Words by Cameron Sylvester (filmmaker) | Photos by Angela Percival
In the few years I’ve spent filming adventure sports, Luka is perhaps one of the most experienced climbers I’ve worked with. Though, without reading up on his record of first ascents throughout Europe and the Himalayas you’d never know it. He’s not one to bring up his achievements in the climbing world, including the Piolets d’Or he was awarded in 2015 for his ascent of the Hagshu in India; perhaps his Slovenian roots carry a humbleness that many people seem to have forgotten these days.
While on assignment with Arc’teryx in Norway, I met Luka and his climbing partner Blaz Markovic. We had a micro production team of Angela Percival and Matt Irving, and the plan was to document Luka’s exploration through some of the deeper regions of Northern Norway near the Lyngen Alps. Upon our arrival we quickly learned that the forecast was not in our favour; we’d be challenged with warm conditions and melting ice.
We decided to stray from the initial plan of filming near the fjords where temperatures would naturally be warmer. In hopes of finding more stable ice conditions, we decided to go further- beyond the fjords, and into the mainland. The problem is that ice is always an unsure thing.
“Every year it forms differently. It’s never the same” explains Luka. “You can return every year and repeat a climb, and it will be different every year.” With this new insight, I had my doubts about what we might find, as we began venturing further into the wilderness.
With the limited beta we’d been given, we had set our eyes on a very specific objective. Located beside the Kafjord Suspension bridge lies a huge waterfall that attracts big crowds in the summer months. With the right conditions, it can freeze over in the winter, producing a massive icefall over 120 meters tall, pocketed with multiple ice caverns; potentially epic conditions for ice climbing. The catch: it was a 2.5 hour hike in from the nearest road; a 5 hour round trip. With the camera gear, ropes, climbing and film equipment we were carrying, this was turning into a big commitment for something that’s “never the same” as Luka put it. Despite my skepticism about what we might find we didn’t have many options, so on we went, into the unknown.
After nearly 3 hours, 2 new blisters and all our water consumed, we had only almost arrived. Through sparsely populated alders, we could see the outlines of a suspension bridge, hinting we were at least in the right area. As you might expect, Luka, who was in prime shape was the first to reach it. He leaned over the bridge, towering nearly 150 meters above the gorge below; adjacent to the bridge, lay the massive ice fall. Not only was it frozen, but it was way larger and more frightening than I could have imagined. How the hell were we going to film this?
“This is it. This is the one we climb.” With a big smile and eyes that appeared to be a little glazed over with excitement or determination, Luka looked down at the massive ice fall that he’d just committed to. His Eastern European accent sounded a bit like a villain from a Bond movie, but with his baby face he didn’t have the same intimidation.
Over the next two days we successfully documented Luka’s ascent of the Kafjord Ice Fall. I’ll spare the details of scary rappels off suspect ice, fraying ropes and violent wind storms, but I will say I’m glad Luka convinced us to venture a little further than we were comfortable with. A day after finishing filming, temperatures skyrocketed and the Kafjord icefall deteriorated beyond the margin of safe climbing. If we had showed up a day or two later, we would have missed it. But I guess that’s the wonder of working with ice. It’s never the same.