Getting up at 2 a.m., strapping 60 pounds of camera gear on and trudging through thigh-high snow for miles in the Okanagan backcountry to find a giant chunk of ice to climb definitely isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.
But for Penticton filmmaker Dave Mai not only is it a good time, it’s a great story.
“When you think about ice climbing, the Okanagan is definitely not the first place you think of. Usually you would want to go to the Rockies where there is a constant subzero temperature to keep the ice from melting and falling apart, but here in the Okanagan it changes quite a bit. It fluctuates from minus 1 C to plus 3 C, back and forth, and that is not conducive at all. To be an ice climber in the Okanagan you have to be very patient and determined to find it.”
That feeling of being part of something so elusive, propelled Mai to create a documentary film about the sport and those who partake in it in the Okanagan. This is the first documentary for the self-taught filmmaker. The 13-minute film called Ephemera debuts at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival next month.
“The name of the film is Ephemera, which means something that is significant that doesn’t last long, and that pretty much sums up ice climbing in the Okanagan. I wanted to use ice climbing as a medium to tell a story of how nature fluxes and how there is no endlessness to anything.”
Mai, an experienced rock climber, slipped into the sport of ice climbing rather by coincidence.
A friend needed a partner to go climbing one day last winter and the 29-year-old didn’t hesitate to join.
“I said, ‘I’ll come.’ We got out there and he pointed up to what looked like an icicle way up off Green Mountain Road,” he said with a laugh.
The pair hiked up to find a large ice formation and Mai got a quick lesson in ice climbing before they started up.
“I was scared for sure,” he said. “But, I think that’s a metaphor for life. There are things that scare us but those are the things worth doing.”
After just a few hours on the ice he knew he wanted to experience the feeling again and film it.
The next time he went he brought his camera equipment and started taking raw footage. At that point he wasn’t sure what he’d do with it.
Last winter was a cold one, which extended the ice climbing season in the Okanagan. He climbed and shot hours of stunning footage all over the Okanagan including Christie Falls in Kelowna, Bear Lake in West Kelowna, sites in the North Okanagan and Naramata Creek Falls.
“There’s this adventure involved in finding it. There’s this pretty small window you have to ice climb especially in the Okanagan. We do reconnaissance missions to scout potential climbing locations. Sometimes you go and you walk for hours and you get there and the conditions aren’t right and you can’t climb. You go home and think, ‘well, that was a nice hike,’” he said.
Mai said there’s only about a handful of ice climbers in the Okanagan that he knows about and that’s what makes the story more obscure.
“This definitely isn’t a place that people come to to go ice climbing. It’s that you’re here and it’s convenient for you to go here,” he said.
It wasn’t until long after the ice melted that Mai figured out what he wanted to do with the hundreds of hours of footage he collected.
He found and applied for a filmmaking grant offered by the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival and outdoor clothing company Arc’teryx.
He received word in October he was the successful recipient of the $5,000 grant.
Through the fall and winter he’s worked diligently to put the film together with the help of some his creative contemporaries in the area.
The film features prose from world renowned poet Shane Koyczan and music composed by Sam Welsch.
Among stunning video work including aerial footage, Okanagan climbers express their love for the sport and explain challenges faced because of the climate in the Okanagan.
“Really when it comes down to it I think I made this film because I wanted to go ice climbing and I just happened to have a camera with me,” he said smiling. “A lot of time I’m out there in the mountains and looking at this beautiful scenery and this landscape I’m connecting with and I just wish some of my best friends were with me to share this moment with me and I guess I created this film so I could bring bak this experience back to share with everyone else.”
The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is an annual nine-day festival held in multiple venues including live presentations, films, photography and music. Films and photos are judged. The festival runs from Feb. 9 to 17.