For anyone who aspires to watch more documentaries but can’t get past the belief that they’re too slow, then the “adventure” genre is for you!
I, along with many others, was indoctrinated into this breathtaking sphere by way of the 2017 documentary Free Solo, becoming utterly mesmerized by the American mountain climber Alex Honnold as he scaled the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes. My palms are sweating just typing those words.
In this same realm is a 2021 documentary called The Alpinist, which focuses on the life of 23-year-old Canadian mountain climber Marc-Andre LeClerc. Though LeClerc began as an unknown commodity when he first appeared on the climbing circuit, the film’s opening presents all the bona fides he needs via Honnold himself, who explains that LeClerc’s ability impresses even him.
The film follows LeClerc as he conquers some of the gnarliest ascents known to the hard-core climbing world, along the way winning respect and admiration of everyone he crosses paths with. But while these moments of LeClerc’s climbing make for gripping viewing, it’s the snippets where he’s reflecting upon himself and his life that make the film transcendent, as his buoyant personality and hard-won thoughtfulness – developed while conquering the most difficult challenges found in nature – illuminates the screen.
At this point, I think it’s only right that I “spoil” the ending and disclose that while the documentary was being edited, LeClerc and a climbing companion named Ryan Johnson were killed in an avalanche just after summiting a mountain in Alaska. Though obviously devastated, the documentarians made the decision to turn their cameras back on and end the film with a meditation on LeClerc’s life, as told by the people who knew him best. What they recorded makes for a heartrending tribute, and their highlighting of LeClerc’s gentle soul confirms that the world is worse off with him no longer in it.
In an effort to carry on Marc-Andre LeClerc’s spirit, I want to end with a sentiment about seeking out adversity in order to build character, uttered by the man himself:
“When you’re in the mountains, with a mission, it’s like all of the superficialities of life just sort of evaporate, and you can often find yourself in a deeper state of mind, and that can stick with you for a while after a big climb. You appreciate everything so much that you take for granted most of the time.
“It’s kind of funny: the actual achievement of it doesn’t really change your life like you think it might when you’re building up to it, but what you’re left with is the journey that got you to that point, and if you had this big journey where you had to figure a lot of stuff out, you had to plan and it was more immersive, and then you were somewhere really beautiful for a long time, and then had to work really hard and overcome some kind of mental barrier, you’re left with so much more of a story or memory and an experience, and that’s what I find is most important.”
Cheers, Marc-Andre LeClerc. I hope you’ve found mountains to climb in the next life.