GORE-TEX athlete Ines Papert climbs at Ice & Snow Festival in Harbin, China
It’s eight in the morning. Minus 30 degrees Celsius, and not a soul to be seen in the Ice World. The snow crunches under her feet as they try to keep themselves warm. Finally she begins to climb. There is a hiss when the crampons hit the ice. Little fragile fractures appear. The ice axes give a solid sound, regular sound as she reaches higher in constant, smooth rhythm. The Manchurian Beat…
Ines Papert, GORE-TEX athlete, is a professional mountain climber from Germany. In early January 2012, she took a trip to Harbin, China to climb the Ice World. Harbin is situated in the far north of China. The city‘s latitude is further north than Wladiwostok.
In winter it drops consistently below minus 25 degrees Celsius. But instead of being paralyzed by the temperatures, the people in the capital of the Heilongjiang Province celebrate the bitter cold. Every year since 1985 Harbin has been host to the International Ice and Snow Festival.
In a little under 3 weeks, over 12,000 workers create an icy wonderland the size of 16 soccer fields. The giant towers, picturesque palaces, bridges, slides and cathedrals were all built of single blocks of ice; similar to the pyramids in Egypt.
The blocks of ice are cut and pulled out of the frozen Songhua river which separates northern and southern parts of the city. Also Sun Island, Harbin’s summer rest and recovery center, is transformed during the winter months into what is known as the Snow World. This is where snow-artists from all over the world come and create magnificent sculptures out of snow.
“A journalist friend of mine kept calling for a about a year, asking if I could imagine climbing the beautiful buildings made out of ice. At first the idea of traveling to China seemed like a bold one.” said Papert.
Nevertheless the pictures of the astounding scenery of Harbin sparked her curiosity. At the end of her trip to Harbin, there wasn’t the slightest question that trip she and her team had just made was difficult but a delightful experience.
The Organizing Committee of the festival thought the idea of Papert coming to climb their ice city was a good one, but at the same time they raised a couple of concerns. Will the ice climbing equipment damage the beautiful facades of the ice sculptures? Can the safety of the climber be assured? After a year of stringent planning and hours of convincing and negotiations, all worries were put to rest, and Papert received her official acceptance stating she would be the first women to climb there ice city.
“After a year of strenuous debating back and forth with the organizers and city officials, I was anxious and excited as we finally flew east towards Harbin. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. It turned out that the hosts and the visitors of the festival were very delighted that I became part of the Ice World Festival. Especially the night climbing sessions were filled with curious spectators who had never seen anyone climbing in their life.”
For the four time Ice climbing world champion, the climbing was not a challenge in difficulty. For Papert the trip was about experiencing another culture through sport and an inspiring cultural project bound by the common joy for the ice: “Ice climbing in the middle of city of nearly 10 million in the Far north of China? It was an incredible experience, and an opportunity to meet so many interesting people. The Chinese hospitality really impressed me. I didn’t expect it to be as great as it was. Everyone was so willing to help us and take care of us. We were welcomed with open arms and friendly curiosity.”
And what came out of the trip were magnificent photos, an exciting cultural experience and friendships for the future to come. “Andes” Kang Hua, a mountain guide from Beijing, was not only the translator and guide, during the course of the trip but he became an important part of the team. Ines: “Andes and I had a great common understanding of the project from the beginning and we plan to take on a climbing project in China together in the near future. China has a vast – still untouched – potential of rocks and peaks to be climbed.”
Ines Papert: www.ines-papert.de
Article by Johanna Stöckl: www.johannastoeckl.de
Photography by Franz Walter: www.franzwalter.com