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Mammoth Lakes Film Festival


MLFF is a five-day festival that screens independent features and shorts in the spectacular setting of Mammoth Lakes—California’s premier mountain resort, high in the Eastern Sierra held over Memorial Day weekend.

The 8th annual Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, will be held May 25-29, 2022.


Interview with Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Sponsor Clay Tyson on Ground Up Climbing Guides

Interview with Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Sponsor Clay Tyson on Ground Up Climbing Guides

During the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, I had the unforgettable unique experience of spicing my film viewing up with half a day of rock climbing at Horseshoe Lake with the incredible guide and MLFF sponsor Clay Tyson (Ground Up Climbing Guides, Skin Up Ski Tours). I had met him the night before at a networking event where he convinced me to join him the next day for a climb. I was terrified at first, as I had never gone rock climbing before. But somehow the next morning, hangover and all, I managed to join him as his only neophyte. Well, third time's the charm indeed because after my 3rd try, I finally gained the confidence to trust the rock as I went up and the guide as I rappelled down. What an amazing experience! So much so that I can't wait to return for my next go at the next MLFF!

I interviewed Clay shortly after the festival. Here is what he had to say:


How did you become a sponsor for the Mammoth Lakes FF?

CLAY: I've been volunteering since year one and finally found I had the means to support it with sponsorship from Ground Up and Skin Up. I wanted to do whatever I could to help Shira pull off this minor miracle. 


Can you tell us what you love most about the film festival? 

CLAY: Where to begin. It's small, and we like it that way. The way the filmmakers get to know each other and the attendees is priceless. Of course, the film curation is top notch and Paul continues to deserve thanks. For me, of course, the best part was the Saturday Night Dance Party with the Evangenitals from LA. Part of our sponsorship was bringing the band up to the festival for the party.  They are such a literate and theatrical group, they were a great fit for the festival.


What have been some of your favorite memories during the film festival? 

CLAY: Meeting all the fun folks. Made some new friends for sure and got to see many people that have been coming to the festival for years.  


Can you tell us about your path to becoming a tour guide? 

CLAY: I moved to Mammoth in 2009 after running a climbing gym for eight years. After working as a ski instructor (and various other part time jobs), I got trained as a guide and worked for other services for five years. In 2016, I started Ground Up Climbing Guides and have built it into the dominant guide service serving Mammoth Lakes tourist trade. In the end, guiding is about teaching and I've known for some time, that is what drives me. 


What kinds of tours do you do? 

CLAY: Mostly half day rock climbing trips around Mammoth. We do a lot of work with families and small groups. While we aggressively pursue the new and novice climber, we offer many weekend programs with more advanced instruction. Ground Up also runs the climbing camp for Mammoth Lakes Rec. More aggressive trips include Crystal Crag in the Lakes Basin. Winter months have Skin Up Ski Tours running backcountry ski trips around Mammoth. 


Can you tell us the kind of activities people can do in the beautiful region of Mammoth Lakes? 

CLAY: It's a long list. Summer: mountain biking, hiking, fishing, ebiking,'s a long list. Winter: most focus on skiing at the resort. There is also Nordic skiing, ice skating, and backcountry skiing. 


What has been your biggest challenge/s and your biggest reward/s thus far as being a guide?

CLAY: Making a living during the shoulder seasons. This year will be the first calendar year I will NOT have a part time job at some point during the year. Rewards? Where to begin... Sharing my love of climbing and watching what it can do for someone is a gift I get every day. It took twenty-five years but it is clear I have finally found out what I was supposed to be when I grow up and it feels amazing. 


You attended the Mammoth Film Fest 2021 in person. How was it this year post covid?

CLAY: Hey, we made some adjustments but when you focus on all the fun things we CAN do, the stuff we can't do doesn't mean much.


How important is it for a boutique festival to take place in a beautiful setting with other things to do other than just watch films?

CLAY: That is such a huge part of what makes MLFF special. I hear it from guests and filmmakers all the time. I took a couple filmmakers and a certain very brave Media representative (ahem) climbing and I'm certain that is one of many things that will stand out in their memory of the weekend. 


Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5-10 years? 

CLAY: Right where I am doing exactly what I am doing. Oh, one more thing. We are launching Pedal Up Bike Tours next year so I guess I'll be mountain biking a good bit. 


Interview with Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Sponsor Clay Tyson on Ground Up Climbing Guides

Interview with Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Sponsor Clay Tyson on Ground Up Climbing Guides


Interview with Vanessa McMahon. October 19. 2021.


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