Forgotten Mountaineering Footage

Why?  Because it’s where the cheese is.

For those of you who’ve never seen, or not lately seen, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, circa 1957, there are a few unique mountaineering problems the protagonist has to work through in the story.  The movie itself deservedly received critical praise as it strayed from the regular adventure science fiction path to consider the existential question of how small a human might be and still exist.

In several sections of the film our hero has to climb.  He constantly reworks and reinvents his gear as his shoes never seem to fit anymore, and yesterday’s string becomes today’s climbing rope.  At a point he must scale a wooden wall of cracking, gappy slats forming a foot-tall crate to get to  a moldy piece of cheese that is, to him, about the size of a Mini Cooper.  The laterally arranged slats rise at a ninety degree angle, and are too unevenly separated to dyno them to ascend.  He needs the cheese, and both a spider and house cat seem to need him.   Reminding himself that his brain, weighing in at roughly zero mass, still functions, he pulls a needle with a bobbed end from a pin cushion, bends it to 45 degrees, knots a length of thread beneath the bobbed end, and fashions a grappling hook which he uses to haul and grapple his way up, one slat at a time.

As he tops out at the cheese, he finds he’s lost his appetite anyway.  He’s just no longer big enough to be hungry and couldn’t hold another molecule even if the crusts were cut off.  At movie’s end he fades into the Buddhist state of bliss, into Nirvana, achieving every alpinist’s dream of timeless everynothing-ness.  Not to be compared to the techno wonders of modern special effects, the Incredible Shrinking Man is still able to convey the sense of adventure and wonder that impels kids of all ages to keep climbing.  It’s free soloing without a body, out of time and out of space . . . with a serac-sized black widow on your butt to keep you focused.  Worth a watch.

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