Monday, November 12, 2007

Thoughts from the Banff Mountain Festival

For the last 10 years or so Shelley and I have made an annual pilgrimage to the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festivals. We like the book festival best. There are talks by authors, panel discussions, and interviews. It's more personal and interactive than just watching films.

You'd think it would be relaxing to sit and listen and watch for four days, but it gets a bit tiring. We usually make it through all the sessions of the book festival for the first two days but often end up skipping a few of the films in the next two days just to get a chance to stretch our legs and grab a coffee.

One of the presentations was by Ian McAllister, the author of The Last Wild Wolves: Ghosts of the Rain Forest The Great Bear Rain Forest is on the west coast of British Columbia and is the largest remaining temperate rain forest. He had fantastic pictures of wolves and bears and rugged coast. But he also had stories of lumber companies clear-cutting swaths of land and trophy hunters slaughtering wolves and bears. These stories always raise a flood of emotion in me, a mix of anger, guilt, anguish, sadness. Part of me wants to kill myself just to escape being a member of such a human race. I start to understand the monks who immolate themselves in protest over the foul actions of mankind. Another part of me wants to lash out, take action, fight, get revenge. I want to join Edward Abbey's monkey wrench gang and sabotage the clear-cutting machinery. Or take up hunting myself. Hunting seems to be a good way to wipe out species. Maybe we could hunt the trophy hunters and endanger their kind. According to Ian, roughly 80% of people agree with stopping trophy hunting. What happened to democracy?

Geoff Powter's interview was supposed to be with Jim Bridwell but apparently they wouldn't let him into Canada. But I enjoyed Krzysztof Wielicki instead. I've always been amazed by the winter Himalayan climbs by the Polish. 8000 m climbs are hard enough in the summer; I find it hard to imagine what it must be like in the cold dark depths of winter. The Poles are known for "the art of suffering". But it's "good" suffering, "enjoyable" suffering, according to Krzysztof. Later, in a panel discussion, Barry Blanchard voiced a similar sentiment, saying "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun". Shelley and I often joke that you can't really be having "fun" unless you're "miserable". Krzysztof is 57 and still climbing hard. He says he has to keep tackling the winter Himalayan ascents because he can't find anyone else to take over. The "kids" these days don't care so much for the "art of suffering".

One of our favorite films was about 24 hour solo mountain bike racing. Again, I find it hard to imagine biking for 24 hours straight, let alone racing hard. Another favorite was a film about Chris Sharma. He is one of the best rock climbers in the world but it doesn't seem to have gone to his head and he comes across as quite humble and likable. It's hard not to be envious of his lifestyle of traveling and climbing full time.

We also really enjoyed Steph Davis's talk. We bought her recent book - High Infatuation. A film about her husband, Dean Potter was also good. Dean especially, but Steph also, do hard rock climbs solo, with no ropes. Scary stuff. In a film about Dean he describes how he struggles to differentiate fear from premonition - are visions of your broken body simply fear that you should overcome, or are they "intuition" that you should respect. This resonated with me. I still struggle with memories of being overwhelmed by fear on Manaslu. When I talk about it, people assume it must have been a premonition that I was "wise" to obey. But it's hard to believe that when others in the team continued and summited with no problems. I can't help but think it was just plain fear that I should have overcome. I still wonder why it overwhelmed me on that particular climb so much more than any other. You can always find rational reasons not to go up - there really are legitimate dangers - if you really wanted to be rational you wouldn't be there in the first place. When Krzysztof was asked if it was true that Polish climbers were crazy his reply was that all climbing/climbers are crazy when you get right down to it.

Although the festival always gets me psyched up to go climbing, it's also a little depressing to see how minor my own accomplishments are in comparison. I know it's all relative and that it's irrelevant what other people are doing. No matter how good you are at something there's likely someone out there who's better. And I know that to many people, Shelley and my accomplishments are impressive. But I can't help but feel twinges of envy and inferiority.

Of course, the friends I run into at the festival want to know what my next big project is. I've been thinking about Gasherbrum 2 next summer and it seems to have firmed up enough in my mind that I started telling people that's what I was planning. It's another one of the "easy" 8000 m peaks. It would be my 6th 8000 m trip. If I managed to summit it would make my record 3 out of 6. I know it smacks of ego (and insecurity), but I can't help wonder how many Canadians have summited three 8000 peaks (or even two for that matter). I wish Shelley was still able to go to high altitude with me. I do have one possible partner for the trip, but if he falls through I'll go solo again. It seemed to work well for me on Cho Oyu. The political turmoil in Pakistan is a question mark but the risk of a few days passing through Islamabad seems relatively small, especially compared to climbing an 8000m peak!

Shelley and I had been talking about going to Vancouver for a week for our anniversary in early December, but after getting revved up by the festival I suggested maybe we should go to Kananaskis Lodge and ice climb instead. For some reason it's been several years since we've been ice climbing. Part of the reason is that there are only so many moderate ice climbs we're willing to do "off the couch" and it was hard to get excited about climbing them again. But it's been long enough that it seems attractive once more. And it's a fitting anniversary since we stayed at Kananaskis Lodge and ice climbed (at -30c!) for our honeymoon.

And we're still hoping to get to Ecuador in January to climb and to go to Galapagos. We had originally planned to go in November but Shelley had things for work that conflicted. I'm lucky to be in a situation where I can take off pretty much whenever I want.

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