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Photograph courtesy Justin "Jonesy" Jones

Crossing the Ice: Interview with Justin Jones on His Award-Winning Film

Crossing the Ice
was clearly a stand out favorite this year at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Taking home the trophy for Best Film on Exploration and Adventure, The People’s Choice Award, and the Grand Prize, this documentary affirms the notion that, at their core, the truly great stories of our time reflect the very best qualities of humanity. Despite the danger, harrowing experiences, and the often competitive nature of any expedition, what matters most is the depth of those incredible characters.

Australian adventure teammates James Castrissian and Justin Jones set out to become the first to make the 2,275-kilometer round-trip journey from the Hercules Inlet of Antarctica to the South Pole on skis, fully unsupported. Hauling all of their own gear on sleds that weighed as much as 350 pounds, the two known as Cas and Jonesy spent 89 days trudging through blizzard conditions and waist-deep snow across a frozen tundra. Under circumstances as dire as you might imagine the two men endured with incredible strength and determination, supporting each other with great love and friendship.

In an unexpected twist, Cas and Jonesy suddenly find themselves in a race to the Pole with the arrival of Aleksander Gamme, a Norwegian adventurer with the same goal. Traveling alone and with considerably more experience traversing ice and snow, Gamme quickly out paced the Australians and was well on his way to upsetting their plans. But in a magnanimous gesture of sportsmanship, the Norwegian waited two days for Cas and Jonesy, who were three kilometers from their objective, so that they all crossed the finish line together as one team.

“Waiting for them in the end it felt very natural. I liked them from the very first moment. I saw myself in them,” Gamme said. “I enjoy going solo, but to finish and to celebrate alone, it’s not fun.”

Banff Mountain Film Festival jury member Dale Templar said in her remarks upon bestowing one of the film’s three awards that this story of courage and camaraderie shown above all the rest of the films.

Crossing the Ice encapsulates the true spirit of adventure . . . . This is a film with perfect storytelling featuring incredible characters—a ‘bro-mance’,” Templar said. “It’s a story that conveyed unbridled enthusiasm, humor, and heartbreak created by the filmmakers and the lovable lunatics who walked unaided across Antarctica to the South Pole and back.”

At home in Australia James Castrissian awaits the birth of his first child. “And it’s not mine,” said Justin Jones at Banff Mountain Film Festival awards ceremony. Their “bro-mance” notwithstanding Cas and Jonesy continue to be good friends and look forward to their next adventure together. In an email exchange Jonesy shared a few of his thoughts on Crossing the Ice with James Edward Mills of the Joy Trip Project.

James Edward Mills: What made you and Cas think you could be the first team to do a round trip trek to the South Pole?

Justin Jones: At first we were quite shocked to find out that no one had actually achieved an unsupported and unassisted return South Pole expedition. As a result it was something that got us extremely excited. True we had no experience skiing or in Polar environments, but we had the passion and the right approach in our preparation and planning to take this task on. The Tasman expedition a few years early really opened our eyes to what we were actually capable of.

J.E.M.: After all the preparation you did for this journey what was the one thing you encountered that you didn’t expect (besides your Norwegian rival Aleksander Gamme)?

J.J.: We didn’t count on the horrendous weather that we had to fight through in the first month—two weeks of whiteout and snowfall in a row. Antarctica is strictly classified as a desert and yet we got deluged by 1-1.5 feet of snow…and when you’re trying to drag a sled that weighs 160 kilograms (350 pounds) each, it feels like your insides are being crushed. Our speed and progress plummeted.

J.E.M.: Your film Crossing the Ice details all the highs and lows of your 89-day expedition. What was the highest high? What was the lowest low?

J.J.: If you ask the two of us, you’d probably get two different answers. For Cas the infection that he had on Day 29/30 that left us tent bound was the lowest point for him. At that point with the weather, the infections, etc., it all looked impossible. It was the lowest that I’d ever seen him in his life; there was no consoling him.

Me . . . the end of day 80. My bowels, my lips, my feet, the starvation, and pain all just got too much for me and I had a meltdown in the tent. To make things worse, although my best mate was only a few meters away from me, he was so far gone as well that he had to worry about himself. It was a horribly lonely night.

The highest high . . . definitely finishing with Aleks on day 89. The most amazing end to a mammothly HARD expedition. An amazing day!

J.E.M.: You and Cas are clearly very close friends. How did you meet? And what is it about you two that keeps you together after so many days in such tight quarters? 

J.J.: We met when we were 14 and 15 years old (15 years ago) in high school. I was actually friends with his younger brother first as I used to play sport with him, but was in Cas’s year. We just clicked in the outdoors . . . and started doing trips together. Back then they were small but started to grow and grow in scale. We work well together because we have a trust and friendship that goes back so long. I have seen him at his absolute worst and his best, there isn’t much he could do that’d shock me and vice versa. There isn’t anyone else I’d trust more in the outdoors than him.

J.E.M.: Alesksander Gamme waited for you with three kilometers to go so that you three could finish the journey together. What does it mean to you that he did that? What do you suppose that says about the modern notion of adventure? Isn’t it a competition?

J.J.: Aleks Gamme is an amazing human being. It was a truly generous act of kindness and sportsmanship that you don’t generally see in this day and age. It really highlights what adventure is actually all about . . . collaboration and sharing of experiences. I’d like to think this would be something that a true outdoorsperson, or adventurer would do . . . people get caught up in the hype of being the first, the fastest, the fittest, or fastest, that they forget the real point is to enjoy the journey and grow from it.

At the start of our journey we were probably a bit competitive, but that quickly went out the window. Aleks and us communicated and used each other as sources of inspiration to keep going. Who knows . . . perhaps if one team was there in Antarctica the other team wouldn’t have made it!

J.E.M.: Obvious question: what will be your next adventure together? And if you don’t have any plans, what do you look for in an adventure when selecting your next project?

J.J.: We have some ideas that we’re currently working on but are keeping a little tight lipped on it until we work the plans into a tangible form. Cas is two weeks off having his first child so that it also something that we’re waiting to see before we announce the next one. To keep in the loop follow us on!

The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the support of sponsors Patagonia, Rayovac and the New Belgium Brewing Company