By happily promoting itself as “the gateway to the Lakes” the Cumbrian town of Kendal almost betrays a lack of confidence in its own charms – it seems to accept its position as a potential route to the wonders of the Lake District as opposed to being an intrinsic part of the region’s beauty.

For a few days each November, though, Kendal manages to wrestle attention from the stunning scenery of Windermere and beyond as it hosts an international Mountain Festival which is now widely considered to be the largest of its kind in the world.

The festival is a celebration of the great outdoors and the spirit of adventure which drives many to feats of incredible exploration. Added to this are numerous side events which also focus on global, ecological and sustainability issues and an integrated Literature festival which highlights new travel writing.  

However the big pull of the weekend remains the adventure films competition, with an extensive range of new and recent releases shown in various venues around the town. Esteemed adventure film-maker Alastair Lee had two premieres on Friday night alone. Having worked intensively, and at extremely late notice, to complete ‘Spectre’, the story of how local hero Leo Houlding (‘the Messi of the Mountains’ if you will) risked life and sanity in his ultra-ambitious trek to Union Glacier in remotest Antartica, Lee also showed ‘Blood Moon’ which showcased the work of a trio of British climbers breaking new ground in Madagascar.

The star of the show – and worthy Grand Prize Winner – was the phenomenal ‘Free Solo’ which followed maverick American climber Alex Honnald as he prepared for a solo (that means ropeless for the uninitiated) ascent of the formidable 3,000ft El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. A feat of both incredible skill and literally death-defying courage, Hannold’s last task before this ultimate free-climb was to assure the camera crew that they shouldn’t feel guilty if, as most experts commonly anticipated, he fell to his death as they were filming him. Truly, a ‘watching through the fingers’ experience, and a feat that deserves a much greater audience than within the confines of a specialist festival.

Of course, I can only touch at the surface of the programme available through the weekend. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there are a wealth of life-affirming experiences to be had, as the real aim of the festival is not simply for visitors to engage with the events on a vicarious, strictly observational level but for them to inspire us to explore our world a little more or to increase awareness our environmental responsibilities.

So, that’s Kendal Mountain Festival. While the town remains modest in its self-promotion, the festival is a reason why, for a few days every year at least, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

By Tony Curran. 

2018 Kendal Mountain Festival Film Awards

Grand Prize
“Free Solo,” (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, USA)

Judges Special Prize
“Wonderful Loser: A Different Sort of World,” (Arunas Matelis, Lithuania)

Judges Special Prize
“Chasing Monsters,” (Krystle Wright, Toby Pike, Australia)

Best Short Film
“AMA,” (Julie Gautier, France)

Best Environment Film
“The Islands and the Whales,” (Mike Day, United Kingdom)

Best Mountaineering Film
“La Congenialità – The Attitude of Gratitude,” (Christian Schmidt, Germany)

Best Adventure and Exploration
“Zabadast,” (Jérôme Tanon, France)

Best Culture
“Ascending Afghanistan,” (Erik Osterholm, USA)

Best Adventure
“Divided,” (Lee Craigie, United Kingdom)

Best Sound
“Parasol Peak,” (Johannes Aitzetmüller, Jeb Hardwick, Austria)

Best Visual
“This Mountain Life,” (Grant Baldwin, Canada)

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