Frederick T. Schwoebel’s new documentary is actually a long-overdue completion of a project that began two decades ago. The focus is on Grace Hudowalski, the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks of New York’s Adirondack Mountains and a co-founder of The Adirondack 46ers, a climbing organization whose members duplicated her remarkable athletic feat. But membership in The Adirondack 46ers required more than an indefatigable drive for New York State mountain climbing – Hudowalski demanded that would-be members document their feat via in-depth letters.
“We want to know what happened on the mountain,” she insisted. “We just don’t want a list of peaks and dates – that’s very boring. And climbing the mountains is not boring.” And Hudowalski was certainly no bore, as witnessed in the wonderful in-depth interviews featured in this entertaining production. Indeed, Hudowalksi had a rare gift as both a charming raconteur and as a connoisseur of engaging correspondence, and the film is a tribute to her love of the outdoors and her passion for person-to-person communications.
Hudowalski passed away at the age of 98 in 2004; according to the film’s website, Schwoebel shot his film in 1994 – which explains why Hudowalski is seen typing away on an electric typewriter rather than a computer – but is only now making it available for wider release. The long delay in a release also helps to explain the presence of Johnny Cash as the narrator – an unlikely choice, as his thundering Arkansas voice seems curious in a film on New York mountain climbing. (Cash was Schwoebel’s father-in-law, hence his vocal presence.)