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11 best climbing documentaries to get you pumped for your next adventure

Check out these harrowing true stories to give you ideas and inspiration for your next climb

Rock climbing outside
Pixabay / Pexels

The best climbing documentaries get you excited to go out and climb. Whether you’re waiting for the weekend to arrive so you can get to your local crag or are looking to travel to a remote climbing destination, these docs are sure to fill you with ideas and get you stoked. If you love to travel for climbing, you might also be interested in these travel documentaries on Netflix right now that’ll get you excited about new destinations.

These climbing movies about true stories profile amazing climbers putting up hard routes. Climbers, like other professional athletes, operate with impressive drive and determination. These climbers spend years working on their projects, sometimes risking their lives, all while pushing their bodies to their physical limits. I hope you enjoy these documentaries as much as I did.

Valley Uprising (2014)

Valley Uprising
8.1/10
99m
Genre
Adventure, Documentary
Stars
Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Honnold, Royal Robbins
Directed by
Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen
Watch on Amazon
Valley Uprising is as much a profile of Yosemite Valley as it is the people who climb there. Put together by Sender Films, Valley Uprising follows the progression of climbing from the 1960s to today. It moves through mountaineering, aid climbing, free climbing, and free soloing. Along the way, you’ll hear from climbing greats like Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill, Yvon Chouinard, Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and more. Climbing has transformed over the years from counterculture hippies living in Yosemite’s Camp 4 to the athletic and competitive climbers of today. You’ll see first ascents of big, historic routes, huge ego clashes, and the battle between park rangers and climbers. Valley Uprising mixes classic footage, photos, and contemporary interviews to explore climbing’s recent history and some of its most famous figures. Even though it’s a few years old, I put it first on the list because if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a great place to start.

Pretty Strong (2020)

Pretty Strong
7.0/10
75m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Katie Lambert, Nina Williams, Isabelle Faus
Directed by
Julie Ellison, Leslie Hittmeier, Colette McInerney
Watch on Vimeo
Pretty Strong is produced by an all-female team and features all-female climbers. Made by Never Not Collective, Pretty Strong ranges “[f]rom 5.13 big walls in Yosemite to 5.14 sport climbs in Mexico to V14 boulder problems in Colorado, Pretty Strong follows eight of the world’s strongest female climbers as they explore new climbing areas, send hard projects, and push the boundaries of the sport and themselves.” Some of the climbers included in this doc are Nina Williams, Katie Lambert, Daila Ojeda, and Hazel Findlay.

Reel Rock 15 (2020)

Reel Rock 15
145m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Alex Honnold, Mélissa Le Nevé, Lonnie Kauk
Watch on Vimeo
If you like to climb and you haven’t seen Reel Rock you’re in for a treat. This is a documentary series, not just one documentary. A lot of this series is available through Red Bull TV for free online. The newest season, Reel Rock 15, is one of my favorites. It features double threat Janja (great at both sport climbing and bouldering) as she tries to pull off a clean sweep of World Cup bouldering competitions in one season, something never been done before. Melissa Le Nevé spends seven years climbing the historic Action Directe. Lonnie Kauk follows in his father’s footsteps, literally, as he repeats his father’s famous Yosemite routes. Hazel Findlay and Maddy Cope explore Mongolia to put up first ascents. And the crew from Memphis Rox travel to Montana to ice climb with Conrad Anker. Filled with humor, emotion, and badass climbing, Reel Rock 15 will not disappoint.

The Scene (2011)

The Scene
g
75m
Genre
Adventure, Documentary
Stars
Chris Sharma, Steph Davis, Nalle Hukkataival
Directed by
Chuck Fryberger
Watch on Amazon
I hadn’t watched The Scene before working on this list. I would highly recommend it. The Scene revolves around the climbing scenes in Moab, Boulder, Innsbruck, and Spain. It includes great footage of Chris Sharma, Steph Davis, and others from a decade ago. I particularly liked the section on climbers putting up new routes in the New River Gorge. More punk rock than polished, this doc is funny and genuine while also profiling some amazing climbers.

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey (2017)

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey
7.6/10
96m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Fred Beckey, Conrad Anker, Reinhold Messner
Directed by
Dave O'Leske
Watch on Amazon
As a Pacific Northwest climber, Fred Beckey’s name is all over the routes in my guide books. Beckey was a prolific climber who put up a ton of routes in the Cascades. This documentary follows Beckey’s relentless, late-in-life quest to climb challenging routes. Not only is Beckey known for his first ascents, but he’s also a great model for how to live cheap and climb often.

The Dawn Wall (2017)

The Dawn Wall
81%
8.1/10
101m
Genre
Documentary, Adventure
Stars
Tommy Caldwell, John Branch, Kevin Jorgeson
Directed by
Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer
Watch on Apple TV+
The Dawn Wall follows Tommy Caldwell and his climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson in their attempt to scale Yosemite’s 3,000 ft. Dawn Wall. It’s also a great profile of Caldwell’s life in climbing, from his early years of competition climbing to his near-death experience in Kyrgyzstan, all the way up to who he has become today. If you’re not already familiar with Tommy Caldwell, this one is a must-watch.

Meru (2015)

Meru
77%
7.7/10
89m
Genre
Adventure, Documentary
Stars
Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, Renan Öztürk
Directed by
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Watch on Apple TV+
Watch Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk attempt to climb The Shark’s Fin on Meru for the first time. This film goes deep into the risks of alpine climbing, long routes, and team dynamics. As these three talented climbers put it all on the line, you’ll see the cost and the reward of attempting big alpine objectives.

Free Solo (2018)

Free Solo
83%
8.1/10
pg-13
100m
Genre
Documentary, Adventure
Stars
Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin
Directed by
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Watch on Disney+
Free Solo has to be one of the most famous climbing documentaries out there. If you haven’t watched Alex Honnold free solo El Capitan (meaning he climbed with no rope, no harness) you’re in for a treat.
Free Solo - Trailer | National Geographic

180° South (2010)

180° South
7.5/10
pg
86m
Genre
Comedy, Documentary, Drama
Stars
Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Keith Malloy
Directed by
Chris Malloy
Watch on Amazon
In the 1960s Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins (founders of Patagonia and The North Face, respectively) took a trip down to South America to climb Fitz Roy. In the 2000s Jeff Johnson finds footage of this trip and decides to recreate it, in his own style. Like most good travelogues (and trips) this doc is more about the journey than the destination.

The Alpinist (2021)

The Alpinist
67%
7.9/10
93m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Marc-André Leclerc, Brette Harrington, Alex Honnold
Directed by
Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen
Watch on Amazon
The Alpinist follows Marc-André Leclerc as he puts up crazy mixed routes and ice climbs around the world. What’s more impressive is that Leclerc is only 23. If you liked the sweaty-palm feeling you got while watching Free Solo, you’re going to love The Alpinist. It’s not available online yet, so you’ll have to head to your local theater to catch this one.

Assault on El Capitan (2013)

Assault on El Capitan
67m
Genre
Documentary
Stars
Ammon McNeely, Kait Barber
Directed by
Jeff Vargen
Watch on Amazon
The documentary film, Assault on El Capitan, tells the story of a controversial climb on El Capitan, the famous rock wall in Yosemite National Park. The story centers on Ammon McNeely and his partner Kait Barber’s attempt to ascend El Capitan on the Wings of Steel route in 2011. This route had only been climbed once before, 39 years earlier, and was shrouded in controversy. The first ascent of the Wings of Steel route in 1982 was a source of much debate. The film explores the accusations of ethical violations and dangerous tactics used by the first ascensionists. It also delves into the resulting death threats, physical assaults, and slander campaigns they faced. The climb itself is a daunting feat. The documentary showcases the physical and mental challenges faced by McNeely and Barber as they battle difficult weather, long falls, and the mental strain of such a demanding ascent. Assault on El Capitan goes beyond just documenting a climbing expedition; it explores themes of ambition, risk, ethics, and camaraderie within the climbing community. The film aims to shed light on the complex story behind this legendary climb.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Benjamin Buckingham
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ben lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as a freelance writer and outdoor guide.
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