Mountain biking on a glacier | Mind the Gap ep. 3

Mountain biking on a glacier? Only in the unReal world. The cameras of Anthill Films and Teton Gravity Research are turned on Graham Aggassiz, James Doerfling and Cam McCaul as they push the limits of mountain biking on the Pemberton Ice Cap.

Words by Cam McCaul
Photos by Sterling Lorence

Early last summer I had an unUsual email come across my inbox. It read something like this: "Hey Cam, we're actually going to try to do that crazy glacier idea for unReal. We'll be camping up there for 2 weeks and trying to find some rideable snow and ice. It will probably be a big challenge, are you into it…?" I have a tendency of getting way too excited when I see an email like this and I immediately replied back something like, "Hell yeah lets do this!" After hitting send, I had a moment where I thought, "Oh man… what in the world did I just get myself into!"

Cam McCaul
As we got deeper into the planning stages, I got a feeling of how challenging this was going to be when more emails showed up saying things like, "Make sure you remember all of your tools because there are no bike shops on this glacier." And… "Make sure you pack really light because everything we bring will have to be helicoptered to our camp site." In rough translation: pack as close to nothing as you can with still making sure you have absolutely everything.

on set of 'Unreal" a mountain bike film by Anthill and TGR
With the ambitious nature of this film concept, each segment idea had to be something that barely seemed possible on paper before it would make the cut. Some of the ideas I heard during the conceptual stages ranged from ridiculously awesome (but difficult) to ridiculously ridiculous and probably wouldn't work (but awesome nonetheless). The glacier idea was probably more on the ridiculously ridiculous side of the spectrum, so in reality, I just assumed it would be one of the ideas that got cut. The thing I forgot to consider was "reality" isn't something that would be paid much attention to during the making of a film called, "unReal." Next thing I knew we were saying goodbye to civilization and dry land to go live on a gigantic, slowly moving, frozen river of ancient ice.

Mountain biking on a glacier

We basically set up our own little alpine shantytown, and once we had a place to live, the main objective for the rest of the trip was to stay alive. On a normal mountain bike shoot, you hop on a dirt bike or a quad to go explore your zones and find something awesome to build and ride. We were planning to take this same approach up on the glacier. But the only problem was, we had zero knowledge of the environment we were in and the likelihood of us falling into a crevasse was pretty high. I was expecting the riding to be the dangerous part, but just walking around up there was gnarly! Luckily we had an awesome guide named Mac who, unlike us, knew what he was doing and could keep us from getting swallowed into the depths of the icy earth.

Mountain biking on a glacier
Being on a wild shoot like this with a couple dudes like Aggy and Doerfling is about as good as it gets. No matter what terrain they find themselves in, they have the balls to go for it and the skills to make it work. We had a lot of adapting to do on this shoot, and there was quite the learning curve. Looking back, I can't believe how well it actually worked. One thing you will never experience on a normal mountain bike shoot is having the jumps that you spent hours and hours building just melt away into thin air! We used some great building techniques to shape the snow and firm it up with salt, but we had to shoot all the jumps as soon as possible because they just might not be there the next day. I had originally thought that we would be mostly sticking to riding snow, but as the glacier continued to melt away right under our feet more and more each day, we realized that drilling screws through our tires and riding on steep ice faces was almost the most efficient and awesome way to tame this beast.

Mountain biking on a glacier
Mountain biking on a glacier
This trip showed us how truly versatile the mountain bike is. It seems absolutely ridiculous to attempt shooting a mountain bike segment on a glacier, but you never know until you try and who knew it would have worked out so well. I can't wait for another strange email to show up from Anthill and TGR so I can stupidly accept the challenge once again!

More episodes from Mind the Gap, the making of unReal:

Mind the gap: the making of UnReal | Tom's flip

Mind the gap: the making of unReal | Episode 1