CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 27. . . .March 19, 2010
In the Shadow of the Chief: The Baldwin & Cooper Story.
Ivan Hughes (Director). Angela Heck (Producer).
Squamish, BC: Fringe Filmworks, 2004.
50 min., 16 sec., DVD, $19.95 (plus taxes & shipping).
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
Anyone who has driven through Squamish, British Columbia, has to have noticed the Squamish Chief or "the Chief," a huge rock face that towers over the town. Most people would simply look at that with awe. However, others would see that wall of rock as challenge to be climbed. Jim Baldwin and Ed Cooper looked at the rock face and decided in May 1961 that they would try to climb the Grand Wall of the Squamish Chief. In the Shadow of the Chief looks back at this climb and shows the impact it has had over the years.
In 1958, the Sea to Sky Highway was completed and improved access to Squamish. Before that, the town was a one-industry town and rock climbing was not it. However, Baldwin and Cooper looked at the rock face and thought that such a climb was possible and they could do it.
Before this, no one had ever climbed the Grand Wall, and both men admit to some apprehension as shown in interviews made at the time of the climb. Based on their studies from the ground, they thought they would take maybe two weeks if the weather cooperated. At first, their climb went unnoticed. However, once they were spotted a week or two into their climb, people began to take interest. At one point, 12,000 people gathered to watch them, and they became an international item of interest and put Squamish on the map. Newspaper headlines of the time read, "Two Climb, Thousands Watch." The men admit that, with so many people watching, they felt obligated to complete the climb. This was no easy feat as the rock face had many surprises in store for the climbers. Reaching the top took them 40 days of climbing.
As one who finds the third rung of a ladder frightening, this was a fascinating film to watch. As the Baldwin-Cooper story is being told, the camera follows other climbers making the same ascent. Close-ups show how physical a sport rock climbing is, especially as the climbers grab the rock with their bare hands and hang on for dear life. While the contemporary gear is more sophisticated than that used by Baldwin and Cooper, there is still great danger. This accentuates the daring of the first climbers; they did not know that the climb was actually possible, and much of their climbing gear was made by the local blacksmith. Others have climbed the Chief, and some have died. Jim Baldwin died in a rock climbing accident in 1964, and so this film stands as a tribute to his work. Each climber interviewed in the film admits that the two men "upped the ante pretty high regarding what could and could not be done." They also marked the beginning of big wall climbing in Canada.
In the Shadow of the Chief is an excellent film on many levels. For those who enjoy rock climbing, this would be a delight. Anyone still enlightened enough to teach Earl Birney's poem David could use parts of this film to show what makes rock climbing both so dangerous and attractive.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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