Yosemite, Calif. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve climbed or how many big routes you’ve topped out, rappelling over the edge of El Capitan for the first time makes your diaphragm seize up, your heartbeat so loud it feels like it’s pounding out of your chest, and your vision gets blurry. From up there, trees three thousand feet down on the Valley floor look tiny and distorted and the people running around El Cap meadow look like ants. When the wind slams into the wall, it rushes upward, lifting you. Then it subsides, and you fall back into your harness.
To Max Buschini, the 25-year-old camera operator and filmmaker behind “Peter and the Columns,” which debuted online and was shared around the world this fall, the edge of El Capitan is his favorite place on earth. This season alone, he’s rapped off the edge four different times for projects. He plans to continue doing so all this autumn to get the footage he needs for his upcoming films. Capturing the best climbers in this world on the golden big wall canvas is what he does.
“I met Max after he called me up and asked if he could film us on the Muir Wall,” speed climber and 5.14 first ascentionist Tom Herbert said when he met him on El Cap this autumn. “I was initially concerned about a photographer I didn’t know rapping of the top of the Big Stone, especially with all the smoke. He did great and got the shots! The next week he was at it again rappelling the Nose shooting Roger Putnam like a pro.”
Raised in Walnut Creek, California, only a three-hour drive from Yosemite Valley, Max grew up surrounded by a cluster of climbing gyms. He climbed through his youth and during college worked at the campus climbing gym. His university studies took him abroad to Dublin, Ireland, where he studied Irish film history and production. After completing his degree in cinema studies at the University of Oregon, Max returned to the Bay Area and worked as a front desk clerk at Diablo Rock Gym where he met El Cap speed climber Hans Florine. Hans had been a staple in the Bay Area climbing scene for three decades. With 110 ascents of El Cap under his belt and as the former Nose record holder, his name is synonymous with El Cap. Inspired by Hans’s accomplishments on rock, Max befriended him. Later Hans would offer him a job cleaning rooms in his vacation rental in Yosemite West.
In 2018 Max partnered with filmmaker Andrew Petersen and for the next year, the two co-directed the sixteen-minute short “Peter and the Columns.” In the film, Hans faces off against Peter Hoffmeister at a scraggly crag in Oregon to see who can first nab an El Cap day — 3,000 feet — on the 50-foot cliff. In the same year, Max also worked on the upcoming documentary about Tom Frost soon to come out by Flatlander Films. The film includes sound bites and scenes, shot in black and white, where the biggest names in climbing share their revere of the late Frost, who before his death in August 2018, left far more to this world than his impressive climbing accomplishments. Frost’s kindness, spiritual connection with the world around him – he believed the earth is a sentient being — rubbed off on the who’s who of climbing and left them love and a bright smile to remember him by. The film includes dozens of interviews by legends, including Yvon Chouinard, Hans Florine, and Doug Robinson.
I met Max while I was in front of his camera while he was shooting the Tom Frost documentary.
Max also worked on the film Free as Can Be on El Cap to help his friend and mentor Sam Crossley. Free as Can Be shows the climbing relationship between elder statesman Mark Hudon and 26-year-old Jordan Cannon and their quest to free El Cap by the Freerider route. The film debuted in August at the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy.
Max told me recently that when Mark watched the film for the first time, he was overwhelmed with gratitude.
This September, Max released Peter and the Columns for his directorial debut, for free, to share his film with all the climbing websites worldwide. One after the other websites picked it up, first Gripped, then Climbing, Rock and Ice, then UK Climbing, etc. By the end of the first week, 200,000 people clicked on the film.
As the views poured in from around the world, Max kept busy by climbing in Yosemite every day, starting with his morning free solo sessions up multipitch lines he has dialed. All summer he kept up this routine, despite dangerously high air quality from nearby fires. After soloing, he’d capture images of local climbers for stories in climbing magazines. He also cragged several times a week, running laps on 5.10 splitter cracks before hurrying over to Hans’s house to ready the next Airbnb guests’ place. After that, he’s on his laptop to edit film footage and stills.
Max’s recent projects include shooting and editing footage of Stonemaster and artist in residence Dean Fidelman at the Yosemite Climbing Museum, professional climber Ethan Pringle on 5.14 terrain, and the record-breaking speed climb of 12:07 on the Muir Wall. He also captured footage of Lonnie Kauk climbing the Yosemite 5.14b crack Magic Line. His footage will be in Reel Rock 15, coming out soon.
Max’s next step after the Muir Wall project is on a free solo climber, but he won’t tell me who it is. But he said to keep tuned as he’s planning to release the film in a few months.
“Max has a great combination of youthful enthusiasm and fitness,” Hans says. “He’s knowledgeable about all the latest filming technology, and competence to safely dangle where climbing shots demand.
“He’s got a lot of experience packed into a 25-Year-Old… film school graduate and many days of experience running over, around, up and down El Cap.”
To learn more about Max Buschini, follow him on Instagram @maxbuschini.