Set Near Whitefish, Homegrown Climbing Film Sends It at Fernie Mountain Film Festival

In 'Seven Eleven,' local filmmaker Colton Born documents the ambitions of two Flathead Valley climbers who set out to scale seven routes at their local crag in a single day

By Micah Drew
Mack Fai reaches for a hold in the climbing film "Seven Eleven." Courtesy photo

Local filmmaker Colton Born didn’t set out to make a film festival-caliber documentary when he asked two friends if he could tag along and film their climbing project last summer. Born expected to spend some time shooting video of his buddies at a local climbing crag and hoped to edit together a short movie to commemorate the outing.

Instead, “Seven Eleven” ended up as a 25-minute film that was selected for a screening at the Fernie Mountain Film Festival (FMFF) this weekend. Launched in 2008, the FMFF is dedicated to filmmakers who spark awareness of mountain culture, fragile environments and the passion and perseverance of global explorers.

“I was always wanting to make a climbing project, just to see what it’s like to film that kind of adventure,” Born said. “I figured if it saw the light of day, great, but never really thought it would go this far. It’s been really shocking, because if you’d asked me this time last year what I was doing, this wasn’t even a concept on my radar.”

Local climbers Nick Brooke and Mack Fai dreamed up the idea for the “Seven Eleven” project in the doldrums of winter, while paging through a guidebook for Point of Rocks, the “most underrated climbing within a 35-mile radius of Whitefish,” according to Fai.  

Brooke noticed that among the dozens of bolted climbing routes, there were seven sport climbs with a difficulty grade of 5.11a on the Yosemite Decimal System, which the climber breezily described as “a fun grade to climb.”

“I was thinking, seven eleven, that’s kind of catchy,” Brooke says in the opening minutes of the film. “I texted Mack, ‘what if we climbed all seven 11s in a day. That sounds like an objective.”

To further lean into the name, the duo decided to attempt the project on July 11 (7/11). Given the remote nature of Point of Rocks, the easiest way to link up the different routes was by running between them, infusing even more kinetic energy into the full-day adventure.

Nick Brooke and Mack Fai run between routes at Point of Rocks. Courtesy photo

Born joined the duo for the excursion, alternating between his phone and camera to film the routes and often lugging his gear halfway up a cliff to capture shots of the climbers while suspended from the ropes. Drone shots are also interspersed throughout the film, but were filmed later due to technical difficulties that arose on the day of the climbing project.

“Really the main goal was not to slow them down while they tried to knock out these routes in a day,” Born said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was a good story here. Usually if you’re compelled by an idea, that means other people probably will be too.”  

“Seven Eleven” embodies the grandiose adventure-film genre dominated by world-class videographers like Jimmy Chin documenting world class climbers like Alex Honnold, even as its homegrown subjects and filmmaker give the creative project a relatable, somewhat irreverent makeover.

“Very little about this project was intentional. We’ve kind of stumbled our way into happy accidents along the way that kept making us laugh and making other people laugh,” Born said. “It’s kept the character of the project from the beginning being fun and spontaneous. We started out wanting to do this just for us, and even now it still feels that way.”

The crux of the climbing project for Brooke and Fai materialized during the first ascent of the day, as the skies cloud over and a deluge pours down, never letting up.

“What I think makes the story of ‘Seven Eleven’ particularly funny is the rain element,” Born said. “Climbing in the rain on its own is hard. Climbing something more difficult than maybe the average climber can do in the rain is impressive. And then to do that over and over in a single day is particularly impressive. And, it added a humorous element to the entire project because you can’t sanitize the weather.”

Interspersing intense climbing scenes with laments about the conditions of the day and retrospective commentary, the film captures authentic moments between friends seeking to push their limits for no other reason than because it’s possible. There are breathtaking whippers as hands slip from holds, impromptu trailside dance parties and surprise support from members of the climbing community, who stake out the final route of the day to cheer the duo through the finish line.

Mack Fai and Nick Brooke celebrate completing their goal of climbing all seven 5.11a-graded sport routes in a single day. Courtesy photo.

When Born sat down to edit a highlight reel, he soon realized the project had taken on a life of its own. The final cut grew from six to 10 to 25 minutes. He showed a rough cut to Jandy Cox, owner of Rocky Mountain Outfitters where Born works part time. Cox signed on to sponsor the film, and the shop hosted a world premiere in October, drawing more than 120 people.

Through a few connections in the outdoor industry, the film landed in front of the Fernie Mountain Film Festival committee and was selected for the lineup. Born and Fai made the trip to Canada for the screening on Feb. 16, a Friday evening. (Regrettably, Brooke took a raincheck as he is currently climbing in Patagonia.)

“It’s given me a lot of excitement for future projects, and it’s given me confidence that making an adventure film that people will enjoy isn’t something that’s reserved for Jimmy Chin,” Born said. “It’s something any of us can do. We did this with zero budget and zero plan. Imagine what we can do with a little more thought?”

A trailer for “Seven Eleven” is currently available for viewing on the Rocky Mountain Outfitter’s YouTube channel, and the full film will be released to the public on March 1.

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