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Film Review: Lock Down, Rock Up – Climbing to Escape the Pandemic

A 5.14 U.K. climber finds an escape from his job as a frontline paramedic during the early months of covid-19

Lock Down, Rock Up is a documentary about the life of a U.K. climber and NHS paramedic during the first months of the covid-19 outbreak in 2020. It follows the life of Jerome Mowat, 31, as he uses rock climbing as an escape from working on the frontline during the pandemic.

The film won Best Short prize at Kendal Mountain Festival, which celebrates mountaineering and outdoor culture. About the win, director Nico Hambleton, 31, said: “This win isn’t just for Jerome, it’s representative of all frontline workers surviving out there.”

Mowat, from Sheffield, worked for the Yorkshire and then London Ambulance Services during the early months of the coronavirus crisis. Lock Down, Rock Up focuses on climbing as a coping mechanism and as a means to forget about the struggles during covid.

Hambleton said that he wanted to “document a means of escape from this worldwide crisis we are in, thinking it might inspire others who need it.”

Mowat started climbing at the Westway Climbing Centre in West London at 15, where he still works occasionally as an instructor. Over the past 15 years, he’s become a 5.14, V9, Gritstone master who focuses on hard projects and training. Some of his standout climbs include Cry Freedom 5.14b, My Piano E8 6b, The Wizard V9 highball, The Terrage V9 and Hohenzone V9.

For the past year, frontline workers have been dealing with the pandemic in a much more intense, hands on, life changing way than those of us who aren’t. Yes, all of our lives have changed, but the people who stare covid in the face day-in and day-out are experiencing things much different than the rest of us. We owe them a great deal of gratitude.

As Mowat said in a story that he wrote about being a frontline worker here, “There are many healthcare professionals in the climbing community: doctors, physios, nurses, paramedics. I salute all of them in these unprecedented times for going out there and getting it done. And the climbing community as a whole for taking responsibility for their actions, closing the gyms and prohibiting outdoor climbing. Sometimes these measures can feel quite abstract, are they really necessary? But I assure you, they are. This may be one of the few times we truly are all in this together.”

Watching this film in 2021 hits different than if I had watched it last year. As we’re dealing with covid exhaustion, and are tired of living without travel or climbing gyms, Lock Down, Rock Up reminded me why we’re making these sacrifices.

The film starts with Mowat climbing the crux of a burly trad route, only to whip onto a nest of cams in a horizontal crack. Following that are intense scenes of Mowat’s day-to-day life as a paramedic, which leads us back to the rock. Mowat’s monologue about what climbing means to him is so relatable that it could’ve been one of my climbing partners saying it.

The cinematography is amazing and the sound quality never leaves you strained. The story is current and Mowat is an absolute machine. The footage will make you want to visit the U.K. to go crag climbing; however, that, like many things, will have to wait for another time. Until then, I suggest that you watch Lock Down, Rock Up.

Lock Down, Rock Up
Overall: 4/5
Gripped*: 2/5
Gripped rating: The term gripped is a colloquialism in climbing meaning ‘in a state of fear.’ This rating represents how gripped the climber appears to be. Highly subjective.

Lock Down, Rock Up Trailer

Brandon Pullan was on the 2015 Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival jury, is a film screener for the Banff Film Festival, and was on the 2020 Whistler Film Festival jury