Louder Than 11's newest film, "Abyss," is more than just "climbing porn," according to director of cinematography Rich Crowder.
The Boulder film company will attempt to dig deeper and provoke conversations with "Abyss" by exploring the "drama of the young rock climbing scene, something we refer to as 'Laguna Boulder,'" Crowder added.
"Abyss" premieres free online on Monday. The 50-minute film focuses on a bouldering area on Mount Evans that LT11's Jon Glassberg and Crowder discovered by chance while hiking around.
The two soon discovered that they weren't the field's pioneers -- other people had been climbing there secretly.
"Abyss" explores why humans, especially climbers, keep secrets. One reason, says Crowder, is because climbers want to be "in the history books" for first ascents and like to hoard exclusive new projects for their climbing "crew."
"We wanted to talk about some of the stuff that nobody talks about," Crowder said.
A disclaimer before the film cautions climbers to be responsible while exploring the delicate tundra -- though some viewers might not be pleased with the film's exposure of a previously low-trafficked area on Mount Evans, outside of Idaho Springs.
Ralph Bradt, lead wilderness ranger with the U.S. Forest Service on Mount Evans, said he typically has no problem with climbers and bouldering as a sport, as long as the impact to the environment is minimal.
But he, and other park rangers whose jobs are to preserve the wilderness in its natural state, do take issue with the unbridled promotion of climbing areas. Once an area "hits the magazines," he said, an influx of footprints harm the delicate tundra vegetation, bouldering pads get stashed and become dangerous when ingested by wildlife and chalk litters the ground.
"I do have some heartburn with that," said Bradt, who is himself a climber and understands that there's a delicate balance between preservation and recreation. "I don't have any problem with word of mouth. As long as there aren't impacts, climbing is certainly a legitimate use of the wilderness."
The LT11 film falls into the category of promotion that makes forest service officials wary, he said. Though Bradt can take action to shut down the Abyss bouldering area featured in the film, he said he "would really like to avoid that."
As an unofficial climbing community liason to the forest service, blogger and author Jamie Emerson has worked hard to build a strong relationship between climbers and park rangers so that rangers won't have to take serious action.
"Whether we agree with them or not is a moot point, because the rangers do have that power (to shut down areas)," he said. "We really want to work with them instead of trying to find every which way we can work around rangers. My concern is for the climbers and community. We have a public resource there that I'd like to preserve for other climbers."
The film's creators say they hope the film will provoke meaningful conversations about access and environmental responsibility once people watch it.
"We're bringing up these issues rather than taking a side," Crowder said. "It's fair to say we're still preserving it. It's not like rock climbing ruins everything. People hike in the wilderness area all the time. As long as you're using ethical practices for rock climbing, we're recreating just like everyone else."
-- Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.