The canyoneering film is one of dozens of adventure flicks screening at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival Feb. 8 – 17
Adventurers in the Utah mountains have long been squeezing themselves into tiny, uncertain canyon entrances to rappel into the unknown.
But only a small group of their Sea to Sky counterparts has begun to explore the burgeoning sport of canyoneering here. These pioneers are at the center of Down the Line, the debut documentary of photographer-turned-filmmaker Francois-Xavier De Ruydts, as they discover two new canyons near Squamish.
"Some people say it's caving with the roof off," says De Ruydts, originally a geographer from Belgium. "Usually it involves going down waterfalls and swimming and walking down streams."
Slated to premiere at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, the 20 minute film captures an excursion in the Monmouth Creek and through a series of rushing waterfalls in the Box Canyon Creek, where the canyoneers suspect no one has ever set foot.
Although De Ruydts was new to filmmaking, his skills as a photographer are apparent in lingering shots of lush greenery, impossibly curved canyon rock and scenic creek beds. "I was starting to make this movie, but I didn't know what it was going to be about," he says. "I started filming Cypress Mountain. I was trying to understand how the camera worked, to be honest. Then I saw two guys going down into a canyon."
He quickly befriended the pair, including Damien Briguet, an enthusiastic canyoneer originally from Switzerland. A week later, he was crossing the Squamish River with Briguet and Lucia Chu, a nurse from Vancouver, before bushwacking up a mountain, film gear in tow.
"It's all about discovering new, natural, beautiful places no one has seen before," he says. "It's what sets canyoneering apart from climbing. If you're exploring, you just drop into the canyon. There's no way you can get out. The only way out is down. You go down and you discover amazing places."
They might be amazing, but in B.C. they're also very wet. Those conditions can pose unique challenges for canyoneers, who typically don wetsuits and use special rappelling techniques much different from those used for climbing.
"The additional danger is the water," De Ruydts says. "If you tangle up in your rope in a waterfall, it could be deadly. All these things climbers do we don't do because we don't want to get stuck in a pool of water."
Add to those challenges a camera. "I'm kind of used to these environments," he says. "It's kind of my specialty to bring my cameras where others don't. Last year I did a feature for
Canadian Geographic about caving in Canada. That taught me a lot about how to get back with your gear still working."
Though you wouldn't be able to tell by the images in the film, De Ruydts only picked up a camera a couple of years ago, shortly after moving to Vancouver with his wife in search of new adventure. He became interested in capturing not the extreme sports that are so popular in the area, but rather the hidden landscapes.
"I'm more interested in exploration and weird sports," he says. "I myself started doing (canyoneering) a year ago. I found two amazing canyons. I'm sure there are other amazing canyons out there we haven't found yet. It's got great potential for adventure and exploration."
De Ruydts hopes his film will draw more people to the sport locally. "There's a small community growing slowly," he says. "We're probably 15 now, which isn't much... but all you need is a spark. I'm sure the movie will do something and people will try to catch up. Get out there and try this new sport. It's got great potential in the Vancouver area, (including) Whistler and Squamish."
Down the Line is screening Feb. 11 at Vancouver's Rio Theatre at 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival — now in its 16th year — includes productions by several other local filmmakers, including Tempting Fear by Mike Douglas at Switchback Entertainment, Endless Spring Day by Darcy Turenne, Jalpak Tash — A Kyrgyzstan Epic by Anthony Bonello, Strength in Numbers by Ian Dunn at Anthill Films and All.I.Can. by Sherpas Cinemas.
The festival runs from Feb. 8 to the 17 at theatres in North Vancouver and Vancouver. In total this year, 19 of the 66 adventure films are from Canada.
For a complete list, more information and tickets visit www.vimff.org.