Climber Brette Harrington brings elevated perspective to Reel Rock adventure series

“I literally just got back to the ground,” says Brette Harrington, when reached on the phone last Wednesday.

The 24-year-old professional rock climber and alpinist had just touched down after a day of climbing in New York State in “the Gunks,” known officially as Shawangunk Ridge. She had found herself in the area stemming from her involvement in Reel Rock 11, an annual film tour that showcases climbing and adventure films, along with the filmmakers and featured athletes themselves, to cities around the world.

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Harrington is one of this year’s athletes, appearing in person at festival stops in Denver, San Francisco and New York, and is the star of a film entitled Brette, described by Reel Rock 11 organizers as giving audiences an opportunity to follow the “rising talent… on a global journey from her hometown granite in Squamish to the big wall proving ground of Yosemite’s El Capitan and onto a landmark free solo in Patagonia.”

Local audiences can check out Harrington on the big screen this week when Reel Rock 11 touches down in the Lower Mainland, presented by the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, Tuesday Oct. 18 and Thursday Oct. 20 at the Rio Theatre, and Oct. 21 at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre.

While Harrington, who grew up in Lake Tahoe, previously lived in both Squamish and Vancouver, she’s spent the last two years on the road, travelling from one climbing destination to another, adding to her growing list of achievements, including a number of first ascents and impressive free solos.

“I really like moving from place to place,” says Harrington, who in recent years has travelled to Patagonia, Indian Creek in southern Utah, Canmore, Alta., various countries in Europe, Baffin Island and Yosemite National Park.

“When I was younger I went to boarding school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I couldn’t really imagine my life. Some people that I talked to… could look into the future and say, ‘I know I want to be a lawyer’ or ‘I want to be a nurse.’ They could foresee their life but I just had no idea. All I knew I wanted to do is do something that I was going to be a master at,” she says.

At age 18, Harrington decided to dedicate her life to climbing.

“I just felt like I needed to focus my energy on something that I loved and something that I could help in the progression of,” she says, going on to explain that she most definitely feels that’s possible with climbing, which allows her to apply her creativity to advance the sport.

Harrington says that Brette, her Reel Rock 11 film, showcases her perspective on climbing as well as encourages viewers to try hard, explore the adventures of climbing and most importantly have fun.

“I like to be alone a lot and I like the focus that that draws. I like being connected without having to deal with all of the complications of having partners, and trying really hard. In the movie, you can tell there’s a huge difference between when I’m soloing and when I’m climbing on a rope – my mentality’s really different,” she says.

“A lot of people take climbing very competitively… but my climbing is mainly just about going out and finding big, adventurous places to climb and living outside, living on the wall, primarily living on a portaledge, which is this little fabric ledge that I live in. I think it’s just trying to show a different perspective to climbing. I do a lot of free soloing also so it highlights [that] and the different aspects of climbing that I choose to do — crack climbing, trad climbing,” she adds.

Other films featured at this year’s Reel Rock 11 include Young Guns, which profiles 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 16-year-old Kai Lightner and described by festival organizers as “the new faces of climbing”; Boys in the Bugs, which follows “elite-level crack climbers and world-class goofballs” Will Stanhope and Matt Segal; Rad Dad, which chronicles new father and “lone wolf” Mike Libecki’s international travels to locate unclimbed walls and establish first ascents, while balancing the demands of fatherhood; and Dodo’s Delight, which follows a “madcap sailing adventure in the Arctic Circle.”

Following this week’s Reel Rock 11, VIMFF will present its annual Fall Series Nov. 22-25, also at the Rio and Centennial Theatres. 

Details at vimff.org.

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