“Mike will call it pre-joy. I’ll call it hell.” This is what Angie Payne said about Mike Libecki’s mindset through much of the documentary “Poumaka.” She further characterizes him as incredibly optimistic. While citing his example that “being positive actually works,” Angie spent most of her time scared, besides the times when she was more scared than she’d ever been.
Angie is a tenacious, accomplished climber who had done nothing vaguely like climbing the Poumaka Tower on Ua Pou Island in French Polynesia. (Think New Zealand except 2500 miles of Pacific Ocean from there.) Mike had taken Angie out of her comfort zone before, and as she says, when Mike asks you to be his climbing partner, you say yes.
Poumaka is nothing like the image of climbing that dominates the attention of this realm of extreme adventure. “Some of the rock is really good underneath all of the jungle.” It’s a “sludge fest” where climbing in driving rain is par for the course. Everything is muddy.
Mike blazed the first ascent. For Angie Payne, the literal blood, sweat, and tears of this “recreation” was packaged in unglamorous roles like belaying and cleaning up the climb.
The arc of the modern world is still such that it’s appropriate to label this a feminist movie. That said, in 15 minutes, “Poumaka” shares the grit of a cohesive team doing what it takes to mix familiar flavors of extreme climbing with the wondrous variety of discovering and mastering new challenges.
Editor’s Note: The following is distilled from a conversation with Mike Libecki, the expedition leader and producer of the film, “Poumaka.”
Chuck Jaffee: What do you mean by “organic enthusiasm”?
Mike Libecki: It’s passion. Whatever is fun in someone’s life, no one knows why we like it. When you love it, it’s a gift, it’s beautiful.
CJ: What is “pre-joy”
ML: There’s two ways of life: joy and pre-joy. Pre-joy is when it’s tough. You’re in a storm at minus-forty degrees. You have a bad fall. You have a bad hair day. That’s a form of joy.
CJ: What makes the Poumaka climb an “expedition”?
ML: It rains 10 hours a day. It’s a remote intense place. It takes a week in the jungle before you get to the base of it. Then it’s 1000 feet of vertical jungle; then the vertical wall; then more jungle.
CJ: What made you think Angie Payne should be on this particular first ascent team?
ML: We’ve worked together, but she does bouldering. She’s authentic, has the organic enthusiasm, good communicator. I’d asked her on a Greenland expedition, the kind of suffering challenge I like. After she struggled in Greenland, I thought she should be part of the crazy, weird mayhem doing Poumaka.
CJ: You seem to be very close to your daughter while you live your expeditions life.
ML: She knows what my life is. By now, she’s been to 20 countries [in the background she corrects him: 21]. She loves the travel, the humanitarian things, opening doors. I want her, as I’ve done, to live her dreams, to be true to herself, her passion.