A generally effective introduction to the world of competitive climbing, as seen in California’s Yosemite Valley, “Vertical Frontier” asserts the sport’s history as a meaningful part of America’s westward — and upward — expansion. Repetition of imagery and ideas, though, may limit this to the perpendicularly inclined.
Great archival footage and enjoyable B&W reenactments of trails being blazed by John Muir and other pioneers help bring variety to a docu that’s otherwise mostly climbing shots and talking heads. Story of Yosemite’s development is paralleled with the rise of climbing through the decades, with advances in technology championed by Royal Robbins and others, and the gradual inclusion of women in the 1970s. Successful movement to resist privatizing the park’s Camp 4, from where most of the ascents were staged, is muffed, dramatically speaking, and feels tacked on. Likewise in latter segs, Jeff Watson’s hard-rock guitar music, better fit for a Sunday-afternoon football special, is a distraction. And Tom Brokaw’s narration comes across as a bit too folksy.