Tim Banfield: Photographing the World’s Best Rock and Ice Climbers

Adam Ondra working a new 5.15b dubbed Disbelief at Acephale in Canmore, Alberta. Tim Banfield

In the film Age of Ondra in the Reel Rock 13 adventure film tour, the Czech phenom is on a quest to be the first person to climb a 5.15a route on his first try. “Adam Ondra is the best climber in the world by far, like he’s a lot better than everyone else,” says Alex Honnold in the movie. In search of the perfect route, Ondra lands in Alberta, where he makes the first ascent of Disbelief (5.15b), a line so improbable that when watching footage of it you still can’t believe your eyes. Photographer Tim Banfield was there.

“Tagging along with the Reel Rock team, I followed Adam for around a week,” Banfield says from his home in Canmore, Alberta. “I shot him on that route probably 30 times.”

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Banfield’s countless hours spent shooting paid off. Reel Rock widely circulated his images, bringing his work in front of viewers worldwide and helping him land contracts with commercial clients. That gig made his already busy life — he’s also a realtor — even more hectic, and today he goes from one assignment to the next capturing the world’s top climbers on both rock and ice.

Sarah Hueniken mixed climbing, gaining the ice on the last pitch of the new route Nasty Habits, WI5 M7+, Field, B.C. Tim Banfield

It’s December in Canmore, a mountain town that butts up against Banff National Park, a land coated in white for half the year. For Banfield, this means wrangling climbers out of bed at 4 a.m. to shoot all day and not getting back until late at night. “I worked for eleven hours yesterday,” he says — five hours of which he dangled in his harness shooting ice climbing in negative 15-degree temperatures. Spindrift swirled around him. He says of the dangerous work, “there are more objective hazards to mitigate when shooting ice climbing, like falling ice, falling rock and avalanches.”

Where capturing ice climbing means shivering in place, his hardest day in the field came while backcountry skiing on April 5, 2018 when he was caught in an avalanche with his partners.

“We were standing on top of it when it started,” he says of the slab avalanche that partially buried one person and left the other victim 13 feet below the snow. Miraculously that person lived and had no injuries, which is likely a first for someone buried that deep. Banfield and his partner dug her out and he later shared his story with journalist Jayme Moye. The story ran in Alpinist magazine and won the Mountaineering Article Award at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

Before attending the Banff Film award ceremony, Banfield traveled to Nepal for two months for a climbing trip, which turned into a trail running trip. He ran over three high mountain passes logging 75 miles with 21,000 feet of elevation gain over 28 hours. He’s currently working on a story about the trip.

Maarten Van Haeren leading pitch three Big Brother, WI5 200m Tim Banfield

To follow Banfield’s work, visit his website and his Instagram account.

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