Q+A Himalayan Ice
La Sportiva athletes Karsten Delap and Ari Novak took the time to answer a few questions about their upcoming film Himalayan Ice...
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Q: How did the idea for this a Himalayan Ice Film come up?
Ari: There’s an old Alex Lowe quote about the importance of sharing your experiences in the mountains and there was a feeling that this might be something special. I think the genesis of the film came out of the desire to document the trip and the events surrounding it. We knew that we’d be going somewhere extremely remote that had rarely been seen, nevermind climbed in the winter. Karsten recommended filmmaker and photographer Austin Schmitz to join the team and after seeing his work and talking to him I was stoked. We went in thinking that maybe a short film would come out of the trip we never dreamed that a feature-length documentary would unfold around us.
Q: We heard India has its own rating system. Can you explain what HWI means vs. WI?
Karsten: I thought it was great that they wanted to not only set themselves apart but also not choose grades that they may not already understand. It also is great to just keep the culture theirs. The mountains are theirs, the grades are theirs… Seems fair.
Ari: I think it’s great that the local population established a rating system that works for them and Karsten and I were totally on board to use when we were there. HWI stands for “Himalayan Water Ice” The rating system was created in part because many of the Indian climbers in this region had never experienced or climbed in the west so they didn’t have a point of reference to use the WI system and wanted a system of their own, to grade climbs. It also grew out of the desire to make a distinction that all of these climbs are at high altitude. Climbing a piece of technical vertical ice at 14,000 ft is another magnitude of difficulty compared to climbing a WI6 back home.
Q: Tell us more about Snow Leopard? What was it like to establish the hardest ice route in India?
Ari: It was really cool to put up a “test piece”. “Snow Leopard” HWI 7 is this massive formation of ice that could be seen peeking out from a bridge crossing outside the small village of Morang, in the Spiti Valley. We had put up a few first ascents in this area but the ice flow that became Snow Leopard was bigger than anything in that zone. We went out there to have a look at it, not completely sure if it was climbable. On our approach we came across snow leopard tracks in the newly fallen snow, they were SUPER fresh and really huge. It was intimidating knowing that there were large carnivorous cats watching us but we knew we wanted to check out this piece of ice because of how large and special it looked. The base of the route is at is over 14,000 feet (4267m) in elevation and it was extremely high volume, with the top being a tube of ice with rushing water in the middle. It was like a glacier was put on its side, dead vertical and hit with a missile. There were massive overhanging features, multiple free-standing pillars and we had to corkscrew around the back of the ice to avoid car-size hang fire. The top out was difficult, too, with no protection for the last 45 feet and the thinnest straw of ice that had water rushing through it. We barely had enough ice to get off the route but it was without a doubt one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Karsten: We kind of fell into it. We could see it way off in the distance but climbs that were much closer drew us in earlier in the day. So when we eventually headed up the valley to check this thing out it was late in the day. You could tell from the ground that it was big, but as we climbed up it the funky serac like ice formations started to show themselves. I remember peaking out of a belay cave and looking up at the last pitch and thinking, “oh this is in the bag” and proceeded to tell Ari yea the last pitch looks like WI 3. So after watching him take a while and place a lot of gear, I started to wonder. Then I followed that pitch… It was steep, maybe overhanging, and then when the pump eased up it turned into super technical sunbaked ice that was very thin. So at this point, I was kinda wondering what I was being belayed off of. I got to the belay and realized that was probably the hardest pitch we had climbed. And of course we were stoked, but we were also racing to get back to the ground before the temps and sun completely diminished.
Q: What was the hardest part of the travel to and from this remote valley in India?
Ari: The roads! Vehicular travel in India is some of the most dangerous in the world. The “road” to the village of Kaza in the Spiti Valley where we based our expedition out of is about a 65-hour drive from New Delhi. Even in India, this road is considered extremely dangerous. In the US the road would be considered off-roading because it’s just a dirt path through the mountains with no guard rails that have thousands of feet of relief if you go off the “road”.
Karsten: Yeah the roads. Especially when you have an upset stomach.
Q: Tell us more about the Piti Darr ice climbing festival!
Ari: The Piti Darr Ice Festival is India's first international ice climbing festival started by local climber Bharat Bhushan. Bharat wanted to give Indians a relationship with their own mountains in the winter and provide opportunities for the underprivileged and impoverished population that lives among this amazing ice. We were honored to be asked to teach at the inaugural festival and I was blown away on the excitement from Indians who had traveled from around the country to experience ice climbing as well as local villagers who were climbing for the first time too. During the span of our expedition, we accomplished nine first ascents, including Snow Leopard HWI7, Frozen HWI6 Diesel and Cowboys In the Mist HWI 5. But, perhaps the biggest accomplishment was not our first ascents but helping this emerging community with knowledge and badly needed equipment so that they could climb in their own home.
Q: So what’s next? Are you going to go back to India or are there other areas you have your eye on?
Ari: Yes I’d love to go back to India! We’ve partnered with a non-profit organization Called Project Conservation. The goal of the Himalayan Ice film tour is to raise money and awareness for impoverished and indigenous populations to enable these native people to climb in their own mountains. By empowering native populations through climbing for conservation we hope to establish and protect safe climbing areas for native populations for both people and wildlife in the world's great mountain ranges. We’ve got our eye on not just the Himilyans but some really cool zones in South America too. I’ve always wanted to chase winter so climbing ice and helping people in South America this summer seems like our next goal.
Karsten: I would really love to go back and spend more time in Indian Culture. It is so unique and climbing with the locals was awesome. And of course, we have some other areas that we have been checking out as well!
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