An author from Canmore, Alta., is trying to answer the question of why some people love mountains in a new book profiling adventurers, including The Homestretch’s own naturalist, Brian Keating.
Geoff Powter spoke with The Homestretch about his new anthology, Inner Ranges, and the inspiration behind it.
This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.
Q: What are the stories about?
A: This is a mix of essays that I’ve written as an editor of a couple of different outdoor publications, plus a number of personal stories from my own years as an adventurer, and then profiles that I’ve done of adventurers that I admire and have really come to like through the process of doing interviews and following them around on some of their adventures.
Q: How long have you been writing these stories?
A: My very first mountain story I did in my early 20s, and I’m in my early 60s now so this is a long time. It’s an anthology that goes back to 1977 or 1978.
Q: Tell us about some of the people you featured in the book.
A: I’ve had the privilege over a number of years to really spend time with people that have been either really important in my own adventure story as inspiring folks or people whose stories I know were particularly challenging.
I think the ones that are in this book offer a really broad range. I have some very well-known mountaineers like Barry Blanchard, a very well-known fellow from my community of Canmore, and Sonnie Trotter, a much younger and very accomplished Canadian rock climber.
And then some other people that are probably a lot less well-known than those two.
Some of my favourites include another exceptionally talented Calgary climber by the name of Raphael Slawinski, who is very well known in the mountain community, far less well-known outside of it, and absolutely deserves to be somebody who is known by everybody.
One of my favourite stories in the book is the long tale of a young woman from Vancouver by the name Lena Rowat, who, along with her sister at the beginning of a trip and then eventually with joining a group of other young guys, skied literally out her back door in Vancouver and all the way to Skagway, Alaska, which is a remarkable trip.
Her story is remarkable as well and coming from a very, very interesting, challenging kind of family, and being fully immersed from a very young age in the outdoors and just being a tower of strength with a really interesting personal story, including a tragic midpoint to the story of that trip where a partner of hers was killed.
She’s a person that I just have an enormous amount of admiration for and somebody that flies under the radar in most Canadians’s understanding of the outdoors.
Q: You have a story about our own The Homestretch naturalist, Brian Keating. How did that come about?
A: Like a lot of folks, I first came to Brian through this show. I instantly know that it’s him because he sounds so distinctive and his stories are so distinctive as well.
I don’t know any outdoor adventurer who isn’t in both envy and awe of Brian. What really struck me was, I knew so much about all these micro adventures that come from the pieces that he does for the show, but I didn’t really know much about him as a person.
I had a lovely time getting to know more of his backstory because as excited as he is and as motivating as he is in the things that he talks about, there’s a deeper backstory to him in terms of how hardcore he is as an adventurer.
When I first published that story in a magazine, somebody said to me, “Well, why are you doing a story about him? Isn’t he just a birdwatcher?” And no, there’s an awful lot more to Brian’s story than that, including things that he doesn’t often talk about.
One of the things that you wouldn’t necessarily know from listening to him on the show is how accomplished he is as an outdoor athlete, and it was great to get out and spend time with him.
Q: What is it about the mountains that people fall in love with?
A: When I started putting the stories together for this book, I remembered the experience that I had 50 years ago this year. As real young kid, I found a book on the mountains.
I was living in Montreal at the time; I had no connection to the mountains. I picked up this mountain book and something inside of me just moved and that is a common, common story with people that I know in the world of adventure.
It’s almost like we’ve lived another life and there’s something in those spaces that really captures you. The number of people that I’m surrounded with in my life who have been profoundly moved and very deeply connected to those places is huge.
Everybody I know has been moved in that same kind of way.
Q: You are also a clinical psychologist. Does that inform your writing?
A: It certainly informs my writing. A large part of the things that I’ve written, particularly in the middle of my writing career, had to do with risk, had to do with the reasons why people do the things that they do. Living in a mountain town as a psychologist, I would often bump into people that were affected by the darker side of mountain life.
I had clients who had been involved in tragedies themselves. I had people as clients who had lost family members or were really puzzled by why the person that they were sharing their life with was as drawn to these things that seem dangerous and put family at risk and so on.
It really informed a certain space of the clinical work that I was doing, as well. I’m retired now, which gives me a lot more freedom to just be able to do the thinking about it without having to worry about the profound impact of the darkness.
Listen to the interview below:
With files from The Homestretch
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.