LOCKDOWN MOVIE REVIEW: WAMPLER’S ASCENT
We recently celebrated the release of the 2013 Documentary Wampler’s Ascent on Amazon Prime. The film documents the story Stephen J Wampler’s harrowing climb up the famous El Capitan Wall of Yosemite National Park, and makes for some compelling lockdown viewing.
The vertical rock wall of El Capitan rests peacefully on the north side of Yosemite Valley, a monolithic piece of nature that has been preserved since the time Native Americans first discovered its existence.
While the historical sight is undeniably beautiful and serene, it carries a history marked by triumph and tragedy. Although records vary, it is believed that up to 50 people have died attempting to make the harrowing climb. A tiny slip-up or moment of overconfidence, has instantaneously bridged the gap between life and death for climbers. It is when you take a moment to absorb this sobering reality, that you can fully appreciate the significance of Stephen J Wampler’s journey up El Capitan in 2010.
Wampler is in a wheelchair, because he has cerebral palsy (CP), but throughout the movie, you’ll get to know that he does not let CP define him. He initially climbed the wall as an opportunity to raise funds for his initiative Camp Wamp – a summer camp for children with disabilities. On the surface, this documentary looks like a traditional ‘inspiring, feel-good’ story; however, upon watching it, this film provides a surprising rush of emotions.
The movie draws its audience in by capturing Wampler’s journey, and the dizzying heights captured on film creates an authentic adrenalin rush as Wampler perilously hangs hundreds of metres mid-air. Being able to see what he sees, creates a visceral experience for the audience.
There are moments in the film where you feel instant dread for Wampler, and you can see what is at stake, and this is in part due to the choice to capture the climb on film – it’s beautifully shot and creates multiple perspectives.
The movie not only depicts the danger of Wampler’s five-night, six-day journey – it captures the emotional stakes of his wife and family. I found myself wanting to see more of his wife, Elizabeth’s journey – if anything, I wanted to experience what she was going through being so far apart from her husband who was undertaking such a trepidatious adventure. The story respectfully shows Elizabeth’s point of view.
One of the aspects of this film that adds to the tension so well is its willingness to portray just how much strain this climb puts on 42-year-old Stephen. In many instances, he is at the mercy of his own body and the elements. Wampler has spoken openly about his struggle with seizures and hallucinations during the climb. It is the film’s refusal to shy away from this that gives it incredible tension and makes it so much more memorable.
The film has received national and international acclaim with 20 film festival awards to date. In Wamplers own words; “Over the years, I’ve learned to not only live with my disability, but to thrive, and I want to ensure that others have the same opportunity.” This is one movie you can curl up and enjoy with the whole family.
Wamplers Ascent is now streaming on Amazon Prime. If you are not already a member, you can join for a free 30-day trial.