Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2020 10:05 pm 
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A Film by Ari Novak and Austin Schmitz



Rad, rad, rad

One of the main figures in this short doc describes when he almost didn't finish a climb to name a section of ice. "Then I sort of remembered something I heard Hayden Kennedy and Kyle Dempster once say. It was like: 'When it gets hard, you gotta remember, that's what you're there for.'"

That made me want to look up these guys he's quoting, Kennedy and Dempster. Clearly they're of the mountain climbing elite, because, their recent lives were intense but short. Hayden Kennedy died at 27, Kyle made it to 33. Hayden checked out when his life partner, an ace climber like him, Inge, died in an avalanche they were both caught in. He committed suicide that day, unable to bear life without her. Leading alpinists Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson went missing a little over a year before Hayden Kennedy and Inge's deaths in Montana, on Ogre II in Pakistan. This is extreme sport. It's also a sport of passion and deep friendships. Hayden Kennedy's memorial service was attended by 1,000 friends.

I am not qualified to write about this sport. I became a little aware of it when I read about and repeatedly watched the long-running, immensely popular, Oscar-winning movie Free Solo, about Alex Honnold, who performed the breathtaking feat of free solo-climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, the first ever do do so. I learned then that the best of the climbers rarely make it past their forties.

This short film is not a treatise or an explanation, nor does it delve deeply into the backgrounds of its subject(s), as Free Solo does. Its charm is that it's more like notes home, penned mostly by the main guys involved, two American climbers, who went to India with a new Indian friend who has suggested they come and experience ice climbing there, and give some tips to the local enthusiasts. They do more than that. Collaborating, they climb and name a dozen or so of the world's most challenging ice climbs. The biggest one, Snow Leopard, which they make safer for the local climbers, they give this name to because approaching it they find very fresh tracks of a very large snow leopard - a big cat tracking them.

On the way in they deal with the non-arrival of luggage with all their gear, flat tires, engine breakdown; and on the way out, food poisoning requiring three days in the ICU. But the overwhelming impression is of great pleasure and camaraderie.

This is a record of this whole experience. It's full of jumpy editing and larks, and good times and fellowship, but with dead serious moments that touch you and make you think. In December 2018, alpinists Ari Novak and Karsten Delap made the trip (minus all their luggage, which got sidetracked to Minneapolis and came only weeks later, apparently) to India with local climber and guide Karn Kowshik. He's also a writer, a charmer, and an articulate guy who contributes immeasurably with his words of wisdom to this visual journal.

Elsewhere Karn Kowshik says of his work/sport/life, "Here in the Himalaya, climbing means a lot more than personal achievement. It doen'st matter if you climb, if you succeed, if you fail, if you live, if you die, because here in the Himalaya, whatever you do is between you and the mountains."

Hindu and Buddhist rituals precede an expedition. The climbing is done in respect of nature. "If you come back alive, says Karn, "you have a special connection with whoever, whatever your god is."

This trip to find great tracks of ice and climb them takes the participants to the Himalaya's most remote valley, Spiti, where climbing is about pushing your limits. It was a region rarely seen, let alone climbed in winter. This is a kind of extreme sport that has a profound spiritual quality and is approached with respect and in comradeship and with joy.

I was thrilled.

Himalayan Ice, 46 mins., debuted at the Portland Alpine Film Festival Nov. 2019 and showed at the Bozeman Ice Fest Film Festival. It comes out in digital and on demand Apr. 21, 2020.

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