Staff blog: Climbing with a hemp rope is not recommended...

Nevis conservation officer Nathan Berrie talks about re-enacting Hamish MacInnes’ first rock climb for a new film – Final Ascent

Final ascent   paul and nathan dsc 0211 detail

I got to know Hamish MacInnes through my partner, who works for him. On one occasion we met at the Onich Hotel for dinner. This happened to be in the early stages of filming and the producer, Robbie Fraser, was there too. After talking and sharing stories, he mentioned that he was hoping to find someone to re-enact Hamish’s first rock climb. He told us he needed someone who was tall, skinny, short hair and with a basic understanding of rock climbing and asked if I was interested. At the time I was not keen - I had just started work with the Trust, so I was worried about trying to get time off - but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The filming took place in the Arrochar area near Loch Lomond. Hamish’s first climb was the Ardgartan Wall on the south face of the Cobbler with Bill Hargreaves - Hamish’s neighbour in Dumbarton when he was growing up. Climbing was filmed in one day. This was followed by half a day filming on the old Rest and Be Thankful road on the back of a Norton 500 motorcycle.

Final Ascent - Paul and Nathan on Norton 500 2

Bill Hargreaves was played by Paul Moores (shown above with Nathan) who was in charge of safety. He currently works with the Scottish Avalanche Service in winter and in film safety during other times. He was responsible for safety during the filming of Everest which was released a few years back. We were filmed by Keith Partridge, a specialist mountain cameraman who has worked alongside Steve Backshall and Chris Bonnington. He is best known for his camera work in Touching the Void.

Paul and I dressed in 1940s period clothing and climbed in baseball trainers, which were what Hamish and Bill climbed in. Traditionally harnesses were not used, so we had a modern climbing harness hidden under our clothes, which was attached to the hemp rope. Climbing with a hemp rope is not recommended, but it is still possible with care.

The route is graded VD (V-diff) which at the time was reasonably difficult. By today’s standards it is quite 'easy' and many people now solo this route. However when it is wet, it can be very difficult - a guide book describes it as 'climbing on wet fish'.

During filming the weather was damp in the morning, but the sun soon burnt through the clouds. However, the moss and lichen didn't dry out which made for some quite interesting climbing.

Originally the producer wanted us to climb the route several times, but we later agreed to film the scene in one climb with a number of different camera angles. The route, which would normally take around 20-30 minutes, took around 2-3 hours. Thankfully there were plenty of places to rest our muscles.

I enjoyed being part of the filming process and, in particular, seeing how Keith and Paul work in such challenging locations. I was also preparing for my Mountain Leader assessment, so it was a good opportunity to pick Paul’s brain for advice.

I haven’t seen the completed film yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing Final Ascent at the Glasgow Film Festival on 3 March. It will feature a Q&A with Hamish and Michael Palin who also appears in the film.

Find out more and watch a trailer for Final Ascent

Final Ascent - Nathan filming on the cobbler

Photos, taken by Ewan Duncan for Final Ascent, show Nathan (as Hamish MacInnes) with Paul Moores (as Hamish's friend Bill Hargreaves) re-enacting Hamish's first climb of the Cobbler - being filmed by Keith Partridge.