The Alpinist Reminds Us What Climbing Is at Heart

In the stunning new big-screen film The Alpinist, a thrill-seeking young climber who eats every meal before an adventure as if it were his last has viewers holding their breath as they watch him conquer what even the best mountaineers claim is nearly impossible. 

As the climbing world shifts to a more competitive nature fueled by breaking records and fighting to be the best of the best, the film reminds viewers exactly what true climbing is really about. The suspenseful and inspirational documentary by Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen captures what everyday life looks like for professional climber Marc-André Leclerc whose pure love for the mountains trumps everything else—even his own potential fame

Within the first 10 minutes of the film, Leclerc is coined a true “dirtbag” by fellow alpinists and climbers. Even Alex Honnold, the undisputed best free soloist in the world, claims that Leclerc impresses him. The two competed against each other for a speed record on the Grand Wall in British Columbia. However, Leclerc and Honnold could not be more different. 

In the film, Leclerc is living simplistically out of a tent with his girlfriend Brette Harrington. The climber doesn’t own a phone and does not keep up with social media in the same way climbers like Honnold do. Midway through the film, the directors express frustration after Leclerc stops communicating with them simply to climb on his own. As viewers get to know Leclerc more, they understand this is just the way he is; climbing comes before anything else, even a documentary about his own life. 

The lanky Canadian athlete sports wild curly hair, a crooked smile and, at times, a dorky, look. Even though he is a sponsored athlete, Leclerc is not flashy in the way he dresses. His sleeping bag, which he shows to the camera while preparing to free solo Torre Egger in Patagonia, is patched with duct tape. 

Leclerc is an impressive athlete. Watching him on a wall is calming, jaw-dropping, and dizzying. At one point, he allows the crew to record a solo day out in the Canadian Rockies. Here he demonstrates his skill through mixed climbing—a combination of ice and rock climbing—without a rope. Tension builds with each move he makes. All viewers hear is the sound of his crampons against the rock and ice, and his controlled breathing. Leclerc calls this unimaginable climb “a really good day out.” 

The climber has a partying past, which he credits to his thrill-seeking nature. However, when he met Harrington, he refocused and fell back in love with climbing. Harrington expresses concern for Leclerc within the film. As Leclerc pushes himself more, the risk of death is always nearby. But as the famous Austrian mountaineer Reinhold Messner once said, “If death was not a possibility, coming out would be nothing.”

Cover photo: Marc-André leclerc finds grace free soloing in the high peaks in a scene from The Alpinist.

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