tragic outcome (I do not remember anything about Leisl climbing out on the face from the Eiger railway window, though). As they got into the climbing part, Barb leaned over and asked "Do they survive?", to which I had to answer, "No, they all die." From that point on, she gripped my hand so tightly she almost broke all the bones, especially the part where Willy is almost dead from his encounter with falling rocks, and then he and one other fall off the face. The part with the knot stuck in the carabiner did inspire me to go over techniques for passing knots when belaying or rappelling in yesterday's Climbing Instructor course, though.

The gear and techniques used were pretty authentic to the period. I couldn't tell, though, whether the ropes were manila or nylon (the ropes in the real attempt were manila, since synthetic ropes were not available at the time - I saw one of the original ropes at the Messner climbing museum in Bolzano a couple years ago). Much of the film on the face was very darkly lit, making it hard to see details (real "film noir"!)

I do recommend seeing it, but go into it prepared with a knowledge of the techniques of the time - different style of tying into the rope, nailed boots (the Germans lost their crampons, and the Austrians didn't take crampons), clothing much less suitable than what is available now, use of pitons, steel carabiners, etc. I will note that the climbers themselves were not much into the Nazi nonsense - they climbed because they were climbers, not for the political junk (it's funny to watch while they are still in the army and they pass the gate guards and respond to the "heil Hitler" salutes with the German equivalent of "whatever").

Technique and gear have changed immensely in the almost 75 years since the time of the film. And I have myself seen big changes in the close to 6 decades I have been climbing. We used pitons when I started climbing, then went through the transition to first chocks in the mid-1960s, then the added cams in the 1970s, the transition from laid nylon ropes (actually with manila ropes still being used) to kern-mantle ropes in the late 1960s, sticky rubber rock shoes, double-plastic boots for winter and high altitude (this is going through another transition now), and the huge changes in crampons and ice tools (I started with forged crampons that were fitted to the boots, not the current adjustables, and no bolt-ons as are used by the pure ice and mixed climbers). Mechanical ascenders have undergone a huge evolution. Between the gear and huge changes in techniques, climbing is a far different game than the era of the film, the late 1930s. North Face/Nordwand is a good reminder of that.

8:28 p.m. on March 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I can finally read this thread again, since I saw "Nord Wand" tonight. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it. I don't think you have to be a climber to enjoy it at all. It's a good story and well done. I had read accounts of the climb in years past, but had forgotten enough for it to be exciting.

As the title of this thread says, go see it.

12:56 a.m. on March 31, 2010 (EDT)
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Can someone please let me know what language the film is in?

When it comes over here, it'll definitely be subtitled in Japanese. If the soundtrack's in German, that means I'll have the choice of trying to piece together what they're saying from my tiny fragments of war movie / spy novel German or reading the Japanese subtitles, which is still tough for me even after all these years.

Thanks!

6:32 a.m. on March 31, 2010 (EDT)
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It's in German, Bill.

1:08 a.m. on April 1, 2010 (EDT)
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Yeah, that's what I thought based on the trailer I saw in a theater here. Guess I'll just have to suck it up - but it means my kids will definitely refuse to go... lazy munchkins.

Thanks for the response, in any case!

5:40 p.m. on April 16, 2010 (EDT)
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(the Germans lost their crampons, and the Austrians didn't take crampons), clothing much less suitable than what is available now, use of pitons, steel carabiners, etc. I will note that the climbers themselves were not much into the Nazi nonsense - they climbed because they were climbers, not for the political junk (it's funny to watch while they are still in the army and they pass the gate guards and respond to the "heil Hitler" salutes with the German equivalent of "whatever").

I seem to recall a fairly famous photo of Kurz hanging from the rope with icicles formed on the ends of his crampons, so, that was a bit inaccurate.

I've also not read anything to indicate they were anything but military climbers and there due to their military service. No where have I seen that they bailed on that duty, and, my bet is this was a bit of revisionist history in the least. Given the times, there's no way...

Edit to add: another thing I thought interesting was the lack of saavy those guys had in cutting steps in the snow/ice. Experienced alpinists from back then were very efficient at step cutting, and, in the film they bumble with that job constantly.

Given that, the film is beautifully done. Sure, the love interest angle is probably a stretch. And, I seem to recall the distance that Kurz ended up from safety was pretty short, ie, short enough that they cut him down with a knife on a stick.

Wild stuff.

Cheers,

-Brian in SLC

1:22 a.m. on April 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Just got home from seeing this and I'm a pretty happy camper. My heart was pounding throughout most of the film, so it's no wonder why I'm not a climber. Some fans of the sport may be disappointed with the departures from history, but as a film it's rather well done.

August 30, 2014
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