Banff Mountain Festival and New Climbing Books for 2020

2018 Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival thank-you card.

Did you see the announcement tweeted from the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival? Well, the festival be will held virtually due to the pandemic, as I reported in my last post; that you knew. The 20,000 guests cannot all attend due to both social distancing guidelines and international travel restrictions. The tweet added some interesting detail: Somehow they will be holding a virtual marketplace and beer hall.

The market I comprehend… but virtual beer hall?

Jon Popowich’s article in Gripped, “The Role of the Banff Centre in Mountain Literature,” didn’t shed any light for you and me about the beer hall thing. Popowich wrote his essay on the influence of the Banff Centre before the pandemic. It was actually heartbreaking, because everything he said was true, and not only has the Centre been forced to make the festival virtual, but it had to lay off three-quarters — 284 people — of its teachers and staff due to decreased revenue.

I was worried that the festival and its Mountain Book Competition would be cancelled. As Popowich showcased the Centre overall and the festival’s role in spurring new creative outlets for mountain culture. In fact, it’s not just climbing and alpinism, as it was when it began; it’s broadened to other subjects as well. As an article competition pre-reader, I even had a submission about a wilderness fly fishing trip that blended personal experience and the wonder of nature, through a scientific lens. Popowich explains, with insight from Bernadette McDonald and others, about how the “voice” in climbing books and stories have been fostered and amplified through the Banff Centre and its amazing team past and present.

Popowich also called out an upsetting trend that the Banff Centre helps counter, at least somewhat, that I have been talking about for years: Climbers today don’t read. In fact, I’ll go a step further: Climbers today don’t read and they don’t know mountain history. Popowich surveys climbers at the gym, as I do, and wherever I meet other climbers here in flat Peaklessburg.

This trend has consequences on what’s published; books of the past were autobiographies and introspective narratives; today climbing and mountain books are often “Trojan horses” carrying an environmental or social message. This isn’t exclusive, thankfully. And I am hopeful about these books that caught my attention, which are set to be released later this year:

NEW BOOK RELEASES FOR 2020

Vertical Reference: The Life of Legendary Helicopter Rescue Pilot Jim Davies by Kathy Calvert (which was released in May.)

Stories of Ice: Adventure, Commerce and Creativity on Canada’s Glaciers by Lynn Martel.

Emilio Comici: Angel of the Dolomites by David Smart (I will be reviewing this for you here on T.S.M.)

All that Glitters: A Climber’s Journey through Addiction and Depression by Margo Talbot (I’ll share my review of this one on this blog as well.)

Buried: Updated Edition by Ken Wylie.

Altitude by Olivier Bocquet (author of text), Jean-Marc Rochette (artist).

Winter 8000: Climbing the World’s Highest Mountains in the Coldest Season by Bernadette McDonald (I hope to review this one for you here.)

I still have more questions about this beer hall, and whether the organizers can pull it off, I am a little doubtful, no offense. What I do know for certain is that during the festival, and while I am doing my pre-reading, I’ll be sipping a dark brew, thinking of the Banff Centre very fondly. I hope you will too.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

How the Pandemic is Disrupting Your Favorite Climbing Magazines and Journals

49712226076_94e0f0bfec

Even on a good year for climbing magazines and periodicals, meeting publishing deadlines are a Herculean effort. Despite that we’re in the midst of a global health pandemic and social uprising over grave injustice, publishing is just as hard, if not harder, to climbing publishers. And it could be easy to dismiss our climbing magazines and journals as unimportant, however, climbing is where people congregate and put whatever values — for health or racial equity — into practice and express ourselves in the subtle ways that matter.

Like everything else, the work of our favorite publications all stopped in shock — twice — first with the shutdowns to public health, and then again after the uprisings around George Floyd and many others. I asked several magazine and journal editors whether they would be publishing as normal through the end of the year. Some were fortunate to get the very-much in demand, but too scarce, Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) financial assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration under the CARES Act. Advertisers have pulled back, according to all of those I checked in with. Everyone said something to the effect of, “If nothing else happens…” they will be publishing as normal through the rest of the year.

And I also checked in with Katie Sauter, the Director of the Henry S. Hall Jr. American Alpine Club Library, to get a global view, because they receive all of the publications. As of a few weeks ago, the magazines were coming in but that she recently learned that from the New Zealand Alpine Club that their magazine and journal will not be printed this year, but many other club journals and magazines have continued to stream in.

Here’s what the editors reported:

ANNUALS

  • American Alpine Journal — Dougald McDonald, the Editor of the AAJ, says the 2020 edition is a month behind schedule but otherwise on track to deliver a full issue to AAC members this fall. However, with no climbing in Alaska, no spring Himalayan season, probably no Karakoram season, and so forth, the 2021 edition will be briefer than typical editions.
  • Accidents in North American Climbing — The American Alpine Club, which also publishes the AAJ, suffered in its revenue from the pandemic shutdowns, and as a result will be offering a digital version of Accidents only. So when AAC members receive their box this fall, it will not contain a hardcopy of this important book. It was a necessary sacrifice to still provide all of the AAC’s valuable content.

PERIODICALS

  • Alpinist Magazine — Height of Land Publications, the parent company, has declared their operations as “business as unusual,” in what actual seems to be business as usual for most media today, even before the pandemic. Despite some advertisers pulling back, they expect to publish roughly on schedule for the next couple of issues.
  • Rock and Ice Magazine — Although the issue recently released during the first three months of the stay-at-home orders was delayed by two weeks, Francis Sanzaro said they’re hard at work but no telling whether it will be on time or a week or two delayed.
  • Climbing Magazine — Matt Samat — who, I suddenly recalled, edited my first piece in Alpinist about eight years ago — is the Editor and he told me, “We are on schedule for our next two issues, and fingers crossed for our annual (final issue of the year).” The magazine has emphasized its digital content while everyone was home, and started a Contributor Fund.
  • Gripped Magazine — There were delays at the printer initially, as the vendor temporarily shutdown. David Smart (yep, the author of Paul Preuss,) Editorial Director, said with the printer back up and running and everyone at Gripped to a regular work schedule means they expect to publish the regular number of issues through the rest of the year.

GOING FORWARD

The next several months we will receive our favorite magazines, perhaps a week or two late. But the effects of the pandemic with climbing publications hasn’t stopped there. The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, which hosts the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival, is a large educational institution on a global stage. Due to financial constraints, the Banff Centre was forced to permanently lay off 75 percent of its workforce — 284 people. The Festival, which also hosts the Banff Mountain Book Competition, normally hosts 20,000 from around the world over a week’s time every fall, but due to global travel restrictions, and public health concerns, the event will be held virtually this year.

Over the last four months you were probably thinking… let the subscription lapseonly the social change happening now matters… And you were right. Yet the real change is going to happen, not over social media or even in policy, but in our day-to-day interactions and habits over the coming months and years. Our habits seep into everything else we do. Better health choices for everyone’s safety, and relationships that respect everyone’s dignity regardless of the color of their skin, in our ordinary interactions are where the change happens. It will happen at school, work, churches, and our recreation. So it matters in climbing too, and these publications aren’t just about being better climbers, they are exhibits of us being human and, hopefully, better people.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Climber, You are Equipped for Times Like These

49788426796_8e83d2c654

The once elusive K7 West. (All rights reserved)

Climber, you have a gift to help you get through this turbulent time.

Like you, I have been largely at home for nearly 90 days. I haven’t done any climbing, but I hope you have. When able, I read my issues of Alpinist, Climbing, and some books rather than spend too much time on my phone, which has been especially difficult this past week.

And like you, I have a heavy heart. There have been over 375,000 deaths worldwide due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, and for me that includes a loved one. For we Americans, things are dark here, particularly with the uprising around the unjust killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Read, Tony McDade, and many more. And there’s been vandalism and violence and retribution. Although racism has been here since European explorers arrived on the continent, it still lurks about in nasty, evil ways. If the myth of American exceptionalism was still still alive, surely we should face up to reality that was always a myth. I recognized that it wasn’t true just a few years ago.

As adventurers, I think you and I are poised to see what’s possible, in justice, equity, and peace. I know you might prefer to face adversity of a different kind right now, particularly without health worries, existential questions, and politics. Part of me wants to flee to somewhere remote and disconnect. No smartphone. No news. No radio. Ernest Shackleton’s fourth expedition to the South Pole actually appeals to me in calming way lately.

However, Shackleton was not escaping anything; he had a clear objective. He was headed to the South Pole, by nature an adverse challenge. He suffered and he endured. He guided his stranded crew through shipwreck, cold, long days, buoyed ebbing morale, and navigated the high seas. They were missing so long they were presumed dead. And when they all returned safely to an England 497 days later, they arrived in their own new normal, with a world at war. Change is the only constant.

For you and me, climbing matters not only for our appreciation of movement on rock and human achievement in the mountains, but for the superpower of perspective. By now, in your climbing career, you probably realized that there is more to climbing than climbing. In fact, it’s not even Instagram posts of your route or view or even your clever boulder problem around your kitchen cabinets during COVID-19 self-isolation, as joyous as those things are. Climbing is about our inner being; it tests our nerve and our perspective of what’s possible for ourselves and humanity. It has always been about seeing the beauty of a challenge, even if it’s absurd, and pursuing the dream. We build strength, condition our endurance, and innovate equipment and technique to see our visions through.

That mountain or route you daydream about is not itself a challenge, rather how you look at it. El Capitan has been reached without a rope a million times before Honnold scaled it with Jimmy Chin’s camera’s on him — except he took the route no one ever actually free soloed before. A beautiful, ephemeral line that changed how we looked at the world, what’s possible, and our humanity.

This season of COVID-19 exacerbated by grave racial injustice is no different. We need to use our superpower and apply a wide, broad, and long perspective. It’s for safety, health, equity, and a better world.

What do you see when you look at a mountain in your life. An opportunity? A dream? Something futuristic? Maybe we’re not collectively fit enough yet to see how the path comes together, or in our case a route to some normalcy and racial equity. Maybe we need more conditioning to rise to the challenge. Maybe we need to dream, or just endure while holding on to our vision for the future, even when violence and forces conspire to smash our hope. The first way to the top might be just one foot in front of the other. Later, we might go the hard way, maybe ropeless.

How do you see things now?

For your next steps, I recommend clicking over to the Access Fund’s list of actions items to be part of the solution.

Use your perspective and hold on to your vision.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Climbing Gyms are There for Me but I Cannot Be There for Them

49917750452_a15a9cf80c

Pulling Plastic. (All rights reserved)

After three days of wrestling with the question, I realized that it was over. You see, when the pandemic started, and we all shut ourselves inside our homes, I thought, okay, this will be like one prolonged snow day with out the fun of snow. I’m an introvert. I live with my favorite three people in the world. I have plenty of fulfilling hobbies. I can make this work! I even received a polite email from my climbing gym saying that they won’t be charging me, which freed up some of my cash to renew my subscription to Alpinist Magazine right away.

But after several weeks of reading the news and making business decisions for the safety and health of the employees and volunteers of Habitat for Humanity I run, I the complications of the novel coronavirus made clear that this was not a prolonged snow day. And my climbing gym, which I recently bought a membership, was even more complicated than building homes and reopening our ReStore. I might not be returning to my gym until there’s improved treatment or a proven and widely used vaccine. The bottom line, as this article from Gripped Magazine explains, climbing gyms cannot be fully sanitized, and with my family and responsibilities to my employees, I can’t risk spreading the virus or getting sick and being incapacitated for weeks.

While climbing gyms are reopening across the country, here in Pennsylvania, they’re going to be closed for a while. The Governor has a three-phase plan for reopening by region, that works like a traffic light with Red, Yellow, and Green phases based on the number of reported COVID-19 cases per capita. Climbing gyms may only open in the Green phase, and our region is still in Red and has a long ways to go. My gym hasn’t even been posting updates, partly, I think because they don’t have staff to do so, and we can just watch the general news.

GYMS ARE ADAPTING

Climbing Business Journal reported on how gyms are reopening. Face masks and removing your street shoes prior to entry are mandatory at a gym in Knoxville, Tennessee. Another gym is limiting the number of climbers according to the square footage. But the key question for me is about all of the surfaces; one gym is making sure the holds are cleaner by ensuring the climbers are cleaner with hand sanitizer readily available. But one gym is focusing only on the climber, not the holds or ropes, admitting that it is just to difficult to manage. Oh, and rental gear…? That’s a thing of the past at a gym. Some gyms renting out harnesses will be putting returned harnesses on a “time out” while any virus riders die off.

A set of survey questions from Vertical Life, the app, shed some light into what gym owners are thinking. However, as they explain in the survey introduction, “…these proposed measures have not been tested, nor do they have to necessarily be implemented at your gym in the way described, or at all.”  Here is a link to the Vertical Life Survey.

  • Limiting your time at the gym.
  • Scheduling climbers to visit throughout the day. (The survey asks specifically about our tolerance for alternative hours, such as early morning, lunch hour, weekends late.)
  • Using an app or other scheduling tool to check the current number of people checked in at the gym, booking visits in advance, paying fees online, contactless check-in, and being notified about new routes.
  • Limiting routes and boulder problems in order to promote social distancing.
  • Limiting area and choices of routes or problems.
  • Wear a mask.

LIQUID CHALK

Ph.D. Chemist Andrew Abeleira on GymClimber.com says, “The short answer is maybe, but not in the way you’d expect.” Abeleira goes on to explain that the liquid chalk won’t prevent the virus from lingering on your hands, but it would reduce the airborne matter in the gym, thus providing less surface area for the dreaded organism to ride to its next victim. I suppose that I’ll be retiring my chalk bag to the shelf as another relic.

I’m not giving up on my — albeit modest — climbing goal of bouldering V6, but I have extended the timeline by a year or more. I am 41 and need to work out hard now to keep from aging poorly, keep up with my kids, and keep hiking the Adirondacks and the Presidential Mountains well into my 80s and 90s. I still have some time to keep climbing, but now the circumstances of climbing at the gym five minutes from my house, just are not right for me.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Original K2 Photos May Have Been Sold to Cover Costs

49847188881_90e08392d0

Mystery K2. (All rights reserved)

We are in the seventh week of a stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic, and Natalie, the kids, and I are still healthy and haven’t gone totally stir crazy. We’re pretty self-disciplined with lots of healthy habits, so I think that’s keeping us buoyant.

I am very concerned about the future of my climbing gym. When this whole thing started, I thought I would just return whenever it reopened, but I know now that this won’t be the case. Until a adequate testing is available in the states and, hopefully, a vaccine, climbing gyms will have a lot of challenges with social distancing and cleanliness. It’s making me seriously consider building my own 40-degree training wall in my garage, which I had planned to do when we relocated here.

Work has been the greatest source of stress, as usual, so I have been going through old TSM files. I thought you might appreciate this brief follow-up: Last fall (on September 6, 2019 to be precise), I received a reply to an email I sent to Anne-Christine Clottu Vogel on February 21, 2013. I know; it came quite late, but TSM is still active and my interest in this inquiry hasn’t waned. A.C. Clottu is one of Jules Jacot-Guillarmod’s granddaughters, and the thorough and well-written reply came from A.C. Clottu’s first cousin’s husband, Jean L. Des Arts. If Jules Jacot-Guillarmod rings a bell about K2, well, it should…

WESTERN EYES ON K2

In 2013, I wrote a three-piece series on the cover photo of Alpinist 37, which was not in high resolution, wasn’t in color, and was not suitable for Instagram. The image, however, was one of the first photographs and proper representations of the second-highest peak in the world. K2 was always difficult to see and was remote, even for people that lived in the Karakorum, which is part of the reason why the designation by T.G. Montgomerie stuck; names like Chogori or Dapsang only somewhat recently became known. The view wasn’t artistically drawn, it was tangibly real. What I wanted to know was how did that photo become lost and suddenly resurface only now?

My inquiry, initially only to Alpinist Magazine editor-in-chief Katie Ives lead to a series of introductions. I already knew Greg Glade at Top of the World Books in Vermont and Beth Heller who was then the librarian at the American Alpine Club. But she also pointed me to the owner of the image, the mysterious Bob Schelfhout-Aubertijn and A.C. Clottu. Bob and I started a friendship where we bonded over mountaineering, parenthood, beer, and dealing with assholes on the Internet. Later, I wrote a “Local Hero” piece for Alpinist Magazine about Bob. A.C. Clottu, however, never replied.

Des Arts did not recall how the email came to his inbox. However, he read my blog posts and gave me a very informed response. In fact, he commented how he was, “[A]lways somewhat irritated that Crowley’s name is mentioned together with Eckenstein who, to my knowledge, was the leader of the expedition and a thorough organiser.” He was correct; I had mentioned them both together. Des Arts went on to say, “On that expedition, by the accounts of both the British members and [Jules Jacot-Guillarmods], Crowley’s role was a minor one, not the least because he was ill for most of the time. I think one is vastly overstating Crowley’s capacity as a leader and organiser, probably because he was a pretty big mouth and well known for his character and later for his ancillary activities… The main reason for the expedition’s failure was the bad weather, not the conflicts of personality.”

PHOTOGRAPHERS AND PHOTOS

How, after all, did that early image of K2 get lost only to resurface decades later? According to Des Art’s reply, the family seemed to understand this very clearly: “[Jacot-Guillarmods] was an ardent photographer and besides exchanging photographs with other photographers, he sometimes both gave them away and even sold them to cover his costs (more important at the time than today.) So, there may be copies or plates in circulation.”

Sometime between when Jacot-Guillarmods passed on the plate, and when Bob acquired at auction about a decade ago, the plate was mislabeled, miss-associated, and became a time capsule-treasure that Bob excavated and Alpinist Magazine celebrated.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Life in the Mountains and Modern World through the Eyes of Bree Loewen

Avalanche risk. (All rights reserved)

Natalie, the kids, and I have been cooped up on our suburban homestead for a month now, trying to do our part to beat a pandemic with everyone else. Other than my bouldering pad being used as a crash pad next to the rope swing, we haven’t taken to staging climbing the house, kitchen cabinets, or even the fireplace.
Sticking to our routine has been our key to sanity. For us, it isn’t too much different than a normal day, except we’re eating out less, I don’t have a commute (which I really like,) and I moved my office to our cellar for more privacy during phone and video calls. Plus I can close the office door and officially “leave work” at the end of the day.
I still workout every morning and read and write, though most of my writing is about housing issues these days. We’re working on ways to prevent evictions with landlords and foreclosures with lenders, especially after the 90 day forbearance periods end. Reading time has been my favorite part. It was before this self-isolating and quarantine period too. And I finished the next book on my tick list: Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue by Bree Loewen (2017).
(First off — and I am not being paid to tell you this — Found is published by The Mountaineers Books and they are still shipping and even offering 25% off right now; use discount code TIMETOREAD at checkout.)
Found by Bree Loewen
Loewen’s book won Gold in the Heroic Journeys category of the 2017 Nautilus Book Awards, but it came on my radar when Paula Wright interviewed Loewen on the Alpinist Podcast. Loewen said she used to conduct her rescues and be so affected by the passing of an adventurer, another person like her, that she used write down the story — the story of the other person — and then burn them or make paper boats and sail them out on Puget Sound, because they weren’t after all, her story. Or were they her story too? And that was enough to intrigue me. One of my friends even confessed to have read this book twice already, and it just came out three years ago at the end of last month.
Found is about juggling the crazy life we have today: A foot in the mountains and a foot in our own hectic, modern world, while finding purpose and meaning in the modern world. Loewen is a dirtbag climber that became a volunteer member of Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR) and retells, after years of reluctance to share, the stories from the rescues and the recoveries of someone’s loved one. She explains and contemplates how she is a bystander to someone’s life, whether its an accident or a tragedy. She and her teammates take charge in the backcountry by helping the patient focus on their job to trust the rescuers to lift them back to care and shelter. And sometimes she is collecting pieces of teeth and someone’s jaw, which Loewen feels is an incredibly intimate act; perhaps their mother should be doing this, but their mother can’t be there, so Loewen fills in.
Loewen’s narrative covers several rescues and she blends in her real life seamlessly, showing the tension and trade-offs of having a foot in each world. Loewen is a wife, to another SMR volunteer named Russell, and a mother of a preschooler with big blue eyes and pigtails named Vivian. Vivian gets accustomed to her mother getting paged to join the park rangers and fire department with other SMR volunteers on a moments notice and never leaves anywhere without her bag of the most important things, including a stuffed animal and a pink polka dot security blanket. Loewen drops off her daughter at grandma’s or leaves her with Russ, if he isn’t at work, and heads to her mission in her compact car.
Unfair Judgment
Generally, Loewen and Russ don’t go on rescues together. They try to take turns, going one at a time, but Loewen is the full-time mom and always committed volunteer to SMR. Why is she so committed?
When they both go on a mission together, leaving Vivian at grandma’s, the question is especially complex for Loewen. Russ is the bread winner and the life-insurance policy holder, filling the traditional role as head of the household. When they are the most qualified volunteers on site and look to rappel down to the injured, should Vivian’s mom go too? Is she risking making Vivian an orphan? Who gets blamed in this situation? Was Loewen short-sighted and irresponsible?
Loewen examines this and calls it a Catch-22 because she is a woman and a mother. Because Loewen considers the alternative: What message is she sending Vivian if she backs off and does not go help? Is she telling Vivian that women are too conservative and can’t be committed enough to do good work? She concedes that no matter what, what people think of you has real consequences.
What We Want Most
Throughout the story, Loewen is trying to find what the next step in her career will be as she finishes her era as a stay-at-home mom. She investigates being a full-time fire fighter and settles, the reader is slowly revealed, in nursing school. But why is she so committed with SMR, answering the calls, and letting grandma care for Vivian while Loewen goes on all-nighters in the snowy woods without food. During these forays she usually isn’t even thanked by anyone, and abruptly gets back into her compact car to race home and pour the breakfast cereal for herself and Vivian.
Loewen says she believes that hardship increases camaraderie. And that is what she wants most out of this world. Everything she does is about a human relationship of proving character and trust to her teammates, daughter, husband, and the people she meets on her search-and-rescue-missions. They are all people and human beings like herself, trying to find purpose, belonging, and an expression of human affection, even though it’s rarely ever a hug. The affection is delivered in competence, in coming at the call, and being there for teammates and the person that placed the call.
I highly recommend this story and hope that you read every word, maybe sometimes twice, like I did. It was enriching.
Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.