The 10 Best Climbing Documentaries That Will Have You on the Edge of Your Seat

by Gaby Pilson
Last Updated: June 30, 2021
Close-up on intermediate climber tying her shoelace

When you can’t be at the crag sending your project, watching a climbing documentary is the next best option.

So, to ensure you have something to binge on during your next movie night, here’s our list of the top 10 best climbing documentaries that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Free Solo

Free Solo documentary cover on white background
Free Solo
The Oscar-winning film that brought climbing to the big screen
Alex Honnold isn’t a normal climber. Free Solo follows his attempt to climb El Capitain’s 3,000’ (914m) face without ropes or protective gear.
view at amazon

An Oscar Award-winning documentary film, Free Solo was one of the first climbing documentaries ever shown on the big screen around the world.

Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the film follows along as Alex Honnold sets off on his journey to be the first person to free solo Yosemite’s El Capitan. Although Honnold was already a world-renowned free soloist before the film, his attempt at the 3,000’ (914m) tall El Cap was beyond anything he had ever done before.

Casting aside ropes and other protective gear, the film profiles Alex as he spends countless hours obsessively rehearsing each and every move of his upcoming climb. Along the way, it captures the ethical dilemmas behind even trying to film a climb where a single mistake would be fatal.

Every second of this 100 minute documentary features stunning mountain cinematography and captures palm sweating, nerve wracking moments that are sure to have even non-climbers on the edge of their seats.
Watch It On Amazon

The Summit

The Summit documentary cover on white background
The Summit
High altitude disaster, tragedy, and heroism on K2
A dramatic new look at the 2008 disaster on K2 that shook the climbing community and remains a mystery to this day.
view at amazon

On the morning August 1, 2008, dozens of climbers awoke at high camp on K2, the second tallest mountain on Earth. When they left camp that morning, they all had one goal: the summit.

Over the next few hours, disaster struck, leaving 11 mountaineers dead and 3 others seriously injured. While some of the finer details of the disaster remain unknown, even over 1 decade later, in The Summit, filmmaker Nick Ryan captures the essence of what happened on K2’s deadliest day.

Geartrade Consignment: The simplest way to sell your gear

Weaving together dramatical recreations and actual footage from that fateful day, Ryan conveys a story of tragedy and heroism on some of the world’s highest slopes in this jaw-dropping and award-winning 100 minute-long documentary.
Watch It On Amazon

The Dawn Wall

The Dawn Wall documentary cover on white background
The Dawn Wall
The establishment of a brand new route on El Capitan
A brand new route, a brand new challenge. The Dawn Wall is a stunning look at Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson’s inspiring climb.
view at amazon

Few people have ever climbed Yosemite’s 3000’ (914m) El Capitan and even fewer have ever considered establishing a brand new route up the batholith’s unclimbed Dawn Wall.

Enter: Tommy Caldwell.

After years of overcoming obstacles, which included everything from a difficult divorce to accidentally losing his index finger, and, oh yeah, getting held hostage on a climbing trip in Kyrgyzstan, climbing prodigy Tommy Caldwell knew he needed a project to get himself back on track.

So, over the course of 6 years, he enlisted the help of world-class boulderer Kevin Jorgensen in his attempt to free climb Yosemite’s last unclimbed face, the Dawn Wall.

In this documentary, a team of filmmakers follows the duo as they attempt to master every single move of this absurdly hard climb. By 2015, their attempts had captivated climbers and non-climbers, alike, around the world, bringing hordes of people to Yosemite Valley to watch their final attempt at this seemingly impossible task.

Years after their attempt, The Dawn Wall remains a moving and inspiring documentary about the power of perseverance and friendship on one of the world’s most challenging climbs.
Watch It On Amazon

CNOC Outdoors: Adventure made simple.

Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell

Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell documentary cover on white background
Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell
One last attempt at Patagonia’s most foreboding peak.
Follow David Lama’s final attempt to summit Patagonia’s storied Cerro Torre fair and square, once and for all.
view at amazon

In 1959, Cesare Maestri and Toni Egger set out to climb Cerro Torre, a jagged peak shrouded in the ice and clouds of Patagonia, though only Maestri lived to tell the tale.

Over the next 5 decades, Cerro Torre became one of the most controversial peaks in the world. While Maestri claimed that he and Egger had summited the peak before his partner’s death, inconsistent evidence made his account seem less-than trustworthy.

In 1970, a frustrated Maestri returned to Cerro Torre with a gas-powered compressor in hand and bolted a highly controversial climb, now known as the “Compressor Route” up a seemingly blank face to the summit.

Some 3 decades later, a young climbing prodigy by the name of David Lama set his eyes on the summit of Cerro Torre, but this time, he wanted to climb it, free and fair, without the use of Maestri’s bolts.

Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell, captures every step of Lama’s quest, expertly weaving together the story of the mountain with those who attempt to climb its seemingly impossible slopes into one unforgettable film.
Watch It On Amazon

Valley Uprising

Valley Uprising documentary cover on white background
Valley Uprising
An engaging look at the development of climbing in Yosemite
Long heralded as a proving ground for climbers, Yosemite Valley gets a fresh and unique perspective in this award-winning documentary.
view at amazon

There are few places in the climbing world as storied as Yosemite Valley. Indeed, from the earliest days of roped climbing in the United States, Yosemite has long been a proving ground for top climbers.

In Valley Uprising, a team of expert documentary film makers present a unique and unfiltered look at the history of climbing in the area.

Black Diamond: 15% Off your first order

Featuring poignant interviews with some of the biggest players in Yosemite climbing history and real footage from many of the park’s most significant climbs, Valley Uprising is one of the most masterfully composed historical climbing documentaries ever created.

This 100 minute long documentary captures the essence of each unique generation of climbers that has ever climbed in the valley. It tells the story of those who defied the odds, and gravity, to propel climbing from the fringe into the mainstream, paving the way for the next generation to put its mark on Yosemite’s hallowed cliffs.
Watch It On Amazon

Dirtbag: The Legend Of Fred Beckey

Dirtbag: The Legend Of Fred Beckey documentary cover on white background
Dirtbag: The Legend Of Fred Beckey
The life and climbs of the world’s most prolific climber
Fred Beckey wasn’t just any climber - he lived and breathed climbing every day of his 8 decade climbing career. This is his story.
view at amazon

It’s hard to imagine that any climber will ever be as prolific or, dare we say it, eccentric as the late Fred Beckey.

Having immigrated to the United States from Germany as a child, Fred Beckey’s life quickly became anything but normal. When he and his brother Helmy started climbing in the North Cascades as teenagers, they quickly proved themselves to be some of the most talented climbers of their time.

Within just a few years, Beckey had put up dozens of first ascents on some of the most significant unclimbed peaks on the continent. Soon enough, he had hundreds of first ascents under his belt, setting the stage for a legendary climbing career that spanned more than 7 decades.

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey captures the life, climbs, and personality of this iconic climber in an expertly directed film like no other.
Watch It On Amazon

Solo Stove: More Flame Less Smoke

La Dura Complete: The Hardest Rock Climbing In The World

An oldie but a goodie, La Dura Complete follows along as two of the world’s top climbers, Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma, attempt to make the first ascent on one of the hardest routes on the planet.

Although the route, aptly named “La Dura Dura” (English: The Hard Hard), was first bolted by Sharma in 2009 in the cliffs of Oliana, Spain, it took Sharma over 4 years to finally figure out the climb.

During this time, Sharma, then 31 years old, found out that he had competition for the route’s first ascent, thanks to the efforts of the up and coming 20 year old Adam Ondra. However, instead of trying to fight each other over the route, the duo started to work on it together.

Short but sweet, La Dura Complete highlights the nearly year and a half that Ondra and Sharma spent together, motivating each other to make the first ascent of this 5.15c (9b+) climb. This fun, quick watch is the perfect thing to pop on the screen if you need a little inspiration to get out and adventure.

Wide Boyz

Wide Boyz documentary cover on white background
Wide Boyz
Two British men take on North America’s most daunting off-widths
When Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker came to North America to test their mettle at off-width cracks, they had no idea what they were getting into.
view at amazon

If you’re looking for an inspirational film with some truly impressive feats of athleticism, Wide Boyz is a must-see.

This now classic climbing documentary follows along as two English climbers, Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall, cross the pond for a chance to climb some North American off-widths. Since they hail from a land with few off-widths to speak of, they start off by building their own training gym to get them ready for the rough and tumble world of off-width climbing.

From the gritstone of the Peak District to the world-class off-widths of Vedauwoo and the deserts of Utah, in Wide Boyz you get a first-hand look at this climbing duo’s antics as they attempt to take on some of the hardest off-widths in the world.
Watch It On Amazon

Patagonia: Can this t-shirt help stop climate change?


Sherpa documentary cover on white background
The untold story of the Sherpa people on Mount Everest
After an avalanche killed 16 climbing Sherpa on the slopes of Mount Everest, the Sherpa community and culture were thrust into the spotlight.
view at amazon

When an avalanche swept down the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest in 2014, a climbing community was thrust into chaos. After 16 climbing Sherpa died in what was then the single most deadliest day in the mountain’s history, the true dangers of earning a livelihood on Mount Everest finally came to light.

In Sherpa, director Jennifer Peedom captures the real-time events and aftermath of this tragic avalanche.

Although Peedom had originally been at Everest Basecamp to film a documentary about Everest expeditions from the Sherpa’s point of view, the avalanche quickly gave the movie a new angle.

Throughout the film, the spotlight is on Phurba Tashi, a mountaineer and climbing Sherpa that has 21 Everest ascents to his name. Expertly juxtaposing Tashi’s desires to continue working in some of the most dangerous conditions on earth with his family’s wishes to retire, Sherpa interweaves the spiritual connection between Sherpa culture and Mount Everest into one moving and engaging film.
Watch It On Amazon

An American Ascent

An American Ascent documentary cover on white background
An American Ascent
Groundbreaking climbing on North America’s Highest Peak
Follow along as the first ever team of all-Black climbers set their sights on Alaska's most formidable summit: Denali in this historical documentary.
view at amazon

When a team of Black climbers set out to summit Denali, North America’s highest peak, they knew they had a chance to make history.

While the summit was certainly a goal, however, this expedition was about more than just climbing. As the first all-Black climbing team to ever attempt the mountain, Expedition Denali sought to make history and address the pervasive lack of diversity in outdoor spaces.

In An American Ascent, you get to see firsthand the struggles and triumphs of this talented group of climbers as they seek out new heights on North America’s tallest peak.
Watch It On Amazon

Grab Your Popcorn

We hope you enjoy these captivating climbing documentaries as much as we do. If any of these films got you motivated to send your next project or inspired you to take on a new challenge, let us know in the comments below.

Also, don’t forget to share this list with your friends so you can start planning your next movie night!

Gaby Pilson
I am a mountaineering and climbing guide, as well as a professional outdoor educator. I split my time between working in the polar regions as an expedition guide, working as a climbing instructor, and pursuing my other passions of traveling, writing, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.
About Outdoors Generations
We are a family-run site with a team of outdoor experts who strives to inspire and motivate people of all ages to venture outside with confidence.
A little more about us.
Logo Outdoors Generations
We want to make Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking more enjoyable for people of all ages, inspiring and motivating others to venture outside with confidence.
As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
© 2021 Outdoors Generations  |
Privacy Policy