The climb up is as nothing compared to the descent. Robbie Fraser ‘s documentary Final Ascent: The Legend of Hamish MacInnes is as extraordinary as MacInnes himself.
When MacInnes was found in a terrible state of disorientation by a neighbour and having lost weight, he was sectioned in a Highlands hospital and diagnosed with dementia. Friend Michael Palin speaks of ‘his aura’ and how shocked he was at finding a small figure in a narrow bed, instead of his robust friend.
Fraser’s exhaustive film focuses on how, having lost his memory, MacInnes pieced it back together, by looking at old film footage and reading his many books.
It’s an incredible career. MacInnes climbed the Matterhorn aged sixteen; created a car from scratch aged seventeen, set up the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team, made his own mountaineering tools, survived frostbite, snowblindness and appalling weather conditions on many expeditions, including the Rakaposhi and Everest. He has lost an estimated fifty friends along the way.
His interest in Buddhism and single-mindedness seems to have sustained him, and his natural mistrust of authority- and sense of mischief- still permeates, even as a frail man in his eighties.
Keith Partridge’s wonderful camera work, stock footage of the legendary climbs, and a decidedly unsentimental approach, make this film all the more poignant.
It’s testament to the inimitable ‘animal instinct’ of a true pioneer, who sadly now feels like ‘a spectator’ to his own life. But he’s still there, defiant, and fighting the good fight.
Part of SMHAFF: Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Screening at the CCA on May 6th.