Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brotherhood of the Mohawk

Andreas Spak, ( 31 years old, from Sweden originally, now living in Rjukan is one of the main proponents of the big ice in Norway and sometimes crazy world of underground ice in Sweden. On my recent trip to Norway I was lucky enough to spend time hanging out and being employed by Andreas’ company (co owned with Seth Hobby) Northern Alpine Guides (, discovering that we had similar tastes in music and attitudes towards the futility of climbing.

Andreas is a big believer, in an ego driven community, that nothing is special about a good climber, “it just means they practiced more”, and that paragliding – his new passion – is way more fun. Outspoken about, well, a lot of things climbing and steadfast about how climbers are not true athletes, forgoing serious training to just hang out and be seen as a part of a community, and that all semipro climbers should just get an office job. Andreas has climbed the hardest and longest ice climbs currently done in Norway, explored the very old and scary underground ice in Sweden and partnered some of the best known climbers anywhere. I asked Andreas a few questions, promising him fame as the first person to be interviewed in my new blog series: Climbers I wish I could Be: Upclose and Unpersonal. Sounds official huh? Let's hope he is joking about the last question! Photos of Andreas courtesy of and me with Uli Biaho behind taken June 2007 Karakoram.

1.You grew up in Sweden and moved to Norway because of the climbing, what was so special about climbing for you?

A) Good question, don't know actually. I started when I was 16 I think, but quickly found out that Sweden is not a suitable country for ice climbing (this was before I knew about the ice mines), so decided to move to a location where I could climb every day.

2.What have been the two best days of ice climbing for you?

A) Tough one. Hmm, I guess the two first days of our ice mine trip (though we didn't actually climb those days) because of the amazing scenery and excitement of being at an extremely cool place.

3. Why do you enjoy paragliding to ice climbing more right now?

A) I just recently started paragliding and every time I go out flying I learn a lot. When you do something for the first time, or when you're at a starting fase of something, you get a different (call it innocent, humble, better?) view of it, than the expert have. Being a beginner is cool, no matter what you do, and it's inspiring.

Ice climbing for me now is more about finding cool places to climb and hanging out with friends. I still have a few really really cool projects on ice here in Norway, wild stuff that is rarely in condition. Waiting for it...

4. You recently traveled to the Paragliding World Championships in Mexico, did you take part, was there a difference in the community, Climbers vs. paragliders?

A) It actually was a pre world cup and I didn't participate in the comps. Paragliding is a more complex activity then climbing I'd say. Not necessarily more difficult or more dangerous, just harder to figure things out, resulting in a less steep learning curve (if done safely that is). Being down there in Mexico, hanging out with some of the best pilots in the world, was extremely educational.

The most significant difference I noticed, between climbers and pilots, was fitness. Paragliding can be a very physical sport, but doesn't have to be...

5. Was ice climbing in a cave the weirdest thing you have done, in climbing?

A) It wasn't caves, but old iron mines. Without doubt the coolest thing I've done with ice tools. We could have gone to the west coast of Norway again, or put up some mixed route in Canada, but that would have been repeating what I've been doing for years. It would have been just another route, just another piece of vertical ice or steep rock. In the ice mines we found all the ice any climber in the world can wish for, in an extremely cool environment.

6. Who have been your best partners and why?

A) My wife, for obvious reasons, but she doesn't climb much anymore. I like climbing with friends of course, but on the other hand, I've met most of my friends (if not all of them) through climbing or related activities such as drinking beer.

7. Your Punk band, Misconduct, is it still going? What instrument do you play? Is there a website for people to check it out? What music are you listening to now?

A) I played in many different bands before I got obsessed by climbing (way back). My sister's boyfriend Fredrik AKA “Fred Riot” Olsson (Sweden) started one of the first Straight Edge Hardcore (call it punk if you wish) bands in Sweden, named Misconduct ( I've been touring with them for a few years, playing guitar, but because I live in a different country and my sport-related, healthy activities takes up most of my time now, I don't play very frequently anymore. I'm more of a guest artist these days.

I listen to a lot of stuff, most recent download was some albums by the jazz bass player Jaco Pastorius. Mostly I listen to old school punk and HC, like “Sick of it All”, “Minor Threat”, “Gorilla Biscuits”, “Youth of Today”, that stuff.

8. Does “Punk” and all of its “anarchistic youth energy” influence your climbing?

A) Punk is a way of life, and attitude. I don't think you have to be a Black Flag fan with shaved head to have that attitude, but it helps. To me, climbing is all about freedom. I want a world with less rules and regulations, less methods for how to do things.

9. What do you think is the future of ice climbing in Norway? Do you think the sport climbers that dominate the comp scene will have the balls to step up to the plate and climb the biggest and scariest stuff?

A) Personally I think ice climbing as a comp sport is dead boring. They have been giving the Ice World Cup a good try now for the last 5 years or so, trying to prove who's the best ice climber (yeah right), but to me it doesn't look like it's going to survive for much longer. I have never fully understood the urge that some people have to institutionalize climbing, having federations regulating it, all that bullshit. The climbers that will push harder in the future, in Norway and other places, will be the ones that have the strongest motivation, like it always has been.

10. Will you give me a job at Northern Alpine Guides next winter so I can get a chance to live and climb some cool ice in Norway?

A) We want the best guys, so you're welcome on the team Mr Zangrilli!

12. Any question you wished I asked?

A) Yes, as a matter of fact there is. “Mr. Spak, what is your contribution to the climbing community?”

A) Being a computer programmer, I have for long seen the need for a more sophisticated and structured way to get rid of stupid route names. The idea is to give every new route a 10 digit hexadecimal code as the name of the route. For example, 84993a9cce. It would also be convenient to add the climbers that did the first ascent to that code, so every climber should be registered at UIAA with a personal id, for example 1004300702. It should also include stuff like grade, pitches and location

An example:

84993a9cce (route name)

1004300702 (climber id)

5 (grade, skipped the WI because it's not a hex)

3 (# of pitches)

65949939302333 (location, N and W skipped in UTM format)

So, a future route name could be something like this: