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Ascent – A Short. Film.

Danie Nel VIDEO: Ascent - De Kelders, South Africa from Danie Nel on Vimeo.

This short film I shot last year as my brother-in-law was ascending a bouldering route at De Kelders, Western Cape, South Africa. Bouldering is sort of like a work-out for bigger climbs, making your arms strong etc, but a lot of guys specialise in this type of mountaineering. Full length movies are made on bouldering around the world. The Baniff Film Festival shows a couple of these every year.


It helps having someone who climbs mountains, jumps off it (paraglider), runs of it (abseiler), rides to it (just completed a 2-month journey from Johannesburg, north through a bunch of countries, to the Ethiopian border and back, on a motorbike, see, and still plays sub-10 handicap golf. It also helps that he’s a recent convert to filmmaking, so he was quite keen on doing this.

The rest of the team on the day was sister-in-law, Ella, for moral support and climbing the odd route for herself. Also, she and bro just do a lot of stuff together.

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And Kris, Ella’s man, and all-around ‘why not?’-guy. He also plays mean guitar, which means we can do stuff together too. He’s very tall so it would be wrong to say he climbs too, he sort of stumbles over them, but he was great as a fall-break, in case Pierre decided to miss a grip or something, and tumble to earth.


Now the beauty of bouldering is that you don’t climb high enough, normally, to make a fall fatal necessarily, but certainly high enough to break a good number of bones. So, if you’re short on a decent mattress, it’s good to have a guy like Kris under you. If you think it’s easy climbing a boulder, cave or small rock portrusion. See if you can do this:


74684_446389822820_637282820_5858401_1606524_nThis was taken the morning while doing a quick recce, so he was checking the vibe, and sensing that he’d have a good time trying to climb this. The weird thing about boulderers is that they often start a climb from a lying position. Try pulling yourself up from the ground under a table, and then onto something else. Not that easy.

Coming there late afternoon, the scene was set for some beautiful imagery, gorgeous warm light, and some creative fun.



So this is the route he had to climb. I’m not on firm factual ground here, but I understand that this cave is where De Kelders (The Cellars), gets it’s name. The cave looking like a cellar then. Anyways, that’s close to Gansbaai on the Western South Coast of South Africa. Notice the mattress in the foreground. It helps you not get scratches as your bones break from the fall.

Only having 1 camera available, but wanting to shoot multi-angle meant that he had to do the same route about 3 or 4 times. That’s a lot of climbing. Also, he had to replicate his route every time for me to make seamless editing possible. Also, I had to try figure out how I can shoot this to keep the story coherent, without weird cut-aways, or cut-to’s. The only gear I head was a photo tripod (not a fluid-head) and my camera. Anyways, it took a number to takes, giving him a couple of breaks, and then shooting little odds and ends. Doing the close-ups on his hands meant looking for recognisable grips in the wall, and then shooting it as he used it to hoist or grip.

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That’s what your hands look like after a couple of climbs. Nice. Not that that stops these guys from just trying another route. In this case, an old stone wall, just next to the cave.




And it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t try and climb the wall too. It’s fun, you should try it some time. Just make sure there’s not a lot of air between you and the ground when you do it for the first time. It seems to be fantastic full-body workout, cardio exercise and de-stressing exercise.

Knowing that there is only fingertips, knees and toes between you and a chiropractic appointment, does make for the fun element too, and adventure.

The light at this juncture was really warm and beautiful, but not much, and I was starting to hammer the ISO’s to get some shots of us. Also, we had moved on from the cave, and I didn’t really see myself using these as well. After all, the whole reason for doing this was just to have fun. Nothing else. That’s why it’s taken me ten months to get to editing a two-and-a-half minute video.

Next time I’ll do a lot more. Plan more. Have even more fun. Anyone up for Kilimandjaro?


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When it came to uploading the video, I had to quickly think of a name, and I’m fairly certain “Ascent” has been used in mountaineering videos, but who cares, it just felt right.


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