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Vancouver Mountain Film Festival features Whistler adventurers

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Photographs of rock climbers, a mountaineer rappelling down a big wall in Patagoni and a memorial for Brent Mathieson, a well known member of the climbing community, are part of an exhibition in the lobby of the Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver where a crowd socializes during an intermission at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. Films on unicycling, bouldering and free-heel skiing are some of the showings they’ve come to see.

"The festival is an exchange of ideas between the outdoor public and film makers," Alan Formanek, the acting director who started the festival in 1997, says. Seventy films were submitted for the festival which runs from February 15 to March 15. Twenty-five films will be shown ranging in length from three to 55 minutes.

Unicycling in Mexico, shot in April, 2001, by Shawn White of Vancouver, is a mini documentary featuring an emerging sport that combines mountain climbing and cycling. The focus of the film is a climb and descent of two of the highest volcanoes in Mexico; La Malinche just under 15,000 feet and El Pico de Orizaba which at 18,400 feet is the highest volcano in Mexico. El Pico de Orizaba was chosen because Kris Holm, featured on the unicycle, thought it might be possible to ride down.

"A lot of mountains north of Mexico are glaciated or have sheer vertical cliffs," White says. "A volcano, because of the angle of the shape, makes it feasible for riding."

The biggest problem during filming was the altitude. The temperature at base camp on El Pico de Orizaba dipped below zero at night and got up to about five degrees during the climb. The climbers didn’t want to get caught in the afternoon with clouds moving in so they left base camp about midnight.

"We stepped onto the summit of El Pico de Orizaba about 5 a.m.," White says.

The trip down the volcano, including spills and filming, took about four hours.

White’s next project is a trip to Bhutan in the Himalayas in April, 2002. The objective is a two-week gruelling traverse climbing two peaks and descending them on unicycles.

"As an aside, we’re going into an area where there’s been a lot of sightings of abominable snowmen," White says.

When Dave Sarkany moved to Whistler in 1981, he wanted to live in a town where he could make a living and do day trips without having to travel for three or four hours. These day trips led to longer expeditions. His film about a horseshoe traverse of Mount Waddington then paddling down Bute Inlet in May, 2001, was the realization of a dream.

"For years, I’ve been involved in long mountain traverses," says Sarkany, who works on the ski patrol in Whistler and guides for the Canada West Mountain School and Outward Bound. "I’d pack up and we’d go away for six weeks. I figured it would be a great thing to put together a film on what these traverses were all about."

Sarkany got a camera about two weeks before leaving for Waddington and trained himself around Whistler. He took 21 hours of battery power with him on the trip and shot seven hours of film.

There are some truly hairy moments in the film when two members of the five person team are skiing down a gully and you can hear ice crystals hissing and scrapped away by the wind. But the skiers got in some good powder on a glacier. They also spent more than enough time storm-bound in their tents.

The expedition members never got the chance to reach the summit of Waddington but at least they had a rare sighting of the peak when the storm cleared.

The kayak trip down Bute Inlet was a different kind of adventure.

Already tired from two weeks in the mountains, paddling into the wind and rough water was a challenge. But the experience was enough to wet Sarkany’s appetite for more filming. Future plans include a ski traverse in May, 2002, into a remote region between B.C. and Alaska.

"You get up into some beautiful mountains," Sarkany says.

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