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  • Daniel Woods climbs the Tinipi route on Mount Kinabalu in...

    Courtesy photo

    Daniel Woods climbs the Tinipi route on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, Malaysia. The Boulder climber is featured in the film "The Sensei," which will be screened at the Reel Rock 8 film festival.

  • Yuji Hirayama climbs the route Metis on Mount Kinabalu in...

    Courtesy photo

    Yuji Hirayama climbs the route Metis on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, Malaysia, in the Reel Rock film "The Sensei."



If you go

What: Reel Rock 8 film festival

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19-20

Where: Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder

Tickets: $20 per day

Info: or

As a child, Daniel Woods hung posters of Japanese climber Yuji Hirayama on his bedroom walls.

Last summer, Woods got to meet his childhood idol, and even though Woods has attained celebrity status of his own in the climbing world, he admitted to being starstruck. The two collaborated during a climbing trip to Mount Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia, which Boulder-based Sender Films captured in the new movie “The Sensei.”

“The Sensei,” along with other climbing and mountaineering films, will be shown at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium as part of the Reel Rock 8 film festival Thursday and Sept. 20.

“When I first met Yuji, I was kind of shocked,” Woods said. “It was like meeting a movie star. I didn’t know what to say to him.”

The two met when Woods, who lives in Boulder, traveled to Japan to compete in The North Face Cup at Hirayama’s gym outside of Tokyo. Hirayama, 44, gained worldwide fame in the early 2000s as a competition climber and for setting a speed record on El Capitan.

Woods won that competition, and Hirayama decided to recruit Woods, 24, for a climbing trip in Malaysia, where the route Return of the Soul had been taunting Hirayama for the past year. He showed Woods a photo of the project.

“It was this 100-meter overhanging thumb feature sticking straight out of the mountain,” Woods said. “It had this moon-like quality to it. There were no trees around, it was high altitude and it just looked extreme.”

Woods couldn’t resist, and “The Sensei” is the result. The film follows Woods, Hirayama and British climber James Pearson as they hike 13,000 feet on Mount Kinabalu to climb some of the “hardest lines in the world,” Woods said.

Within the first day or so at that elevation, Woods got horribly sunburned because he forgot sunscreen. That didn’t surprise Woods’ friend, fellow Boulder climber and filmmaker Cedar Wright.

“(He’s) a little bit of a knucklehead, but he’s got a heart of gold, though,” Wright said. “He’s maybe just a little too focused on the beta and what it’s going to take to do the climb that he forgets the bigger-picture stuff.”

Woods is so focused he refuses to take vacations, said his wife and climber Courtney Sanders, to whom Woods proposed on top of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. Every day when Woods wakes up, he watches climbing videos to get “psyched,” Sanders said. He doesn’t take days off.

Woods, who was born in Richardson, Texas, just outside of Dallas, moved to Longmont at age 9. His first climbing experience at 5 years old “just felt natural,” Woods said.

Now, Woods is one of the most widely respected climbers in the world, said the film’s director Nick Rosen.

“He’s almost undisputedly the strongest climber on the planet,” said Boulder-based Rosen. “He’s absolutely crushing the competition circuit, he’s put up the hardest collection of boulders on the planet. He’s a start of the new era of climbing. Daniel is really emerging as one of these people that is really pushing the limits of difficulty.”

Regardless of his painful sunburn atop Mount Kinabalu, Woods successfully completed the Tinipi (dream, in English) route, which tops the climbing difficulty scale at 9a+. After watching Woods throw himself at the wall, day in and day out, Hirayama got inspired and eventually successfully completed his 9a project.

“The Sensei” proves the older and newer generations of climbers can still learn from each other, Woods said. Hirayama taught Woods to be patient and to relax; Woods taught Hirayama to give 100 percent of himself to each attempt.

“He’s the older generation and I’m the younger generation,” Woods said. “The whole concept of the story is to show these two generations and how we fed off of each other and learn from each other to accomplish our goals.”

Contact Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106, or