Banff 2023 Signature Image: The Winning Aussie Shot

The Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival- known as the most prestigious adventure film festival in the world has been an industry leader in the celebration of mountain culture since 1976.

Many cutting edge images have been the face of this extraordinary festival that creates opportunities for people to find inspiration in mountain experiences, ideas and visions and tours the world, reaching more than 40 countries and 7 continents.

When Australian climbers Ashlee Hendy and Elizabeth Chong set out to climb Pitch two of the Man Who Sold the World in the Grampians with world renowned climbing photographer Simon Carter, they didn’t expect to find themselves the face of the 47th annual festival world tour. To say we are proud is an understatement.

However, there is a lot more to this image than meets the eye and we are going to give you the inside scoop.

Meet the Climbers: Ashlee Hendy

For many climbers, memories of the Grampians are like memories of paradise. The warm winter sun, breathtaking sunsets lighting up Taipan Walls and sore finger tips from hard days. The Grampians are breathtaking and the climbing reflects this with some of the highest quality climbs in Australia. The solitude, routes that offer variety and adventure, these are the hallmarks of the Grampians.

This rings true for climber Ashlee Hendy who began climbing at the age of 12, after taking up indoor climbing in her first year of high school she soon found her ‘calling’ and knew this is the sport she wanted to master. Growing up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the Grampains became her regular weekend spot as soon as she could drive. This enabled Ash to master the climbs of this spectacular mountain range and truly appreciate the magnitude of this sacred land to both climbers and Indigenous Australians.

It was in these very mountains that Ashlee found her solace during her undergraduate, post-graduate and PhD studies.

Fun Fact: Ashlee also holds a PhD in Neurophysiology! 

Her connection to the rock and nature of rural Victoria became her ‘antidote’ to the stresses and challenges that came with studying and becoming a full- time academic, which were achieved in 2014.

“ I would work, study and train all week, then drive to the Grampians every Friday night to spend my weekends outdoors. By now I’ve got more than 20 years of climbing experience under my belt. Climbing is a huge part of my life”, says Ashlee.

Ashlee is now a wife and recently became a mother to a beautiful baby girl who also loves the outdoors! Living in Natimuk, a small town in western Victoria the family enjoy a slower paced lifestyle, enjoying all their favourite parts of the outdoors and climbing adventures as much as possible.

Fun Fact: Ashlee even managed to score a partnership with Bogong Equipment in Melbourne while she was pregnant, which is really cool considering less than a decade ago professional female climbers were delaying or avoiding starting their families for fear of losing their sponsorships.

Elizabeth Chong:

A climber of 8 years experience, she’s managed to go from newbie to sending grade 26, whilst studying medicine full-time in Sydney.

Growing up Liz always saw rock climbing as a bit of a novelty sport that you would do on special occasions, once in a while, like bowling or laser- tag. It wasn’t until a friend gifted her a harness and shoes for Christmas that it dawned on her to take it up as a full time hobby. After a trip to Thailand where Liz unplanningly spent most of her time rock climbing she enjoyed it so much that she thought to herself, “Where has this been my whole life!”.

Liz’s most memorable ascent includes The Way of All Flesh graded 26. Coming across this on a first trip to Bardens in 2014, she was amazed and couldn’t wait to give it a go. Having recently led her first grade 19 Little Triggers, she couldn’t really fathom the idea of climbing something that steep and impressive. Liz officially tried the route in 2016 and sent it!

Liz is currently enjoying a long overdue sabbatical, climbing her way through the US and soon Greece then Spain, exploring routes around the world and mastering her skills.

The Climb

The Grampians offer some of the most spectacular and high quality climbing in Australia. The beautiful thing about the Grampians is that it offers so much choice, there is plenty of good, easier climbing in fantastic locations, and some of the best hard sport climbing routes in the land.

Pitch two of the Man Who Sold the World, Clean Cuts, Grampians, Victoria, Australia is a grade 25 climb (that’s 5.12b for in American rankings). At 26 metres in length and only 17 ascents ever made (the first being in 2014), this climb is reserved only for those deemed an ‘expert’ and is arguably one of the hardest in the world.

Best month to climb: June

This climb is located in an area of the southern Grampians and is currently closed. The closures were announced early in 2019 with efforts by land managers, Traditional Owners and climbers to come together and make plans to better preserve these lands. Many believe that all three parties have goals that are reasonably compatible; to preserve the rich cultural heritage and fragile environment so that future generations can enjoy and respect this beautiful landscape. 

Climbers are hoping to demonstrate that they are not destructive or disrespectful, and that their sport is sustainable and low-impact such that it can co-exist amongst these goals. While it’s been tough to lose access to many areas, it is said the majority of climbers have done a lot of self-reflection and learning throughout the process.

The Story behind the image

The image was taken in the winter of 2017 and although the sun was out, it was not nearly as warm as it seemed! Liz ( on belay) and Simon (the photographer) were both visiting from NSW and Ashlee had been camping and climbing in the Grampians which was her typical weekend venture. Simon was aware that this route was a great photo opportunity and had been waiting for the right weather conditions to get the money shot. Ashlee had climbed the route previously and knew it would be in great position, at grade 25 it was still challenging enough for her but with confidence she knew she could get up the climb without taking any big falls or getting stuck in a difficult position. Liz was keen to try the route, and even though Ashlee had not met Liz before, they knew they’d kick it off and have a great time climbing.

Needless to say, Simon got the shot and the girls have remained good friends since this day, often climbing together in both NSW and VIC. 

Come along and join us for the Banff 2023 Australian Tour starting 2nd May!  Get your tickets at https://banffaustralia.com.au/tickets/