Most people involved in UK mountaineering know the Andy Cave story. The gauche young collier from South Yorkshire who found himself ‘learning to breathe’ and discovered that the sweetest, cleanest air of all was to be found in the mountains! With the mining industry on the verge of tipping into catastrophic politically engineered decline, he chose the perfect moment to get out of the industry and pursue the life of the itinerant crag rat. Building up an impressive Alpine CV before cashing in his Coal Board pension to fund three simultaneous Himalayan adventures.
It was a steep and rapid learning curve which propelled the young tyke into the upper echelons of UK mountaineering and cemented his reputation as a cool and solid performer under pressure. Andy’s aforementioned award winning autobiography and his ascent from the pit head to the mountain heights, draws parallels with another northern coal mining climber, Bill Peascod, whose inspirational story is recountered in his beautiful autobiography, ‘Journey After Dawn’. However, while Peascod remained a parochial climber,essentially fixed in his north Cumbrian fiefdom, Andy Cave found the challenges of the Alps and Greater Ranges more to his liking. Establishing cutting edge routes including his famous epic ascent of the north face of Changabang with Brendan Murphy.
In Paul Diffley’s latest film, Distilled, 'Learning to Breathe' has essentially been reprized into a 42 minute film biography of Andy’s climbing life. Using the dramatic backdrop of Scottish Highland cliffs in their finest winter raiment to frame Andy’s narration. Presumably filmed in the 2012-13 winter season, these great vertical snow and ice palaces have never looked more enticing or dramatic. A great monochromatic playground where the only the splash of colour and movement is provided by the climbers.
Kicking off on Waterfall Gully on The Ben, Andy and his partner Gary Kinsey, work their way through various classic winter climbs including The Curtain, Deep Throat and Tower Ridge, with Andy himself narrating his life and times, as lost in a lonely, spindrift, ice tinkling vortex, he effortlessly picks his way through some unlikely looking terrain. Credit to the camera team who must have shivered in their winter apparel filming these scenes. At least Andy and Co could keep moving to keep warm.
Rather incongruously, there is a brief passage showing Andy soloing Fern Hill at Cratliffe Tor in summer conditions. Given that the main meat of the film surrounds Andy in his Scottish winter element then I wondered if perhaps this could have been dropped altogether with the action footage just concentrating on his winter ascents? On the other hand, perhaps the film could have included more pure rock climbing with interviews added to extend the running time ? There may have been logistical reasons for this however and it doesn’t really detract that much from the end product.
As with all the Hot Aches films I’ve seen so far, the sound and footage is pin sharp; the editing is spot on and all in all it’s a fine piece of work from one of our most creative outdoor film outfits. No surprises then that it won the coveted ‘People’s Choice’ award at the recent Kendal festival.
Photos: Hot Aches