Climbing Tasmania’s Federation Peak during the wettest winter on record would be enough to dampen the spirits of even the most hardened adventurers, but for the team behind the Aussie epic Winter on the Blade that toured with the 2018 Banff Mountain Film Festival, the experience has had just the opposite effect. It has fuelled the fire for adventure, exploration and quite possibly even more hardship.
We caught up with the Winter on the Blade crew to talk about the making of the film, what they’ve been up to in the meantime and what plans are on the horizon. (If you missed the film on tour you can now view it online, and then come back and read this article).
Andy Szollosi is an ex-city dweller turned mountain guide. Based in Hobart, he has been following his passion for storytelling and photography. He has roamed over Tasmania’s wildest mountains in winter, with only his canvas pack keeping him company. Andy was the driving force behind the expedition and pulling the team together.
Mark Savage has climbed throughout Australia and overseas for more than 25 years. This has included big wall ascents in Yosemite and Pakistan, an 8000m peak in Tibet, and numerous mountaineering trips to Alaska, South America and New Zealand. He has a not-so-secret penchant for suffering and harsh environments.
The creative force behind the film, Simon Bischoff is a freelance adventure videographer and photographer based in Hobart, Tasmania. His rock climbing obsession has taken him to many wild places. When he received a call from an over excited Andy Szollosi, proposing the idea of making a film about traversing Tasmania across its major western ridges, over 120 days, in Winter, Bischoff immediately told him that there was no way he was interested. “I thought he was totally mad but somehow Andy managed to temper his enthusiasm and come up with an idea that was a little easier to find a team for.” Summitting Federation Peak in Winter was the Plan B.
With a shared love of the Tasmanian wilderness, Simon and Andy really wanted to communicate how important wilderness is as a place to challenge oneself. “We wanted people to understand that the wilderness isn’t really for us and in light of all the recent tourism developments in Tasmania it’s important to understand that it exists and should be preserved for its own sake beyond the harm of humans,” elaborates Bischoff.
Their other key objective was to show that adventure is relative to every person. “It was really important to make something that wasn’t about another sponsored athlete, rather two every day guys having a go at something and showing that it’s really about the people and place and not necessarily the objective,” Bischoff adds.
Like most adventure films Winter on the Blade was a passion project of epic proportions. As Bischoff recounted in an article for Vertical Life Magazine, “I’m good at living hand-to-mouth but in making this film I scraped the barrel until it had a hole in the bottom. One time when I was out hunting for wild mushrooms with the grumbling in my belly mocking me, I stumbled across an old money safe in the middle of a forest. It had clearly been broken into some years before and scattered around it were bags of ten, twenty and fifty cent coins. This serendipitous ill-gotten bounty kept me going for weeks. It always gave the checkout guy at Woolies a moment of humorous respite from his monotonous day watching us feed $20 worth of ten cent coins into the auto checkout. My mum was getting worried about me.”
Since the release of Winter on the Blade, Bischoff has continued to feed his passion for climbing, having spent time climbing in North America and more recently, working on a photography project for a book with Gerry Narkowicz. The coffee table book is centred on the history of Tasmanian rock climbing, a collection of great climbing stories accompanied by Bischoff’s photographs. You can keep up to date with his adventures and photography on his Instagram page.
Mark Savage has spent the past year living in Antarctica at the Australian Antarctic station. We encourage you to check out his Facebook feed, the images are stunning and the captions are proof that the frigid temperatures have not dampened his laconic Aussie humour.
Andy, we are pleased to report, has successfully completed his solo South to North ridgeline traverse of Tasmania, along a previously untried route from South East Cape to Woolnorth Point. Spanning 84 days, the journey included three paddling sections and two cycling sections, but mainly consisted of traversing on foot through the dominant ridgelines of the South West Wilderness. Unable to convince Bischoff to film it (despite a persistent and concerted campaign) he is working on the release of a book documenting his journey which we hope to see released in time for the next Banff Mountain Book Festival. Check out his website Theia Photography to see some of his photography work.
FUN FACTS FOR THE MUSIC LOVERS:
Winter on the Blade was scored by an old school friend of Bischoff’s, Bayard Condon. Part of the film’s sponsorship was used to pay for a special synthesizer ‘Tempest 2000’ for Bayard to score the film. He designed a unique set of sounds and then practiced playing them to the film over a few weeks until he eventually played the score live in one take. Bayard’s younger brother Henry Condon mastered the score and completed the rest of the sound design for the film.”
The music behind Mark Savage’s dream sequence in the film is a recording of Frederic Chopin Opus 9 in E flat major, played by Dean Rollins, a friend of the adventurers. Bischoff heard Rollins practicing on his keyboard while travelling North America and knew he would be perfect to play the classical piece for that particular scene.