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ClimbAR: The Story Behind Production

Note from editor: Meet Danny Henkel & George Bieker. Danny is the producer of ClimbAR & George, featured throughout the film, is an AR Native and climbing enthusiast that helped Danny navigate and unlock the present state of AR Climbing. Together they tell the story of rock climbing in Arkansas, through documentation of it's impact, the people involved, areas of development, climbing events, and more. Danny produced the film as his Master's Thesis Project within the Journalism Department at the University of AR. Featured in the film are many notable climbing spots in AR. For more information on each of these spots, please see the second half of this post where George outlines five of his favorites.

 

Section I: The inspiration & process behind ClimbAR, by Danny Henkel

The idea to make a rock climbing documentary first entered my brain after spending a day photographing trad climbing with Nik Lamb and George Bieker as research for a potential master’s thesis project topic back in the Winter of early 2015.  It was the first time I had photographed rock climbing, and I was immediately hooked. In the following months George and Nik became technical advisors of sorts, teaching me the skills needed to film the sport and providing me a wealth of knowledge and insights into Arkansas rock climbing.

I officially chose rock climbing in Arkansas as the topic for my master’s thesis film project in Spring of 2015. From that point forward, my goal for the film was to provide an in-depth look into the past, present, and future of rock climbing in Arkansas while shedding light on the vibrant, tight-knit community of climbers in the state.

One of the first crags filmed in the early stages of production was Rock Creek, a relatively new area with an amazing overhanging roof, affectionately known as “The Tomb.” 

Production hit full swing by late Summer 2015 when I had the opportunity to film at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. It was like nothing I had ever seen (or filmed) before. Hundreds of climbers make the pilgrimage to the Ranch to climb through the night and put their physical endurance to the test. Hour by hour the competitors suffer together; the canyon walls echo their voices.  It’s an intoxicating atmosphere.

The Ozarks come to life as the leaves begin to change and the temperature drops. Fall is the peak season for sport climbing in the Natural State, and thus sent film production into full swing. I focused on highlighting classic sport climbs, such as Brick Attack at Cave Creek.

Production shifted toward bouldering and route development in the winter months. Backcountry filmmaking in freezing temperatures was the most technically challenging part of the production process (camera sensors and frost don’t mix well). I knew I had to cut down drastically on my equipment. Through some trial and error, I dialed in a lightweight kit for filming bouldering (Sony a7 w/14mm Rokinon lens, Shure LensHopper Mic, mounted on a Steadicam merlin II stabilizer).

As the season came to an end, I began on-camera interviews with several of the climbers featured in the film in order to tell the story of Arkansas climbing from the voices of those who know it best.  

As the film neared the final stages of production, I began highlighting the development efforts of climbers Patrick Weldon and Joe Kopeck at a region called Bigfoot Hollow, located just north of the Mulberry. Patrick and Joe are themselves skilled backcountry filmmakers who document their development efforts with photos and video content.

This film would not have been possible without the support of the climbing community in this wonderful state. The beauty of the Ozarks and the community which thrives in it have made a lasting impression on me and, I hope, others as well. May it continue to be a source of inspiration to all who call the Natural state their home.

Section II: Check out the teaser (full film released at FC Basecamp on 12/1)

 

Section III: Featured climbing within the film, by George Bieker

Cowell

This region has a fantastic collection of boulder problems that run the gamut of grades and styles. With multiple camping areas and a host of areas within the Cowell region it offers something for everyone. The rock is bullet hard sandstone and acts as a regular host of boulderers from around the state and beyond. In to ropes? Well, hit up Invasion or the myriad of other areas right down the road.

Lincoln Lake

With its close proximity to Fayetteville and quantity of moderate sport climbs and boulders, Lincoln Lake is most Razorbacks first launching platform to the outdoor realm. Also offering fishing, water sports, beautiful hiking and mountain biking Lincoln Lake is a fantastic spot for a quick jaunt from downtown.

Rock Creek

Rock Creek was developed recently as the state’s hard man crag and after taking one look at “The Tomb” (pictured below) you will know why.. This area hosts more quality 5.12s and 5.13s than any other crag in Arkansas. Recent development has pushed the number of quality routes both inside and outside of  these grades up offering something for most climbers above 5.10. If you want the true backwoods Arkansas experience go to the creek.  

Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

This privately owned dude ranch is arguably one of the most famous climbing areas in Arkansas. HCR offers locals and outsiders alike more than 400+ sport and traditional climbs and very high quality boulders. With its full list of amenities and quality climbing it is no surprise that HCR hosts the coolest climbing competition in the country 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell.

Sam’s Throne Region

This gorgeous region consists of five distinct locations and may be the most concentrated roped climbing area in the state. Valley of the Blind, Deliverance, Cave Creek, Candy Mountain, and Sam’s Throne are all parts of this region and can be accessed within five minutes from the Sam Throne’s camping area. Whether you are climbing 5.13 sport, 5.7 trad or anything in between this region offers something for everyone (and did I mention camping is free!?).