Banff Mountain Book Festival
The Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival is one of the great annual gatherings of the outdoor adventure world. Hosted by Canada's Banff Centre for Mountain Culture, the program brings together hundreds of writers, film makers, adventurers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts for days of sharing books, films, and ideas.
Three years ago I made my way to Calgary and then west an hour's drive to Banff to attend the festivals, and found my people. For several days I attended of readings by very good authors and panel discussions by experts in mountain travel. During the final three days I watched movies from just after breakfast until bedtime. Some of the films were short clips, others full-length features. They covered a range of outdoor experience from quiet studies of lost cultures to adrenalin-rush accounts of climbing, kayaking, skiing, and paragliding.
This year I had the honor of being a guest of the festival. My book Mountain Madness was a finalist for festival awards, and I was invited to attend every event and to make a lunchtime presentation about the book for an audience of three hundred people.
Once again the panel discussions and book presentations were terrific, and the films outstanding. What I enjoyed most, though, was the opportunity to become acquainted with so many people committed to having adventures, appreciating the outdoors, and writing well.
The first evening of the festival I met Michael Kodas, a fine journalist from Connecticut. High Crimes, Michael's book about the current scene on Mount Everest, had been reviewed alongside Mountain Madness last spring in the Sunday New York Times. Michael's wife Carolyn Moreau is a photojournalist who enlivened our conversations with an understanding of the world of documentary film making.
Majka Burhardt is a dynamic young journalist and rock climber who is author of Vertical Ethiopia. "I went to Ethiopia to do research for a book on coffee," she told me, "and then I found all these great climbing routes." Her book combines her writing with spectacular photographs of rural Ethiopian culture and of serious climbing in a little-known part of the world.
In addition to attending the festival, Majka is enrolled in the three-week Banff Mountain Writer's Workshop. Her plan is to return soon to Ethiopia and finish the book about coffee, assuming she isn't detoured again by another remarkable subject.
Maria Coffey had also been through the Banff workshops to sharpen her writing skills. It must have worked, as she is the author of a number of books including her latest, Explorers of the Infinite. The long subtitle sums up the content—The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes-and What They Reveal About Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communication, and Touching the Beyond.
"I call that last one my woo-woo book," she laughed. Her time at the festival was interrupted for the day she flew to Chicago to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, who had selected Maria's book as one of the best reads of the summer. (I kept my cell phone on throughout the Banff festivals just in case Oprah was trying to call me.)
College professor Maurice Isserman is co-author of Fallen Giants, a remarkably detailed history of Himalayan mountaineering. Maurice had previously written about the 1960s. "I thought it was time to try something different," he explained. The new book is so good it is being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Wayne Sawchuk is a horseman living in the remote reaches of northern British Columbia. Determined to help protect the unspoiled landscapes he has known all his life, he photographed and wrote Muskwa-Kechika: The Wild Heart of Canada's Northern Rockies, a gorgeous and important coffee table book published by the National Geographic Society.
National Geographic had a large contingent of editors and photographers on hand to host discussions of ways to shape stories for submission to the family of National Geographic magazines, books, and films. They seemed as eager to hear our ideas for stories as we were to learn from them about the nuts and bolts of their company.
And so it went through the festival, a seemingly endless series of talented authors coming forth with interesting stories to tell and, in most cases, becoming part of the growing group of friends who had writing as a common bond.
We also gathered in current and past mountaineers of renown. Christian Tommelsdorf is a dynamic French alpinist and guide with many notable expeditions to his credit. He was also one of five judges on the film jury, watching ten hours of movies a day while the book festival was going on. We would scoop him up each evening, his eyes bleary, and fold him into our writers' scene.
The keynote speaker of the festivals was Peter Habeler. His place in climbing history was secured in 1978 when he and his partner Reinhold Messner were the first to do what many had believed impossible—climb Mt. Everest without using bottled oxygen. In spite of his fame, he was every bit as accessible and as delightful to be around as everyone else in Banff.
My great friend Wally Berg jumped into the mix, too, along with his wife Leila. They live in Canmore, a town ten miles from Banff. I've known Wally since college summers when we built trails together in New Mexico at Philmont, the national high adventure base of the Boy Scouts of America. Wally went on to climb Everest four times. He and Leila are now owners of Berg Adventures International, a travel company taking clients on challenging journeys to the far corners of the planet.
All in all, a terrific adventure. I'm grateful to the staff of the Banff Centre for their constant enthusiasm and support. I'm also delighted to have become acquainted with so many remarkable people. To learn more about some of them, click on the following web links:
- Michael Kodas www.michaelkodas.com
- Majka Burhardt www.majkaburhardt.com
- Maria Coffey www.hiddenplaces.net
- Maurice Isserman www.academics.hamilton.edu/history/home/misserma.html
- Wayne Sawchuk www.muskwakechika.com
- Christian Trommsdorff www.christian.trommsdorff.org/
- Wally Berg www.bergadventures.com