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    • Imagine being a software engineer with a passionate love of filmmaking and climbing. You bump into your boss in the hall, who says, “[Renowned adventure Filmmaker] Tim Kemple is interested in seeing if pro ice climbers can climb ice caves. The team needs an assistant. Any interest in going?”

      It took less than a second to blurt out “YES!!!” And another second to get a serious rush of imposter syndrome. Not only were Tim and Anton Lorimer award-winning filmmakers, the climbers had starred in GoPro films with millions of views.

      “Ice climbers are used to frozen waterfalls, which are vertical,” my boss continued. “Tim and the climbers don’t even know if this is possible. But if it is, the images should be surreal.”

      So into the caves and moulins we went, and to the top of huge, scary icebergs.  This is Tim staring hundreds of feet down into the glacial abyss. Believe it or not, there are climbers down there.

    • Our team of six met in Reykjavik: Klemen Premrl and Rahel Schelb, pro ice climbers, Björgvin Hilmarsson, Icelandic mountain guide and photographer, Anton Lorimer & me, filmmakers, and Tim Kemple. Tim could climb, film, and photograph with the best of best.

      I was nervous as we loaded gear into the vehicles. I worried I'd be an outsider; I only knew Anton, and we weren't pro climbers like everyone else. I had suffered ego burns from past talent I'd worked with of Tim's caliber. We were headed into the unknown, an arctic winter wilderness, with a vague plan. I wondered if producing great photos and film was even possible in such harsh conditions.

      I learned it was safety that should have been on my mind.

    • My anxiety subsided a little when I got in our rental truck, a Toyota Hilux. I was at home: same stick shift, gearbox, and 4-wheel drive transfer case at my 4Runner SR5 back at home. We caravanned three trucks into the countryside.

      Björgvin, our Icelandic guide, led the way. I wondered why he had a small inflatable boat in his truck. Anton reminded me of Klemen’s legendary video of him climbing a huge Iceberg as it was breaking apart. My stomach dropped as I realized they wanted to replicate that terrifying Greenland experience.

    • 4-wheeling was a necessity for discovering climbable ice caves. When we hit the dirt roads on day 1, Anton nervously interrogated me about my driving skills. I just drove on with a daring grin as I recalled my past.

    • I was quickly thrown in the deep end. I pushed the Hilux to its max on that first day. Here you see me plowing a riverbank of ice and volcanic dirt due to lack of clearance. An Icelandic super jeep floated down the river because it broke an axle attempting the same feat.

      If you look closely, I have a crowd behind the truck.

      📷: Klemen Premrl

    • After a full day of driving—4 hours on the road and some gnarly 4-wheeling—we had been up for 36 hours. At 11pm, I thought it was time for sleep. Tim thought northern lights. I came to realize sleep is an afterthought on these expeditions. I dragged my tired body along to witness a true artist at work.

      I’ve never seen more passion, determination and drive in someone. For hours that night I watched Tim run around waterfalls looking for the best angle.

    • The real fun began when we put on our crampons for glacial travel the next day. We searched the Vatnajökull glacier for ice caves and moulins. Moulins are vertical shafts that form from surface water percolating through the ice. They can be dozens of feet across and usually hundreds of feet deep. They’re giant funnels. Slipping near one results in death. Just like a crevasse, I knew to avoid these. However, the objective was to find one for Rahel and Klemen to rappel into and climb out of.

      I thought we were going to Iceland to film climbers in ice caves from the security of the ground. Capturing the first scene involved standing, unroped, on the most dangerous part of a glacier.

      Watching Tim cross a knife edge, unroped, between moulins, was terrifying.

    • Klemen and Rahel rappelled down a moulin to a stream, hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the glacier we stood on. It was so dark at the bottom they needed headlights to climb out.

    • Tim decided that looking over the edge wasn’t enough. He set up a static line and dangled over the center of the Moulin. Watching Tim bet his life on a few equalized ice screws in the melting surface ice in pursuit of his art was incredible.

    • After surviving the moulin terror, we shifted our focus to ice caves. We trekked around the edges of the glaciers, looking for voids between rock and ice—the entrances to caves.

    • The climbers discovered numerous ice caves suitable for climbing. Anton and I were stoked because the way the sun pierced the clear blue ice was a cinematographer’s dream. The footage we could produce was unlike anything we had ever filmed.

    • The cave we picked was frigid. The dozens-of-feet thick ceilings of ice were created on Iceland’s highest peaks ages ago. The caves radiated the air with the cold of thousands of arctic winters. A brisk breeze only helped to reduce the cave’s temperature.

    • Ice climbing a sustained glacial roof was unheard of at the time. Klemen was the pioneer. The difficulty was off the charts, and falling was expected. 

      Step one was to put up a route before attempting to climb it. Klemen carved areas for his ice tools and methodically worked his way across the cave installing ice screw after ice screw with quickdraws hanging from all of them. 

      After, he and Rahel climbed it safely without hanging on ice screws.

    • It was an honor to witness Rahel and Klemen climb the route. Their efforts that day were extraordinary feats of athleticism.

    • The key to climbing a cave is called the Figure 4: it’s a climbing move written off by all but the most advanced mixed climbers. It’s a technique so physically demanding that climbers must engage their whole upper body muscles including abs, lats, shoulders, hip flexors, even forearms for grip strength. 

      It let them traverse the roof from ice tool to ice tool without a single foothold.

    • This is what I came to Iceland to do: film climbers in ice caves. The ice screw placements were bomber—climber speak for a bombproof placement of protection. Those ice screws would not fail, no matter how many times they caught a fall. I was more likely to witness a ground fall in my local climbing gym. Impressive watching Rahel clip the next draw with almost all her weight on one tool.

      After playing chicken with the Moulins, it was a relief to feel safe. I envisioned filming in gorgeous ice caves the rest of the week. Little did I know…  

    • On the way back to the caves the next morning, Klemen needed to satisfy his curiosity. He was hoping there’d be a fresh Iceberg in the Jökulsárlón lagoon heading out to sea.

      Indeed, there was a fresh iceberg that calved off the glacier. Klemen made it clear that climbing it was his destiny. Problem: the lagoon had partially frozen over. We couldn’t launch the boat. To climb it he’d have to walk over the lagoon on thin ice, and we’d have to follow if we were to film it. Rahel and Klem were the guinea pigs.

      They tethered themselves to each other, separated by 30 ft of rope. The logic was that if one falls in, having a lifeline makes the rescue easier. They carried their ice tools to claw themselves out if the ice cracked. They each wore a life jacket and even a thin wetsuit beneath their cold weather clothes.

    • Tim would charismatically encourage Anton and I to continue closer, first with the moulins and then with the iceberg. He was nudging us to increase our tolerance for accepting risk. He thought that if they successfully navigated around the voids and open water we could too, just without wetsuits, life jackets, ice tools, and ropes. So Anton, Tim and I followed, with expensive camera gear and crampons.

    • I had to remind myself this is not normal when they started climbing. My thinking as I stood on the broken-up ice sheet:

      All the world-famous climbers I know of climb solid immovable objects, like El Cap or Everest. No one climbs the tip of a floating monolith. Well, Klemen does. And we’re on a lagoon, near a glacier-calving site, on a freshly created Iceberg. Millions of tons of ice are moving all around us. You couldn’t pay a mountain guide to take you here. The risk of something big moving and killing someone is too high. No one does this. And here I am, amongst climbing legends. Hell yeah! This is awesome. Let’s do this.

      I was in my element. It was badass.

      And… there was even a left over moulin! This time horizontal

    • It turned out to be an insane day of witnessing more amazing feats of athleticism as Rahel, Klemen, Tim and Björgvin solo’d around iceberg spines and up cliffs. It was peaceful and fun, just like at my local rock climbing crag.

    • It was easy to forget the dangers of climbing unprotected with no rope as I filmed Rahel and Klemen do laps climbing each face of the Iceberg.

      📷: Tim Kemple

    • Tim offered to teach Anton and I to ice climb after we finished filming for the day. I lit up with joy. I had two world-cup ice climbers, an Icelandic guide with an impeccable record and Tim, a pro climber that climbs harder than anyone else I’ve ever met, as mentors. I gladly accepted the invitation to learn.

      Björgvin cringed in the background. I knew this went against everything he stood for as a guide. Teaching someone to ice climb on an iceberg with no ropes is reckless. I don’t think anyone else in the world has ever done this. I was well aware of the risk. Tim had a lot of confidence in Anton and I, and we had a lot of confidence in the team.

      We made to the top with no problems. A fall from the 70ft summit on to the ice sheet below would surely result in death. But we made it no problem. Going down would be another matter.

      The group at the top 👇

      📷: Björgvin Hilmarsson

    • Since we didn’t have ropes, a downclimb was necessary. This is where it got sketchy. It’s the part of our trip I try not to think about. When people ask about my trip, I skip this. It’s good to learn from our mistakes, so I’ll share this time:

      The cliffhanger? A cliff hanger, literally. Anton. That’s right, a few steps from the summit he slipped. He started sliding down the 45 degree summit ridge and quickly accelerated. Self-arresting, the art of stopping while sliding down a mountain, was impossible. The ice was too hard and he was moving too fast to stop himself. He slammed his icetools in the crystal clear ice. They stuck, but gravity ripped his hands from the only tool he had to stop himself.

      He was heading down a slope that flattened out, but it ended with an overhanging cliff. He had no means of stopping himself. The momentum he had guaranteed he’d jet off the cliff.

      This incident happened too quickly to process the consequences in real time. By my estimation the drop to the ice sheet floating on sub-zero salt water was 50ft. He’d be lucky if the ice broke to reduce the impact. He’d probably break his ankles, legs, and back. Swimming out would be near impossible. Hypothermia, inevitable. But more likely, the 3 inches of ice wouldn’t break. People drive cars on that much ice. The impact force of a human body is still less than a multi-ton vehicle. Landing on a surface as hard as concrete would probably result in a spinal cord injury. Death, likely.