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Epic climb no longer in the shadow of history

Catching up with In The Shadow of the Chief director Ivan Hughes



It all began with a footnote in Ivan Hughes’ well-worn climber’s guide to Squamish.

Reading up on the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief, the avid climber’s keen eye zeroed in on the route’s intriguing first ascent date – June 1961 – an anomaly amidst a sea of more recent dates.

Curious, he set out to learn more about the accredited climbers: UBC students Jim Baldwin, a Canadian, and Ed Cooper, an American.

In doing so he inadvertently uncovered a lesser-known chapter in Canadian sporting history and a story that demanded a modern retelling.

Modern advances have relegated the Grand Wall to a beginner-advanced climb, but 40 years ago the route was considered one of the hardest in the world, requiring cutting edge techniques and gear innovations.

It took the daring duo multiple attempts over 40 days before they would conquer the Chief. Visible from the town of Squamish, the ascent rallied the community and drew the attention of the national media.

Hughes’ research discovered hours of previously unseen archival CBC television footage compelling enough to convince him to change his storytelling medium from print to film.

The result was In the Shadow of the Chief , a tale of triumph and determination and community spirit with a tragic epilogue – while Cooper is still alive and living in California, Baldwin, it is learned, perished in a rappelling accident on a different climb in 1964.

The film, which integrates the original coverage with digital footage of present day climbers on the Wall, made its world premiere at the 2003 Whistler Film Festival. Tickets sold out well in advance, prompting organizers to commandeer an additional screen at Village 8 Cinemas, which also sold out. The film went on to win the People’s Choice award for Best Film of the Festival.

Multiple showings later, it continues to charm. Chief won the festival grand prize for Best Film Overall and the award for Best Canadian Mountain Film at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival last February. The film has since screened in several B.C. locales, in Banff and Toronto, and at festivals in California, Slovakia and New Zealand.

In light of Chief’s upcoming broadcast premiere on CBC television this Thursday evening, Pique Newsmagazine caught up with writer/director Hughes to talk about the remarkable journey his film has taken since its Whistler debut last December.

Pique: In the Shadow of the Chief was your debut film, so nothing could have really prepared you for the type of reception it got locally, nationally and internationally. What do you make of it all?