What do you do when you are faced with innumerable obstacles blocking your designated path? Well, if you are professional climber and filmmaker Cedar Wright you smile because now things are getting interesting, if not a tad shitty. At least that seems to be the theme behind his newest short film Sufferfest 2: Desert Alpine, AKA 34 Pieces of Choss and 5 Horrendous Life Experiences.
The highly humorous documentary follows Wright and fellow climber Alex Honnold as they drag themselves across the 4 corners region on bikes—these guys are definitely not cyclists—in pursuit of climbing 45 desert towers by the hardest route possible. The three-week journey is filled with numerous pitfalls (sandstorms, snow, crappy rock, bike wrecks, and wrong roads travelled) along with some pretty epic climbs as the two relentlessly follow a strict schedule of biking and/or climbing every single day.
The film won the People’s Choice Award at Radical Reels and is currently touring the globe with the Banff Mountain Film Festival. It’s predecessor Sufferfest: Climbing California’s 14er’s by Bike toured with the festival last year; both are available on Vimeo for purchase.
Elevation Outdoors sat down with Wright to get the behind the scenes scoop on the film, talk about his part in the Cliff Bar controversy, and to see if he has learned anything from his follies.
How did you come up with the idea for the Sufferfest’s?
Well, Honnold and I have known each other for years; we both love the Yosemite Valley and have climbed together across the globe. We both decided to come up with a challenge that would push us to the limits of endurance while allowing numerous opportunities to climb; hence the first Sufferfest, plus I figured it would be a great way to get a free bike. The funny part was no bike company would donate the bikes so we had to pay for those torture devices, kind of ironic. The first Sufferfest was tough but like most dedicated dirt bag climbers we have the innate ability to only remember the good parts, so we decided to have another go at it.
What, if anything did you learn from the first one?
I am not sure we learned much actually, it seemed we repeated several of the same mistakes from the first one. Actually, we did do a couple of things differently this time. Instead of hauling all of our gear with us on the bikes we used the film crew vans, we needed to due to the nature of the rock we were climbing a large array of gear was needed. Plus if not for the vans we could not of completed the White Rim trail in Moab with all of its incredible climbs, we needed a lot of water. Also after a long day it was nice knowing we could have a cold beer at camp.
This movie seems more polished than the first one, what was different?
The first movie was shot with my point and shoot camera so it had a very rough feel to it. This time I had two cameramen and a rigger who filmed along with my handheld. That being said I did not want it to be like other films Honnold and I have been in, where you set up shots sometime climbing the same route numerous times. This film was about us having a rad adventure first and foremost while capturing as much of it as we could. There is nothing forced or fake about it, we did not recreate any climbs in the film, what you see is live climbing footage. If we missed a shot, oh well, we figured there would be enough footage to choose from.
You encountered some pretty wild stuff on the trip, what was the craziest part?
It had to be the weather; we figured the high desert in the spring would be pretty straightforward, sunny days and cool nights. Man were we wrong. Biking into 50MPH winds, climbing in 70MPH gusts—even Honnold was white-knuckling it. Since we were climbing on a schedule it forced us to keep climbing, even times when you might of bagged out.
Seems like you guys climbed some pretty sketchy stuff, what was the most dangerous part?
Oh, the Sharks Fin, that just sucked. That’s the only time I have ever seen Honnold look scared, he climbed off route and was looking at a 100-foot fall. Everything was loose and chossy—absolutely terrifying—the route was not obvious and loaded with nasty overhangs. Our friend Rob Pism told us about it, he totally sandbagged us we will get payback. But I have to thank him for providing me one of the better segments of the film. It’s weird, as a film maker you are kind of glad when everything goes to shit cause that’s when the story gets good, but as the climber I had to experience it and that kind of sucked, It’s a weird duality.
What makes climbing so special that you keep putting yourself in those situations?
I love being with climbers. There are not as many egos and attitude as other sports, every climber is constantly getting their butt’s kicked and humbled by Mother Nature. No matter how good you get there is always something that can shut you down, I like that.
Seems like one of the themes of the Sufferfest movies are you seem to be really hurting compared to Honnold, how true is that?
He is truly one of the best climbers in the world and I am not. I am a good climber who thrives at adventure style climbing, but I was physically worked on this trip. I had to dig deep at times, when we were on our eighth day of climbing in a row and heading up a 5.12 climb, I might have been a bit more vocal.
What would you say was the highlight of the trip?
The White Rim climbing was fantastic, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I would put it on the same scale as Yosemite. Every single tower we climbed was unique. After 45 towers I can still remember each climb, they were that special. Unlike three weeks of cragging where I would be hard pressed to remember each climb that was not the case here. I will remember every one for a long time.
I noticed that Cliff Bar sponsored this film care to discuss that?
I really enjoyed the years being on their roster of professional athletes so I was bummed when they decided to drop myself, Honnold and three other climbers this fall. It seemed a knee jerk reaction to someone high up disliking the film Valley Uprising. They offered my spot back several days later when they realized I am not Base-jumping and free soloing all the time but the damage was done. I turned them down. I compare it to a girl friend breaking up with you for no good reason and then wanting to get back together days later, nothing good comes from it.
Any plans for a Sufferfest 3?
Yes—the goal is going to be to destroy Honnold—we need to push him to the limit. He is one of those people that no matter how bad things are he does not think it is. There were parts of this movie where he was worked and grumpy but he was never down, unlike myself where some days I was struggling to keep up with a smile on my face. I think we have to add something else we are not good at; we have done two biking/climbing films. I just have to figure out what I can do to break Honnold without killing myself.