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Valley Uprising: A Movie Review

Image by Heinz Hummel from Pixabay

Image by Heinz Hummel from Pixabay

Title: Valley Uprising

Year: 2014

Type: Documentary

Time: 1hr 43m

Directors: Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen

3 Sentence Summary

  1. The history of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley is chronicled from the 1950’s to present day.
  2. The personalities that dominate this counter cultural revolution are extremely engaging.
  3. The cinematography and aerial views of these rock-climbing maniacs are worth the price of admission.

Who should watch?

If you like documentaries as much as I do, this film is a winner. If you like being scared to death by watching people scale huge rocks, this film is for you. If you like eccentricity mixed with history, this film is for you. If you like entertainment, this film is for you.


I can remember as a kid in the very early 70’s, my mother showing me a copy of a LIFE magazine cover with a picture of a rock climber bivouacking on Yosemite’s famous EL Capitan. It horrified me. “You mean people sleep up there?” (Part of the horror, I am sure, is that I have been known to sleepwalk a bit!) “Yes” she said, “and poop and pee too.”

A few years later we began yearly vacations to Yosemite. I had no idea at the time that history was being made all around us in the park, and that a quirky, eccentric, counter-cultural group of madmen (and women too) were pushing themselves to unimaginable extremes. On purpose! Partly for pride, and partly for thrill, and all for adventure, did these fearless and often reckless humans push the human story a little further. But mostly they did it as an expression of personal freedom.

In our time, this era of hyper-safety, devotion to conformity and worshiping the status quo, here is a slice of the recent past that seems instructive. Here is a story about pushing human limits. And sometimes pushing too far.

Beginning in the 50’s, the film chronicles the personalities that animated Yosemite Valley’s breathtaking granite monoliths. This group of misfits wanted nothing to do with Eisenhower’s America, status quo America, which brought every creature comfort possible to the middle class. No thanks! These rock climbers wanted freedom. Freedom from rules and structure. Inspired by the Beatnik poetry of the era, they took this philosophy, the “On the Road” philosophy of Kerouac, and applied it to rock climbing.

The group of climbers that followed these rock beatniks, the generation of the 70’s, were equally misfits and rebels. This hippie group of climbers wanted freedom from Nixon’s America of Vietnam and Watergate. They applied the principles of freedom to rock climbing by introducing free soloing to the agenda. In contrast to their predecessors, these free spirits used ropes for protection only, not for advancing up the mountain. These folks lived and breathed climbing, and they also drove the park rangers nuts.

The generations that followed have pushed the sport even further by free climbing these huge peaks with no protection at all. The evolution of the sport is nothing short of remarkable. And spooky!

Valley Uprising is instructive not because you can learn to rock climb from watching, but rather because of the nature of the questions which the film raises.


  1. How much is too much?
  2. Can breakthroughs in any human endeavor only come from the margins? Or can those of us less risk taking still make a contribution?
  3. Is risk worth the risk?
  4. Where could I take more chances?

I am told by my daughter, as she is the one who introduced me to this film, that it was used in one of her college classes as an example of human flourishing.

Watch it and tell me what you think. (Disclaimer: There is some language, drug and alcohol use)

5 stars.



PS-Look for a guy named Chongo Chuck. He steals the show in my humble opinion.

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