Danny MacAskill Isle of Skye article

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Danny MacAskill Isle of Skye article
f e at u r e
So far, Danny MacAskill has taken
on an Argentinian ghost town and
explored his own imagination, but
for his latest film he’s heading home
to tackle Skye’s Inaccesible Pinnacle
Words & photos: Andy McCandlish
56 mbr november 2014
november 2014
mbr 57
f e at u r e
Crunch time: Danny’s
Santa Cruz faces the
moment of truth
burbled awake, in that
semi-confused state that only a
well-earned daytime sleep can
generate. Fresh air. Lots of fresh
air. I sat up, wiped the best part of
a pint of dribble from my chin and
looked around.
It all came back in a shot. Lying
five feet to my right was Danny
MacAskill, Red Bull trials rider and
media darling, wrapped in his down
jacket with hood pulled over his face.
Down at my feet was Stu Thomson,
good friend and director of the movie
that was currently being filmed. Both
were snoozing quietly, wedged into rocks
in an attempt to get comfortable and not slide
off our lofty position. Further out, others were
likewise sleeping or brewing tea on stoves.
The fresh air and exposure was unavoidable
at this location: 3,000ft up on top of the Cuillin
Ridge on Skye, all sneaking a rest, wedged into
cracks in the rock. It was the fifth consecutive day
of filming, getting up at 4am and working for 12
hours minimum. Hence the midday snooze. And
there would be many more to come.
The Cuillin Ridge is the kind of place that
would have mountain goats hyperventilating into
a paper bag. It is 12km of bare rock knife-edge,
hugely exposed with, in many places, a 500m
drop only a trip or stumble away. Moving involves
tricky scrambling and technical rock climbing.
Climbers know it well as a multi-day expedition
(once you are up, there are few ways down until
58 mbr november 2014
Riding at full tilt
means just that
for Danny
the end) and also as a stiff training ground for the
Alps or Himalaya.
One of the highlights is the Inaccessible
Pinnacle, a vertical blade of rock well known
as the only Munro (mountain over 914m) that
requires actual rock climbing to summit. In
short, it is generally considered ‘lacking in
mountain-biking potential’.
Evidently, no one told MacAskill. Being born
and bred on Skye, Danny’s plan was to get his
bike right into the thick of these mountains to do
what he does best: push the boundaries of bike
riding. As if that wasn’t enough, he wouldn’t be
using his usual trials bike, but a brand new Santa
Cruz Bronson Carbon, complete with Enve carbon
wheels — not half as robust or manoeuvrable.
Time would tell.
Stu had jumped at the chance to film the event,
and the BBC had sent a camera crew to film Stu’s
team as they pitched in and attempted this very
tricky shoot. With Marshall the camera, Lec
the drone pilot for heli-filming, Matt and John
the mountain guides, Alan and Smail the loadcarrying muscle, and Chris and Paul filming for
the BBC, it was quite a band, every day resembling
an expedition snaking its way up the hill.
D A N NY’S P L A N
WA S TO D O W H AT
H E D O E S B E ST:
P U S H TH E B O U N D A R I E S
O F B I KE R I D I N G
november 2014
mbr 59
f e at u r e
This look was completed by the drone
helicopter, transported up and down the
mountain slung underneath a six-foot pole.
When carried between two of the ‘porters’,
carbon legs hanging limp, it looked like a
downed alien being carried back to civilisation
as a trophy.
A complete traverse of the ridge wasn’t going
to be practical for filming, so the plan was to do
it the hard way. We would head up every day
to a different section of the ridge where Danny
could do his stuff, before tackling a long and
often tricky descent back to base to recharge and
reload for the next day. Matt and John scratched
their heads long and hard to figure out the best
access points where we could get up there, and
Danny explored the ridge, looking for spots that
would push his remarkable skills to the limits.
His mantra when filming is: “Push yourself past
the norm, and that way the footage will always
look good,” or words to that effect. It works.
Skye’s answer to
Moab’s slickrock is
too good to pass up
Punishing schedule
The first few days of filming set the standard:
long days on the hill, staggering back down
to the vans at 11pm in the fading light. With
recharging, offloading footage and organising
the next assault, Stu often wouldn’t get to bed
The e xposure
is dizz ying and
the subse q uent
head c am
footage
was heartstopping
60 mbr november 2014
until 2am the following morning. If anyone
started out under the illusion that filming an
extreme sports movie was glamorous, they didn’t
hold on to it for long.
Each night, an impromptu planning meeting
would form in the small house hired as base,
with interested parties sitting around on metal
camera boxes and bike parts, checking the
forecast and planning the next day’s activities
accordingly. Others floated in and out from their
jobs, making food or repacking bags, or just to
take a quick shower.
On the second night, with the weather set clear
for a few days, it was decided to accelerate the
schedule and take in the big day sooner rather
than later — the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Matt had
made it clear the crowds that flock to tackle the
‘Inn Pinn’ on a good summer day like this would
make filming a problem, so it was agreed we’d
make a 4am start to be up at the pinnacle before
8am. The nightly pasta party and viewing of
Predator broke up earlier than usual as everyone
faded to bed.
It was a rag-tag film crew, shuffling around in
the half-light, that greeted the dawn with a grunt
and loaded up for another long day on the hill. Al
weighed himself on the bathroom scales loaded
down with his Steadicam and assorted hardware
and declared it had added over four stone —
approximately one-third of his body weight.
Everyone else was under a similarly heavy load,
especially Lec and Matt toting the helicopter on
its pole.
Anyone who knows the Inn Pinn will tell
you it is a fairly straightforward rock climb —
but a rock climb nonetheless. Once the troops
assembled at 950m, at the foot of the blade of
rock that makes up the pinnacle, the sun was just
coming up over the ridge behind. Matt and John
set to work. The idea was to ‘top-rope’ Danny for
maximum protection as he shouldered the bike
and climbed.
wInn Pinn
As Stu filmed, Danny quickly got frustrated at
the rope and decided it could be thrown free.
You can only imagine the guide’s thoughts on
this move — but throw it he did, at halfway
up, and free-climbed the rest of the way, bike
on shoulder. The exposure is dizzying, and
the subsequent head-cam footage was heartstopping. Then again, he wouldn’t be Danny Mac
if he was respectful of danger, would he?
Early morning mist poured over the ridgeline
behind as the crew feverishly filmed, the guides
did their best to secure Danny but stay hidden in
the rocks and Lec deftly flew the drone in smooth
circles round the pinnacle. Danny summited
before 9am, climbing out on to the ‘bolster stone’
— a summit block about the size of a small coffee
Slam dunk: Danny
makes a splash
wherever he rides
D anny ’s Mo v ies
When you’ve written
the rule book a
manual comes easily
It all started back in 2009 when he got together
with his then flatmate Dave Sowerby to make a
street trials video for fun. That first video has now
been watched over 35 million times: youtube.com/
watch?v=Z19zFlPah-o.
It has led Danny from strength to strength,
such as his video ‘Way Back Home’ — showing a
road trip through Scotland: www.youtube.com/
watch?v=Cj6ho1-G6tw … or his hugely popular
and amazingly clever ‘Imaginate’: youtube.com/
watch?v=Sv3xVOs7_No.
I wonder what Danny would have said, on those
early wintry Edinburgh streets, if you had told
him he’d wind up filming in the Playboy Mansion?
youtube.com/watch?v=7KPU7DWRe1Y.
dannymacaskill.co.uk
november 2014
mbr 61
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Wat c h
the F ilm
If that’s got you
fired up to see
the results in
moving images,
Danny’s new
film The Ridge
is out now.
You can watch it
by scanning this
code or visiting
po.st/KevJiT
Danny, champion
of the world
Magnificent men with
their flying machine
table with a several-hundred-metre drop on all
sides — to stand on his bike for the most stunning
image of the trip. With clear blue sky above,
incredible views the length of the toothy ridge
behind, Stu was grinning from ear to sunburnt
ear when the heli footage was played back; it was a
shot of a lifetime.
On a high, the rest of the trip ran on from one
ridiculous location to the next. Up by another
pinnacle — the Basteir Tooth — Danny gave us all
a new respect for the strength of carbon. He had
been eyeing up a huge jump, about 20ft, between
two bus-sized boulders, but had decided to leave
it till the end of the day. The drop was at least 10ft,
and all the force of the landing would go through
the bike; we were nervous it would suffer some
kind of terminal, show-stopping explosion.
A n earthshattering bang
e c hoed round the
ro c k walls like
a shotgun blast
The big drop
So after dropping off some surrounding peaks,
picking through rocks and balancing along a
particularly exposed patch of ridge, making sure
we got at least some material from the day, Danny
lined up the big drop with everyone waiting
nervously in place. Three cameras rolled as he
sprung off the nose of one rock and dropped like
a stone.
An earth-shattering bang echoed round the
rock walls like a shotgun blast and everyone
ran forward thinking the bike would be carbon
matchsticks. The result? Both wheels had
sustained instant impact punctures but no other
damage. I take my hat off to any bike Danny rides
— but absorbing that impact was beyond the call of
duty, even by Danny’s standards.
This theme continued into the final day, for
which the biggest technical move of the trip was
planned. A waist-high fence along the back of
Glenbrittle beach had caught Danny’s attention
in the recce trips. The plan? To hit the fence at
speed, popping up to just short of the top, then
62 mbr november 2014
using the front wheel impact to ‘bump’ over into
a 360-degree forward flip to land on the beach
beyond, safely on his wheels. But, of course!
Smail and co got busy reinforcing the fence
while Danny pulled mats into place. A few front
flips without a bike, getting a feel for the distance
required, rapidly progressed to flipping with
the bike — spectacularly the first time as he lost
contact and kicked the bike away high into the
air before landing in a roll with his arms over his
head. Mats are all very well, but if a spiky 26lb bike
drops on you, things could get painful.
Mats away, he approached for the 30th time,
but stopped short, head in hands; this really was
hard, even for the MacAskill. Nearly two weeks
of strenuous activity had taken its toll. We all
understood that when he hit it successfully, it
would be the last time, so all eyes and shutters
were trained on his final run-up, impact, flip
and landing. Success.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. It was over.
As we shot a final group picture of the crew,
Cuillin Ridge in the background, images of the trip
flashed through my mind. Danny and Smail, arms
wide, re-enacting the scene from Titanic at the
bow rail of our hired boat brought tears of silent
laughter to my eye. Or the lads racing each other to
strip and jump 25ft down into a deep river pool to
fetch Danny’s helmet visor — lost when he popped
his bike off the drop and into the river for fun.
Hell, even that snooze on top of the ridge,
jammed into rocks, exhausted, brought back fond
memories. It had been one hell of a trip — with
the best, funniest and most talented company on
the planet — filming and riding. I realised then
that 10 days of incredible Skye weather had gone
by in the blink of an eye. Stu had succeeded in
pulling together what will turn out to be, I am
sure, an amazing film. And being there was an
unbeatable experience.
You don’t need
a yacht to go
island hopping
It could go either way
when you’re riding
on a trunk road
Flippin heck, they
never did that on
The Great Escape
november 2014
mbr 63

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