It must be a good 12 years since I last went to the Kendal Mountain Festival (the Mountain Film Festival as it was then known) so it was with some excitement that I venture along this year. I remember watching the premiere of Touching the Void, meeting Joe Simpson and having to go back to the hostel long before I had drunk as much as I wanted because they had a curfew!
Many things have changed in the intervening years, not least of which I became somewhat disconnected with the outdoors. However now that I have quit the rat race and am in the process of reconnecting with my passion it seemed like a great idea to spend a couple of days getting inspired in the Lake District, by the likes of Joe Grant, Sarah often and Ash Dykes.
Theatre & Literature
Before going into the Boardman Tasker Award, I saw John Burns’ play Mallory Beyond Everest. On the whole I liked the idea although the inherent conflict that saw George Mallory's wife and Mt. Everest essentially wrestle for his undivided attention was sort of redundant given that in the scenario before us he actually survived and, one assumes, went on to become a devoted husband. The Moby Dick parts were a little clunky for my liking but I understand the comparison of the mountain and the whale as all-consuming targets.
I enjoyed it but occasionally Burns looked as if he were going through the motions. Now, on this point I would like to defend him, because I was absolutely shocked to see how empty the theatre was. Ok, so maybe it is a sizeable venue but it can't have been more than a quarter full. Does the outdoor community have no interest in such art? I think it must be pretty demoralising for an actor / writer to come out and see half a dozen faces staring from disparate corners of the theatre. I am not sure I could even lift myself to speak.
The Bond by Simon McCartney was named as the winner of the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature and I was informed by those around me it was absolutely deserving of such. I now own a copy so shall find out for myself soon enough.
On Friday night the Buff Endurance session provided some sparkling guests in the shape of some top endurance athletes. The show seemed a little shakily prepared; wrong videos, missing photos, poor interviewing from the host and yet some truly amazing and, above all, inspiring people speaking.
Joe Grant talking about his record-breaking Colorado 14ers trip - a "self-powered" adventure that saw him climb all Colorado 14ers and cycle between them, in a month - was epic and charmingly revelatory. He just made me want to get out there. The Brits Jasmin Paris and Rob Jebb discussing Lakeland and UK fell runs and rounds was also highly entertaining, not to mention impressive. The discussion was interspersed with some decent video but nothing amazing, perhaps with the exception of Joe Grant’s “home movies” shot along the route on a GoPro.
It turns out I am old, and envious.
Saturday’s Black Diamond Alpine Session was decent. I particularly enjoyed the part presented by Mayan Smith-Gobat (NZ climber who made only the 5th known ascent of Riders on the Storm, Central Tower of Torres del Paine, Patagonia). Mayan manages to have extraordinary drive and ambition without being over-demonstrative about it as is often the way with men in this arena, where machismo tends to creep in. The female approach is, at least on the face of it, more philosophical although as with any physical challenge, at heart it is a battle of strength and skill. It is also I believe more in keeping with the zeitgeist... or perhaps I am simply getting old and I am projecting this feeling, allowing a subconscious envy of infinitely braver and more talented men, get the better of me.
Where True Inspiration Lies
One who unquestionably retains a huge amount of humility is Chris Bonington and his lecture in which he skipped through his life of adventure was a pleasure to listen to. You forget how amazing his achievements have been and what an important contribution he has made to mountains and mountaineering as a whole.
The undisputed highlight of my two days at the festival was the Lowe Alpine Adventure and Exploration Session. Ash Dykes and Sarah Outen took us through their very different adventures and it was absolutely inspirational. A lot of the climbing world seems to be overtly competitive; doing things higher, faster, in a more extreme way which to my mind is a form of competitiveness which disconnects from the audience (me) who may look on in wonder but perhaps cannot feel that spark of inspiration.
I love mountains no matter how big or small, and I love getting to the top of a mountain but it is to a large degree incidental. It’s the challenge and adventure of the journey I really enjoy.
What I love about the likes of Ash and Sarah is that what they seek is adventure and what they preach is adventure, on any level. The experience and what is learnt along the way is as important as the final goal. Perhaps again I read into them what I seek but devoid of any form of greater competition, except that of challenging oneself, the kind of journeys they have been on are those that can be scaled down (or indeed up) to suit. And this is where true inspiration lies.
Many thanks to the organisers, volunteers and everyone involved in putting on the festival. I hope I shall visit many more in the future.