What do you do when you can’t climb? You watch climbing documentaries, of course. We’ve compiled a list of our 10 favorite climbing documentaries that are available on Netflix with a subscription or for free on YouTube, plus a few bonus films that cost a few bucks to watch on YouTube but that I could not in good conscience leave off this list.
Prepare to be inspired to try hard and send it.
1. The Dawn Wall
Available on Netflix
This film documents legendary climber Tommy Caldwell’s life, culminating in his attempt to climb The Dawn Wall in Yosemite. After several incredible and horrifying experiences in his early life (like being held hostage in the middle east and losing part of a finger in an accident), Tommy and his partner Kevin Jorgeson spent six years planning, practicing, and attempting this never-before-completed route up the 3,000-foot wall.
The whole world watched as they gave their all to the final attempt.
In my opinion, there’s no one who embodies persistence and dedication more than Tommy Caldwell. It’s hard to get frustrated that you can’t send your project after three tries when this guy spent YEARS trying and failing on a route that everyone said was impossible.
This documentary is a feature-length film that will have you leaping off the couch with a renewed sense of determination to go crush your latest project.
If you’ve never seen any videos of Adam Ondra climbing, let me tell you why the name of this video is ridiculously ironic: this guy straight up SCREAMS when he climbs hard things. Rather fittingly, this film happens to document Adam climbing the hardest route in the world (to date, who’s to say that he won’t find something harder to climb eventually).
So difficult, in fact, that a new grade (5.15d/9c) had to be invented just to classify this route. You could say he’s kind of a badass.
Like Tommy Caldwell, Adam Ondra’s obsession with completing this route borders on the insane, but then again, how else would the limits be pushed? Ondra built a replica of the route in his personal gym so he could practice it every day. He seems to defy gravity, physics, and the range of human flexibility when he climbs this insane overhung route.
3. Alex Honnold Climbs Angola
Another of the climbing world titans, Alex Honnold made a huge splash around the globe when he free soloed El Capitan in Yosemite (see my note about Free Solo in the bonus films section below). However, he has accomplished many other interesting and incredible climbing feats in his career.
Nicknamed “No Big Deal,” Alex has a bit of a droll personality and frequently downplays the magnitude of his own accomplishments, making them all the more outrageous to us common folk.
This documentary follows Alex and his entourage as they tour the southwest African country of Angola, where they climb both urban projects (as in scaling a building) and some extremely epic rocks that have never before been sent.
An interesting side note about Alex is that he created the Honnold Foundation, which works to provide sustainable solar energy to those suffering from energy poverty around the world.
4. To Climb the World
This National Geographic documentary also features Alex Honnold, along with Mark Synnott and Jimmy Chin. The dream team of climbing takes on some gnarly climbing, a band of thieves, and some treacherous waters in their travels around the world to bag first ascents.
These guys are the best of the best, and their hilarious range of personalities makes this documentary a classic. Not only is Jimmy Chin a badass climber, he is also an Oscar-winning documentarian himself (see Free Solo at the end of this list).
5. China Doll
China Doll not only documents Heather Weidner’s ascent of a 5.14a trad route, it also delves into gender stereotypes in climbing, personal demons, and romance. Heather’s ascent marked this first female ascent of this killer route. Major girl crush!
6. Climbing The Nose
This documentary produced by Louder Than Eleven details Jorg Verhoeven’s 2014 ascent of The Nose, a 5.14 route on El Capitan in Yosemite. He spent 30 days in the valley preparing, practicing, and making attempts and ultimately nabbed the 5th free ascent of this iconic route.
Climbing greats Tommy Caldwell and Lynn Hill narrate parts of Jorg’s story of intense determination and try-hard. This documentary captures both the calm mental perseverance and the explosive physical strength required for climbing such difficult routes. If you need some inspiring words of wisdom, check out this video.
7. Mirror Wall
This documentary takes us to Greenland, where Leo Houlding and his team attempt to climb a nearly 4,000-foot vertical tower. Leo is a renowned climber, and in fact was the first British person to free climb El Capitan, when he was just 18 years old.
In this documentary, Leo addresses his changed mindset and outlook on danger and risk after the death of his friend Sean “Stanley” Leary and the birth of his children, particularly as he leads a strong but inexperienced team of climbers up this insanely tall wall.
There is probably no funnier duo than Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright. Alex’s dry understatements combined with Cedar’s boisterous personality mean that although this documentary covers mostly type two fun, you’ll still be laughing out loud. Cedar and Alex (for some reason) decided to climb 45 towers in the southwest, bike 700 miles between them, and survive in the less than ideal desert conditions.
They also find a ridiculously cute puppy that they name Suffer Pup, and of course, the puppy then joins them on their adventure. Terrible weather and chossy rock further contributed to their trials and tribulations on this tour of the southwest.
9. Small Walls
When you think of rock climbing meccas, the American Midwest is definitely not the first place that comes to mind. However, this hour-long documentary follows a group of climbers who are exploring climbing options in the midwest and developing routes and boulder problems, both in the wilderness and in urban areas.
This video has a lot more actual climbing footage than some of the other videos on this list, and while the climbers in this one aren’t crushing 5.14s, it’s awesome to see the sport developing in the midwest and just how high their stoke level is!
This documentary is shorter than the rest on this list, but it is such an amazing story of dedication and overcoming insane hardships that I had to include it. Canadian climber Matt Cormier suffers a 100-foot fall after his rope snaps on a sharp flake, which he miraculously survived despite breaking his neck, femur, tibia, fibula, foot, elbow, and many other bones.
Just six months after the accident, Matt is already back climbing and is working to climb harder than he did before the fall. Although he’s not a professional climber, this story is incredibly inspirational and a reminder for us all to never take things for granted.
More Amazing Climbing Documentaries (That Cost Money)
11. Free Solo
($3.99 on YouTube or free with Hulu subscription)
Free Solo is an Oscar-winning National Geographic documentary that captures Alex Honnold as he attempts and ultimately succeeds in his quest to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite.
That’s right, he climbed 3,000 vertical feet with no rope. Not even a parachute! Although I knew that he succeeded (aka survived) before I watched the movie, my hands were still sweating and my head spinning as I watched him casually make his way up this route that would be challenging and scary even with a rope for most of the rest of us.
Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin do an incredible job of capturing not only the free solo, but also of profiling Alex Honnold and the build-up to this insane feat. Definitely a must-watch climbing documentary.
12. Valley Uprising
($5.99 on YouTube or free with Amazon Prime Video subscription)
This documentary is an amazing overview of climbing in Yosemite Valley over the last 50 years. It recounts the history of climbing in terms of gear, attitude, laws, and ever-evolving technique that allows ascents of harder and harder routes.
This film stars such contemporary climbing greats as Dean Potter (RIP), Alex Honnold, and Lynn Hill, as well as the ‘founding fathers’ of Yosemite climbing: Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, and many more. This film will make you feel wistful for the “outlaw” days of the past, when Camp Four was a dirtbag mecca and the valley wasn’t filled to the brim every day with tourists.
Valley Uprising is an incredible summary of the history of climbing in this iconic spot, and will be sure to inspire you to carry the torch for the current generation of climbers.
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