Local extreme athlete featured in new climbing film

Approximately 15 feet up on his ascent in a climb at Malibu Creek State Park for the film "Return2Sender," the cliffside where he had placed his hand gave out and Reardon came free falling down to the ground.

Former Malibu resident and film producer Michael Reardon doesn’t need ropes to scale some of the toughest terrain in the world. His rock-climbing exploits will be featured in the L.A. premiere of “Return2Sender” Tuesday night at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica.

By Stephen Dorman / Special to The Malibu Times

Michael Reardon doesn’t consider himself an extreme athlete. But anybody who’s seen him work does.

The 34-year-old former Malibuite-turned-Oak Park-resident doubles as both a movie producer and professional climber. For the past 17 years he’s traveled the planet scaling some of the most treacherous mountainsides and cave walls in the world, all without a hint of fear in his body or mind. And unlike most amateur or professional climbers, Reardon specializes in free-solo climbs, meaning most of the time he climbs without the safety or security of ropes.

“In free climbing most people climb and are using a rope to catch them,” Reardon, who holds a law degree from Pepperdine, said. “It’s almost like being in a PlayStation game; you get a do-over. If I fall the rope’s going to catch me and I’m not going to die. I don’t use a rope a lot of the times, and I’m climbing at [very high] levels without a rope.”

For a man with an 11-year-old daughter at home and a wife of 12 years by his side, Reardon doesn’t consider his line of work all that risky. In fact, he says he rarely worries about what could happen should something go awry in the midst of one of his ascents atop a mountainside.

“I’ve always climbed this way,” he said. “It’s not like I just started climbing yesterday. People seem to think it’s some sort of death wish or something like that. I’m a huge chicken-I don’t take off on a climb without a rope unless I know for a fact that I’m not going to have a problem … The way that I climb, I’ve got 17-years experience under my belt. So high risk might seem dangerous to you, but to me it’s really in my comfort level. The family thing isn’t a consideration for that.”

However, Reardon did run into a problem while filming a free-solo climb at Malibu Creek State Park for the movie “Return2Sender.” Approximately 15 feet up on his ascent, the cliffside where he had placed his hand gave out and Reardon came free falling down to the ground.

The movie’s director, Peter Mortimer, was there with his cameras to capture the dramatic moment. While Reardon did not suffer any serious injuries or broken bones during the fall, Mortimer said Reardon, whom he calls “arguably to best solo climber in America,” was emotionally affected by what had happened.

“He was out of climbing for two or three months and really shaken mentally because he’d been solo climbing for [so long] without anything like that happening to him,” said Mortimer, a USC grad who has filmed four documentary films, three of which focus on the sport of climbing.

Reardon’s fall and the physical and emotional repercussions thereafter is just one of the stories featured in a handful of hair-raising situations brought to life in “Return2Sender.”

Whether its 10-year-old Cicada Jenerik scaling cliffs 50 times her size, Timmy O’Neill tight-roping 500-foot towers deep in the desert, or wonder dogs Biscuit and Felix using their eight hairy paws to navigate themselves to the peak of jagged mountains, this is a film that can strike a nerve both visually and emotionally with hardcore climbing fans as well as people whose climbing experience amounts to nothing more than a stairwell climb to the fourth floor of their office building.

“It’s not just a climbing film,” said O’Neill, host of “Urban Explorers” on the Discovery Channel. “It’s a climbing film about celebrating life. Celebrating life is about living in the moment, and that’s what climbing forces you to do.”

“Retun2Sender” will be screened at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica May 17 at 7 p.m. Presale tickets can be obtained for $10 at the Adventure 16 store in Santa Monica, or $12 tickets can be purchased at the door the day of the show.