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Rock-climbing rock-stars bring ‘Project American Fork’ film to USU

April 1st, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life

By Clayton Leuba

LOGAN—Rock climbs protected with metal bolts—called sport climbs—were established in Europe as early as the 1930s. But when Utah locals began the fledgling practice of uncovering and bolting steep, limestone routes in American Fork Canyon, Bruce Wilson says, the sport of rock climbing was changed forever.

The Outdoor Recreation Program at Utah State University will host a showing of Wilson’s film Project American Fork on Thursday. Proceeds from the showing will go toward a scholarship program for students who wish to enroll in outdoor leadership courses.

mikebeckybeckster_edited-1In the film, George Bruce Media set out to share the historic account of climbing route development in American Fork Canyon, known fondly by locals as AF, and the impact it had on the world climbing scene.

Wilson, the film’s director, wanted to capture and share the challenges faced by those responsible—including Boone Speed, a renowned professional photographer who has climbed some of the country’s hardest routes—for spurring the development that, he said, “revolutionized the sport as it is known today.”

“Most climbing films are about exotic, world-class areas,” Wilson said. “They focus, mostly, on the best climbers doing the world’s hardest routes. This film focuses on climbing history rather than new accomplishments, which I think is important for the new generation to understand and appreciate.”

When Speed, Jeff Pederson and Bill Boyle began establishing climbing routes in AF in 1988, they drew inspiration from the well-established sport climbing areas in Smith Rock State Park, Ore., Pederson said.

Some of the country’s most difficult climbs, at that time, could be found on Smith Rock’s vertical walls of tuff and basalt. But the transition to the steep, powerful style of climbing that is commonplace today can be largely attributed to the early days of development in AF, Wilson said.

climbing-magazine-161_11262Written off for years as un-climbable “choss,” AF’s loose, crumbly cliffs posed a difficult challenge for developers who hoped to unlock the rock’s hidden potential.

“The rock in AF was not the pristine, bulletproof rock found in other places that had obvious potential to be climbed,” Pederson said. “AF climbing was not a no-brainer. We had to clean away chunks of rock—ranging from football-sized to as big as a refrigerator—to prevent them breaking off and killing somebody.”

Implementing bolting techniques developed in Europe, in many cases rappelling from above to place bolts on walls that were otherwise inaccessible from the ground without permanent protection. AF developers were able to place protection on the steep, virgin walls lining either side of the canyon.

“AF was a huge project to take on,” Pederson said. “It took some vision, a strong desire and definitely a lot of work to make it happen.”

It is the dedication and hard work of these pioneers that Wilson hopes to share with climbers today. Wilson has witnessed his hometown climbing areas in American Fork mistreated by a younger generation of climbers, he said. He hopes they will have a greater appreciation for climbing areas everywhere once informed of the difficulties that were faced, enabling them to climb in the places they do today.

“I think it is important for today’s climbers to be grounded with the past,” Wilson said. “The people who developed these areas deserve a lot of respect for the time and energy they put into them.”

The Utah State showing of Project American Fork will be Thursday at 8:30 p.m. in room 114 of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building at Utah State University. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door or in advance on USU’s recreation website.


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