Ines Papert

A winter journey to China

The Harbin Icefestival is the biggest in the world.

Climbing huge buildings made out of Ice, seems wired to me. But I am a very curious and open minded person. Why not?

Franz Walter
Photo: Franz Walter

I got a phone call from my friend Johanna Stöckl, who works as a journalist. She rambles on about this spectacular Ice Festival in China and later she asks me if I am interested to go and climb there. I don´t understand what she is saying. Ice Festival? China? Different to anything else that I have climbed before?

Right away I start to search for any online information and what I find, kills everything so far. An entire city, built out of pure ice.

It’s not only the pictures that blow my mind but also the fact, that despite the extreme temperatures people are still celebrating a festival with temperatures below -20°C.

But to get there we had to sort out crazy logistics, but we finally meet at the Munich Airport.

The communication with China, as expected, doesn’t run quit according to plan. Apparently they never had a similar request from climbers before, I have a hard time to believe that. However, I am not yet aware of the bureaucratic barriers awaiting us ahead.

One year later, we get to see the city made of ice. It is Johanna Stöckl. Franz Walter and Sebastian Tischler joining me in terms of some documentary on the trip.

Andes Kang Hua, mountain guide from Peking is joining.

We spend some exciting days in this huge City. I get to climb nearly every building. When the colorful lights turn on at night time, Harbin becomes a spectacular place. My night sessions are well visited and hundreds of people applaud for me. It is overwhelming.

With simple activities, far from an athletic point of view, I do connect with the people and they are anything else than shay. The top of the cream is, when the mayor of Harbin asks me to do a speech in front of an international conference. I accept his invitation.

Since 1985, Harbin organises an annual international ice and snow festival. Within an area of 16 football fields, more than 12,000 workers develop a wonder world out of ice every year. The huge towers, bridges, ice slides and spectacular cathedrals are built from single blocks or bricks of ice. These are gained from the frozen Songhua River that splits the city into a north and south shore. Also Sun-Island, Harbins summer recreation park, is transformed in the winter months due to the staging of the festival into the so-called Snow-World, where international snow artists create gigantic sculptures from snow.

Briefly summarized: The Chinese hospitality deeply impressed me. My trip to Harbin is a separate chapter of life, so different and so beautiful.

Stories of Rock and Ice