For a year, Alex Savage travelled the world visiting some of the planet's most famous rocks.
His exploration took him to the far corners of Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and into the forest in Squamish. Along the way, he discovered boulders that had not yet drawn throngs of people to their faces. He also met the talented people trying to conquer them.
What started as an effort to capture his friends' enthusiasm for the budding sport of bouldering on film quickly evolved into the production of Western Gold. The full-length DVD focuses on what drives Savage to climbing. Stripped of sponsors, well-travelled routes and professional climbers, Savage shoots the lesser-known climbing problems focusing on the devoted athletes he meets on his journey.
“I wanted to share the experience,” Savage said, noting the landscape is featured prominently in the film.
Having first put on his climbing shoes a decade ago, Savage found himself addicted to bouldering. With no harness or ropes, the form of climbing equals freedom, he said. It's you and the rock.
“You need a strong mental capability,” Savage said.
In 2010, for two weeks straight, Savage battled a boulder in Ticino, Switzerland. There were times that he was ready to pack it in. But if circumstances aligned — a prefect hold, swift movement, the right amount of strength — Savage knew he could complete it. That's what the sport is all about, he said: Those moments when everything comes together, and one's mind and body flow.
Savage captured the ordeal in a short film he called Swanky Swizzy Bouldering. To his surprise, the video went viral. That success spurred him onto his latest venture.
Western Gold features Squamish climber Jeremy Smith, whom Savage met through climbing friends. Smith is a natural to the sport, Savage said, noting he has tapped out on all the high-ball routes in the Squamish climbing guide — including World of Hurt.
Smith said he was attracted to Savage's film concept because the commercialism, now rampant in the sport, had been peeled away.
Bouldering became popular in the mid-90s, when companies started to produce crash pads — safety mats climbers place at the base of the rock. Every year, Smith sees new faces taking on the crags.
“There is a broader talent pool now,” he said.
A person has to be somewhat masochistic to boulder, Smith said. It's a frustrating sport, in which an athlete can concentrate on a couple of moves for many weeks, he said, noting he worked on one problem for 20 days over a 20-year span.
Savage has submitted Western Gold to the Squamish Mountain Festival, which takes place July 11 to 15. For more information on the film visit www.savagefilms.net.